Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Teachers teaching teachers

If you're an even moderately advanced pole instructor (less so for other aerialists), you're going to spend part of your teaching career instructing other instructors. Polers, at least advanced ones, are very goal-oriented, and if they think you can teach them something, they have no qualms with taking a class or a private with you. They don't care if you are both instructors, they don't care if they are advanced as you--they don't even care if you have a pulse, as long as you can help them reach their pole goals. And as dedicated polers tend to jump into instructor training quite soon after falling in love with our art (there are plenty of instructors who can't do even low-intermediate moves), there are plenty of instructors who will fill the ranks of an advanced class or workshop you may be teaching.

This willingness of us polers to go to each other for help and instruction is one of the things I think makes our community great. But at the same time, it can be awkward. Offering constructive criticism without bruising egos is a delicate wire to walk. As a teacher who has regularly taught classes, privates, and workshops to other teachers AND been on the receiving end of the instruction, I have my own philosopies that help me balance this, and since they seem to be working (they keep comin' back!), I thought I'd share them.

We can all learn something from each other. I keep saying this, but it bears repeating. No matter how advanced you are or how basic your instructor is, they can probably do something you can't, or do something better than you can, or just be able to use their instructor eagle-eye to spot ways to optimize your performance.

Just last week I dropped into a class with an instructor who basically only taught beginner-level spins (see Studio Review: Gypsy Rose Exotic and Pole Dancing). She still helped me with my reverse grab. Don't be a snob.

Avoid hierarchy like the plague. A poler who is clearly not as advanced as you can have a standard teacher-student relationship with you, but in many cases, the person you're teaching is just as advanced as you are. If they have come to you for instruction, they have shown their willingness to "submit" to your "superiority" for an hour or two. But that doesn't mean that their skills ARE inferior, or that, if they are, they want to feel belittled. Most instructors that I've taught can do things that I can't. It's respectful to approach them as equals who happen to be in your class, rather than as students looking up to you.

Don't offer criticism unless its asked for. Of course, if they are taking your class, that means they ARE asking for criticism. But if it's a situation where you encounter someone at a pole jam or watch a performance you think could have been improved, do not offer feedback unless the person asks for it, or at least seems genuinely interested in your opinion. I know you mean well, but egos are fragile and giving unsolicited instruction can give off an implied hierarchy vibe: "I'm the teacher here, you're the student."

Exceptions, of course, for if someone is doing something that could hurt them. Even then, tread carefully.

Respect that the student/instructor has their own opinions. A pure student-student will pretty much do anything you tell them (see The Stages of Learning), but an instructor has their own methodology worked out. While they are temporarily submitting to your authority, you should respect their preferences when possible. Instructors are more aware of their limitations and what works well on their bodies, because they are constantly sussing out these facts about their own students.

Don't let your student become the teacher. If you see your teacher-student do something amazing and you want to learn it, don't ask them to take away from their class time to teach it to you. Compliment them, and book a private lesson with them. Similarly, don't let a teacher-student in your class take over teaching the class. Of course they should help other students if the students ask, and you should let them demo moves for the class, but don't let them get carried away and hijack your class.

Don't use class time to gossip. Well, generally, don't gossip ever. But specifically, we are a small and drama-prone community, and you probably know the same people and institutions. If you must chatter, go out for drinks after class. Don't let their class time slip away because you're gabbing, and try not to let them get you off-subject. It's easier to talk to a friend (you) than to hoist one's body weight into the air. We are all in danger of stalling instead of sweating.

When the class is over, you are no longer the teacher. Refrain from trying to offer criticism and pointers after the fact. Don't be quick to refer to them as your "student" in front of other polers (especially not their own students!). The student-teacher relationship has ended, and you are now equals--and, if you handled things well, still friends.

Our community is as sensitive as it is beautiful. Take every opportunity to compliment your fellow teachers and to lift them up. We all benefit when we help each other--even moreso when we like each other.
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  1. Yes. Just, yes, to this. All of it. So important to be aware of the egos, I say this having a sensitive ego myself.

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