How Teaching Changed My Life

Image by <a href=";utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=597238">Gerd Altmann</a> from <a href=";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.


5 thoughts on “How Teaching Changed My Life

  1. I really love how you wrote this and it was a treat getting to read up on what you do, your passions, and possible plans for the future. Let me start off by saying how cool you are in my mind just the very fact that you are a second-degree black belt in Tang Soo Do, that is insane and you should you proud of yourself. I can’t imagine how hard that must’ve been. It’s amazing that you have a passion for teaching and clearly the patience as well because I don’t think I do but the world needs more people like you. I think the rewards of knowing that you shaped the mind and skills of another human being probably outweighed the times you wanted to give yourself alopecia. I think it wouldn’t hurt if you tried it all, being a part-time grad professor/karate master/writer….wait, are you sure you’re not part of the X-men? πŸ˜‚ but yeah try it all and see what calls to you more it might be all three areas or you might find that you gravitate more towards one area, either way, you won’t know till you try it out. Wishing you all the best on your endeavors and I hope you can one day turn me into the Black Widow πŸ˜„

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    • Aw thank you so much!!! That’s very kind of you and definitely made my day. Really getting to Black Belt, other than the physical exertion, is just a process of perseverance and patience. Even when my training stalled for four years while I was away in college, and then on and off for three more living out of state, I always knew I wanted to complete it and I just never gave up. It’s a lot like writing, haha. Just don’t stop and you’ll finish…eventually. See, I thought that too before I started teaching and I found I had a lot more passion and patience for it than I thought I would. Maybe you’d have the same experience if you tried it? You never know until you do! And you’re absolutely right, the risks of alopecia (I laughed out loud at that by the way) are definitely outweighed by the satisfaction I get. Ha if I were one of the X-Men I’d actually have some kind of super speed powers so I could get everything done. Unfortunately I’m just a normal human running around every minute of the day like a crazy person. But I’m definitely going to keep all this in mind and hopefully try to do something with it someday. Well like I said, with the right attitude anyone can do it, and I can tell you’ve got a great one. I’d love to have someone like you as a student! Also: you’re a Marvel fan too??? Be still my heart! Haha.

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      • That’s still a heck of a lot of persistence and patience though! Yeah I really don’t think teaching is for me just the fear of steering someone in the wrong direction and my slight agitation when I have to repeat myself numerous times might me a crappy one πŸ˜‚. Plus i enjoy my hair follicles in place πŸ˜‰. Haha I feel you on running around its been the same for me as well especially this past week. As for Marvel I don’t think I’m a hardcore fan just because I have friends who i think are way more invested than me and started with the comics BUT that aside I do THOROUGHLY enjoy all Marvel movies! Its a great escape, I’m guessing you are a hardcore fan? πŸ˜„

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      • Like I said, I really do think anything can be accomplished by anyone with enough of both of those things, and I’m sure you have them in spades so don’t count yourself out! But I do understand what you mean, and teaching can be stressful sometimes not knowing whether you’ve made a difference or explained yourself properly or not. To each their own! Haha yeah I’d like to keep my hair if possible, it’s really the only thing about my appearance that I’m extremely vain and fussy about. My job always keeps me busy, but I’m due for a vacation very soon and I’m super excited about that of course, even during these crazy times. Ah okay, I see. Well I’m not a big comic book reader myself but I do love the movies with a passion and the whole Marvel universe in general. Superheroes as a genre has always been one of my favorites: as you said, it’s the best form of escapism you can get, and sometimes it’s just so much pure fun or it can tackle such deep and meaningful themes while sticking to classic, never-fail story structures that you just can’t lose. Definitely a big fan, and just a huge geek in general. Just so you know what you’re getting into when talking with me. Haha.

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      • You should def enjoy your time off when you eventually get it, do you have any plans yet? haha I agree the Marvel Universe is amazing and the themes are tried and true its just a formula that works time and time again! Haha yes geek out! The most interesting and wild conversations I’ve had is with geeks. So rock on πŸ‘ŒπŸΎπŸ™ŒπŸΎ

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