Bend your knees! Keep your guard up! Focus straight ahead. How many times have we all said those phrases when teaching your junior students? Feels like millions, doesn’t it? Many hours, day after day, year after year of showing the same techniques over and over can be monotonous and uninspiring to us as instructors. So how do we keep it fresh?
My top ten suggestions to make each day on the mat seem like the first:
- Tune in to the white belt (beginner student.) The white belt is the newest student in the room and will give you instant feed back on how you are teaching. They are probably the most eager to learn because the class is fresh for them. If their attention wanders, that is your cue to change it up.
- Tune in to the brown belt (advanced student.) They are obviously committed to earning a black belt and have been with you for some time. Use their advanced abilities to experiment with new ideas and drills. They will be very eager to be creative because they are probably as bored as you are from years of the same old basics.
- Sit down in the middle of the road. Often, the intermediate students are most at risk for dropping out. This is because they are tired of basics but don’t necessarily have the skills to do the more advanced “fun stuff.” Use this group as your monitor to make sure you are not repeating the same old class over and over. Ask them questions as to what they want to do. Try to give them what they want while sneaking in their basics as well.
- Play games. Games can be a great way to keep your class fresh. Be creative and ask the kids for feed back after each event. I always make sure that the games reinforce their basic technique training.
- Hold contests. Kids love competition. Create contests that are based upon rhythm, timing, balance, focus, and of course, good technique.
- Use a reward system. Always let the kids know how much you appreciate them being in your class. Use stickers, patches, and praise freely and consistently.
- Embrace laughter. “No smiling! Be serious!” BA HUMBUG! – is what I have to say to that old-school mentality. When working with kids, the more you can get them to smile and laugh, the better. Martial arts should be about fitness-fun for the kids. Enough time for the serious “killer” attitude when they grow up.
- Give boundaries. All children crave limits. Boundaries create structure and help kids feel safe. Set the rules with encouragement and your overall experience as a teacher will be more rewarding. Keeping it positive helps to keep it fresh.
- Stand in the triangle; teacher, student, and parent. After each class, take the time to walk a student over to his parent and praise him to his mother or father. This is a feel-good, win-win for all of you. You can almost see the glow across the room when the parent and child look at each other with pride. It can charge your battery like nothing else.
- “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” I like this expression because for me it’s true. It’s hard to garden cup feel fresh if the dojo smells bad, the equipment is unorganized, and the front desk has stacks of paperwork and food wrappers on it. In the same way a school teacher erases the chalk board to start a new day, make sure your place of learning is clear as well. Open your doors each day as if it is your first day of business.