Teaching – It is another form of learning

Teaching is one of those subjects where there is an entire canon of literature, and yet you will never learn anything if you don’t do it yourself.

Teaching at Wu Tang for me has been a journey, and I have only been teaching for about a year. Of course, there are things I learned along the way on how to teach, but what has really fascinated me is the concept of teaching and how it affects the teacher himself.
I have always had the highest respect for people who do something for the course of their entire lifetime. To me that signals that that they have a love of the activity, and at the same time that they are still getting something valuable out of it. The fundamental question that I have been asking myself is – what makes a teacher want to teach for the rest of his life, and not get frustrated and quit somewhere along the way?

You see, when I first started teaching, I enjoyed it because it was something new, novel and different. But then as time goes on, there are always frustrations and obstacles that a new teacher has to deal with. Why isn’t my class behaving better? Why are they not improving like I want them to? How do I make them want to learn? And what in God’s name do I do with the problem students who never seem to want to do anything you tell them to?

I felt as if I was chipping away at a brick wall or as if I was lost in a maze and I didn’t have a blueprint to get out. I would go to class and try my best, but then I had no clue if it was working, nor what the right teaching method was. It was times like this that I felt like teaching class was a burden, and something that I felt obligated to do just because others (students, other instructors, etc.) were relying on me.

Then Master David Chiang brought it to my attention that teacher’s should be getting something out of the experience as well. That’s when I realized that a teacher is in reality a student, in every aspect of the word except for the label. If a student is frustrated and can’t improve, he will quit – if a teacher is frustrated and can’t improve his class, he will quit. If a student doesn’t learn anything, he will get bored and become demotivated – if a teacher doesn’t learn anything, he will only follow the routines of the class. If a student is afraid to make mistakes, he will never get better – if a teacher never makes mistakes by trying out new things, he will never be a better teacher.

It is funny, because in Chinese martial arts, we hold teachers in high regard (as we should). However, we forget that the transition from student to teacher is not a binary one. A new teacher has to make mistakes, a new teacher has to have guidance, because in reality he is still a student learning something – the subject matter may be a bit different, but the same concepts of motivation for a student apply for the teacher as well. In fact, there are many times where I would have given up teaching if I hadn’t been given guidance from others (and I’ve only been doing it for less than a year).

I like to think that the teacher and student are both walking along the same path – only the teacher is a few steps ahead of the student. However, if the teacher isn’t constantly learning, isn’t exploring, isn’t motivated like the student is motivated, the relationship between student and teacher is a dying one. Because the student isn’t following somebody who is dynamic, who is constantly growing and evolving.

I think the point of this essay is to just to emphasize that being a teacher is actually multi-dimensional. If teaching is important to us, then we will need to maintain our desire and motivate to teach. And in order to do that, we may need to go back to being students again. In the same vein, when we train new teachers and introduce them to teaching, we must understand that we have to treat them as new students – have to give them guidance, encouragement, motivation, and feedback. And I’m pretty sure that even somebody as skilled as GrandMaster Marlon Ma still views himself as a student of the art.

Sifu Robert Kuan

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