My earliest teaching memory dates back to school where I taught my juniors mathematics – at the age of eleven I was ahead of my years. I then had stints teaching music, badminton, basketball and a whole range of other things. Teaching has always felt natural and rewarding but I have never sought a career in it; I merely taught what I learnt.
However a little under 5 years ago I co-started a very small Salsa club with the aim of sharing what we knew. We had no real ambition and wanted to share our collective knowledge that in our minds should be more accessible.
I feel that I have evolved a lot as a teacher and certain things have finally started to come together. In this blog I want to pick out the three things that really helped me evolve as a teacher.
When I first started teaching I understood my content well but could not understand why others did not pick things up. I struggled internally and spent a lot of time coming up with different exercises to try and get certain points through. Sometimes this worked and it was very rewarding but sometimes it did not and I was left extremely stressed out to the point where I would lose sleep. This was a pattern for the first 3 years of my Salsa teaching career.
Today I am grateful for the time that I had put in and the tools that I spent time developing (which I can now use at will). But more importantly I am more at ease with the motives, pace of learning and limitations of others.
I used to think that everyone was like me and I could not understand otherwise. But after years of teaching I can finally accept and work with students at their own pace and have the tools to deal with a variety of situations.
Going Beyond Content
Knowing how to teach content is not an easy thing to do as you really have to own it. But to bring the content to life and give students an experience is a far tougher proposition. During my formal education I experienced (as I suspect most of you have too) teachers who taught classes by offering (extremely valuable) information by reading from a book. These classes had no life in it and although the information was correct I found the content did not sink in. I also experienced teachers who taught content through activities and games and provided a platform for fun, understanding and more important a unique memory that I could pull from.
When I first started teaching I was focused a lot on teaching content. But today I am more focused on creating situations that my students will remember either through exercises, games, changing my own excitement/energy levels or humour.
When I first started out one of my teachers told me that I had to make an effort to stand out i.e. that dressing and acting like a teacher made you one. It was like being a Salsa teacher meant wearing a certain suit (and as we know it is the suit that makes the man). I saw that this was being done with a lot of teachers out there so tried to adopt it.
Needless to say it failed miserably.
I tried to adopt the super-duper-always-happy-persona that some teachers had, the dress to be noticed in eye catching clothing and accessories and even the detached unavailable on-a-pedestal-star.
None of the above matched my personality so I spent a lot of time learning to be myself as a teacher and am now far more comfortable because of it. I am who I am and my teaching style now reflects that and more importantly it comes natural to me. I know of several teachers that act a certain way in classes and find it tiring as they have to keep up appearances. One teacher once told me that he hated going to SOS as his stage personality was “I love to dance with everyone” but in reality he wanted to go out to dance with ONLY his friends.
Teaching Salsa, which is classified as a street dance, is not easy at the best of times. You will get a whole variety of people with different motives, skill levels, personalities and of all ages.
After 5 years of teaching I am finally comfortable with myself as an instructor, my personal identity and my ability to make an experience out of my classes, to truly understand and accept the learning pace of others. I personally feel like I am in a very good place but this was a long journey and took a lot of effort and personal assessment.
For those who are not teachers I hope you find this an interesting read and for those who are teachers I would love to know your thoughts, feelings and personal story.