Who Should Teach Whom?

Who Should Teach Whom?


Do you have more than one instructor in your club?  Do you think this is a good thing?  While having different types of instructors can be very valuable for creating a more less routine variety and working on different points or training in different ways, it could be less than ideal if not all those teaching are good teachers.

As most instructors that I know would probably agree, I think it is a good idea to give some teaching responsibilities to others, especially if there are simply too many students and/or classes for the main instructor(s) to take care of everything.  For example, if one relative beginner has never performed a certain technique or kata before, she could benefit from a more senior student helping her get accustomed to it.  I think this is valuable for both the junior student (getting the one-on-one attention they might not have been able to get during that part of training if in the group with everyone else) and the senior student (forced to reevaluate the techniques and figure out how to teach them, possibly answering questions he had not previously thought of).

That being said, should junior instructors be teaching all the beginner classes?  Should the senior instructor of the dojo teach all the classes?  I think the ideal is somewhere between these two extremes.  The table below highlights a few points to consider.

Question Junior Instructor Senior Instructor
Is the intention of the session just to work out? Leading a workout can be done by just about anyone.  This is a good chance for a junior instructor
to gain confidence with leading the class.
Is this a waste of time for the senior instructor?  Perhaps, if done frequently.  More importantly, it may be a waste of time (and money) for the students.
Is the intention to teach something? A junior instructor may be able to teach a basic technique or tactic well.  But supervision or guidance from a senior instructor is usually very beneficial, as junior instructors may find themselves going off on tangents, incorporating more advanced techniques than is suitable, or over-explaining/over-correcting as a side-effect of their enthusiasm. Senior instructors should make a point of actually teaching what they intend to teach.   There should be a lesson plan in mind, even if the class progresses in such a way that this plan needs to be altered midway through.
What if there is a mix of student levels in the same class? A junior instructor may be overwhelmed if trying to lead everyone at once.  But the junior instructor could probably be a great benefit (for himself and the students in the class) if leading a subset of the group. A senior instructor should realize that he could be helped by a junior instructor, especially when there is a new student or a wide divergence in experience of the students.
If there are many classes each week in the dojo, who should teach how often, what or when? A junior instructor should plan to fill in for the senior instructor.  At some dojo, there may be so many classes that a junior instructor ends up teaching often.  Some other dojo may have enough senior instructors and so few classes that there is rarely a need for a junior instructor to do much more than help out a beginner for a few minutes every few months. The senior instructors should keep in mind that they have skills that should be utilized.  If an instructor has a knack for kumite strategy, teaching classes dealing with this subject probably makes a lot of sense, leaving basics, for example, to others who can do a better job.   Senior instructors should remember to actually teach during their classes, especially if there are a lot of workouts (not much teaching) with others during the week.
Who should teach beginners? A junior instructor could probably do a good job at introducing a beginner to the techniques and ideas of karate.  But if the person is too junior (a senior student as opposed to an actual instructor), he may not really know how to teach and should be monitored carefully. A senior instructor should make every possible effort, within reason, to at least monitor the progress of the beginners.  He may not have the time to actually teach every introductory class.  But he should at least be ready to step in whenever there is a question.  This is one of the most important periods in a karate student’s development.  It should be treated as such.  With seniority comes greater responsibility.
Who should teach advanced classes? The more advanced the class participants are, the easier it is to lead them in a workout, because there is little, if any, teaching actually required.  If there is teaching involved, however, the junior instructor should try to keep it simple and discuss things rationally if there is a valid question.  If he does not know the answer, he should defer to the senior instructor, even if that means that the question remains unanswered during the course of that particular training session. Actually teaching advanced classes takes experience and ability.  The advanced instructor must keep in mind that the advanced participants are almost always interested in learning.  Also, they may have questions that are difficult to answer.  Debate can be good, but must be kept under control and not detract from the workout, either in terms of time or focus.
How to act in each other’s classes. A junior instructor should expect to just train with everyone else while the senior instructor is teaching, but be ready to help out when asked. A senior instructor should have the choice of training with everyone else while the junior instructor is teaching, or to help out if there is a need or desire.

There are many other points to consider.  For example, if there is an excellent instructor in a dojo of otherwise mediocre/less-experienced teachers who merely lead others in workouts, the majority of the teaching should probably be done by the one who is most qualified.

Please note that wherever I wrote “senior instructor” or “junior instructor”, above, I did not mean to imply that those senior in years experience in karate are always the most qualified instructors.  Sometimes, it is quite drastically different.  I know of some shodans who are better teachers than many, if not most, 5+ dan instructors.

So, is having many instructors at your dojo a good thing?  Students and teachers should both be thinking about this and speaking with each other about it if needed.  Karate training can be a great thing that can have amazing impact on our lives in general, beyond simply keeping us in good physical shape.  Let’s make the most of it.

Copyright © 2022, Jon Keeling (originally published June 2003)