I’ve never had an emotional problem with teaching. I’ve always loved teaching. Yet it isn’t quite as easy as most people might assume. Complications can arise for any number of reasons,such as politics or personality (or cultural) differences, that can make communication difficult. However, I’ve found that there may be one key to teaching effectively that I myself had overlooked for some time. In order to teach and reach your students effectively you must apply the same rule that a good writer must keep in mind when writing:
“Know your audience!”
When I was in the third grade my teacher gave the class an assignment to draw what a pilot would see when he is flying. I filled a third of the paper with clouds and a couple birds. That rest of the paper I filled with what I thought the knobs and controls would look like. My teacher didn’t like my picture, telling me that she wanted to see more of what the sky would look like because that was more interesting. “The technical stuff the pilot sees is boring and no one cares,” was the implication. I thought at the time maybe I didn’t understand the assignment. However, as far as I was concerned, I did exactly as I was instructed.
Today I realize that my problem wasn’t that I did the assignment wrong. It was that I didn’t know my audience. I drew the picture for me and not for her. She could care less about all the knobs and gauges on a plane’s control panel, even though I was intrigued by the idea. She wanted to see a beautiful sky or maybe what the earth looked like from high above. I didn’t think that was particularly interesting; I can look at the sky any time.
Now, as I begin to teach more in the martial arts, I must remember to keep this lesson in mind. It doesn’t matter if you are giving a speech, writing a book or teaching: one needs to remember that they are addressing a specific audience. Sure there may be things that I understand perfectly and find fascinating with any subject, but I have to remember that my audience (or students, in this case) comes from different backgrounds and experiences than what I’ve had in my life. It’s important for me to respect that and take these differences into consideration when creating and presenting my lesson plan.
Probably the most important factor for me right now would be age. While I can relate to people who are around my own age, it can sometimes be difficult to teach those who are older or much younger than me. This is one of the reasons I avoided teaching children (other than relatives or family friends) for such a long time. I would often forget that a child still in school does not have the same educational background as an adult would have. When I teach the martial arts I have a tendency to use examples or illustrations from such various subjects as geometry, history, anatomy, science, and even English. Someone who hasn’t completed a certain grade or taken a certain subject yet could be left more confused or perplexed by my analogy or explanation of certain techniques and concepts. In addition to the differences in what is being taught in school today compared to when I attended, there are also dramatic differences in culture and the way children treat each other. Sure, there were fights when I went to school, but that was the extent of it. At the end of the day everyone came home alive and safe. When I teach a teenager attending school now, I keep a couple things in mind: practical ability and underlying morality. While I want to feel confident in my students’ abilities to survive a physical altercation, , I also want to make sure I am not training bullies and thugs.
Teaching adults isn’t always quite as challenging, though it can be at times. I was raised to respect my elders. Sometime adults can be as temperamental and stubborn as children. It can feel a little strange when an adult reacts to discipline in the same way an adolescent would react.
There are any number of ways to handle this situation. Once again it comes back to knowing your audience (or who you are teaching). For example, when I was a training facilitator for a security company, the threat of someone losing their job was usually enough to get someone to fall on line. If it’s a situation where I am with someone for private lessons they have to option of going somewhere else. What it really comes down to respect.
Respect is not just from my students, but also respect from me to them. I believe I owe them the respect of getting to know them as human beings and understanding their motives for coming to me to learn in the first place. I believe this alone would go a long way towards making me a better teacher to my students.
If you’ve read to this point in my post, please feel free to comment. Even though I’ve written quite a bit, I’m positive I didn’t cover everything thing there is to cover on this subject. Ask me any questions you may have and express your opinion. Let me know what you agree with or what you disagree with. Either way, I’d love to hear from you.