Teaching and Being a Teacher

This post has been on my mind for a few weeks, but when I’ve sat down to write it, I’ve never gotten but a couple of paragraphs on the subject.

Last Thursday, Mr. Mc talked to me about the subject of teaching and being a teacher. Before I get ahead of myself, let me set this up.

Tuesday night is our formal gi and belt night– our main class. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, our adult class is relatively small, but we have a good core group. We now have two distinct classes One for the kids, and one for the adults. Before, we were all combined into one group.

In the past when there were fewer instructors coming on a regular basis, we would have as many as 15-20 students (most being kids), and most being yellow and white belts. To be able to give more individualized attention to the students, the class was broken up into several groups. The ranking students would take one of these groups while the instructor(s) worked with other groups – then we would switch.

I know that all of the green belts and up have been given the task of taking some new/beginner students and showing them the ropes. Even a few of the yellow belts have had their turn passing on what knowledge that they have. They start out simply. “Show them how to bow in and out of class and the basic commands.” The more experienced we get, the more teaching responsiblity is asked of us.

During this time, I learned a lot about teaching and being a teacher. Teaching forces you to examine your own techniques more closely, but it also tests your knowledge. Not only do you have to be able to explain how to do technique “X,” but you have to be able to tell your students what the technique can be used for, why we do it like this, and a hundred or so other questions that might come up in the process – all in terms they can understand. While beginners do not need an in depth explanation, the higher up in rank they get, they need to deepen their understanding, a responsibility that falls on the shoulders of the teacher.

In the meantime, you have to work on your own development as a student, but you also have to develop as a teacher.

The progression from purely student to both student and teacher can be viewed as a set up stairs, with the height of the steps increasing a little with each rank. The progression from 4th kyu blue belt with stripe to 3rd kyu brown belt no longer remains a step, but a jump up to reach that next level. This is because a brown belt is an “Assistant Instructor.”

Being a brand new brown belt (try saying that five times fast), you can see why the issue of teaching has been on my mind lately.

Last Thursday, Mr. Mc brought up the topic. “Other systems,” he told me, “teach you the basics and when you earn your black belt, you are given a choice. Do you want to focus on becoming a teacher, or do you want to focus on being a fighter?”

Our style is different. You come up through the ranks learning how to balance both.

I think this is a great way of easing a student into a teaching role. I started out my Tae Kwon Do journey as a very shy, quiet twelve-year-old. You literally had to drag the words out of me if you wanted to carry on a conversation with me. It was a painful process. If I had been told on day 1 that I would be leading exercises, showing new students the ropes, demonstrating what I had learned to more advanced students, and eventually leading portions (and on occassions the whole) class on my own, I probably would have run as fast as I could in the opposite direction, screaming from sheer terror. “I can’t do that!” I would have said to myself.

But here I am. Doing most of the above on a fairly regular basis, and I’m not running away screaming. I know that I did not start jumping with joy when I was first asked to lead exercises and then teach, but I warmed up to it. Practice makes perfect as they say.

Today, I feel differently about being a teacher. Now, I know that I still have a lot to learn on the subject – and I’m still not the most talkative, bold person that I want to be, but I have realized something recently. Something that I never thought I would ever say.

When the day comes that I finally earn my black belt, I want to pass on what knowledge that I have as an instructor and teacher. I want to help others grow not only in the system that I am so passionate about, but also grow as a person. What I’m getting at is that I want to become the instructor – the teacher to my students that my instructors are to me, not for profit or my own gain (or because I feel pressured to do so), but because I am blessed to be involved in an art that is not a hobby, but an entire lifestyle.

I still have a long way to go. First, I need to become the proper “Assistant Instructor” that the patch on my gi says I am. Then, on to the next step. Instead of the jump I mentioned earlier, this next step looks like I’ll be needing some rock climbing gear. Guess I better go and pack and get ready for it.

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