How Teaching Changed My Life

Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/geralt-9301/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=597238">Gerd Altmann</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=597238">Pixabay</a>

Today I thought I’d talk about something that’s become very near and dear to my heart over the last few years: teaching. More and more I’m discovering that I have a passion for teaching and helping others learn, whether it’s in an academic or physical sense, and I get a huge satisfaction from working with others and imparting some kind of lessons or wisdom to them. If you’d told me five years ago that I’d be an aspiring teacher one day, I probably would have thought you were crazy. I would have told you I’d never have the patience to be a good teacher and that it was too unfulfilling and time-consuming to be dealing with a bunch of snot-nosed kids who’d never listen to you and just make your life miserable. But of course, I’ve discovered my thinking was very wrong. How? Let me explain.

My first steps toward teaching came when I moved back home to the Philadelphia area in 2018 from an extended stay in New York. Because I was back in my hometown, I had the chance to resume a lot of activities that I had to put on hiatus: namely, my karate training. I’m currently a second-degree Black Belt in Tang Soo Do, a Korean martial art, and have been training for going on 11 years in my local karate studio (having stuck with it on and off through college and my years away). Perhaps I’ll delve more into my martial arts career in some future post, but for the time being I’ll just focus on the renewed responsibility I had when I returned. In our studio, as is tradition in most other martial arts institutions, becoming a Black Belt carries with it certain responsibilities and expectations, including that you help pass along your knowledge to younger, less experienced students who are working their way toward Black Belt rank. I was reluctant to do so at first for all the reasons I already explained, but when an opening for an assistant instructor opened up in one of our classes (taught by the very Master under whom I’d trained for years prior to my moving away), I took the opportunity because I felt it would be the one that would be the most manageable and least likely to irritate me.

I’ll admit, it wasn’t (and still isn’t) always roses and sunshine. Sometimes I go home frustrated, wondering whether I got through to any students at all, annoyed at them for not paying attention, and wanting to pull my hair out. But more often than not–a surprising amount of the time, really–I found I actually enjoyed helping my students learn night after night. There’s something intensely satisfying about seeing someone picking something up that you’ve tried to help them learn and eventually performing well on their own while you look on and have the pleasure of knowing that you’re responsible for helping them get there. While I don’t think any one person can take credit for teaching someone something, I definitely feel that way. Plus, while the kids I work with in karate classes are mainly on the younger side, between 8 and 14 years old, it’s actually surprising how much they understand. I thought when I initially started teaching that I wouldn’t be able to relate to my young students or talk to them on a level they could understand, but kids are smarter than you think they are most of the time and can pick up on things I never thought possible. Since that time, I’ve grown to take teaching opportunities in karate whenever I can get them, frequently assisting with classes and maybe even hoping to run my own someday. I’ve even got my first official mentee (another Black Belt privilege), and I really can’t tell you how great it feels to have someone looking up to you and asking you to help them out with things, knowing that you care about what happens to them and want to see them succeed as much as they do.

In terms of academics, I got bitten by the teaching bug in my first semester of graduate school, when I took a class called Rhetoric and Composition. Basically it was a class about how to teach an introductory college-level English class, and involved writing syllabi, coming up with assignments, grading systems, how to engage students with activities, and teaching tactics. All of which, I was shocked to find, I didn’t think were tedious and boring at all: I actually loved them! It was perhaps just a natural extension of the positive experience I’ve had with Tang Soo Do teaching, but I was suddenly possessed by the desire to be in a classroom, teaching students much like myself about how to write and tell stories. I don’t think I’d be willing to be a public school teacher, or even a private one, who has to work with middle or high-school-aged kids: I’m not sure a lot of them are really ready to learn or have an adult conversation of the kind that I’d like to have with people. But college students…there’s a possibility. Or even better, being a guest graduate school professor who maybe teaches a special class every other semester on a topic of my own interest? While I know it’s difficult to make a living solely as an adjunct professor, I’d love to do it while supplemented by other income–perhaps a day job in marketing or maybe even as a writer. And with my MFA/MA degree, I think I may just be able to do it!

So what’s next for me in teaching? Like I said, I’d love to perhaps be an adjunct guest professor for a grad school program in a low-pressure kind of academic environment. As for karate, I have a bit more ambitious dreams. In another 10 years there’s a real possibility, if I keep up with my training, that I might be able to earn the rank of Master, and as such be able to open my own karate studio. Again, if you told me I’d be thinking about starting my own business, especially a gym for physical activity, five years ago, I wouldn’t have believed it. But again, if I’m able to supplement that income with other things like academics or writing, maybe it could work.

Whatever the outcome, I’m excited to see what the future holds now that I feel I’ve discovered one of my true passions in life: educating others.

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