© 2014 Douglas Tong, all rights reserved.
you done this?”
doing it all wrong.”
“What are you
“No, no, no…”
This article deals with
how to correct someone. As teachers we are correcting students all
the time. And the quotes above are things I hear teachers saying all
the time. I have heard teachers say these things in regular classroom
settings in a public school. I have heard experienced teachers say
these things to junior teachers when mentoring them too. And I have
heard teachers say these things to students in martial arts dojos and
How do you feel about
In my opinion, they are
a little soul-destroying. The teacher probably means well. Or else,
it is possible that some teachers do not even realize what they are
doing when they say these things. Maybe they mean them as rhetorical
questions, not really expecting an answer but posing them
nevertheless as a way of causing the student to think about what it
is that they have actually been doing.
Good intentions, I am
sure. But perhaps delivered badly. I mean, I would think that most
teachers mean well, that they are actually interested in having the
student improve in some way. And perhaps this is just their way of
motivating the student to get better.
But if we look at it
from the student’s perspective, it is no cause for feeling
good. No matter how good the intentions, the student is left feeling
bad. As the saying goes, the road to hell was paved with good
you done this?”
In other words, what
have you been doing all this time? Slacking off?
This is no good.
doing it all wrong.”
You can’t do
You get the idea. It is
not a positive message. And the student is left feeling that they
have failed or that they are in some way deficient.
So, how to correct
someone without having them feel that they are no good? I know. In
academic circles, they call it constructive criticism. Criticism that
is geared towards helping the student to improve, giving criticism in
a constructive way.
constructive or not, is still criticism. And students perceive it
that way, deep down inside. I know as teachers we are not satisfied
with the student’s performance, so that’s why we give
constructive criticism. We want them to improve and we want to let
them know that what they are doing is not up to standards.
And I have heard these
sayings frequently in the case of junior instructors when they are
correcting students. I understand that they are new to the role of
teaching and are still feeling their way and learning the techniques
of how to teach and how to correct students. So I wrote this article
for them and to offer this advice on how to correct students that
does not leave the student with even less self-esteem than they
It is easy to be
critical. What is not so easy is to be encouraging, especially when
all you see is mistakes. You know what they are doing is wrong. It is
wrong, there’s no way around that fact. But do we need to harp
on it? Do we need to tell them straight to their face that they are
wrong? Does it make you feel better to do this, to tell them “You
(this phrase is
actually still being used currently by one Japanese headmaster and he
is not saying it calmly, he is screaming in someone’s face)
The message is very
clear… and also very ego-destroying. What is to be gained from
Yes, some teachers
believe that some students need to be taken down a notch, especially
if they are getting too big for their britches. To put them back in
their place. But this is a political reason, not a teaching one. We
have to be clear about what our purpose is.
And I must concede that
in the case of some students who actually are slacking off, they need
a reprimand to get them going. But this is a reprimand for behaviour,
not a correction of technique.
Some students however
need propping up, not tearing down. And what is our purpose in
correcting? I would think that it is like what Vygotsky meant in his
famous equation of “i + 1”. The student is at level “i”.
Our job is to get him or her to the next level, hence i + 1. We offer
correction to get the student to the “+ 1”, the next
level in their development.
If that is our goal,
then let’s try a different approach. We do not need to harp on
the fact that they are no good, that they are somehow under-skilled
or whatever. That really serves no purpose at all. Criticizing the
student does not get them to the “+ 1”, the next level.
How about this?
the next step…”
fine so far. Now, I want you to work on this next…”
We all understand that
what the student is doing now is not the very best. However, we have
to keep in mind where they are in their development, in the
development of their skills and abilities. Not everyone is a budo
superstar. In the majority of cases, they are not. Your budo
superstars are maybe one in fifty or one in a hundred.
So, understanding this,
we have to be realistic. We have to remember where they are at, where
they came from, and what the next step is. Progress is our goal, even
if it is a very small change. Maybe for their level (the level of
progress that they are at), what they are doing is OK and normal for
that stage of their development. We don’t need to get upset
about it or frustrated.
was good. Now, let’s see if you can do this.”
How does the student
feel now? She feels like she accomplished something. She feels good
about herself and her abilities. She is more motivated to try more
and eager to learn more.
I remember a book I
read when I was in Teacher’s College and it was about the first
days of school and how new teachers should approach the daunting
first days of teaching, which for new teachers is the ultimate in
anxiety: in facing for the first time, your very own class, the
students, and the parents. It was a great book but the image that
sticks in my mind to this very day is one of the photos on the front
cover. It was a small picture of an older teacher, wearing a
sweatshirt with a message emblazoned on it in large, colourful
letters. And the message said:
teach. I INSPIRE!”
I look back on it now,
as an experienced teacher, and I couldn’t agree more.
You can be a teacher
who is good at meeting curriculum expectations and know all the
latest techniques and speak all the latest techno jargon and know
your teaching theories backwards and forwards, and still make no
impact on the students. Some teachers are great at evaluation time,
dazzling the principal or the evaluator with their teaching
brilliance and their knowledge of all the latest theories, tools, and
techniques. But at the end of the day, the question remains: have you
touched the students?
I am not the model
teacher. Far from it. But my students like me, they behave well, and
they work for me. Because teaching is, at the very soul,
heart-to-heart. When you take a genuine interest in your students and
their welfare and their progress, you will be surprised how the
students respond to you.
And it’s not
because you know your A-B-C’s of teaching. It’s not
because you offer constructive criticism.
It’s because you
inspire them to be better than they are, to go beyond where they are
now. You believe in them, and they in turn believe in you.
Is this the secret of
teaching? I don’t know. Maybe it is. What I do know is that
motivated students will learn more because they are genuinely
interested. And success breeds motivation.
Let’s look back
at these common statements:
you done this?”
doing it all wrong.”
What do they breed?
Mr. Tong has a Master’s in Education in Curriculum Studies.