What makes a good teacher?

Discussion in 'General Martial Arts Talk' started by Midnight-shadow, Feb 12, 2018.

  1. Midnight-shadow

    Midnight-shadow 3rd Black Belt

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    I've been thinking about this for awhile and since there are quite a few teachers on here, I'm curious to know your thoughts. Since the list of attributes that make a good teacher is quite extensive, I'd like you to list your top 3 attributes that make a good teacher, and explain why. Here's my top 3 attributes:

    Knowledge: Some would say it's self-explanatory, but when I talk about knowledge I don't just mean how to use a list of techniques and combinations. To me a good teacher knows the underlining principles behind each technique, not just the technique as it appears on the surface.

    Observational skills: Being able to look at a person doing the skill and identify the underlining problem behind a mistake, not just the mistake itself. For example, let's say your student keeps falling over when they do a certain kick. A bad teacher will probably just say something like "keep your balance" or "stop falling over", which doesn't actually help the student fix the problem. Instead you have to look closer, to see why they keep falling over when they do the kick. This leads back to the Knowledge, because in order to make these assessments you need to have a greater knowledge of the principles behind a technique, not just the technique itself.

    Communication: Another obvious one, in that you need to be able to communicate effectively in order for your student to understand what you want them to do. However, what a lot of people don't understand that this isn't just verbal communication. A lot of people are visual learners rather than audio learners, meaning they learn more effectively by looking at a skill, than in being told how to do it. It's all very well being able to do a roundhouse kick at full speed, but do you have the control to slow that kick down and show the student every aspect of the kick? If you are teaching a class, have you positioned yourself in a way so that every student can clearly see what is going on? After all, your demonstration could be absolutely perfect but it means nothing if your student can't see it.

    So, what are your top 3 attributes that make a good teacher, and why? On a side note, has anyone tried demonstrating a technique without speaking? Or teaching a technique just by speaking, with no demonstrating at all? It's a very interesting challenge that I would recommend all teachers try to see how effective they are when you take out either speaking or demonstrating.
     
  2. skribs

    skribs Master of Arts

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    Well, I'm an awesome teacher, so what are my three best attributes? Just kidding.

    I'm going to say "knowledge" is so obvious I'm not going to list it. If you don't understand the material, there's obviously no way you can teach it.

    1) Patience. You need to encourage students when they make valiant attempts and fail. When I first started teaching, I didn't have patience, and I'm pretty sure a few kids quit my school because of me. It was a learning experience for me, and my Master was very patient with me as I learned this. You need to correct technique and you need to be sure you don't let students slack off in class, but at the same time you need to encourage the effort put into improving. Even if the student doesn't seem to do the technique any better that day, eventually it will click for them.

    2) Cadence and tone. You said communication, and I'm going to focus on cadence and tone. Here are some tips I've picked up:
    • Have two voices, one for instruction and one for commands. "Next combination is roundhouse-kick back-kick. Ready...ONE!" That command has to be different than the instruction.
    • Only go as fast as the slowest student and don't leave students behind (unless you are purposefully trying to push them). This one goes back to your observational skills.
    • Keep a similar cadence when you're doing instruction. When I first started teaching, my Master told me to do things the way he does them. I may have done too well, as I kind of developed a bit of a Korean accent (and I don't even speak Korean), but I wanted to copy his cadence, his speech patterns and his mannerisms. He said it would be easier for the kids to understand my lessons if I did that. I've slowly developed into my own style, but I try to have a consistent teaching style so that students can follow along.
    Before I started teaching I thought it was easy. When I started learning about the intricacies of leading, I realized how hard it is.

    3) Balance confidence with humility. Students need to hear confidence in your voice when you give instruction and when you answer questions. They need to know that you have authority in the dojang. However, they also need to see that sometimes you don't have the answer and you can work through it, or that sometimes you made a mistake and the student was astute in picking that up. They need to know that even as great as you are, there was a lot of failure along the way. This goes back to patience a little bit, but you need your students to know that it's okay to not know what they're doing. My Master says to our white belts they shouldn't worry about making mistakes, because that's their job as a white belt.
     
