Sunday, April 29, 2012

Black & White

I did it. 

Putting on my do bahk (that's 'uniform' in Korean), stiffly starched and retina-searingly white, I officially began on my path to "black belt excellence" last week.  In a previous post, I shared my turning point, when I realized that my fear was the only thing holding me back.  I have moved off of the bleachers and out of my comfort zone.  I am now a beginner.  A white belt.  10th Gup.
Tang Soo Do is one of the Korean martial arts that has military roots.  When you begin, your rank, or gup, begins at 10, and as you continue to progress, you move upward through the ranks in reverse number order.  My 11-year-old son, who has been doing this for more than four years, outranks me as a 1st Gup, soon to be "Cho dan bo" (black belt eligible).  No matter how hard I try, and how often I go to class, he will always be my superior, and I will call him, "Sir."
I stand at the end of the last row all the way in the back during class, making my best attempt to match my blocks and kicks to the precise artistry that I observe in the front row where he stands.  As effortless as he makes it look, I know my stumbling attempts are nowhere near par.  Coordinating my mind with my hands and feet commands my full concentration, and repeatedly I fall short of the mark.   With each Ki Hap I try again to step with the right foot while simultaneously engaging my "chamber" while moving both my arms in opposite directions AND maintaining my balance so I don't splatter face first onto the gym floor.  It's not easy.  It requires every ounce of my concentration, and it can be embarrassing and even frustrating at times.

In other areas of my life, I have gifts and skills.  Cooking is art to me, and it is something enjoyable that comes easily.  Professionally as a reading specialist, I am able to adeptly assess a student's area of need in reading and provide instruction for that student to scaffold and support his reading development.

So why?  Why begin Tang Soo Do?  What is my motivation?
I see the end goal.  From the very end of the last row at the back of the class, I see what is to come.  Through the expert coaching of my karate instructors, I know that if I work diligently and practice, I will progress through the ranks and earn many colorful belts.  I know that if I am patient, persistent, and committed, I will be a black belt someday.

At school, my students have many talents and gifts.  They are tournament wrestlers, football players, competitive gymnasts, artists, and yes, even black belts in Tae kwon do.   However, they enter into my classroom because they need to be there, not out of choice.  They have been recommended, screened, and qualified.  Although I wish it was not true, many have been embarrassed and frustrated by their struggles with reading.
Reading is a complex interactive process, requiring the coordination between interpreting the black and white code (the text) with the reader's background knowledge and strategies for making meaning.  The fluent reader makes this process look easy.  How must it feel to observe others performing the seemingly effortless art of reading, when you know that it requires every ounce of your concentration and effort when you engage in the task?  What is your motivation to continue through your embarrassment and frustration?  How do you visualize the end goal?

In reality, my students know the end goal.  I do not take it personally when they tell me that they don't want to be in reading support.  Some are surprised when I tell them that I share their sentiments.  Rather than seeing reading support as an end in itself, I see it as a path to self-reliance.  My role as a teacher is a balance between art and science as I coach my students toward independence.  It will require practice and concentration, but if we are patient, persistent, and committed, we will get there.  Along the way, we will check our progress and celebrate our growth until our goal is achieved.

Our goal is reading independence.

My goal is black belt excellence.  

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