Teachers As Students – Chris

Teaching, Learning, and Tae Kwon Do – Chris Mares

Chris Mares
While studying Tae Kwon Do  I have learnt a lot, not only about Tae Kwon Do, but also about teaching and learning and what it means to be a student.

Usually I look forward to the practice sessions, but not always.  Sometimes I feel anxious about my physical ability to do what I am expected to do and sometimes I worry that I may have forgotten something my instructor will expect me to know.  I have other fears, too.  For example, that I am too old to begin such a demanding activity, that I am not flexible enough, or that I won’t be able to remember various sequences of punches, blocks, and kicks known as forms.

Reflecting in this way I am reminded of the fact that my students, too, feel anxieties about their own abilities and, as a teacher, I should always remember this.

There are other important things I’ve learnt or been reminded of while practicing Tae Kwon Do.

A positive ‘can do’ attitude is vital for teacher and student alike.  The feeling of being in the learning process together as an ‘us’ is key. More specifically, the feeling that teacher and student are involved in a joint project to practice and learn in a non-competitive atmosphere and one of mutual support.  In Tae Kwon Do all this will is done in an informal atmosphere but one which is respectful and polite, and one in which the teacher is in charge.

I am also reminded as I punch, kick, and block, that learning takes time, effort, a willingness to take risks, and that it can only happen one step at a time.

When we practice in Tae Kwon Do we often work in pairs with someone of a similar level.  Occasionally I have felt that I would rather be practicing with my instructor, or at least while being observed by my instructor.  However, over time I have realized that all practice is useful.  It is also useful to help others who are not yet at the same level.  Teaching is an effective way of consolidating one’s own learning.  I realize that this is something my English language students need to learn – practice with peers helps.

Repetition of moves in Tae Kwon Do is essential for muscle memory, and to give the mind the space to focus on the next step to be internalized. Our instructor leads the drills and stops occasionally to correct a stance or model a movement.  This type of drilling leads to automaticity.   Although drilling is not necessarily in vogue in language teaching there is still the same need for automaticity.  Meaningful and continued recycling and practice will lead to this.  The correction and feedback the instructor gives is also at a meaningful level, the tendency being to focus on one point at a time.  This reduces anxiety for the student.  This is something I try to remember as a teacher.

Modeling must be clear and broken down into stages.  Students cannot focus on everything at a time.  Input must be comprehensible and students can only learn at the point they are at which is to say it’s pointless to expect a student to achieve what is not possible at any given point in time.

As I mentioned, the tone of my Tae Kwon Do class is informal.  It is also non-competitive in the sense that students are only required to do as well as they can and that if someone can’t do something, they can either not do it, or try to modify what is being practiced.  This allows for a sense of security and thus a lowering of the affective filter.

Each class follows a similar pattern.  We begin with a brief period of meditation, followed by some stretching and warm up activities.  This is followed by basic technique practice which in turn is followed by the practice of forms.  This structure sometimes varies and may include practicing rolls and falls, or sparring, or one steps, which is the practice of attack, counter attack.  Like the good language classroom, there is a sense of consistency but not predictability.  We practice in the knowledge that everything our instructor does with us will help us.

The teaching model in Tae Kwon Do reminds me of an apprenticeship model.  A new student will line up with the other students and simply try to follow along as best they can.  The instructor or a more senior student will give pointers and support for the new student at an appropriate level. Over time the new student will pick up the various punches, kicks, and blocks and then begin to practice forms and other skills such as sparring.

The most important thing I have learnt as a student is that my own attitude is key.  If I view all aspects of the class as an opportunity to practice, learn or help, then I will practice, learn or help.  I feel this way in part because that is clearly what my Tae Kwon Do instructor expects.  By extension I realize that I may have more impact on my students motivation as teacher than I had previously thought.  My expectations need to be clearly articulated, my enthusiasm needs to be apparent, and all students need to know that I am there for them, to help them do the best they can.


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Teachers As Students – Anna

Language Learning Stories – Anna Loseva

Ann Loseva

My name is Anna. I’m a Russian English language teacher. I live and teach in my native Moscow and have always done that. Also, I’ve been learning English here in various kinds of educational institutions for 22 years. Here’s my story of learning languages which I guess could bear some resemblance to the stories of some of you.


Story #1 – Herzlich Willkommen!

