The impossibility of simple: Teaching and the Notion of Kata

Teaching and the Notion of Kata

I wanted to write a brief post about my contemplations of teaching and the notion of kata. So there are my first random ramblings on the subject:

Matsunobu’s (2011) chapter on Creativity of Formulaic Learning in which he explains the creativity integral to kata, where self-development happens through imitating and mastering a form (an art), and the ability to shape the art (katayaburí) can only manifest once true mastership is reached, rang true to me when reflecting on the art of teaching (Lupton, 2012).

When entering the life of teaching in higher education, there are certain forms, norms and expectations that need mastery—to negotiate behaviorist institutional structure. In terms of assessment-free teaching there is more freedom. However, maybe more involuntarily than consciously do we mirror forms we experienced. An aspect highlighted by our module leader in the PG Cert: The first task in our first session last year was to think of someone—a significant person, or teacher—in our life who had in impact, who encouraged us to learn, or make learning fun, interesting, lasting.

My person was my granddad, he was a teacher in an agricultural college, he worked with young adults who came from troubled backgrounds and youth prison. His attitude was all about renegotiating identities—he never read his students’ ‘files’. He said: ‘You show me, who you are, not a piece of paper.’—handing over responsibility (what I would now call ownership and control), and that making mistakes is simply part of the process. Not making mistakes, means you are not doing it right, not trying hard enough.

In a way my kata, if I adopt the principle of the notion, is to mirror my granddad. In my very first formal teaching job, teaching English in a kindergarten, I would call him right after each session and on the way home talk about aspects that went well and aspects that did not go well. He would advice, on the form of the art of teaching. Well, if this and this happens, you could have reacted in such and such a way, improving your form*, reminding me a little of my Tai Chi teacher, if you put your foot so and your hand so, you improve your form. So I shaped my teacher-identity to the form, offered by my granddad.

However, I never stopped with imitation. Once it was successfully mastered I would adapt, shape, and change the form, though always remain true to its principles. Eisner (1979) already stated that teaching can never be simply routine. So I am wondering if the aim of becoming a good teacher must always be katayaburí. This is probably the point where my considerations begin to meander away from the Japanese notion, then katayaburí is only something for a selected élite (élite in reference to outstanding abilities), whereas in terms of teaching it is necessity for a true mastership of this art.

However, when reading further afield, and pondering about the structure of this post, I realised that this is much too complex and in need for more reading and contemplation, than a brief Friday evening blog post could possibly vouch for. So this is probably going to live a life in a journal article, and instead I post some more pictures from last weekend’s hike.

*He would usually explain the psychology, or pedagogy behind the suggestions.

West Highland Way

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