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Teaching kids -- UGH!! (...and what I learned from it)
I have a confession to make: I don't like working with little kids.
Don't get me wrong. I love children. I have nieces and nephews and I have friends with kids, and I love them all.
The thing is, when it comes to teaching, I am not a fan of teaching the young ones. Under age 12 or so is no fun for me.
You see, there are things I love about teaching. With children that young, I can't do any of the things that draw me to speaking and teaching in the first place.
I have trained and taught the martial arts for years. A few years ago, I started teaching a class of 7 to 12 year-olds. While I liked all the kids in the class, I hated the act of actually teaching them. End result: I stopped teaching, felt burnt out, and left the martial arts for over a year (this was before I've learned some of the things I teach and write about though :-) )
Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. I have been doing shows where I work with a group to teach kids valuable lessons such as how to make better decisions and why it's bad to smoke. Most of the audiences for these shows consisted of children in the 5 to 12 year-old range.
Just like five years ago, I found myself not enjoying the shows at all and feeling very unhappy. This time though, I had a much greater understanding of what to do.
I knew I had two choices. I either had to stop doing the shows, or find a way to enjoy them. I decided to put my own theories to the test and force myself to find a way to enjoy these shows.
I started by using my creativity to brainstorm out all the reasons I wasn't enjoying myself. I let my mind flow and created a big list. I then went through the list and picked out the key reasons I wasn't having fun. They were:
1) I kept running out of things to do because each activity kept the kids attention for much briefer periods of time then with older audiences.
2) I like to teach 'theories,' because I believe that that level of understanding is key for real learning. Unfortunately, heavy theory doesn't work well with the youngsters.
3) I felt it was a constant struggle to keep the kids' attention.
4) I was stressing over whether the kids were actually 'getting it.'
Well, this was a great start! Having identified these four key factors, all I needed to do was address them. Once again, I turned on the creative muscles and brainstormed out what I could do for each one. After I had that list, I picked out the techniques and ideas that would address the problems. They were:
1) For each show, I created a list of activities that was about twice as long as I thought I needed, so I would never run out of things to do.
2) I created a list of ways to teach the ideas without getting 'theoretical,' and committed to trying the new approach (i.e. I let go of my traditional teaching style).
3) Rather than trying to keep entertaining the kids, I decided to add in some hands-on interactive activities throughout the show to get them involved and give them a break.
4) I stopped stressing. I committed to the mentality (which I am paraphrasing from Alan Weiss), 'show up, do the best I can, and go home.' I had my plan, I would do the best I could and work that plan, and that's all I could ask of myself.
Lo and behold! The next three shows I did were actually fun! And they were all with kids between 5 and 12 years of age!!
Here are some key lessons from my experience:
1) Address your feelings before it's too late. Years ago I waited too long and got burnt out. Recently, I addressed it earlier and am much happier.
2) Use your creativity to gain an understanding of what's bugging you, and then pick the key factors.
3) Use your creativity to create ways of addressing what's bugging you.
4) Create a plan of what you will do, and commit to working that plan.
5) Make sure you are having fun!!
This article is not specifically about how to teach young ones. Rather, it should serve as a guide for how to use some creativity to add more fun and happiness into your life. Life's too short to stay unhappy!
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