Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Consistency in Daily Teaching

As we go back to school, let’s remember that even though our lives are bogged down with daily responsibilities, it is important to be unencumbered when we walk into the classroom. (In karate we say “Leave your ego at the door.”) How to do it, that is the question.
I’ve already talked about planning your work, dismissing small annoyances such as administrative details, and projecting passion without letting the passion cause you to take things too personally. So, here is one more hint: Practice projecting consistency. Be consistent in your love of the material. Be consistent in your classroom management. And please be consistent in who must follow the rules and consistent in what happens when students break the rules. A few details:
My last post was about retaining your passion in delivering material you’ve taught hundreds of time before. That can be challenging. The biggest thing I do to seem excited about teaching a basic I’ve taught many times before is that I actually get excited.  Just the other day I was teaching outside blocks to brand new 10 year old kids. It was worth the extra time I took to show the blocks as a self-defense technique. I got excited, and so did they. Even though it was less than 5 minutes of the hour – it was full of spirit that continued into the rest of the class. I didn’t notice it at the time. Sitting here now, I picture me doing the blocking system without the excitement – just repeat, repeat and I am sure that these things are true:
  • Yelling toward students to create perfection isn’t as effective as being part of the     quest with them.
  • The excitement I bring to a class will be equal to the excitement that students feel, show, and carry with them into their daily lives.
  • I am constantly aware of how long I stay on a subject on any given day (It changes with age, as I’m sure yours does. My general rule for children is: The amount of time matches their years on the planet.)
  • Tone of voice (May 13, 2010) Karateka have always used voice as a weapon. Consider that when teaching. 
  • Remember to individualize expectations for each student (A running theme, but check out May 2012).
    Young students and Older students training together can be a chanllenge
    Classroom Management is interesting because, as karate teachers, we have a tendency to say “Do what I say, or get out.” The problem I have found with that attitude is that I lose students who could really benefit from karate training if only I had a better plan on my classroom (dojo) management. Again, all these years have taught me to have the same rules for everyone. I notice that sometimes teachers have favorites and those favorites get privileges that the other students notice. It is challenging not to overindulge students with talent, while over-chastising students who lack self-control. This makes me ask myself – isn’t the quest for self-control one of the things parents put kids in karate to learn? I created a little saying that I use with my kids – “If one person can do it, then everyone can do it. If everyone cannot do it, than NO ONE can do it.” This solves small and large issues such as:
  • Students who constantly want to tell personal stories during training.
  • Students who think they should tell the other students how to improve, rather than wait for the teacher to speak.
  • Students who want to quit moving and constantly rest.
  • Students who will not hold still. (Notice I didn’t say “cannot hold still”. That is totally different. That student does exist and should be treated individually…..an exception to the rule.)
The consistency of the “everyone can / no one can” rule is wonderful because everyone understands and it is no longer personal, i.e. “You’re really making me mad, Johnny.” When I’m managing my students, I’m totally NOT mad, just following the rules of the class. It is easy and most important it is consistent, no matter how tired or distracted I am.
Consistency in who needs to follow the rules is both simple and complicated. Simple because it is everyone, even me! If I drop a weapon, I do push-ups! In my dojo, if we talk about off topic things during training, we do push-ups, and again, if I make a mistake and talk about something off topic – I do the push-ups. It is no big deal!
Students with years of experience have the Responsibility to Teach.

The complication that needs managment arises when students who have trained for years have earned the right to be in a leadership position. Here are two bullets on this subject:
1.   All the students want to be in that position. This is easy to fix with a short conversation saying “You’ll get there, have patience!”
2.   Some students don’t like to follow another student. This takes the support of the teacher toward the student-teacher. I use a quiet voice in the ear of the student that needs reminders. It is quick and efficient.
So it turns out the “technology” (be it karate, math or reading) isn’t the hardest part. What makes teaching difficult is constantly reminding myself to have a passionate delivery of the technology, consistent rules that apply to everyone, not just the kids that may be labeled as hard to handle, and a calm delivery of those rules. I laugh when I reread how easy it sounds and remember how difficult it is minute by minute, day after day. You know I like feedback, so let me know your thoughts.

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.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Sensei as an Example

In the 90’s I wrote a series of books called Kicks with Kids. In the first one I wrote: Whether we like it or not, whether we know it or not, our students become what we are, not what we tell them to become. I still stand by that statement.  We create strong men and women by example. Because of this phenomenon, I realize that there is a subtle difference between portraying myself as perfect and being an example of a person who is taking responsibility for the very human trait of making mistakes. If it is true that a Sensei is essentially someone who came down this road before the student, the best teacher for any student is one that is a visible example of continuous metamorphosis, change, and growth. When the teacher hides his (or her) imperfections or justifies them, or lives as if the rules do not apply, he (or she) is all but guaranteeing that the student will follow in his (or her) footsteps. 
Showing my human side to students doesn’t mean letting the class become undisciplined. Here is an example from a recent children’s class: I was working with nine students while another Sensei was working with the rest of the class. We were doing bag work. Accidentally, I didn’t give one student a turn. He mentioned it courteously and I said “Holy Cow, Sensei made a mistake. Should I do push-ups?”. All the kids said yes, knowing that when Sensei does push-ups – we all do push-ups. We chose to do 10, did them with joy and energy, and moved on. Being human and accepting that I am never going to live a life mistake free is imperative to my personal growth and as an example to students young and old. 

