I've been teaching karate for about 10 years now, and business has been going well. All of my advanced classes have 40-50+ kids on the mat, and I normally run the class myself. The problem I run into is some parents complaining, 'How come my kid isn't getting any attention?' and 'Why do you always call on this kid more?' I'm trying to figure out if I should change how I teach or should I just address the parent. I’ve only been taught one way and it seems to work for me and the benefit of the school just want to hear from other people. Thank you

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    First of all, are you the head instructor there during this class? Are you the owner of the school? How many assistant instructors do you have in those classes of 40-50 kids? And what is their rank? Commented Jan 24 at 9:07
  • I don't have the bandwidth to write something longer at the moment, but your first step might be trying to view your class from an outside perspective (especially useful is if you record a class and then review footage) and see if maybe you are giving more attention to particular students, and why. Sometimes there are good reasons. Particular students might not need as much help, or more enthusiastic students may ask more questions. But you might be overlooking someone shy, or who's not heard due to louder voices. Commented Jan 24 at 13:43

2 Answers 2


Possibly both choices, you need to change a bit and parents need to shut up more.

Some instructors deal with this by not allowing outsider spectators in class, but I think this method is a lazy cover up for possible problems. However, I am very strict about the instructor being the top-most authority during class. Feedback after class is fine, interruptions and yelling during class is not.

I'd keep a diary for a few weeks, who received what and why. Then it is simple to point out that good kids get good attention while troublemakers receive negative feedback.


I'm going to tell you how we used to handle teaching large classes.

Generally the way we handled classes of any size is to have the beginning and the end of the class whereby everyone has lined up and is doing what the head instructor says all together. But in between the beginning and the end of the class, you should be breaking up the students into small groups to work on stuff more individually.

Each group can be composed of, say, 8 students max. The actual number doesn't matter, but you'll figure it out after a while of teaching and observing what works the best.

Each group would have a student or an assistant instructor who is of a higher rank than the rest of the group. That person will lead the group after the head instructor has given him/her instructions on what to go over. The lower the rank of this person, the less students he/she will lead.

So if you have 10 white belts, you might take a brown belt (advanced student) and have him teach all 10 white belts. If, instead, you have a yellow belt lead, the yellow belt should only teach one to two students at the same time, max. That's because yellow belts are just one higher than white belt. So you would need 5 yellow belts to teach 10 white belts.

Now, as head instructor, your job is also to ensure that your "leaders" are able to work on their stuff, too. You're not paying them to teach the entire time. They want to work on their stuff, too. So, after 5 minutes or so, you have everyone stop and come to attention, bow to their leader, and the leaders get put into their own groups where other leaders will be appointed to teach them. The original groups can stay the way they are, but new leaders are appointed for the group. If at all possible, you want to break the group up and have them put into other groups. That way, students get a chance to practice with other students.

The head instructor is usually going to be going around the class at this point to observe all the different groups. So he/she should be making the rounds. And sometimes that means not every group will be visited within that 5 minutes that everyone is doing stuff. But in a typical class, each student will have been under the direct supervision of the head instructor probably several times. That's because the groups will rotate around, and the head instructor will get around to all the students eventually during the class.

There are other times in the class where everyone is doing the same thing. For example, if the head instructor calls everyone around the ring to spar and watch sparring. So for 10 minutes or so, everyone is sitting down around this ring waiting for two people to be called up and to spar. It could be any two people. And with a large class, only a small percentage of students will get a chance to spar in front of everyone. The head instructor will give those two sparring partners coaching and correction.

As for favoritism, this happens sometimes even subconsciously. An instructor might single out one or two students as the best students or the worst students. So those students might get extra attention. Here's what I think about that...

First of all, students that are putting in extra effort and genuinely showing more interest in the martial art are going to get more attention. That's fine. They've earned it. And it should be rewarded. These students are able to progress more quickly and ask more and deeper questions. So they need more and better instruction.

It's similar to having a "gifted" program in regular, academic school. Gifted kids in school are identified and given special attention. They can absorb the material more quickly and need a deeper explanation that would come from more advanced and individualized teaching. The same is sort of true about these students in martial arts. They may be "gifted" in martial arts, but usually they're just very interested in it and do a lot of work at home that the other students aren't doing. So they tend to advance more quickly.

As for the students that are lagging behind, you need to give them more attention as well.

