By Layla Theriot
One of the best ways to learn is to teach. Teaching is a great honor and pleasure to be able to experience, though it can be a difficult challenge that is full of mistakes as well. Being in Tae-Kwon-Do since I was little has led me to become a teacher at a young age in which has opened doors for all new experiences and opportunities for me. I have taught a wide range of students over the past three years of being a black belt in which has spread across the ages of four to well into their sixties. Throughout the years, I have made a countless number of mistakes, but I do not wish I could change any of them or have regretted making that mistake because they have proven to be necessary lessons for me in order to improve and grow as an individual for I can’t help others develop if I don’t do so myself.
Teaching children was a skill that took a long time to develop for I made the most mistakes in this area of teaching than any other, but I am constantly reflecting on those faults so that I never repeat them. When I first began teaching the Gilpin Kinder Kicks class on my own, it was an immense challenge for I realized quickly that I wasn’t the best with working with several children at once. For a while, I had only been Imy Rich’s assistant in the class tasked with just helping them through basics and helping them with activities along with once and while helping her discipline them when they were misbehaving. When I taught my first class on my own, I felt as though I did a decent job, but that was because I was only substituting for Imy, something I did only once and awhile. The more and more I began to teach the class on my own, the more I realized that I was becoming harsher and harder on the kids than I should have been. Instead of making the class enjoyable for them, I ended up trying to treat them as if they were advanced students. I would get very impatient with them, whenever they got the slightest bit distracted I would snap at them instead of using gentle and uplifting words to pull them back into focus, and I would concentrate on one or two students at a time, turning my back towards the others and then getting frustrated with them when they wouldn’t pay attention, but all along, I wasn’t doing my job teaching them and making sure that my attention was spread evenly amongst all of the students. I only wished I realized these mistakes earlier for I was supposed to create a delightful and amusing class for the kids, instead, I made it an unpleasant experience for everyone, including me. I tried to adjust myself as soon as I could by making large efforts into learning how to be stern when I needed to be, but be gentle at the same time. I spent more time trying to make the class fun for them because watching them laugh and want to come back to class was an irreplaceable joy and reward for me. Today, I might not have many students in my Kinder Kicks class, but the ones I have I love having them in class and they always manage to bring a smile to my face. I try to make this class as worthwhile to them as I possibly can by teaching them the basics of Tae-Kwon-Do as well as involving many different fun activities that either have a relation to martial arts and/or help improve their strength and reflexes. Despite them being the ages of four to six, both of my Kinder Kickers have developed amazingly. Both of them are understanding basic moves, self-defense, and the importance of working hard and doing good things for other people little by little. Because of my improvements, I even ran a mid-level class last summer that was for the ages of four to thirteen and it was extremely successful. I had fifteen to twenty-five students in each class and most of the students loved the class and were excited to learn more. Sadly, that was just a class for the summer, but I have seen many of them since then and they have continuously asked me if it was going to run again this summer. I even have a few young children in the regular class that have been a joy to work with, despite their being times that it was hard for both of us or I had to show them a little tough love to get them to where they are today. Watching them has uplifted my spirits for my own improvements and accomplishments reflected onto them. They have brought me to where I am today. I might be the teacher, but I feel as though I have learned more from these children than I have taught them.
Teaching students that were closer to my age came with a lot of joyous memories along with some difficulties that I had trouble facing time and time again. Many of the students I teach that are my age are none other than my close friends in which I was the one that introduced them to the art. Having them in class has been a great joy for me, but that despite all the wonderful times I have had with them, problems within the class between me, the instructor and they, the student still surfaced. One issue was that I was too afraid of being too hard on them. All of the friends that I had join class were all really talented and picked things up much quicker than I ever did when I was their rank which made watching them rise through the ranks all the better, but that also made it all the worse too for I was afraid to tell them that they couldn’t test. At times, I treated them just as I would treat any other student, but there were other times that I definitely would look at them differently than other students- I would be harder on those I wasn’t as close to and I would be easy on my friends in a field that they weren’t quite good at. I never wanted them to be upset or get mad at me, but to my surprise, most of the time, they would be sad that they couldn’t test, but not at me nor the other instructors for they realized that they just weren’t ready yet. Of course, that didn’t mean that they wouldn’t get upset at times. Some of my friends would get upset when they couldn’t break a board, when they couldn’t get a move right, when they weren’t doing so well in sparring, etc. That was one of the hardest things for me to watch- regardless of if they were my friends or not, watching a student become frustrated, burst into tears, storm out of the room- it was never something that I wanted to happen. Though, I came to the realization that it has to happen sometimes because after they went through countless meltdowns just like I did going through the ranks, they became a better student. Just like I have been learning from my own failures and mistakes, they have too, and not all of my friends have stayed in Tae-Kwon-Do, but they all have learned something that they can use outside of the class. Right now, I have one friend that has been coming to class regularly and she is currently a red belt, and she is strong and talented as well as shows quite a bit of respect towards me when I am teaching. She helps the others in the class when it comes to saying, “yes ma’am” towards me, and even though we get distracted like teenagers do, she still does her best all the time. She also makes a lot of the same mistakes that I made in the past, so not only can I tell her how to correct herself, but I can also reassure her that I have done the same things, just as many people have. I have even spotted more mistakes in myself by watching my friend make the same mistakes, same goes for all of my students. I believe that friendships form because we see a little piece of ourselves in someone else, and thus, it is a friend’s job to help them in times that they need it, just as it is a teacher’s job is the same.
