Saturday, April 30, 2005

Two of Eli's teachers

Master Hughes

Last night we saw Master Hughes in an unexpected venue: the St. Paul's Preschool carnival. He was in the carnival room, doing a TKD demonstration with a young boy--maybe a SPPS graduate?

It wasn't really a demonstration. It was hands-on (feet-on) practice. Master Hughes was showing children how to do a simple TKD kick. What was really being demonstrated was his patience and skills working with children. He's good. He gets down to the child's height to talk, and uses a soft voice. He shows the child the move, and helps the child do it.

We were all glad to see him; Eli and Robbie showed off their kicks and broke some thin boards. Master Hughes once again told me that he was impressed with how far Eli has come since he started classes. I agreed.

When Eli started in October, he'd last about half the class. Then he'd come over and sit with me. It was about all the instruction he could take at that point. He wasn't very respectful and tended to run around or act goofy when he was supposed to be learning. He didn't get along with Master Hughes at all. Master Hughes's cheerful, sometimes boistrous approach just did not work for Eli.

To be honest, I was concerned about this at first. I knew that Eli would not warm to Master Hughes's extroverted demeanor--that drawing attention to Eli, masculine roughhousing, and kidding around with him to make him work harder just were not going to be effective.

But Master Hughes seemed to be aware of this, because he backed off a bit and poured on the praise. He talked to Eli as an equal (even when Eli was acting like a 3-year old!) and challenged him gently. It's working.

This--the flexibility to meet a child where he is--more than anything has won my respect for Master Hughes.

Saturday's Blackbelt

(Back in January, I was introduced to the blackbelt who taught today's class. I don't remember his name! I think of him as the class "big bull," a term I got from The Idiot's Guide to TKD for large, strong, male students who make a lot of being big and strong.)

I was worried when I saw that this blackbelt was going to be teaching. He's loud, he's picky, he seems to like to demonstrate his strength. He lead us through an agonizing 30 minutes of basic moves, having us stand in joint-tiring fighting stances until our legs ached while he corrected minute problems. The BB would focus on some poor student and give him/her the eye while doing the move, then correct the person, loudly, in front of class.

OK, OK, this was good for all of us. But Eli got tired. He raised his hand and quietly asked the teacher if he could take a break.

"Why?" asked the BB
"My legs hurt," said Eli, looking up with comple innocence.

The BB's face softened.

"I don't think they really hurt. I think they're just a little bit tired. But that's all right. You can work through it. Here. Let me take that rubber band." He took a rubber band that Eli was fiddling with. "Or do you want it on your wrist? Here. OK. Now you can have it to play with after class."

Eli calmed down and finished up the exercises, letting the BB gently move his feet into correct position without complaint.

I was amazed. I had been worried about another run-in with an overly masculine teacher, but this BB was OK. He could adjust, be flexible to the needs of his student. Throughout the rest of the class, the BB encouraged Eli and challenged him the right amount. Eli responded by working hard.

I'm glad my boys have male role-models in TKD who can be strong yet flexible. If the teacher (especially a male teacher) can engage my little sensitive Eli, then he's OK in my books.

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