Sunday, May 06, 2018

The Role of the Instructor: Learning by Teaching

One day many years ago my sensei was giving a lesson when he got an emergency call to leave. Being the senior at the time, he asked me to finish leading the class, and off he went. I winged it, and I liked being in charge more than I could've imagined. Afterwards I came to the realization that doing and teaching something are worlds apart. I've never owned a school, but through the years I've taught and help prepare dozens of students for advancement that has equally benefited me. Give, and you will receive, goes the verse.

Learning is enhanced through teaching others; it sheds light on the subject matter from a different perspective. In one study, researchers tested the theory that learning by instructing others is viable because compels the teacher to retrieve what they’ve previously studied. In other words, they believe the learning benefit of teaching is simply another manifestation of the well-known “testing effect” – the way that bringing to mind what we’ve previously studied leads to deeper and longer-lasting acquisition of that information than more time spent passively re-studying.

In the martial arts, teachers and seniors are expected to be role models for ethical behavior. The behavior of both the instructor and higher ranking students in a school can be very revealing. Newbies tend to be diffident, but they notice things. In an article for Black Belt magazine (August 1995), Dave Lowry writes,

The senior must also remember that, just as he evaluates the juniors in class, they are watching him. They will notice whether a male senior rushes to help an attractive female junior while ignoring male beginners. They will be observant of the senior's attendance habits and will notice whether he is frequently absent. They will notice whether the senior shows respect for his instructor and his dojo. And they will notice whether the senior lives the precept of his art, and whether its values are translated into his actions, both in and out of the training hall.

In addition to altruism and self-realization, it has been said that teaching in the martial arts is also a way of fulfilling one's giri, or obligation to the previous teacher(s), and to the art itself.

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