Monday, July 18, 2016

Levels Levels Everywhere...Finding Your Fit as Teacher and Student

Any teacher, of yoga, aerial arts, or algebra, will tell you that one of the toughest things about the job is when the people in the room span wildly different levels of proficiency in the skill being taught.

How, in a limited amount of time, do you lay a solid foundation greener students can benefit from for a lifetime, offer properly scaffolded skills to students who have been around the block, give suggestions and critiques that each student is at the proper level to absorb and use, AND not leave anybody either struggling out in the cold, bored stiff, or sitting around waiting for you to get to them?

It's a tricky dance no matter what you're teaching, but I'll be zeroing in on teaching aerial arts since that's what I'm spending most of my teaching time doing these days. It's also why all, or open level classes are less than ideal. Of course, they are often necessary if there aren't enough clientele to fill two or three classes for every one open level offering, so don't panic if they're all that's available to you: a skilled teacher can manage the dance. ;-)

And offering leveled classes offers its own challenges, anyway: different teachers will have different opinions about whether a skill is a 'high' level one, or a 'low' level two, and so will different students. And plenty of students don't pay attention to what level a class is when signing up, or will fudge their experience to get into a class they, right or wrong, think is the right level for them.

Some studios get around this by being super rigid: holding back students from leveling up until they demonstrate competency in every singly skill offered in the current level. Students in these scenarios often get to the next level and find many skills there are much easier for them due to differing body types, and learning blind spots. Proponents of this style would point out that that's not the worst thing in the world...and they'd be right!

But what is correct scaffolding for one students is inevitably ass-backward for another, and I think that matters. The saying goes, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, they will spend their whole life thinking they're stupid. The same goes for the expert climber who's fearful of drops who gets judged by their ability to neatly land hipkey drop, and the beautiful mover in the air who gets confused by complex wraps who can't keep four different S-wrap entrances clear in their heads.

No matter how firmly we are disciplined to master every aspect of a skill set, we're going to emerge at the end with strengths and weaknesses that could probably have been recognized mere months into our practice. I'm a fearless dropper, and I build strength easily. I struggle with finding beautiful lines in every movement, keeping my feet pointed and winged out, and with gaining flexibility. There are plenty of moves that, at least for now, are just not for me.

I think it's ok to pick your battles, and stick with the things that make your heart sing, as long as you're operating safely in both a short term and a long term sense (think: not falling today; not developing a receptive motion injury five years from now). This is particularly true for the majority of aerial students who will never pursue a professional career.

So, that said, how do you properly learn, and how do you properly teach in the real world, where there's bound to be some leveling diversity in your classes?

Students: shop around! Do not stay with the first teacher who popped up on google! Find a teacher who recognizes your weaknesses and strengths, most likely because they share them. Make sure this teacher takes the time to teach those mutual weaknesses, instead of just ignoring them. If you can find leveled classes, take them. When you find that you're usually the most skillful student in the room, it's time to level up. This can be scary, and a tough adjustment, especially if you've been putting it off. Leave your ego at the door. Take your sense of humor instead. Also, read this blog post by the incredible Laura Witwer. Actually, read her entire blog. And take her classes. You're welcome.

Teachers: Talk to each student during warm-up to get an idea of where they are in their journey. Divide your students into smaller groups by level. Choose a skill or a sequence that easily breaks down into levels, and give everyone the piece thats right for them. Keep moving from group to group, and keep your eyes open: what aspect of the skill is a particular student struggling with? What spoken cue, or demo could help them with this sticky spot? Is this a strength or flexibility issue? If so, I try to offer a short-term fix to enable them to modify the skill and keep progressing, and a long term conditioning exercise to move them toward being able to do the full skill. Notice when students begin getting frustrated: that's your cue to switch to a new skill. Don't wait for every single person to conquer their piece. Let them chew on it for a while, then move on to something else. Repeated exposure over time will get them there without burning out, physically or mentally.

Also, be aware of your weaknesses as a teacher!! Do you excel at building confidence and breaking down simple skills in numerous different ways? Beginner students may be your bag! Do you get bored by repetition, love learning by doing, exploring new variations, and sharing ideas? You probably are much more comfortable working with experienced students!

I adore teaching brand new students. I love seeing that lightbulb go off when they realize that yes, they CAN do this! I have a wide vocabulary of moves suitable for brand new through level one students, and my years of experience teaching yoga have helped me develop the ability to break down skills in a variety of ways for different kinds of learners who aren't familiar with the basics of aerial movement. I'm not comfortable working with advanced students because I don't feel I have the experience, or the eye for professional-level technique, to help them continue to grow and develop their skills. Once you graduate from my sweet spot, there are a few teachers I'd recommend to you!

Take control of your journey! Challenge yourself! Have fun!! :-D

Live Omily,
~em

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