Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Uphill Climb

Last week, I went to a workshop on engaging area youth. It was sponsored by a local agency that hosts after-school programs all over the school district. The facilitator was awesome - excellent ideas, very engaging and energetic - but sadly, the group he was there to engage - youth workers and teachers who work the after-school homework and activity programs - was none of that. Some of the folks there boasted of many years of actual classroom teaching experience, but used the same breath to detail how horrible this kid or that kid was in their program. Too many of the attendees sat with their arms folded across their chests and "I've tried that and it didn't work!" scowls across their brows. Their lethargy was hard to watch.

My group's discussion about activities that could help re-engage kids who have fallen between the cracks deteriorated into a chat about where to buy the cheapest car tires in the area while three of our group members began their own conversation about who knows what. And, yes, I did try to corral the group back to focus on the task at hand, but the side conversation and tire talk drowned me out.

What does this have to do with karate, you ask? The lessons gleaned from training in the martial arts go a long way in answering that question. For example:

1. Discipline is the absolute cornerstone of learning anything new - and it all begins with self-discipline. It doesn't have to be whip-cracking, ruler-smacking hard, but without it, it's pretty difficult to go forward. Master yourself and another master is hard to find.

2. Nothing worthwhile comes easy - and little sweat ain't never killed anybody.

3. The hardest part of any class is usually getting there. Once you're there, you might as well apply the best effort you can so your trip wasn't for nothing.

Of course teaching is a tough job. When the total number of hours spent preparing lessons and grading papers, tests and projects is factored in, teachers in most public school systems don't get paid nearly enough. And I get that it must be rough to not immediately see the fruits of such hard labor blossom and ripen, I really do. That the host district has a high economically disenfranchised, single-parent household population often (but not always) makes miniscule parental involvement the norm, which has to be frustrating as all get out. It sucks. But it is what it is.

Most of the folks I give instruction to in the dojo are children, still the above wasn't really written for them or the students in the after-school programs - but for the people who teach them. If you set high expectations for those who train with and under you, they will have high expectations of themselves. Whether teaching a static kick or a spinning one, how to balance a chemical equation or write an essay outline, if someone thinks they can do it or if they think that they can't, they're probably right. Giving instruction is about getting those we instruct to think they can.

So don't give up just yet. Keep trying - because you only fail when you stop.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Tying It All Together

I'm a writer, editor and journalism instructor, so I make a living via the written word - whether I'm stringing a few of them together for an article, cutting some of them out of someone else's article or showing others how to put them together more effectively in the classroom. Words inspire me.

I started a new blog a few weeks ago - mainly as a place to put some of the sayings I stumble across every now and again. I try to post a quote every day in hopes that it will inspire others, too.

This was yesterday's entry from The Talmud: "Who is wise? One who learns from all." Turns out it was absolutely perfect for yesterday, because it was the day my training partner, Ed, and I oversaw our first grading at the Salvation Army (where we've been hosting free karate classes since May). Here are some of our students preparing to present:

A good day was had by all 18 of the kyus that graded. My senseis, several of my training partners and a few other senseis we've trained with over the years were all on hand to help us empty the cups of the graders and keep things moving along smoothly.

Once all the certificates, new belts and stripes were handed out, Sensei D. told our students that they all look like they are solidly on their way down their own paths - provided they keep working hard. "You are a direct reflection of your instructors," he added. "You made them look very good today." Always one to give credit where credit is due, Ed immediately pointed to the black belts and said something that brought it all home: "You also made THEM look good, because we learned from them. We give to you what they've given and continue to give us."

And he's right. Guess that makes him humble and wise :-).