I want to direct my editorial toward the topic of teaching. I was discussing the subject with Shimu Betsy this evening and I summed up my whole philosophy on teaching in 3 quotes, here they are:
If learning didn’t occur, teaching didn’t happen.
My father has always said this, and it places a heavy burden upon the teacher. But in it’s simplicity, it is always true. No matter how much effort a teacher puts forward to teach a student, if the student didn’t learn, then teaching didn’t happen. I think that it is important to point out that this doesn’t ascribe blame, it simply states the plain truth.
There have been many “problem” students in the past that we have all encountered that have really tried our patience. Many we might have described as “impossible”. But the truth is often (not always) just that we did not go to the lengths needed to teach that student. I will be the first to admit that some students do not deserve our efforts because of reasons I will address in a few minutes, but so many struggle just because they see the world differently. As teachers, we often have our preferred method of teaching/explaining things that works for most people. It just doesn’t work for everybody, and that unfortunate few for which it does not can get left behind. I remember being that student quite often. Shiye Kimzey quite often would share with us as we were coming up the ranks the importance of working hard to find the method that would unlock the understanding for each student. Just because our method worked for others didn’t mean it would work for everybody and the burden of responsibility was upon us as teachers to try to reach each student.
Shimu Betsy shared a story of a hygiene student who was the “headache” student of her class for all the instructors. He had failed a specific skill examination with every instructor multiple times and it was her turn to try to teach him. He was stubborn and arrogant, infuriating to say the least, but Betsy saw something in his attitude that made her stop and think. She saw his own frustration and realized that he just did not get what he was supposed to be doing. Instead of just failing him (which she did), she told him that it didn’t matter how many times she had to test, re-test, and re-teach she was not going to quit until he got it. She asked him questions and she listened to him until she zeroed in on his problem. Then she took the time to help him understand how to approach the problem. Would you believe he passed? He did, and learning happened for the first time.
No such thing as bad student, only bad teacher
and here is the assumption…
Teacher say, student do
Miyagi said this to Daniel in the first Karate Kid movie. It outlines the scenario that is needed for successful teaching to happen — the teacher says, and the student does. No matter what the teacher does, if the student will not comply, learning will not happen — and neither will teaching.
So how do we as teachers get the student to do what we say? You cannot make anyone do anything, the best you can do is make them want to. Take this to heart, it is the truth. Motivation is key to making students do what the teacher says. You cannot always assume that the student will be intrinsically motivated to do what we say. Sometimes we have to take the time to dig to find what motivates them, and sometimes that digging (and the implementing after you find it) takes time and energy on our part. I remember a story from Laoshi Peter about a boy who was struggling to keep up and no one was able to help him. Peter saw him struggling and took the time to single him out, identify his motivation and his obstacles and help him overcome them. Sometimes, the problem isn’t a matter of motivation, it is a problem of obstacles. This was true in both Shimu Betsy’s story and Laoshi Peter’s.
Good students make up the difference for bad teachers
It isn’t always about the teachers. Maybe they are bad teachers, or maybe they just are not good teachers for you, but we have all had those moments where we are frustrated because of a learning scenario that isn’t working for us because of the method the teacher is using. If you are in a teacher-student relationship and it isn’t working. The burden is upon you to do whatever it takes to make it work. Talk to the teacher, get outside help, study more, whatever it takes. Good students will make up the difference for bad teachers.
I am not saying this to give teachers an out or to shift blame (I am not trying to assign blame at all). Instead, I am trying to share some things that have helped me to know that whatever roll I am in, the burden of responsibility is on me to make it work. I can not blame my student for not learning, I can not blame my teacher for not teaching. I have to take responsibility for my part of the relationship.
Teacher say, student do
Remember what I said earlier, you can’t make anyone do anything. You can’t. There will always be those students you can’t help, learning is a double edged blade. If you are a student, take responsibility for your learning. Do what your teacher says, and if it isn’t working then find something that will help it to work. If you are a teacher then make each student a priority and try to help them to find success in the learning process. Don’t give up on them and don’t try to force them to learn outside of their style.
I want to close by thanking my parents and my Shifu for their excellent examples of high quality teachers. Without their exemplary demonstrations of these principles, I would not have learned nearly as much in my life as I have.