How you achieve balance with regards to how much attention you're giving to individuals vs. the rest of the class is really subjective. But one thing you can do to help prevent favoritism and jealousy is to assign assistant instructors to focus more on those individuals that need the attention. Let the head instructor be free to move around and give attention more equally.

It was not uncommon for our class to have maybe a couple students who were just better than everyone else. And for those students, the head instructor would assign one of the best senior black belts in the entire school to work with them more individually and give them more time with those senior black belts. But the head instructor would always be moving around during the class, observing and coaching real quickly before continuing to move around.

What about the parents? Parents often confront instructors when they believe their kids aren't being advanced quick enough or aren't being given enough attention.

Sometimes the parents are right. They may see their kid standing around looking lost, and no instructor comes around to help for the entire 5 minutes that the group is doing stuff. That's an eternity for those kids, and the kids are going to feel horrible, like a spotlight is on them, and like they're wearing a dunce hat. That should never happen.

That's why the head instructor needs to assign a leader to each group to make sure each kid is not lost. And if the leader of that group can't help the kid, then that leader needs to raise his/her hand and wait for the head instructor to come by. It's that simple. But that should be pretty rare.

If, instead, there is no group leader, and the head instructor is responsible for leading each group and the entire class all at once, then that's a recipe for disaster. There are going to be lots of kids getting lost and not getting help. So that's important to realize.

But here's the other thing to realize about parents. They do want the best for their kids. And to them, that means they get promoted to the next belt color very quickly. That's what they want. To the parents, it's all about the experience the kids are getting. They want their kids to feel like they're making progress and getting better, more confident and so on. So when they see their kids not getting promoted, it makes them feel like their kid is getting a raw deal. They worry their kid is going to get bored, get frustrated, get low self-esteem, and give up. It's not uncommon for parents to switch schools to a "better" martial arts school down the road that hands out rank like it was candy.

So, when you get parents who are upset that their kid isn't getting promoted as fast as the other kids that they started out with, you have to explain to them exactly why they're not getting promoted as quickly as the other kids.

It's usually not that the instructor is ignoring the kids. It's usually that the kid isn't doing enough outside of class to work on stuff. Or, it's just that some kids will take longer than others because of just who they are.

I did Taekwondo growing up and have a black belt in that. I would take it upon myself to stretch several times a day outside of class. I did all my forms outside of class many many times a day. I would go from room to room in my house kicking as I went. Any free time I had, I would fill with practice. They didn't have to tell me to do that. I just knew to do that on my own, because I wanted to get better as fast as I could.

But there are many kids who don't do any of that outside of class. They don't even know that they should. Nobody has ever told them what to do. And if they have been told, many still won't do it, because that's just who they are.

For those kids that don't practice outside of class, it's going to be reflected by how slowly they get promoted. And so you have to tell parents this is what's required in order to go faster. If their kid isn't doing that, then that's something they can do to get promoted more quickly.

Mostly, parents just want to feel that they can help their kids. They see their kids not doing as well, so they feel helpless and not in control. They complain to the instructor and kind of threaten them that they'll pull their kids out of the school unless they get more attention and get promoted more quickly.

So instructors need to give them some other way they can help their kids, something they can control. Tell them how their kids can do better on their own by simply working on it at home, and what that would look like. Tell them this is why other kids get advanced more quickly, and it's not something you can see just by observing the classes. It's doing stuff outside of class that gives them that advantage.

And then tell the parents, it's okay if their kid doesn't work at it at home. Not every kid wants to do that, and parents that push their kids into doing it at home might be turning their kids off to it. That's just something each parent needs to gauge themselves. The parents know their kids the best. But that just means they're going to get promoted at their own pace, and that's fine. It's not a race.

I recommend saying all of that up front to parents from day one. The moment they come to sign their kids up, you tell them what I just said. Doing that will prevent the confrontations in the first place. It changes the parents' expectations. And tell them that if they ever have a question about why their kid isn't ready for testing, they can just come to you, and you'll tell them what their kid needs to work on. Tell them what they can expect.

Well, I'll just end this here by saying leading a martial arts school is hard work. It can be very rewarding watching people gain success as a result of your teaching. That's what every instructor wants. But it can also be very frustrating, because you're not perfect. Sometimes you won't be able to teach certain people. They won't be successful no matter what you do, and you will try. They'll eventually drop out. Don't let it get to you. They'll find something else they can do that will bring them joy. In the meanwhile, you can use those experiences to learn how to improve your teaching.

Hope that helps.

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