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  3. Midnight-shadow

    Midnight-shadow 3rd Black Belt

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    I did a similar thing when learning to teach under my own mentor. Subconsciously I would pick up her mannerisms, turns of phrase, teaching points, etc to the point where I almost turned into a copy of her. It was quite unnerving in a way when I realised what was happening.
     
  4. lklawson

    lklawson Senior Master

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    What makes a good teacher is the student.

    It sounds stupid, I know, but a "good teacher" is one who can pass information and learning on to the student. While it's not really true that "every student is different" it is true that there are a lot of different learning styles and most people have different experiences to pair with their learning styles.

    It's pretty common for students to learn in different ways with different points of emphasis.

    No one is going to know how to teach, literally, every person who comes through their door. In some cases a teacher may have to learn how to teach a new student. That may be easy or it may be hard. After a while, there will begin to be broad groups differentiate themselves who learn in generally similar ways. But there's always going to be those outliers who are going to take more effort.

    The teacher has to learn to teach. Teaching isn't doing and teaching isn't even always what every one thinks it is. Sometimes it is broad based and cookie cutter, and sometimes it is very individualized and specifically tuned.

    Peace favor your sword,
    Kirk
     
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  5. Kung Fu Wang

    Kung Fu Wang Grandmaster

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    A: How can I develop power?
    B: If you stay with me for N years, you will know how.

    A: How can I develop power?
    C: If you do ... and ..., you will know how.

    IMO, C > B

    For each and every MA skill that a teacher teaches, he should teach his students how to

    1. develop,
    2. test,
    3. enhance,
    4. polish,
    5. set up,
    6. finish.
     
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  6. skribs

    skribs Master of Arts

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    No, but some people can teach a greater variety of students, and some students are unteachable no matter who the teacher is.
     
  7. Buka

    Buka Grandmaster

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    Good communication skills coupled with the processing of information concerning each and every one your students.

    Being able to inspire.

    Strict discipline tempered with a good sense of humor. Can't have one without the other in my opinion.

    Knowing how to God damn fight. The very fact that there may be people teaching in dojos that have no idea whatsoever how to defend themselves in the real world, never mind teaching others how to do so, is absolutely, fricken' nuts.

    Do not let your students try to become "you" or one of the other instructors. Guide them to become the person they strive to be. For most of them, it's pretty much why they came to your dojo in the first place.

    As to one of the posts above, I will never, EVER, only go as fast as the slowest student. I will metaphorically carry the slowest student on my back while letting the group run. I will help the slow ones with extra time on my part, do whatever it takes to help them, no matter what I have to do. Going only as fast as the slowest student is a sure fire way to lose the better part of your student body. And remember, when running from a hungry, charging lion, you don't have to run faster than the lion. You only have to run faster than the guy next to you.

    Okay, so it's more than three. There's so much more, but you all know that anyway.
     
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  8. lklawson

    lklawson Senior Master

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    Only if the point of the training is to train to fight and for your definition of "fight."

    Yes, I'm serious.

    Peace favor your sword,
    Kirk
     
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  9. Buka

    Buka Grandmaster

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    Oh, I wholeheartedly agree.
     
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  10. skribs

    skribs Master of Arts

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    Well, I'm glad I don't train at your school. I'm sure a lot of my students do, too. Especially those in their 50s, or people who just got their new belt and are dumped into the next class and have an overload of new information to absorb.

    If we didn't pay attention to our students and just blasted through our forms, most of the students would be lost through the whole thing, especially the younger kids. They'd have no time to learn any details and if they remembered anything it would be horrible.

    I've watched some of our assistant instructors without much leadership experience try to lead young kids through a form, and most of the kids get lost really early on, because the instructor doesn't have the awareness of what is going on. I don't know how students could learn in that atmosphere.