Teaching those older than I has come with many surprises considering that ever since I got my black belt, I almost never ran into any disrespect from them despite me being much younger than they are, but that does not mean that I haven’t run into disrespect from those outside of the class. These students are much, much more mature and experienced than I am, but due to those traits, they know that I have had to work extraordinarily hard to get where I am, just as all of them have had to work hard to obtain their own accomplishments. Although, some people outside of class, such as a few parents of my students, do not treat me the same way. When it came to my Kinder Kicks class, I had countless problems with the parents of my students, in which most of these problems were either solved or dropped rather quickly, but there was one particular event that proved that I wasn’t as good with these situations as I thought I was. Not only was this the first serious argument I had with a parent, but it was also the first time that someone told me that no one comes to class because I wasn’t a good teacher and sent off too many bad vibes. I am not going to lie, when I came to teach a class that several parents told me that their child was going to be there and none of them showed up for several weeks in a row, there is a high chance that I did send off some vexed vibes, but I know that I didn’t send those emotions towards the students, I sent them towards the parents. At the time, I felt that I was being professional about the situation and logical about it, but this just goes to show still how young and inexperienced I am when it comes to these types of things. I am naïve, there is no doubt about that, but I knew that I wasn’t the only one at fault. A parent who says that I shouldn’t cancel class and I should move the time to what is most convenient for her and her child and then never coming to class does not deserve to be seen without fault or flaws. I have to say though, my reaction to her words wasn’t something that I am proud of- I didn’t reply to her final email, I just left the room I was in and cried for a long while, but I have learned from that, when being put in a bad situation like that, I can’t let their words get to me or let my emotions get out of control and take over me. The only way I can deal with an issue like so is to remain calm and do all I can for the parent and if that is not enough, then there is nothing more than I can do and I must move on. Though, that event has made me more prepared to face these types of situations again, though, it hasn’t stopped a slight fear I have over being disrespected by someone because of my age. I have heard an array of stories of young black belts being seen for their age, not their rank, and I wish that I wasn’t afraid of running into a student like that, but I try my best not to let that fear take over the pleasure of being able to meet and teach new people. None of my own students have disrespected me nor have students outside of the Gilpin class, which makes me feel rather lucky. Plus, I have even been given the chance to teach my own math teacher Tae-Kwon-Do which strengthened our relationship and we were able to understand each other and how we teach others. Exchanging knowledge to one another is something that I always look forward to when it comes to teaching those older than me. I can be their instructor for Tae-Kwon-Do while they might be able to teach me about their life experiences so that I can grow, just as I have been doing for the generations below me- it is a never ending cycle.
Becoming a teacher at a young age has given me skill sets that I have used many times outside of Tae-Kwon-Do and have depended on those skills immensely. Tae-Kwon-Do has always taught me that when you make a mistake to just keep going, and let’s just say that I have made an enormous amount of missteps whether it be that I screwed up on reading something out loud, giving a speech, messing up a question on a test, etc. In the past, I used to dwell on the things I did wrong or couldn’t do correctly from the start, but through the years, after being a teacher and messing up constantly, I slowly began to just keep going. When teaching, I would just keep going for there was a large chance that no one noticed my mistake, and in school, I realized the more I focused on my wrongdoings, the more I would mess up, but if I accepted the fact that I screwed up and moved on, I would not only do much better in the class, but I would feel much better about myself. I would get upset less and less and I would start getting more and more correct. Even recently, I gave a speech at my high school graduation and I sure did make plenty of errors, but I just continued to speak. I knew that the more I tried to fix myself, the more people would realize my mistakes, so I kept the flow of my speaking and it paid off. The speech went wonderfully and I was complimented many times on how I didn’t let my mistakes ruin the speech. I honestly only have Tae-Kwon-Do to thank for that, in fact, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to give a speech in the first place if this martial art didn’t teach me to believe in myself and always do my best. Now, with these skills, I can journey on to my own future where I am going to work towards not only being an author, but as well as teacher. I would have never had considered trying to become an instructor if Tae-Kwon-Do didn’t shape me into one. I am grateful towards every misstep I took, every issue or conflict that came up, every mistake I made for I have only gained more knowledge from these experiences and I have learned much more about myself.
Thank you everyone for teaching me the most valuable lessons of my life. I will cherish them always.