In Grade 7, I had this teacher, ‘Ms. D’. Known to be super cool. Everyone loved her. She was chill, funny, fair and vibey. No one disrespected her, or caused ruckus in class. It was a smooth experience with her.
One week before classes started in September the school would put out a list as to whose class you were assigned to. Students literally rejoiced when they found out they would be in her class.
However, as the school year unfolded her students had a range of achievements; she had a bunch of students who failed, passed and excelled. As much as her reputation for a smooth class preceded her, it was also known that it wasn’t a place you would necessarily leave better than you came in. You might come out worse, the same, or better. MIGHT.
So by the end of the school year, the same group elation that defined the start of the year was only shared by a few. Most, simply failed or remained average while only a few succeeded off their innate intelligence.
In contrast, another teacher, whom we’ll call ‘Mr. H’, was hated. His classes were militant. Orderly, and organized. Wasn’t much laughter or fun.
Come time for class assignments, almost all students were depressed to know that they were assigned to his class. Most students truly feared it. They wondered ‘damn how am I gonna go a whole year with this guy?’
However, as the school year unfolded, none of his students failed, nor were they average. All of them were above average, and a scant few simply quit.
So at the end of Grade 7, I was a borderline failing student in ‘Ms. D’s class. She pulls me aside on the last day and says:
”Nick, I’m disappointed in your year. I know you much more intelligent than your effort shows and you should be disappointed too. The problem is, you don’t seem to be disappointed. It doesn’t seem like you care about your performance.”
-Even with that statement I couldn’t seem to connect with her words. I passed didn’t I? I just didn’t know what expecting more from myself meant so I didn’t know where she was coming from until she finished with:
”...so it’s for that reason that I don’t think I’m the right teacher for you. The point of school is for you to improve, not remain average. I’ve met with Mr. H and we agree. So for your Gr.8 year we’ll be placing you in Mr. H’s class to ensure you finish elementary school with the best possible habits for the next level because it is clear I haven’t done that for you in Gr.7.”
Thats all that ran through my 12 yr old mind. I was scared of this dude and I didn’t even know why. I do know though, I just didn’t want to admit it--I think I was scared to be held to a higher standard. And how could I succeed in such a concept I am just discovering now?
The summer of 94 was stressed. All I could think about was Mr. H.
As The first day of school arrived in 95, I understood real quick Why his students achieved.
1. He demanded mental organization. Each morning a student would write the date, weather, upcoming assignments due as well as any upcoming tests and quiz. Top left corner. Everyday. And your handwriting better be on point or else you’d get chirped.
2. Friday’s at 11am we’re desk clean out days. My grade 7 desk was basically shit shoved into a space. Maybe that’s why I achieved so poorly: I didn’t care where I placed my knowledge so I therefore couldn’t access it when I needed it. Every Friday I learned how to discard what was unnecessary, organize what was in progress, and to have my tools ready at all times.
3. You were only given two choices: Blue, or black pens. You had to underline in red, and write rough copies in pencil. Good copies were done in pen. No mistakes were allowed when you wrote in pen. You used yellow paper with pencils for rough drafts, and pulled out the white notebooks when you’re thoughts were ready to be confirmed. No do overs. Once you submit, there’s no turning back so you better put your best thought forward otherwise you would fail.
He only gave out three grades: A, B, or F. Your either achieved, were in progress of achieving, or incapable of it. That was his message.
That may sound mean, but it worked. I understand now what he was doing. He was leveraging the paradox of choice:
The less choices we have, the more likely we are to make a decision, but in limiting choice, one inherently inhibits ones freedom.
As a teacher he made a sharp call to limit our freedom as 12 year olds for the sake of drivin--DICTATING results.
‘Achievement’ in Mr H’s class, was not an option. It was a duty and we learned this real quick because we learned how to control our habits.
Many years later I had crossed paths with Mr H well into my 20’s, in church. He looked frail and sick from cancer. He recognized me, grabbed my shoulder and said ‘one of the best!’. He then quickly moved on because many people were looking for his attention. Deservedly so. This guy built a lot of people.
At the time, I was 8 years removed from elementary school, and graduated high school and well into university so I didn’t think that comment would strike me as hard as it did in the moment it occurred. He made improving matter.
This might sound like a story about ‘Mr.H’. But really, it’s a story about ‘Ms.D’. She was the one with the wisdom enough to get herself out of the way for the sake of a students development.
While Mr. H taught be the hard skills of success, it was Ms. D that taught me the heart of a teacher.
She taught me to remember the destination of the student even at the expense of removing one’s self when education is no longer the outcome of the relationship.
I know this now, as a teacher of Martial Art myself.
I have seen many students (and teachers) confuse their time in Martial Art. Some have used it as a place of social benefit and physical benefit last. Some have used it as a place to connect with others personally. And some, have used martial art to empower themselves and others. The danger in that is similar to the danger that befell Ms. D’s class; losing sight of the outcome of education
Though Martial Art is not taught in schools, it is still a form of Physical Education and therefore should embody the same parameters and duties of of professional educators.