Physical Training Feb 2011
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From the Teacher's Corner 14:

copyright 2011 Douglas Tong, all rights reserved.

I was walking through the halls of the high school where my youngest son takes Japanese lessons on the weekends and I noticed this award plaque on the wall. It had the engraved photo of the person it memorialized and the following words describing the award.

Memorial Award
The Margaret Thompson Memorial Award

Margaret will always be remembered as a caring and dedicated teacher who had the ability to bring out the best in her students. Her genuine concern and empathy for students facing a myriad of problems was evident in her daily contacts with them and resulted in helping many to develop their self-esteem. She gave of herself to everyone.

Students who too often arrived feeling unworthy and unloved left knowing that they had a caring friend and ally in Margaret. She helped her students through many difficult times, juggling crises and easing the way with a gentle humour and a sense of calm. Margaret will always be remembered with much love.

This award will be given to a graduating student who displays an open, caring personality, a sense of humour, leadership qualities, and a love of life.

While people were rushing to and fro through the halls in a frenzy to pick up their children, I was standing there quite deep in thought, looking at this plaque and thinking about what it meant.

“Margaret will always be remembered…”
Alas, another great teacher has passed away. I was filled with a sense of sadness. But mixed with sadness, I felt hopeful, in the sense that she will be remembered and not totally forgotten.

“…as a caring and dedicated teacher...”
She cared for her students. She was dedicated to her job.
Maybe teaching is not just a job, like any other office job. 9 to 5, punch out and go home, free to forget about it. No, teachers think about their students 24-7. Reflecting, analyzing, mulling it over and over. It is a calling, like religion. Driven by ideals. You have to be dedicated to keep at it year after year, caring for generation after generation of students who come through your door.

“Her genuine concern and empathy for students…”
Another set of traits generally considered essential to have as a teacher. If you don’t care about your students, get out of teaching. If you cannot sympathize with your students’ various plights, find a new profession. You will not be a good teacher unless you are genuinely, and it is interesting that they have used this specific adjective in this sentence, concerned. A lot of people can fake it or go through the motions of pretending that they care but really don’t, but if you are doing this, you are just lying to yourself.

“… resulted in helping many to develop their self-esteem.”
This is really the crux of the matter. In many cases, it is all about self-esteem. In sword arts and other martial arts, it is about self-confidence. Confidence in one’s ability and feeling good about what they are doing and how well they are doing it. The teacher’s job is not to belittle the student or to be one step ahead of the student or keep them down (ie. keep them humble and submissive) or other such nonsense. If you are thinking this way, you have your own issues that need to be tended to first.

“She gave of herself to everyone.”
There is that piece about selflessness (i.e., self-sacrifice) again.

“Students who too often arrived feeling unworthy and unloved left knowing that they had a caring friend and ally in Margaret.”
Well, this is true in many cases. Students come looking for answers. If they had the answers, they wouldn’t come. And the answers that the students are seeking in martial arts are usually not of the “How can I beat this guy to a bloody pulp?” variety. They might be looking for ways to better themselves, be more at ease, more confident, feel better physically, feel better mentally, feel better spiritually, look better, meet new people, be part of a new group, etc… Basically enriching their lives in some fashion. So in some ways, a teacher is also a psychiatrist and self-esteem coach.

“She helped her students through many difficult times, juggling crises and easing the way with a gentle humour and a sense of calm.”
The key words here are gentle humour and calm.
Humour is essential. Too serious is no good. Too loose however is also not good. Some dojos are so serious and uptight you can hear a pin drop on the floor and the students live in mortal fear of doing something wrong. Other dojos are so loose it seems like it is some kind of party-time or a daycare gone wild. Ease the tension with a calm and purposeful atmosphere.

”… She helped her students through many difficult times, juggling crises…”
A teacher wears many hats: educator, social worker, confidant, manager, psychologist, organizer, psychiatrist, counsellor, nurse, therapist, spiritual advisor, etc…
It’s all about good classroom management and good people management. You are the calm in the storm.

“Margaret will always be remembered with much love.”
Well, there it is. The ultimate statement of praise for a good teacher and a job well done. From one teacher to another: you did a fine job. Bravo, Margaret!

Only one question remains:

How do you want to be remembered??

Mr. Tong has a Master’s in Education in Curriculum Studies.

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