Friday, July 25, 2008

Learn to Teach - Teach to Learn

I am not a teacher and I don't play one on t.v. either.

I can know something, know how to do it well, but ask me to teach it to someone else verbally and I'm a bumbling idiot. Or so it seems to me anyway. For this post, I'm using this statement in a martial arts context, but the statement is true for almost any situation in my life - whether I'm trying to teach someone at work an aspect of a computer program, trying to teach Buddy how to tie his shoes, or teach my daughter and her friends how to play "Zooma-Zooma". (You had to have watched Big Brother episodes with Evil Dick to know what I'm talking about. And on a totally unrelated topic - I can't believe I just admitted to all cyberspace that I watch superficial reality shows like Big Brother!) Okay to get back on the subject at hand…

I've said it before and I'll say it again - I'm a word person. I think I write pretty eloquently…okay, maybe not eloquently, maybe more like expressively. Whatever - I'm mooting my own point here! And I can create written instructions that would rival any of the "Dummies" books any day. I have written directions for logging onto online reference libraries for those whose extent of computer experience is the self-checkout at the grocery store. And I'm never verbally at a loss for words either. (Just ask anyone who knows me.) But to teach someone, face to face, is very difficult for me. And I don't like this about myself. Therefore, it is something I absolutely want to change.

I wrote this post over the course of a few days. In that short period of time, my frame of mind shifted quite a bit after one of my karate classes.

The first (and original) frame of mind (written Wed. & Thurs.):

A few months ago, we had a child start with the beginner's class who had obvious attention problems. I recognized the characteristics as very similar to my son's ADHD behaviors…the not being able to stand still while at attention, the flailing arms and legs, which did not seem to be under the control of the child attached to those limbs, the scanning of the room in every direction except for the teacher at the front of the dojo. I painfully watched from the sidelines for a couple of weeks, when I finally asked my sensei, who is a teacher by profession, if she would allow me to just kind of shadow this child. I know that one-on-one is usually the best possible solution for Buddy and thought it might work for this child as well. Still being a white belt at that point myself, I was a little gun shy about asking, but I knew the basics, so I risked the rejection of being told no because I was too new. But she agreed. The next week, I bowed in and stood right near the child and tried to help him shore up some of his moves. I encouraged him to stand still and at attention when that is what was expected of him. He was still very unfocused, but I would like to think my being there helped him a little. If for nothing else, just knowing someone cared enough to take a personal interest. I would like to think that, but in truth, when trying to help him, when showing him correct ways to perform the movements, we got behind the rest of his class and that is where the real problem lies. I think I was the one who could have benefited from the one-on-one at that point! It was frustrating - I knew that I had the knowledge but just couldn't get the info to him in a manner that would make it clear enough to him to make the correction and recover in time to catch back up with the class. He did go on to the intermediate class and still had difficulty focusing, but in watching from the sidelines with his mom, I did seem to notice he didn't seem quite as "frantic" as he had been in his first session.

I offered to help a few more times with the children's beginner's class after that, and again, I found, that when I tried to demonstrate to a child the correct technique or form, both the child and I fell behind the rest of the class. I can't speak for the child, but I know this really threw me off. Therefore, I'd get confused and I'm sure I wasn't helping the child much. Now don't get me wrong - this didn't happen with every assist - just when the child wasn't "getting it" and there was a major correction to make that put us a little behind the others.

About 3 weeks ago, there weren't as many adults to help with the kids' intermediate class. I had always shied away from helping with the intermediate class. A boy who had taken a session or two off had forgotten some of the nuances of the basics. So, I asked if I could help the teacher. He said yes. We did okay until we got to the basic kata. In trying to help this boy and correct his incorrect moves, he and I lagged behind and I got confused because the teacher went on with the rest of the class. The teacher instructing the class jokingly told me to learn my kata. He was well aware that I know it. I think he sensed my frustration and was teasing me a little because he didn't want me to be so hard on myself.

So, knowing this is one of my weak points, I need to put some extra effort into it. I need to talk to one of our senseis and/or teachers to help me with this problem - Ask them how to help without falling behind the rest of the class and getting discombobulated myself. As I said, I know the basic info in trying to help these kids. I am just not versed in the best ways to help and not hinder. Please do not misunderstand me - I am by no stretch trying to insinuate that I am a teacher, but as I continue in my journey in the martial arts, I know that teaching is expected as one progresses. And not only because it is expected , but also because helping someone else with something I love so much is an aspect that I truly enjoy and find rewarding in my own journey, I plan to work very hard at improving this skill.