I studied German as my second foreign language at university for 3 years and then tried to sustain my level with self-studies for about a year. I have some vague memories of that and I might remember a few words and grammar rules that I memorized by heart. I doubt I will succeed making an intelligent conversation partner at anything over A1 level. Incidentally, I have never been to or was going to go to Germany.


Story #2 – Mi piace …

(an example of weird sample sentences in some language learning apps)

I took up Italian twice. First time I was enthralled by the vivid descriptions and eloquent stories about Italian language and culture experience of my adult student, a lady who was totally smitten with anything and everything Italian. I signed up for an Italian course on the BBC website (these courses, unfortunately, are no longer provided), bought myself a colourful new notebook for the good purpose of future accomplishments, … and managed about 4 out of 12 weeks of classes. It was exciting, useful, and I honestly put all the effort and spare time I could into this project. The second time I took a new lease of Italian was last summer before my Italian holidays. I had become a more conscious learner by then: I had a clear view of my goal. Within a month of intensive self-studies with nothing more than an iPad Busuu app, I acquired quite a bit of the simplest Italian vocabulary and a basic understanding of how to make a short utterance on my own. That was enough for me at that time and I was quite satisfied. I enjoyed speaking bits of Italian here and there on my trip and felt no need to continue the course upon my return. Italian is a truly fascinating and beautiful language, though.


Story #3 – いただきます, also known as itadakimasu.

I never saw it coming. Never had I felt even th slightest intent to take up any Asian language –  before I visited Japan for JALT 2013, that is. Not that I instantly fell in love with the language, with its mind-boggling (at that time to me) three writing systems, no, that was not what happened. But I did fall for the country, for its air (in a broad and slightly metaphorical sense,) and for the atmosphere that I got to feel during my short stay, for the people I met.  For some inexplicable reason, the place suddenly felt like the place to be for me, so when I returned home it was only natural to start studying the language. It’s been about 10 months now, and you can read here and here about the process in more detail while one more post is on its way. I’m experimenting with the ways to learn this time, and I’m doing this with more awareness than ever before.

One revelation that I’d like to share here is about grammar. The most controversial move in my Japanese self-studies was reading a grammar reference book and actually finding this activity useful. Knowing my natural teaching style, I’d never imagine myself assigning the reading of several chapters of a grammar book as a task for my students (especially for real beginners!). In fact, I would not be likely to even recommend a dry grammar guide for its lack of practicality. Surprising as it is,  a fact remains a fact. My friend wisely noted once that this strange reading choice could be beneficial to me as I’m a language teacher and also a bit of a linguist, by education. I’m ready to agree that there’s a point to such reasoning, though I’m not ready to think of myself as superior in language learning abilities than any one of my students due to this fact only.

I can proudly say that story #3 is an ongoing language-learning project and the one I’ve probably been most consistent with, if not most successful in, yet.


Story #4 – 파이팅, also known as paiting.

On October 1st I’ll arrive in South Korea and will be staying there for over a month. In  view of that, I thought it respectful, good manners, and actually practically useful to study Korean. I don’t set objectives for myself higher than merely being able to read hangul, the Korean script. Ideally, I’d also learn to say a few touristy basics, realizing all the time that saying something in a foreign language is just part of a communication situation, and not even half of it.

In the three weeks of studying Korean off and on, I’ve been using the following ways (which seem to have become characteristic for my language learning practice): downloading many apps and working with as many of them as one; printing out the alphabet, looking at it and writing lines and lines of these new symbols; watching video lessons on Youtube and other sites recommended by friends; following Instagram accounts where I can have exposure to Korean. So far it’s just been about training myself to reach some decent level of reading fluency. I’m taking it slow, though.


Story #5 – Me writing my stories.

This story is about my English. There was one summer, about 6 years ago, when I spent a couple of months with no access to the Internet, without any practise writing, reading, speaking, or listening: Total abstinence from English for two months. When I returned to class in September, I was horrified.  I could barely express myself in the way I remembered myself being able to. I was struggling with vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar, and more importantly, I was suffering psychologically that this could have happened to me.

Since that one instructive time I’ve always been doing something to keep my English at the level I could be more or less content with. I learn by writing regularly in my reading journal.  I learn by always volunteering to teach higher-level groups, if that’s possible. I learn by reading, commenting, chatting, watching series, and challenging myself to present at conferences. I learn by writing these blog posts in the end. At the moment my active learning phase involves me working on exercises from a guide on creative writing. This creative writing book is nothing fancy, academically wise. No lists of lexis I need to acquire to qualify my writing as creative, no lists of recommended literature to read after which I’ll be safely inspired. Yet it gives me more confidence and a nudge to persist than any inspirational quote or article that can be found online in abundance.