    That applies to basically anything. I've started taking guitar lessons as well. I suck. I really, really suck. If I tried to play songs at speed right off the bat, I'd never have gotten there. Instead, I take a song that should be played at 120 BPM and I learned it at 42 BPM. It was ridiculously slow, but it was what I needed in order to learn the details and build the muscle memory to improve. I've been working on it several months and now I'm doing it at 80-90 BPM, which is still not there. Granted, I'm taking private lessons so I'm not holding back a class, but the point is that if you have a group and you leave the weaker ones behind, then are you really a good teacher?

    I can't imagine how we'd keep half our students if we told them I'm not going to bother making sure they get the form during class because other students do it better than them.

    I think if you're claiming you can learn to fight or can learn self defense, you should be able to back it up.

    If you're just talking about sport or exercise, then it's not as big a deal if you don't know how to fight, because you're not making those claims.
     
  11. lklawson

    lklawson Senior Master

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    When was "fight" and "self defense" brought up again?

    Or for one of those times when definitions of "fight" don't match yours. Need an example? Fencing. I know some folks who are freaking deadly with a sword, particularly a dueling sword, who couldn't "fight" their way out of a wet paper bag if "fight" is defined as a MMA match. But I wouldn't put money on the MMA guy if the "fight" were reversed and they were facing each other with Dueling Sabers.

    And even then your list is far too shallow. Sure there's sport. There's exercise. There's "fighting." But what about someone interested in "historic" martial arts as a way to connect with their culture? Or even just for entertainment? Or what if it's only one "part" of fighting (boxing stand-alone, wrestling stand-alone)? What if they're studying it as a "historic artifact" ; sort of a "living history" such as Fiore? Hamlet (1.5.166-7) :)

    Peace favor your sword,
    Kirk
     
  12. Buka

    Buka Grandmaster

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    I'm pretty sure you would have liked it, I'd make book on that, in fact. And I've probably trained a whole lot more people in their fifties than you have. The larger percentage of who felt like they were reborn, or so they always said.

    I don't dump people into any next class, and there really isn't any new information to overload, so....I don't know, I don't think that applies to those we train and learn under. None of my instructors did that either. Maybe we're talking apples and oranges here.

    And Skribs, I never leave the weaker ones behind.
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2018
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  13. skribs

    skribs Master of Arts

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    In Buka's post:

    ---

    This made it sound like you would rather keep up with the faster students and let the old ones fall behind.
     
  14. Midnight-shadow

    Midnight-shadow 3rd Black Belt

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    I'm going to assume that instructor B in your example does know the answer and isn't spouting nonsense to cover up their ignorance. As for the difference in the 2 cases, I can see why you might want to deny an answer from a student. You might wish for the student to figure the answer out on their own, or the answer may involve concepts that the student isn't ready for yet. I've had to do this on ocassion with my diving students, where I prefer to deny the answer rather than spending 10 minutes explaining something they don't need to know yet.
     
  15. hoshin1600

    hoshin1600 Senior Master

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    oh you stole my #1.

    why is that my number one? because i am gulity of being a mini me of every one of my teachers. i had to work really hard to be my own person.

    i always viewed it as a compliment when i was told i was just like my teacher..because well my teachers were good. it took me many years to realize that is not really a good thing and not something i want to be.
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2018
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  16. hoshin1600

    hoshin1600 Senior Master

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    a good teacher understands the long view of things and knows how to dish out a proper balance of what the student "wants" and what the student "needs"
     
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  17. Kung Fu Wang

    Kung Fu Wang Grandmaster

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    In your opinion, what kind of information that a new student doesn't have to know?
     
  18. Midnight-shadow

    Midnight-shadow 3rd Black Belt

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    If a 7 year old student asks me why a certain object sinks and another object floats I'm not going to go into a long explanation of Boyles Law and the nature of buoyancy in the water. Even if I were inclined to do it, there would be no point as the student wouldn't be able to comprehend the principles of it, and they don't need to know that information in order to swim.
     
