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Part 1 - Back to Basics in Teaching

I've attended a lot of classes before I got into yoga teaching and aside from going there to learn the actual skill being taught, I also go to watch how the teachers instruct.

Now looking back at all of my classes, it's interesting to reflect on what kind of teaching style I gravitated towards to and actually learned from.

This is a 2-part series that journalize the lessons I've learned from my teachers.

Part 1 is all about the teachers I came across with as a kid, the classes and teachers my parents chose for me. Part 2 is all about the classes and teachers that I chose for myself as a paying adult.

So welcome to Part 1.

As a kid I took up 3 classes growing up outside school. During Grade School, a private class to learn how to play the organ; and in High School as a teenager, a group class for taekwondo and a private class for swimming. All of these teachers knew their stuff, well as a kid, all adults seem to know their stuff, so I learned from some and learned not to be like some.

I had 2 unforgettable teachers for the organ classes. One hefty seemingly old lady (as a kid everyone bigger than you appear old) who had a lot of big rings too tight on her fingers, she always was heavily perfumed up (not that is relevant to the topic but worth mentioning); and I had a sub teacher who came to her rescue the times she couldn't make it, who also frequently came to our class drunk wearing his sunglasses indoors to mask his drunken state (I mention this fondly). I used to play the organ for him and he would doze off and that was the lesson. I remember him scribbling once illegibly about reading some musical notes in attempt to teach me properly.

Having two teachers instruct the same topic gave me my first taste in at least 2 varying teaching styles for the very same topic. The lady was quite strict and would get easily frustrated with me when I could not get the beat and tune right or the finger placement correctly. She would yank my hands and press my fingers hard on the correct keys with her stubby fingers (that's why I remember her rings) as if she wanted to drill muscle memory into them by pressing on them on the keys again and again; the intoxicated man, well...what do you expect, he was very lenient and quite patient who no doubt did not even notice when I went out of tune, he was my favorite albeit useless teacher.

Although my time with the lady was quite unpleasurable and hardly made the class friendly enough for me to like it, I did learn from her. Whereas with the man, as a kid, I just remember feeling this huge relief every time I saw him as it meant not having to be with the strict lady. But I don't remember being taught anything by him to be quite honest.

Both didn't really make me want to continue the lessons, it didn't spark further interest. Even at such a young age, I found it a chore to go and eventually managed to convince my parents, after a couple of years, not to go anymore. I never played the organ since, neither do I remember how to as an adult.

This was my first lesson with finding the balance of strictness and leniency to make sure students actually learn something and not to be an a**hole about it if they don't learn it quick and what not to do if you want to inspire continuous learning.

Then there came the Taekwondo classes. I joined the program a bit later than everyone else, everyone seemed to know the moves already and I had zero knowledge. So I stayed at the back of the class, and tried to follow along while everyone did their kicks and other fancy moves. There were at least 10 - 15 kids in that group, at varying age groups. The teacher barked out the moves (as a kid everything seemed barking if the voice is too loud) from the front and did the moves on the platform (which I barely saw as I was shorter than all other students then, why I didn't go to the front of the class when clearly I have a lot to learn, I would never know) and everybody seemed to know all moves as they were completely in sync, except for me of course.

The teacher not once ever went to the back of the room to check if everybody was following along from that view point, that means to see me not following along and so I was never corrected. I don't remember the teacher, I don't even remember if it was a man or a woman, and probably he or she didn't even notice me dropping out from the program mid way.

I did learn 1 kick that I remember until this very day out of copying other students as there were sparring lessons and my partners were nice enough to teach. That was my first lesson of being part of a group class with a teacher who didn't move from his or her post at the front of the class, didn't adjust the pace to accommodate everyone or let alone knew or perhaps cared if everyone was able to follow along.

Next was the swim class. I took it up because my swim teacher in my high-school was quite the same as my Taekwondo teacher, she only barked out swim strokes for us to do without really teaching it, from outside the pool. Yep, imagine that - a swim teacher fully clothed outside the pool. She not once ever went inside the water with us. I couldn't figure out the swim strokes at all no matter how many times she yelled instructions from where she was standing. And yes, she of course got frustrated with me as usual. I hated swimming, I hated the class and I dreaded going to school on those days where I had her swim class.

So I took some weekends during that school year to be taught in private in a sports recreational facility near my home, just for me to get it. Although it was initially academically motivated, I enjoyed my swim classes and it converted into an interest. I really learned how to swim from my teacher and learned how to enjoy it.

I remember my first class with him, he went in and told me to jump from where I was standing. The waters were triple my height. I hesitated at first and he said he assured me that he won't let me drown and told me that once I jump, I'd sink but my body will naturally float back up so I shouldn't panic. I did jump, he was there to grab my arm as I floated back up.

That's how I was introduced to learning how to swim, not in shallow waters but literally thrown into the deep end and was told to dive in to address any hesitations of any fear of deep waters, with the teacher always next to me. I am not sure if he did that intentionally but it did work to address the main fear of swimming : deep waters and drowning in them.

As we carried on with the actual lessons, he showed me how it's done first for me to watch then I had to do it myself and I had to swim towards him. Whenever required, when he saw me struggling, he would somehow magically appear next to me. Since that time, I would spend most of my free time in the waters whenever possible, there was a residential pool where I grew up in so that became my go to place and a recreational center that had an olympic-sized pool. When I got older, I moved to a country that was a 15 minute drive to the beach, I would swim meters deep and be comfortable doing so.

This is my first lesson in giving instructions and giving confidence to students especially with my Yoga Trapeze classes or even SUP classes, where my students have to go upside down or they're scared of falling off the board; to address the main fears around it that might get in the way from learning and stop them even trying to do the moves. Like with anything new you're trying to learn, it's always great to have someone break down each and every component of how it's done and show you how to do it bit by bit. And if there's a student who is simply not comfortable to do the moves, it's not solved by saying "just do it" or the teacher being frustrated about it, but teachers should demonstrate how it's possible to be done

The reason why I am citing teachers from extra curricular activities outside the school system is because the reasons to want to learn in these environments are quite different from an academic environment, where somehow students have to choose to want to learn to pass as it is in their best interest to do so. Classes outside the school function has no pass or fail, it's just either you progress into acquiring a skill or don't through a teacher that somehow plays a role in a student's interest.

The funny thing is, somehow these seemingly insignificant small details, which are in reality important, are downplayed by some teachers. I've attended a number of classes as an adult where I got to meet some teachers that equally, and maybe even more, got frustrated with me for not learning quick enough at the pace of their class sequence, and seemingly not to care really whether you learn or even come back to their class. and I've met some that really paid attention and was very encouraging for you to progress at your own pace in your own time without alienating you from the group.

Sometimes the learning is through being shown by others what not to be like as a teacher and I was lucky to be shown how I like to be taught to as well.

How about you? Who were your activity teachers growing up and what were the lessons you've learned that you've incorporated in your yoga teaching?

Stay tuned for Part 2,


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