I want to finish by sharing some of my reflections, because these days I think I’m finally learning something from contemplating how I learn. So what have I learnt?

  1. I’ve learnt that, although language has order and structure, it can be studied in a “hopping” style: scattered practice of various skills, doing 15 minutes of writing today, 20 minutes of a Youtube grammar lesson tomorrow, to follow up with 10 minutes of working on a song lyrics the next day.
  1. In connection with the previous point, I’ve learnt (or rather proved for myself from a different perspective) that I’m too easily and quickly bored with monotony of learning, once it gets into the routine. I’ve learnt that my learning style (and apparently teaching style stems from this, too) begs me to find variety.
  1. Regularity is what truly counts and makes a difference, as does having a well-articulated aim.
  1. I would like to think deeper into how my discoveries as a language student can impact my own students.

One of my colleagues asked me in a conversation on Facebook the other day: “You always seem to be working on your language improvement; how long does it take in your life, like, hours? every day? Do you do this self-study on a regular basis? Do you ever feel guilty about taking up a new language?

I hope I answered these nice questions now. As for guilt… frankly speaking, I have a very acute sense of guilt – about many things, including being late on meeting deadlines for articles and presentation prep. But it looks like this list does not include taking up a new language, even if soon quite possibly giving it up. =)


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Teachers As Students – Chuck

Learning To Play:  A Writing Lesson
Learned Late – Chuck Sandy

Chuck Sandy

Not long ago, I was agonizing over my inability to make progress on a writing project when I had to stop agonizing long enough to attend a meeting at the local international school.  Still, even during that meeting my mind remained busy with worry. As others discussed serious matters I thought: Why can’t I make headway on this project? What is it that’s blocking up my writing? Why can’t I stop thinking about this?  What’s wrong with me? What am I missing?

I excused myself, went out into the hallway to clear my head, and was looking at this display of work done by some primary school students when it hit me.

Playfulness. That’s what’s missing. Playfulness. How do I become playful and become – even at 55 – like a little child again? I got a drink of water, went back inside, and enjoyed the rest of the meeting. A little light had come on.

Later, a comment my university writing teacher, Winston Fuller, had made about my writing long ago floated up through my mind. He’d written something about playfulness, but what? I dug out the folder of writing that his comment was written in and read what Winston had written to me almost 35 years ago.  He wrote  …

“An intentional person is too effective to be a good guide in the tentative activity of writing. It takes a certain amount of irresponsibility to create. I think now that you have begun to take yourself seriously, you should also begin to take yourself playfully. What you need now is to play, to write for the joy of writing. You need to permit yourself to write foolish, insipid, revealing, and unoriginal junk. Stacks of it. For this very good reason: there is no way to get to the good stuff except by wading through mounds and mounds of the bad stuff.  At this point, Charles, if you’re not writing a lot of junk, you’re not doing your job.”

Why did it take almost 35 years to come back to this comment, and why did this all come together on an agonizing evening during my 55th year?  Well, maybe it’s because I haven’t been doing my job, have gotten even more serious than I was back then, and having reached a crisis in my writing am finally ready to learn this lesson. I could say more about all this, but instead of digging deeper and getting all serious again, I’ll show you the notebook I got started playfully writing in, share some writing activities I’ve been doing, recommend a few books, and tell you a story.

Ten Playful Writing Activities 

For each of these activities you’ll need a notebook, a pen, and 10 minutes.  Do them alone, with friends, or with students.  The mission is to write for 10 minutes without stopping, erasing, or crossing out. Don’t worry about being original, clever, or correct. Just write. No one’s going to see what you write unless you want to share it.  This writing is yours and it’s just for fun. If you’re still having fun after 10 minutes, skip a few lines in your notebook, and do another 10-minute writing activity. Ready?