The second (and now ongoing) state of mind (written Fri. morning after Thurs. night class):

I had thought I was finished with this post until after my class last night and was feeling a little down on myself. But, in pursuit of being a better class helper, I talked to Mack, who helps with, and sometimes even teaches the intermediate kids classes. (Remember him - he is the guy who encouraged me to start the adult classes in the first place -"If I can do this, anyone can do this") In talking to him, I asked how I could be a better helper for the kids' classes, for example, how to avoid the dilemma of the child and I both getting behind the rest of the class when I try to help them correct themselves. Mack hesitated a little and almost laughed and said, "You can't, really." He reassured me that it happened to him, too, and went on to advise me that sometimes the best thing you can do is to just do the exercise along with them and lead by example.

And that one piece of advice made all the difference in the world to me. One of our orange belts taught the intermediate kids' class last night and she asked me to help her. So, I put Mack's advice into practice. I made sure I was in the front row at all times so the kids could use me as a reference. You see, I was doing the techniques in the same direction as the kids. The class leader was facing them so they were seeing it "backwards" when looking at her. I was their peer and they could look at me to see which way they should turn or if they should have left or right side forward. (Now I said they "could", not necessarily "would' : ) I only gave the kids who were next to me a few corrections - no stopping what we were both doing and getting behind. I would just remind them that they were executing a chest punch and not a face punch and their arm would immediately travel down to more of a solar-plexus level. We broke up into groups and I assisted one of our black belts who was teaching our Basic Kata # 1 to three of the six kids. I just continued with my newfound assisting technique, performing the kata right along with them, only correcting slightly, not getting behind, leading by example. We then went on to work on two of the five ippon kumites, where I played the role of uke. (and I was not a bad drama queen if I do say so myself.)

We wrapped up the kid's class without my having gotten discombobulated. And I think I might have even helped a kid or two, even if just marginally. And it felt really good. Thanks, again, Mack - you are always able to inspire me in my journey.

Last night I had an epiphany - Sometimes teaching is just as much about learning as it is about teaching.


Perpetual Beginner said...

In teaching, if you're doing it right, you will almost invariably learn as much or more than you teach.

It sounds like you're doing kata en masse, is that right? If so, then Mack is right and there's virtually no way to do any significant correction or teaching without getting behind. We teach kata considerably differently - it's always taught individually, never all together. Only once everyone in the group knows the kata well do we start doing it together as a group.

Martial Arts Mom said...

Since I ended up being the only beginner left from my class, I have ended up getting alot of individual instruction: Kata, Bo Staff, sparring, etc. I really felt good about the world last night after feeling so bad about the way I seemed to bungle it up a few weeks ago when I and the kid got behind.

Michele said...

I agree with your epiphany 100%. I learn so much while I am teaching. It pushes me to be my best. I have been teaching karate for over 11 years and there was not one time that I left the dojo floor without learning something. You have good insight. I can tell from your posts that you are an enthusiastic student who works hard and is willing to help others. Keep up the good work!

Martial Arts Mom said...

Thanks, Michele. I appreciate the compliment. My willingness to be game to new things is probably one of my major strengths. Sometimes I still look at myself in the mirror and think to myself, "Darn, I'm 43 years old and starting something this physical. And loving it this much at that! I hope this doesn't sound too conceited, but I'm very proud of myself. Kudos to me!"

BBat50 said...

Interesting. In our school, in the six months before you get your black belt, you need to "swat" which means assistant teach classes. If you try to actually be useful (and not just a spare resource when they need somone), it is definitely harder than it looks. When is it worth focusing on a student and really getting involved? IS pulling their attention from the main class to you helping?

It's a topic for future posts for me.

BBat50 said...

oh yes, and when you are correcting someone else on a kata, you learn the details so much more sharply

Martial Arts Mom said...

I agree - it is a fine line. And no, it is not in the student's best interest to pull the attention away from the teacher/rest of class. But that was also my point - it was the biggest thing I learned in class the other lead by example instead.

Anonymous said...

Hey, this is "Rose." Being a regular 4th grade teacher, I can only say, "You got it right!" I learn every day from my students and others who teach. I love reading these :) you know who

Martial Arts Mom said...

You better be there Thursday! : )