  19. skribs

    skribs Master of Arts

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    It depends a lot on the student, but I find that a lot of our techniques we teach "wrong", because if we teach it correct from the start then it leads to other problems. For example:

    • With young kids (I'm especially talking 4-5 year olds here), if you try to get them to pivot their feet when they punch, they will step with their punches. So we teach them to not move their feet with a rear-hand punch, which is incorrect, but is more correct than what they would do. Sometimes this age group is like herding cats, and half of what I do in the little kid (4-7 year old) white belt class is just keep the kids from running into each other or hitting the person in front of them. They're not hitting them out of trying to hit them, but just because they're not paying attention to how far forward they're moving (this behavior is gone by the time they get their yellow belt, but they can be a handful until then).
    • With the back kick, we sometimes teach it as more of a side kick until it can be fully articulated the differences between a back kick and a side kick. People have trouble with back kick until I tell them to "turn around and do a side kick" and then later we show the subtleties between them.
    • There are two different ways to do a front kick - one with the ball of the feet and one with the instep. For the most part, it varies based on target. We teach with the instep, because that's how we hold the targets, and honestly we don't use front kicks much in our curriculum outside of the technique itself.
    • Ax kick goes through several iterations. We start with a straight up-and-down stretch kick at lower belts, at higher belts teach outside-inside ax kick, and at black belt teach the sparring version which is more like a vertical hook kick. This is because at the start we use it to work on flexibility, and then expand the range of muscles we hit, and then teach the practical version.
    • Our hand grabs in our Taekwondo class are easier than our hand grabs in Hapkido, because the version in Taekwondo is safer and easier to learn (and we spend maybe 5-10 minutes a class on them) and the Hapkido versions are more effective, but more dangerous to use and more difficult to learn. This is spoken as someone who is a 2nd degree black belt in our Taekwondo system and an orange belt in our Hapkido system (even if you don't know our exact belt structure, you can guess a pretty good idea). I will be a 3rd degree black belt in Taekwondo for probably over a year before I get my black belt in Hapkido.
    • Some of our students have a lot of habits they need to work on. There's no benefit they will get from being told to work on 5 different habits at once. As an instructor, it's our job to figure out which habits are most important, and then as to the others take the "there's bigger fish to fry" approach.
    There's also anecdotes of questions I get asked. For example:

    • When getting ready for his first degree black belt test (as in, 10 minutes before the test and I asked if anyone had any questions) a kid was asking about things he could do when he was a 7th degree black belt and I told him that right now he needed to focus on the next 4 hours.
    • Some kids want to do the more advanced techniques before they master the prerequisites. For example, one kid wanted to do the forms for the next belt, when his technique was very sloppy at his current belt.
    • Sometimes I get asked questions outside the scope of my instruction. For example, one kid, around 10 or 11 years old, came up to me before class and asked "what's puberty like?"
    So, to summarize:

    1. Sometimes the question isn't relevant to Taekwondo instruction
    2. Sometimes you want to avoid overwhelming someone, so you isolate the most important parts of the technique and teach more details once they've mastered the details you've given them
    3. Sometimes you need to keep students grounded in their techniques instead of trying to jump ahead too early
     
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  20. gpseymour

    gpseymour Sr. Grandmaster

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    AMEN.

    Agreed. If I need to do use a synchronized group exercise (grappling styles don't tend to do as much of that), I'll find a pace everyone who's participating can work with. If one person is significantly slower, they'll be pushed to a pace that causes useful mistakes (often, their biggest challenge is simply that they aren't going fast enough to build any real flow), or I'll give them a partner to work on something else (perhaps even the same exercise at a different pace). Or just split off the most competent folks to work separately. Or something. Gotta keep the room moving, not just the slowest person. (This same challenge pops up all the time in corporate training I do. Same answer most of the time.)
     

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