I’m sure many of us will have embarked on a range of new year projects and missions and among us will be those who’ve signed up to learn a new skill or revisit and master an old one. I must say that I find teachers the most open-minded of people: adventurous, up for new experiences and learning, learning, learning all the time.
After all, why else would we want to teach, if we didn’t love to learn?
At our school, we have staff writing pantos and plays, starting or continuing MAs, MScs and PhDs, pitching documentary ideas, blogging, making their own clothes, writing articles, creating poetry, painting murals, starting e-zines, finding wild new fitness classes, you name it. It’s a joy and an inspiration to be surrounded by staff who pursue the desire to learn, both in and out of school, in so many fields.
Apart from trying to ‘get my blog on’ again, I have returned to Pilates and have been reflecting on what makes me enjoy the classes. Ultimately, so much of it is down to my teacher. She has a genuine passion for what she does and conveys that in every sentence and action. She knows her job inside out and cares about sharing her knowledge with her students. She wants you to improve and achieve, without hurting or damaging yourself in the process.
When we arrive? A warm smile and greeting by name: ‘Hello Stephanie, how are you? And how are your boys? Lovely to see you again!’
When there is a new exercise we haven’t tried? ‘You’re going to love this one! It’s a great one, really it is! Let me show you.’
When the work is challenging? ‘Oh yes, I know, I know, it’s hard, but it’s going to be soooo worth it!’
When we need resting or pushing? ‘If your muscle is shaking, then stop or you will over-extend. Otherwise keep going, it’s not for much longer. 5, 4, 3…’
When we think we’ve nearly finished? ‘That’s it! You’re done! Now again, but pulses, from 16, 15, 14…..’
When we really have finished? ‘Well done! You did it! Now, doesn’t that feel good? You did something you’ve never done before! See how you’re improving?’
When we leave? A warm farewell ‘Thank you so much for coming! Have a lovely evening, see you next time.’
My teacher is also always trying out new exercises and methods herself and sharing her experiences with us. She goes on courses, trains new teachers, tries different classes. She lets us know that she found that exercise hard herself when she first tried it – it took her 70 times – but now look at her! She is a specialist in Pilates but also shares her wider knowledge about health and nutrition. She is always focused on the work in the lesson, but also finds time to give small compliments ‘I love your nails!’ or share little anecdotes, whether it’s a lovely recipe or news of her daughters.
I have the choice to be her student and while the exercise makes me feel good, ultimately I return to her classes because of her teaching style: I appreciate her personal warmth, her knowledge, her positive encouragement and her ability to know when to push me further. Which made me think. My students have no choice. They are stuck with me, like it or not! How would I like to be taught by me?
So if you are learning something new this year, take a moment to think what it’s like to be a student again. What do you like or dislike about your teacher? How do they help you to learn? What could you take from them back to your classroom to your own captive audience? How do you present new material or revisit the old? How do you know when to push harder or when to go back, be kind, help?
I have found that being a student again is a great way to reassess my own teaching style and methods. My new year’s resolution? To take a few leaves out of my Pilates’ teacher’s book! What about you?