Friday, October 4, 2013

Teaching Styles - Which is Best? Part I

Teaching Styles – Which is Best?

I attended a 4-day training event this summer.  I had the opportunity to train under a variety of Sensei from a variety of styles.  People come from all over to train.  It’s always fantastic to have the opportunity to be exposed to such a high level of skill and differing styles, in the arts, teaching styles, methodologies and attitudes.

The teachers were as varied as the arts, in execution and in their own style of direction/instruction.

In a training environment like this, I do my best to “empty my cup” and absorb all I can.  There will be plenty of time later to dissect, weigh, criticize and examine.  With this type of mindset, you can open yourself to new or different ways of doing or looking at things.  This is always a good thing. 

I was struck by just how different the teaching styles were.  I was also struck by how some people with an extraordinary level of technical skill have absolutely no teaching ability. 

You don’t have to be the best teacher in the world, but in one session I took part in, the ‘teacher’ was being such a jackass that I ended up tuning out.  I went through the motions of the session as it would have been rude to walk away.  In fact, I ended up having so little respect for this ‘teacher’ that if the class had only been people I knew, I might have walked away, albeit with a bow.  I stayed so as not to embarrass my Sensei or my dojo, or set a poor example for the other participants, many of whom I didn’t know.

This particular person is quite skilled, so I was saddened not to be able to take anything away, other than a lesson in how not to teach, of course.

My main issues were that he was:

1. Arrogant

2. Demeaning

He reminded me of a peacock strutting around, impossibly impressed with himself (no offence to peacocks by the way).  Everything about him was condescending and demeaning.  He was also unclear.  He would say something that made very little sense, and then when people faltered, trying to figure out what was wanted, he would demean everyone.  He acted shocked that we couldn’t even figure out where to stand, what to do, etc.  And he would make sarcastic statements as well.  Then he decided that no one was allowed to talk during the training. 

This meant that we couldn’t speak to our training partners or ask questions of the teacher and yet he would still flit around criticizing and insulting the participants.

For me, it hit a point when I couldn’t care less about his experience in the arts.  A wasted session, sadly.

I noticed though, that other participants were becoming extremely frustrated with themselves.  The clearly thought that they were doing something wrong.  They were mentally beating themselves up for not ‘getting it’ under the tutelage of such a ‘master’.

It saddened me a bit, but eventually the session ended and we all moved on.
This experience got me thinking about different teaching styles.  I was reminded of a conversation I had with a training partner who commented how another session was run in a militaristic fashion.  Warm up, strikes, kicks, blocks, right in to drills were all carried out with the teachers and assistants yelling and barking orders.  Now I’ve seen this style and don’t have a problem with it per say, but I don’t find it overly conducive to learning.  The students from the style represented were fit and their movements were sharp.  Working with them on technique, however, revealed that they struggled to adapt to any variation that occurred.   If it was ‘off-script’ in any way, there was hesitation or confusion. 

Clearly, not a lot of question-asking goes on in that school.  

In Part II, I'll discuss a few more common teaching styles.  Until then, train well.


  1. Sorry to hear you were subject to such a bad experience. Any teacher that leaves you feeling bad about yourself is a BAD teacher. A good teacher should help you achieve a realistic appraisal about your abilities and help you to see how you can improve. I expect this can be difficult with a class of 'strangers' for a one-off session but there's no excuse for being an arrogant *hi*. Can't wait to hear about the good teachers you experienced (assuming there were some)....

  2. So, wait, this was a seminar, right? A seminar largely filled with adults, I presume, and he was just one of several instructors presenting? And he thought he could just command the entire room to be silent while they trained in new and unfamiliar techniques?!?!

    Wow. What an unmitigated ass.

    I hope the rest of the 4-day seminar proved more enlightening.

  3. Sue,

    There's a big difference between giving constructive criticism or providing a realistic appraisal about your abilities and just making people feel like they're no good. This wasn't about helping someone improve, it just seemed to be about his need to belittle others. Struggling with ego, no doubt.


    Yeah, it was actually kind of shocking, the gall of it all. Luckily, it was but a tiny glitch in an otherwise worthwhile training event. Thanks for the support.