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Adult student develops self defense course for eighth-graders

Catawba College News Service

SALISBURY — Chad Springer is a non-traditional student in every sense of the word. And the chances are very good that when he lands a job as a physical education teacher after graduating from Catawba College, his teaching style will be, as well.

This 30 year-old teacher education student spent five years on active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps before he enrolled at Catawba. He’s using his post-Sept. 11 G.I. bill to pursue his goal of being a teacher. This seems an unlikely path for an ex-Marine until you meet Springer in person, and watch him interact with students.

“Growing up, I always wanted to be a professional athlete, but then I realized I wouldn’t be tall enough. So I decided to inspire students to be better themselves, regardless of whatever obstacles are put in front of them.”

In order to successfully complete the teaching methods seminar he’s taking this semester, Springer spent five weeks at West Rowan Middle School teaching self-defense to eighth-graders. It was a curriculum he created and adapted for middle school that’s based on skills he developed in the Marine Corps. And, he proudly adds, the material he created for this class meets state curriculum standards. Student objectives tap psychomotor, cognitive and affective skills, and Springer built assessments into of each of his five lesson plans.

“I wanted to give them real world skills, and these are not traditional. I wanted them to have basic skills. None of the students have previous experience and all are starting out at the same level and increase their skills together over time. I’m trying to get them out of the mindset that it’s a karate class. It’s self-defense, and self-defense is when you have to defend yourself as a last resort. All I ask is that they try and try to remember. I give them exit surveys and a baseline assessment to test their skills.”

Springer’s students arrive early, at 7:35 a.m., on five consecutive Thursdays to spend 45 minutes learning self-defense techniques. There’s a lot of laughter and self-conscious giggling as the students work in pairs to master one or two moves each week. These moves include elbow strikes, vertical knee strikes, lower body strikes and knee kicks.

Each of these moves is learned in sequence using a partner and a pad for protection. There are cue words that drive the learning such as “action,” “raise” and “foot.” The instructions are simple, Springer’s prompts are encouraging and the students seem to remember and execute accordingly.

From their comments at the end of one class, it seems these eighth-graders do understand why and what they’re learning.

Student thoughts on learning self-defense included:

  • “More girls are getting bullied.”
  • “Guys try to take advantage of you.”
  • “I’m stronger than I thought.”
  • “You can be a strong independent woman with self-defense.”
  • “Do it, you might like it.”
  • “It’s just to protect yourself, not actually to fight.”

Springer, the soon-to-be teacher, adds, “Self-defense or any kind of martial arts is a confidence builder. They get to know a set of skills. I have developed two different lesson plans for each class to be inclusive of all of the students so those with special needs can also participate and gain confidence. As long as they try, they can do anything.”

Springer, who is president of the Student North Carolina Association of Educators (SNCAE) chapter on Catawba’s campus, says his goal as a future physical education teacher is not to force students to do something, but rather to have them “want to do it.”

In an odd twist, Springer — who admits he was not a very good student in middle and high school — says he is at Catawba “to get an education and to lead.”

“I love leading. I love setting that standard with my peers. Whether I need to push them or pull them, I don’t mind.”

Springer expects to graduate in May 2018 and hopes to teach at the high school level and perhaps coach football.

Dr. Tanjian Liang, an assistant professor of health and physical education at Catawba, is supervising Springer’s methods course.

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