Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Facing the comments, and criticisms of others

In the next few weeks, as part of the City program's pledge to keep improving their community classes, I will be handing out evaluation forms to the students of my dojo.

Yeah.. my reaction at the news of this was for my eyes to pretty much bulge out of my head in shock. Since when has a Sensei handed out evaluation forms to their students saying "How was my teaching?"

Geez! Holy cow! I can't picture it. Up until now, I've always experienced the "I'm your Sensei.. you are the student. You do not correct me. If I make a mistake, you say "osu" and do what I tell you to do until I realize that it was a mistake. Maybe it's NOT a mistake, maybe you just think that it's a mistake but I'm showing you a new way of doing something..." I've had Sensei purposely make a mistake, and tell us to do the wrong thing just to see if we would obey silently, or complain. Correcting Sensei might have meant a really good number of push ups to remember which one of us was the teacher, and which one of us was the student.

But.. these evaluation forms are part of my program. Four times a year my students will rate my teaching ability, and tell me of what they feel I should improve.

I am open to this idea. Sure.. as a new Sensei, I haven't fully developed into my role yet, so I'm open to listening to the student's thoughts, and opinions. I can't see how writing down their comments will change the authority that I have as their teacher, nor the experience and knowledge that I have to offer them. I realize that there may be things that I cannot change to meet the student's expectations. I cannot make learning how to hold a side stance any less uncomfortable. I cannot insert more games into the curriculum as in we are gathered in that location to learn karate, not to improve on tag, basketball, or dodgeball.

Well.. I will see what happens in the next two weeks.

I just have to say "Unusual.. very unusual."


[Mat] said...


Oh well, the Japan part of me says :

Right, get in line, gakusei. Shut up and train.

Then, the quebec part says :
Interesting idea, teachers are not immortal gods we are meant to abide to.

Then Indian part of me says :
Smoke the peace calumet and everything will be allright.

Oh well, the English part of me says :
There are rules we must abide to.

Then, there's me saying:
Unusual. But necessary. Who said we can't learn from one another?

Imagine that in 1930. I'm sure it wouldn't have been that way.

But then again, there was my first shotokan dojo - the sensei there improvised every lesson with little or no global teaching plan, and his higher belts suffered from that and did not get promotions because of his lack of interest in their advancement. In two years, I remained a white belt. How many times did I do Heian Shodan? Many.

Then again, maybe he was right...

food for thought!

Steve said...

The following is just my own thoughts on evaluations. Take it for what it's worth (this comment and $3.00 will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks.)

Evaluations can be a difficult thing for some people. I work as a trainer. I've taught classes of up to 2000 students at a time. I get lots of positive feedback, and make sure when I teach that my students understand that I thrive on this.

But, I also get my share of negative feedback. Out of a 2000 student class, I'll probably get feedback from 1000 students. Of those, I will typically get about 5% who hate my guts. That's 50 students who tend to enjoy going into great detail why I suck.

We get better by being self aware. Being honest about my strengths and weaknesses keeps me from summarily dismissing legitimate critique. It also allows me to distinguish this from what I call garbage criticism.

For example, I was told that the way I drink water is distracting. I've been told that I'm too funny and in the same class too boring. I've been too cute. One time, my head was too shiny (probably someone with great hair just rubbing it in!) I use too many big words and yet also dumb things down too much.

You're probably going to get very little negative feedback, but it's bound to happen. My point is this. When you do, if you're honest about your strengths and weaknesses, you won't be surprised by the feedback. You'll be able to acknowledge the legitimate commentary and let the rest roll off.

Just my take on this, for what it's worth.

supergroup7 said...

Thanks for your comments Mat, and Steve.

For me, I view a Sensei position more as a "role" than a service.

A role is like being a mother.. I wouldn't even consider handing my sons and daughters an evaluation sheet on my mothering. Really! How many moms and dads would get rave reviews from their kids especially after having to discipline them, and grounding them for not cleaning their rooms, or doing their homework?

My role as a Sensei is NOT to make everyone happy. In fact that would be impossible ( as you have mentioned Steve) because some people will think that I'm too strict, and some will think that I'm too leniant.

I can see how one could evaluate a service like how a person washed their car. "Oh.. I like to have the tires washed as well, and you left spots on the windsheild."

Being a Sensei is more than just teaching how to punch and kick.. there are times when a Sensei has to push the student past their comfort zones, and challenge them spiritually, and mentally even if it is difficult on the student.

Steve said...

I would say that there are things that could legitimately be critiqued. For example, I left a school that was much more "traditional" than BJJ. We did kata and flying side kicks and that sort of thing. Had the sensei of that school asked, I could have given him very specific feedback about why I was leaving.

It was clear that he had a very strict idea of what his role was, but as is the case with most parents (myself definitely among them), we can all be better, and don't always see the things that can easily be improved.

Steve said...

There are things that can be legitimately critiqued, though. I left my last school for several reasons that were systemic, and not related to the personality, talents or skills of the sensei. I liked and respected him and he's a skilled martial artist.

Had I the opportunity to provide candid feedback, I would have told him some of the things that bothered me about his school.

I felt that the class time was often unorganized. Had he planned each class day, and established a structure to the class time, we would have been able to get more done.

I felt sometimes that he was reluctant to admit when he didn't know something. I think that damaged his credibility.

I think that he promoted people undeservedly, including myself. It made me embarrassed of my own rank. Others were resentful that their hard work wasn't recognized as they saw others who were lazy, less skilled, or whatever being promoted at the same rate.

There was a fluid sense of time. I work full time, as does my wife. We have three dogs and two kids. Our schedule is full. We make time for things, but when a class goes over by 30 minutes, or when he asks the class to clean the dojo after class time with no warning (and on no particular schedule), it becomes an issue. I'm a flexible person, but when this becomes habitual, it becomes a problem. And it puts me in a difficult position because I want to help clean the dojo and want for my kids to understand why it's good to help... but if we have other obligations, it inadvertantly teaches the kids a different lesson that is less positive. If that makes sense. It's awkward at the least, and damaging at worst.

And the list goes on. My point is that there are things in every business that can be improved and suggestions that can be made. In a way, you are providing a service just like the carwash. You're being paid by people to meet their needs, and if we're honest with ourselves, we can always do that better. Is this person even aware that these items are of concern to his students? I don't know. He never asked me and I never felt like I was in a position to offer. At the same time, I don't think he wanted to lose a student.

Anyway, I'm rambling. It's early and I'm pre-coffee. Hopefully, there were at least one or two salient points made. :)

supergroup7 said...

You know Steve, you brought up a really good point about the time schedule aspect of classes. Thank you.

I attempt to keep to the original schedule, but it's been difficult. I have one class finishing at 3 pm. and the other class starting at 3 pm. I find this to be quite a challenge to achieve. I would like the freedom to have one class clear out, and perhaps be able to speak to a student, or parent inbetween classes. I'd like to have the flexibility of keeping the students an extra 5 minutes if necessary instead of having the other class's starting time hanging over my head like a guillotine.

I wonder if I can change the class hours for the next session.. or if I'm too late for that..

Gee.. thank you for your comment. I really appreciated it.