Monday, February 21, 2011

Education of a Swordsman

The word “educate” comes from the Latin “duco, ducere,” meaning “to lead.”
(Not “to push.”)
“E” plus “ducere,” means “to lead forth.”
To be an educator doesn’t mean pounding information IN to your students, but rather to lead forth from them what they really already know. They just don’t know that they know it.

The qualities that make a good leader also make a good teacher:
  • Competence – you have to know what you’re talking about.  You can’t fake it.
  • Confidence – you have to know that you know what you’re talking about. You must have confidence in yourself AND confidence in your student’s ability to achieve excellence.
  • Communication  – this is certainly the core skill of the teacher. It’s the ability to use verbal, para-verbal and non-verbal elements to effectively send your message. “Effectively” means that the receiver understood the message the way you intended it. If the receiver doesn’t “get it” then you didn’t communicate it.
  • Humility – acknowledging that you don’t know all the answers, and you sometimes make mistakes, like anyone else-- but you immediately own up to it when you do.
  • Patience – things take the time they take. You plant your garden in the Spring; you harvest in the Fall.  If you plant your garden in August, you’re not going to harvest much in October, no matter how much time you spend weeding, watering or swearing.
    It takes the time it takes and there’s nothing you can do to force it.
    (Incidentally, I recommend you plant a garden just to stay connected to this natural law.)
    Each student is a unique individual who enters into unique relationships with the world as he/she perceives it. Each has a unique spirit, a unique heart, and a unique way of learning. No matter how “alike” two people may be, they will still be different.  And yet, no matter how different two people are, there will still be similarities. (One of those “paradoxes” I love).  As a teacher, you have to figure out what’s the same and what’s different.
  • Flexibility – One of my favorite maxims is: When the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to treat everything as if it were a nail.  If the only tool you have is a hammer, you can hammer in the morning, in the evening and hammer all over this land, but you’re still not going to be much of a carpenter.
    Imagine a carpenter coming to build your house and the only tool he brings is a hammer. There are some boards that need shortening and he proceeds to start whacking them with his hammer.  You ask if a saw might not be a better tool for that job.
    “I’m a hammer man,” he replies. “My dad was a hammer man, and his dad before him. I come from a long line of hammer men. Further, I’ve dedicated my life to hammer. I’ve studied with all the greatest hammer men alive. I’ve studied all the hammer books left to us by the great masters of the hammer. The hammer is the best tool there is. It’s the only tool I need. Um, better step back, splinters are going to be flying…”
    As a fighter, my job is to defeat my opponent, utterly and completely. I’m not emotionally involved in what tool I use to do that. If it means a punch, a kick, a club, a knife or a gun, it’s all the same to me. I’ll use whatever tool I need to get the job done. As a teacher, my job is to provide opportunities for my students to cultivate excellence and I’ll use whatever tool I need to get that job done. It’s all the same to me. I’m not emotionally involved with any particular tool.

What do I mean by “cultivate excellence?”
What does that have to do with teaching fencing?
Good question.

Well, I’m not really teaching “fencing.”
I don’t care if any of my students ever “win” a fencing trophy.
If I were about that, then I would just be a “coach.”

What I’m concerned with is what kind of people my students will become, and what kind of world they will make.
The sword is the vehicle I use to illustrate some fundamental truths that, because they ARE fundamental, are also evident in a broad range of other areas, from psychology to politics to interpersonal and business relationships.

I endeavor to set the stage so that my students will have certain experiences. In struggling to understand those experiences and to ascribe them meaning and value, they will wrestle with making choices. The choices they make will determine who they will become.

I can’t make them choose anything in particular.
All I can do is advise. Counsel. Encourage.
Sometimes they make choices that make my heart soar.
Sometime they make choices that make my heart sore.

Goes with the job.

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