Monday, July 7, 2008

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Learning to teach classes was pretty easy.

I assisted for quite a while, learned the class format, knew what to do and in what order, and slowly, started teaching one or two of the series of classes on my own, eventually able to teach an entire series.
There were some specific things I needed to learn, but nothing terribly difficult.

Learning to give individual lessons was a different story.

For one thing, fencing, and teaching fencing, are sometimes diametrically opposed. The goal in fencing is to touch without being touched. In teaching, you purposely allow the student to touch you.

But that wasn't the most challenging part.

Some of the physical movements are very different. Plus, you must be able to simulate, for your student, all of the different sizes and types of opponents they might face.

That wasn't the hardest part, either.

One of the things I enjoy most about teaching is observing the learning process. Each person learns things in an individualized order. It's fascinating.

No less so, when I'm the one learning.

My biggest stumbling block?

Giving good feedback.

It isn't that I don't know how to give feedback.
And it mostly isn't that I didn't know when to give it, or what to say.

It was something else.

Partly, it was that I really, really dislike being told to say something. Shuts me right up.

I talk a lot. Believe me.
The quickest way to put a stop to that is to tell me to say something, something specific.
I can't do it.
(Or at least, I couldn't.)

So imagine, if you will, me trying to give a student a lesson, trying to remember what to do, when and how to do it, trying to maintain my own position, AND trying to observe what my student is doing, so I can make any necessary corrections.

Now imagine me not being very practiced at that. It's somewhat like trying to juggle three bowling balls, a cat, and a couple of knives, while balancing on one foot on a rocking chair- and then being asked where your car keys are.

The neural connections necessary to get words to come out of my mouth, and for them to be genuine, honest, constructive feedback just weren't happening. Not no way, not no how.

So my ever-helpful master would "suggest" to me that I should give more feedback. A reminder, if you will. Encouragement.

Except it triggered every button I had in the "I hate being told what to do" department.
And I'd clam right up.
Whether I wanted to or not.
And I emphatically did not.

"Suggesting" would rapidly escalate to "outright ordering," and all the while, my poor student would be standing there not knowing what the hell to do.

This is not, shall we say, an ideal situation.

Hard to understand, now, why they didn't all quit, and why I wasn't tossed out on my ass.

Resistance is futile.

The next phase would be for him to tell me to repeat specific words, as if they were honest feedback, to get the feel of when and how to do it, but because it was NOT real feedback, it fell into the chasm of "but how can I say something I don't genuinely mean?" and I couldn't do that, either.

We had more than one of these lovely episodes.
I'd say how many, but I've apparently blocked most of them out.
There is no way, reading this, that you can understand exactly how paralyzing this was, or the emotional abyss it would throw me into. I don't think he ever understood, at all, what was going on- it simply did not make sense to him. On the face of it, repeating a word or two is a VERY simple task. Something everyone should be able to do without thinking about it.

All that psychological baggage was not so simple.

He's probably reading this, and though I'd like to think it would make him chuckle, it's more likely that the reminder makes him want to kick my ass even now.
It makes ME want to kick my OWN ass.

I got better. :-)

I don't really know how that happened, what made the difference. Part toughing it out, part conscious choice to just do it, even if it didn't feel "right," part practicing a lot while not being so closely observed. Part getting better at the mechanics of everything else in giving a lesson, so it was possible to focus on the feedback part. Part having a better understanding of the purpose and meaning of feedback, and of the cyclical nature of learning.

One thing I learned from all this is that "simple" and "easy" are not always the same thing. Maybe not EVER the same thing.

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