Sensei Lydia leads a game of Sensei Says to a group of experienced children.

A game that I was introduced to as a white belt is called “Sensei Says”. It is an excellent tool to work on self-honesty. Basically it is Simon Says with two small changes. We use the word “Sensei” instead of Simon and a person is never “out”. When they make a mistake, they do push-ups and go right back to the game. The reason I use this game regularly in my kids classes is because I want to teach kids that self-honesty is something that they can achieve. It is quicker than making excuses and more productive than lying to yourself.  Self honesty is difficult (hence the field of psychiatry). However, it is also imperative to growth. Starting this process with something fun, quick and inclusive of all is a great way to open the door to making this process a part of everyday life.

Sensei Harrison teaches the newer students how the game is played.
One of the most rewarding and selfish aspects of being a full-time Karate teacher is that as the teacher, I grow as much or more than my students with every day of training.  Adding the concept of being myself in front of a class has allowed me to grow in ways that I had not known previously.  At the very least, this is worth thinking about. 
Today’s post is short in length, but it is a pretty hefty challenge. As always, reader feedback is welcome.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Teaching Kids / Teaching adults

I woke up this morning happy because Hurricane Sandi makes it possible for me to write. (School was canceled.) My mind started churning through ideas and concepts where teaching is concerned. One of the beautiful things about being a Karate teacher is that my youngest student is 3 years old and my oldest student is….well, old enough to be revered. In comparing the two types of classes, I realized that a couple of trite sayings really define the making of a great kids teacher: “Don’t phone it in.” and “Be in the moment.” This stream of consciousness reminded me that one of the biggest differences in teaching kids and adults is this:  In the adult class the technology rules the class. If students bring in a mood or an injury – we push on through and focus on the class content. However, in a children’s class, the children need to be the most important thing, even at the cost of not getting everything done. At least 50% of the time, I’ll forfeit some of the content I have planned because there is a subject that needs addressing. Ready or not, it takes some of the training time. That interruption could be anything from hitting each other without Sensei’s watchful eye making it safe to fear of something new I’m going to try, to a completely discourteous attitude. In any situation like that I need to stop rushing through the technology.  I need to mentally go to where the kids are, allow them to understand my concept, and then be able to carry all of us together to the next thing.

Another difference between training my adults and training my kids is that I rarely plan what the adults will do in advance. When I see the class, I figure out who is there, what they need, and how many teachers I have to accomplish it. Then we do it. I plan the children’s classes a week at a time. I always know what katas people are learning and what level of self-defense students are on. What I switch often is how we warm up and what we do at the end of class. (See many posts for ideas.) What has been happening for over a month now is that I have to adjust the plan constantly even as I am teaching. This is easy to say, but doing it is challenging. I’ll use my last two nights as examples:  
In a class that usually has 10 kids and 3 teachers (I’m spoiled), I had 17students and one helper. Instead of dividing into work groups, (my original plan), I kept the group together with my helper in charge. I took out the most experienced students. I worked on their level of technology and then had them help teach the younger students. This isn’t rocket science, I know, but it did entail thinking on my feet. What that means is that I needed to clear the baggage from my head, and quickly think of how to BEST take care of EVERYONE in the room.

Lots of groups at work
The next night I normally have 15 children and 3 teachers. Due to the storm we had 10 children and 5 teachers. Everyone was ‘antsy’ because of the stormy weather. I dropped my original plan (standard warm up, kata groups, and sparring) and told the kids we’d start the day with their favorite game. We did. Then I said when they go out to their teacher they’d need to give as much energy to their work as they did to the game. They did! We continued like that: play with punching bags / work technology/ play with blockers/ work memorized movements until we did our final game. For that I mixed two games together (because they requested one and I wanted to spar). I had never mixed group jump rope and sparring before, but hoped it would work. It was great! We used my group jump rope (see the post from 7.29.09) and when you ran out you ran directly into an adult sparring partner.

Again. This wasn't overwhelming. However, I needed to BE THERE and see what we were about IN THE MOMENT. I needed to remember what I wanted to accomplish but have alternative ways to get it done. The challenge with adults is so different. They’ll adapt to the technology offered. The saying goes that when you bow into the training area (dojo) you leave your troubles and ego at the door. Children don’t know that. Adults (even teachers) aren’t perfect at it.  I’m lucky to be able to teach both because they complement one another. Children keep me grounded and living in the now and adults challenge me with their desire to understand the way of karate.