Friday, January 3, 2014

Remaining Passionate as a Teacher

My apologies if it seems I fell off the planet. Please, take a minute to read this post.
As a teacher, you and I must continue to reinvent our passion for our chosen art – If we want the student (young and not so young) to take that passion into the next generation, we have to genuinely deliver something that we have done 1000 times, as excitedly as we did the first time. This seems easy, right? Now here’s the trick: Even as we’re sending our passion genuinely outward, we cannot get caught in the trap of becoming emotionally attached to the daily give and take between ourselves and the material or to the student’s reactions to the teaching rituals. To fall into this trap is easy and to remain outside of this self-defeating situation takes vigilance. I’ll try to explain.
What brought you to teaching was a love of the subject matter. In the case of teaching fighting techniques, it is easy to love, respect, and even take a bit of selfish ownership. If I am training myself, then it is true, the material is mine – all mine – just like “My Precious” to Gollum.(A reference for Hobbit fans.) However, if I’m teaching, the minute I teach something it is then about the student and how they fit together with the material, process it, and keep it as THEIR own. This realization got me to thinking about ways teachers let emotions / an administrative fiasco / and opinions change them from passionate and imaginative teachers to guarded and even a little disagreeable.
Here are a couple simple things to remember when trying to avoid this teaching trap:
-When we teach, it is not about us, it is about the student and what they will achieve.
-Most of the time if parents or students are verbally insensitive, it isn’t directed at the teacher; it is directed at the frustration due to lack of understanding of the material and the students knee-jerk reaction to remain in the safety of a certain weakness rather than push through to growth.
Many reasons why we do what we do!

-For   us to be verbally abusive and insensitive is reactionary and therefore not a sign of a strong spirit. You may remember from blog posts past that I believe that our students are more likely to become what we are, than they are to become what we tell them to become.
-“Every person you deal with is doing the best they can, with what they have to work with, at that moment.”  This was said to me 20 years ago by a teacher and I remember it to this day. It explains (but doesn’t justify) a lot of conversations.
Here is a much more complicated but effective way to work on this problem:
As many of you know, Master Kelljchian has taught us in his Book of SET, we are made up of physicality, chi, brain and emotion. If we split the emotion: keep emotion going outward – keeping that passion alive, but refuse incoming (by compartmentalizing that skill-set) we give the material passionately but guard against becoming callous due to oversensitivity to  administrative chaos, parental impatience, or student confusion.
To remain relevant to my students I constantly have to compartmentalize things like “hurt feelings” when small things happen within my day. Examples abound: Students show obvious love for another teacher / or their teaching technique, a game I thought would be a great teaching tool flops, the kids are constantly losing focus on my subject but are completely focused on a bug or a car or a person wearing interesting clothes. Then there are  the outside distraction: parents who want their child promoted quickly and tell me I’m doing it wrong, administrators who over tax my patience, co-workers who sabotage my class-time. It is self-defeating for me to become emotionally attached to these type events. To remain centered, compartmentalizing my emotion, is to find a way to either incorporate a distraction,  re-direct a group, or (as I tell my 5 year old students) just ignore it.  If, however, I personalize the emotion and get “mad”. I could begin to punish unjustifiably and worse, begin to hold onto events and allow callouses to begin to grow.
So today I’m keeping it short but challenging. If you have more suggestions / tools you’ve used – please share.


  1. Thank you for this blog post, Sensei Darbro. Your post resounded with me and reminded me of a lesson I learned from one of my music senseis many years ago. His name is Benjamin Zander and I had the privilege of studying with him at the New England Conservatory of Music. Rather than to paraphrase his lessons I invite you to watch this Youtube video of a Ted Talk that Maestro Zander presented. I think that you'll find the 20 minutes you spend watching it will be well worth it.
    He wrote a book entitled "The Art of Possibility" and I encourage any artist (musical, martial, visual, etc) to read it.

  2. As always, Sensei, I value your analysis and problem solving in dealing with life. While I don't teacher karate, I am in teacing situations as a Mom and employee/supervisor. THe abilityto mantra "t's not about me'is tough. I take these challenges case by case and do a lot of deep breathing to prevent a non-productive response.


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