Thursday, 8 October 2015

To Not Inspire is to Fail our Students

I experienced something yesterday that disturbed me. A young man who is a former student at Buntoku, the school where I teach, came to do his practicum as a student teacher this past Month. He was energetic and hard working, a member of one of the very first classes I've ever taught at this school when I first started here. Of course, I want him to succeed and wish him all the best. Unfortunately, it became very clear yesterday during his demonstration lesson that his supervising teacher here failed him! I know this blog is designated as a vehicle to share ideas on the philosophies and concepts of the martial arts and karate-do specifically, but I believe that the education process is a very relevant topic of discussion that relates and impacts our lives on many levels and therefore, I would like to share with you some of my views of what educators should do to avoid failing their students. Perhaps some of the ideas shared in this post will resonate with you as well, in your personal or professional context keeping in mind that we are all somebody's teacher.
Let me start by telling you what I think the bottom line is. You can agree or disagree with me, but at least this way you know where I am coming from. Whether it is in the classroom or in the dojo, I believe that it is the instructor's duty to inspire the students to strive for more. We do this by assigning tasks that are appropriately challenging for the students' levels both individually and as a group or a team. If the task is too difficult they will become unmotivated and give up. In the same respect, if it is too easy they will become bored and quit. Assessing the appropriate levels is not always easy and definitely requires developing a relationship with our students. The deeper the relationship the better we can assess the level of the assigned task. This takes time and effort, but the results are so very rewarding.
James Allen, in his book, The Eight Pillars of Prosperity (1911) wrote that, "A teacher is a sower of seed, a spiritual agriculturist, while he who teaches himself is the wise farmer of his own mental plot. The growth of a thought is as the growth of a plant, the seed must be sown seasonally and time is required for its full development into the plant of knowledge and the flower of wisdom" (p. 5).

I believe that this statement outlines the healthy dynamic between teacher and student. The best students are those who take an active role in their learning and personal development and the best teachers are those who can provide the right conditions for the 'seeds' to grow; appropriate support and opportunities for the student to learn and realize their potential. This is what is done in the majority of the dojo that I have seen and visited. However, some teachers cannot seem to apply this in the classroom, especially the Japanese English classroom. Even after they are given the tools and the experience, they either choose not to or just don't care to change their teaching approach from 'read and repeat' to a more communicative based, student centred learning approach.
As English teachers in Japan we are not just teachers of English grammar and vocabulary. We are promoters of English based cultures and should therefore also promote general self-development strategies. As professional  educators we must inspire our students, not just teach the material in the text books, but urge them to think original thoughts based on the materials introduced and to take an active role in their own personal development. We must try to do this in each and every lesson.

In order to achieve this we must ask ourselves the following questions:
What will the students get from this lesson?
What skill sets am I trying to help them develop?
How will they grow as a result of being introduced to the information and material in this lesson?
Of course, it will always be the choice of the individual to take what they've learned and how to apply it in their lives. or not. We cannot and should not try to force them to make the choices that we want them to. I think this also relates to parenting, personal relationships, and coaching. We can only give advise based on personal experience and research how making a particular choice may affect the potential for future successes positively or negatively.

In my 15 years of experience with the Japanese education system, Japanese English teachers still spend far too much time and energy developing only one skill set in their students; that of memorization and not nearly enough time or energy developing free thinkers.

To be effective educators, no matter what the subject may be, we must be passionate about what we are teaching; both the material and the process. Martin Luther King Jr. did not inspire Humanity by saying, "now repeat after me, I have a dream." He inspired people with his passion and his conviction and everyone remembers his words even though they didn't repeat them in chorus three times on that day!

The message I wish to send in this post is actually a request. Teachers, please don't fail your students. Inspire them to reach their full potential, give them opportunities to show you what that is and they will take care of the rest.


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