Becoming an instructor in a martial arts school is often a really exciting time because in many ways you feel like you have made it. In order to teach others you must have already mastered the basic content and now is your chance to “give back” your knowledge and continue the progression of your style. This is a great honor but it is not without its pitfalls. As any experienced instructor knows, teaching martial arts and practicing martial arts are in many ways two completely different things.
So if you’re a new instructor listen up and pay attention because, although you are probably a competent black belt student, you are a beginner in terms of teaching. Here are some of the most common mistakes that new instructors make. And by the way, if you are an experienced instructor reading this please don’t forget to tell some of your own horror stories to your assistant instructors so that they can learn from your mistakes too.
Mistake #1: Showing up to class without a lesson plan and “winging it”. This is a BAD idea for any new instructor. Planning is critical in all aspects of life and in any job. Being a martial arts instructor is no different. Just because you are good at your chosen art doesn’t mean that you can instantly snap all of the puzzle pieces together and teach an awesome class without a lesson plan from day 1. Even many experienced instructors refer to some type of lesson plan or overall structure before teaching each class. A lesson plan will guarantee that you are organized, that you don’t “freeze” on the spot, and that you aren’t constantly thinking “OK, what shall I do next?” If you’re thinking this, it means that you’re not focusing on your students!
Mistake #2: Trying to teach everything you know in one class. It is very tempting as a new instructor to feel the need to stamp your authority on a class and to prove yourself to your group as being very knowledgeable. Consequently in your first class you drill your students in every possible basic technique, all of the different forms whether they know them or not, and numerous partner work drills to the point of overload. This causes major stress to your students as they feel completely overwhelmed and, not only that, when you go to teach your next class you won’t have anything left to give them that’s new. There are very good reasons for a structured curriculum and a solid lesson plan.
Mistake #3: Teaching class so that you get a good workout. There is a difference between leading by example and training with your peers. In every class that you teach your primary focus should be on the needs of your students and not on your own personal needs. It will be inevitable that you will get a pretty good workout just by demonstrating the different techniques, forms and partner work drills to your students and it is also important to model these things well, but you must also allow yourself to watch your students so that you know which students need help. In this way you position yourself to give valuable feedback rather than just working up a good sweat.
Mistake #4: Being too hard or too easy. There are very often two types of new instructors. Type 1 is the drill instructor who wants to put the students through hell so they know who is boss, and type 2 is the friend who wants everyone to like him and is overly nervous about how well he taught each class. Try to find some middle ground here and work your students hard by holding them to high standards but also develop strong and respectful relationships with them and show them that you care.
Mistake #5: Allowing your students to decide on the content for the class. This is a BIG mistake because so many things can go wrong. First of all you can’t please everybody and by asking what your students want to study you will get requests for everything possible within any group – forms training, sparring, pad work and target training, and self-defense. You can’t possibly fit everything into one class and nor should you (see mistake #2). Also you are setting yourself up for failure. What would you do if they asked you to teach something you don’t know very well yet, like an advanced form or some knife defense that you may not have studied yet? You are the leader of the class and your students expect you to know what they need to study. Don’t abdicate your responsibility to your students and allow them to dictate the class.
These are some of the most common mistakes that new instructors make and there are of course many more. Keep reading my blog for future articles on teaching and how to become a better instructor, coming soon!