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11-22-2000, 07:42 PM
After years of training, I've finally realized that the head instructor of the dojo hasn't taught me a thing!

He doesn't teach at all. He's not interested in being a teacher, he's interested in having his students learn. Most people would think teaching and learning are the same things, but they aren't.

A teacher is someone who has this prearranged method of instruction ready. This course of training represents authority, policies of the organization, ways we've learned it before. However, what do you do (as an instructor) when you can clearly see that the students are "not getting it"?

You can hope that after X number of years of practice, they'll understand. You can make a mental note and try and revise the lesson for next week, or you can change your way of instruction to suit the students' understanding.

Let's say you've shown the class this technique and now you're watching them bungle it big-time. Both uke(attacker) and nage(thrower) fell, while doing the technique. Try a different approach to instruction.

Maybe you can break-down the technique into a simpler set of moves, that they can put together after some practice. Perhaps you can show them some exercises that relate to the movement they're having a hard time learning. Think of different approaches to understanding, besides the one lesson you had devised off the mat. Maybe you can use a different metaphor to help your students understand the technique more closely. The real purpose behind all this is getting the students to learn, to deepen their understanding and appreciation of the technique at hand.

Do you think this approach is a possibility, or is all pretentous hot air?? Are you, as an instructor, allowed the freedom of changing the lesson plan on the mat? Or is there someone else looking over your shoulder?

Inquiring minds want to know. :D

11-22-2000, 08:22 PM
In the times when I've had to be in front of a class, I've had to be able to ditch any kind of "lesson plan" which I had in mind to make sure that what I was doing up there reflected the natural course of the class. Many teachers I have met (in fact, I'd say the majority of them) have admitted to the same kind of flexibility being necessary as well.

I remember talking to Frank Doran sensei this summer about teaching. He said that he treats his classes like a laboratory. Sometimes, what he teaches doesn't "work" and he lets it go. Other times, he notices that it's working pretty well so he puts it into his mind as something he can try using some other time.

I don't know how many ways my current teacher has explained such concepts like kuzushi, musubi, and timing to me -- from pushing a car to treating uke as a frying pan to balancing a jo on one's hand, he's always thinking of different ways of letting people understand such concepts.

I think it's an important aspect of teaching in any kind of venue (and not just in aikido) to make sure that the teaching isn't just a one-way conduit. The teacher has to keep learning what's working and what's not working. As a friend of mine related, George Simcox sensei said that he would stop teaching if he himself failed to learn something new for three nights in a row; he never quit...

As an aside from a student's perspective, I enjoy teachers who are teaching things that they're currently working on rather than, say, a teacher who comes out and shows some sort of "finished product" (if there's such a thing). Show me a "work in progress" any day.

-- Jun

Richard Harnack
11-27-2000, 09:32 AM
An effective teacher has a commitment to the student's undrstanding.

Instructors who stand in front of a class and demonstrate their technique with little regard for whether their students actually understood anything, are not teachers.

As to the different grades of teachers, an excellent teacher does have a "plan", but it is transparent to the student. The student comes to their understanding and abilities because the teacher has helped them discover their skills.

A fair teacher has a plan and sticks to it mainly by rote. They can get a large portion of their students through the techniques and philosophy, but they lose a good many students who do not understand.

A poor teacher insists on being called "Sensei", struts around telling their students that their technique is wrong, and make it the student's fault for not understanding.

In my experience, the best teachers have learned from their mistakes and are able to correct themselves in front of their class. I remember on different occasions Kobayashi, Sensei sharing his thoughts on a particular technique, not have the technique work the way he had been taught, then break it down into smaller units of movement until the error was discovered. I have found that this increased my own understanding many fold, and, it also modeled for me excellent teaching.

I realize that it is tempting to identify one's instructor and/or one's self in the above definitions.

My point is that excellent teachers are always so regardless of the material being taught.

Poor teachers rely on being "the teacher", not their ability to teach.

Fair teachers always have the lesson plan. They stand a chance of becoming excellent by dint of practice.

The martial arts have had two models, one allows for excellence, the other does not.

The one not allowing for excellence is one of "authority and student". In this model, the student must submit to the authority unquestioningly.

The one allowing for excellence is that of "master and disciple". While to outward appearances, this may look like the other model, it is not. A "master" actually knows and helps the disciple to come to their own "knowing".

Unfortunately, too often in the martial arts, the functioning model has been "authority and student".

I apologize for this long peroration, however, teaching is very important to me.