  1. Write these words in your notebook: “I’m thinking of …” and then give yourself a moment to think. What is it you’re thinking about? Go!
  2. Begin like this: “I’m looking at …” and then have a look around where ever it is you are. What captures your attention? Focus on that.  Look some more. Then, start writing. 10 minutes. Go!
  3. Try beginning with either “I remember …” or “I don’t remember …” and see where this gets you. If you get stuck along the way, start again with “I remember” or “I don’t remember” and keep writing. Don’t stop. 10 minutes!
  4. Paint a word picture of an elementary school teacher you had. Use this person’s name. Start with “I remember” as in “I remember that Mr. Denz smelled like a campfire and I yet I never understood why until …”
  5. When was the last time you were really happy? Or afraid? Or embarrassed? Or angry? Or in love? 10 minutes. Get your pen moving.
  6. Write about coffee, ice cream, peanut butter, cheese, or oranges. Feel free to start with “I’m thinking about” or “I remember” but if you’re tired of those prompts try “I’ll never forget …” or “I can’t live without …
  7. Now that you’ve gotten used to 10-minute writing sessions, try reducing the time and see what happens. Is five minutes enough? How about three? Try both and see what works for you. Write about a song you can’t get out of your head, something you can’t forgive, a scar you have, a difficult student, something you can’t give up, somewhere you always wanted to go but didn’t.
  8. Write a 10-line poem. Begin with  “I’ll never forget _______” or “I wish I could forget _________ or “I try not to remember ______ ” or “Who can forget _______?” Don’t think too much. Just write. You’ve got 5 minutes. Go
  9. Write a 12-line poem in which each line begins with “I used to _______ and ends with “but now I _________.” Take 10 minutes if you’ve got 10 minutes. If not, five is enough.  If that’s enjoyable for you and you’ve got some more time, try again but this time change the pronoun to we, they, she, he, or it.
  10. You’re standing in a hallway. You’re looking at the top of a dresser. You’re sitting at the kitchen table. You’re looking up at the sky.  Chose one. Prose or poem. It’s up to you. 10 minutes. Get started and see where you wind up.

A Few Good Books On Learning to Write Playfully

You’ll surely come up with some writing prompts of your own, and if you’re doing this work with friends or students, they’ll have ideas, too.  For dry times, though, I’ve found these books to be great sources of ideas, activities, and advice.

Writing Alone and With Others by Pat Schneider is a marvel.

Old Friend From Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir by Natalie Goldberg is full of writing prompts, common sense, and playful writing practice.

Although Rose Where Did you Get That Red by Kenneth Koch is really about teaching children how to read and write poetry, it’s also about how to teach yourself to do these very things. It’s fun, full of great ideas and rich with poetry.

My latest favorite is The Year of Writing Dangerously: 365 Days of Inspiration and Encouragement by Barbara Abercrombie which not only inspires and encourages, it also provides 365 mostly wonderful writing prompts.

Whether you’re interested in learning to write playfully yourself or wanting to incorporate fun writing activities into your classes, any or all of these books are worth exploring. They provide me with hours of fun, and I think that fun is helping me become a better writer.  I’m certainly writing a lot and finally doing my job.

A Way Forward and A Story About Beginnings

Once you’ve done enough playful writing that you’ve got a stack of it done, start going through what you’ve written and pull out a few pieces you’d like to either develop further or edit down.  I took one 3-page-10-minute-writing activity I wrote some time ago, cleaned it up, and edited it down to about 10 lines I posted on Facebook a while ago.  Today I edited it down a bit more. It’s not a particularly good piece of writing, yet, but it’s true and it launched me into who I’m now becoming as a writer, a teacher, and a person: A beginner again who’s still learning his lessons:

“Be willing to be a beginner every single morning,” writes Meister Eckhardt. I underlined that line in the book I was reading. Then I thought, “Hah! How’s that supposed to work? I mean I’m 55 years old. Begin again? Doing what?” I set the book aside and busied myself in the garden. I trimmed branches. I cleaned out muck. I raked and bagged leaves. Ideas started coming. I sat down and made a list. Then, looking out I noticed a tiny bit of green coming up from under a dead plant in a cheap pot. I cut off what had died, set the pot on my table, and wondered what this little bit of green would become if I nurtured it. Would if flower? Would it even bear fruit? No telling, really. Not yet, anyway. I opened the book I’d set aside and found Meister Eckhardt saying “and suddenly you know: It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.” I laughed and underlined that, too. OK, I get it. New beginnings. I’m ready and I’m willing.

How about you?


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Teachers As Students

What lessons are learned when a teacher becomes a student? Chris Mares, Anna Loseva, and Chuck Sandy share perspectives, insights, and activities.

Chris Mares
Chris Mares
Anna Loseva
Anna Loseva
Chuck Sandy
Chuck Sandy


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