Learning to Teach: What I have learned from my first teaching opportunities
Until recently, I had never taught pole or lyra in an official capacity. I had always been a friend who shows people new stuff I have learned in class or in pole jams, and I’ve given private lyra lessons to friends, but I had never been contracted to teach my own class. I had never had a chance to create curriculum.
Over the weekend of 10/10-10/12, I had the amazing opportunity to participate in Pole Unbound. The Pole Unbound Retreat was conceived and organized by Aerial Amy. The central conceit was that everyone has something of value to contribute to the pole world. Therefore, Pole Unbound was established as a community pole retreat and jam, meaning that the instruction would be crowd sourced. As part of the retreat, each of the chosen attendees had to submit two possible options for workshops they could teach to the other attendees. At first, this was a little daunting, as I wasn’t quite sure what I had to offer, but I boiled it down to: what do I like to do and what am I good enough at that others may not be able to offer? The answers were freestyle exploration and lyra (since not all polers do lyra). So, I set about crafting two descriptions and basic curriculum, then sent my pitches off to Amy.
As a group, we voted on the workshops anonymously (it was double blind voting), and the top vote earners were selected as the overall curriculum for the weekend. My freestyle exploration workshop was chosen! It was such an awesome and validating feeling! And, also, a bit overwhelming, because it meant I really had to be detailed in my curriculum and come up with something I felt good about teaching.
I set about writing down ideas for possible prompts and sections, taking into account my own experiences in other classes, as well as my training in acting. What I wanted to create was something that melded freestyle exploration and my acting training, so I created a curriculum that was largely partner based.
Being me, I decided that I wanted a test run of the workshop, so I arranged to run it for some friends the weekend before Pole Unbound. I wanted to see if there were any timing issues or other problems that came up with the curriculum. The test went really well, though! I had to do some squashing of elements for time’s sake, but I was prepared for that. It was such fun to see everyone participate!
For me, it was a little unnerving to have to be the leader, especially in a group that contained a few girls that are teachers in classes that I attend. Running a warm up is an interesting art that I am not sure I have fully mastered, but I felt like the other sections went well!
Teaching the workshop at Pole Unbound was different. The class size was doubled, and the circumstances going into it were different: my workshop ran at the end of a very long day, and everyone was exhausted. It was hard for me. I knew people were tired, which made them distracted and less interested in participating. I struggled to find my footing early on, and then struggled to keep some students engaged due to the content of the workshop. Not everyone likes freestyle exploration. It’s very challenging for some people, and between that and the exhaustion of the group, I ended up losing about 1/3 of the participants by the end of the hour and a half.
I’m not going to lie. I was hurt. It felt really disrespectful to me, especially since I had stayed in the room for all of the other workshops, even when I wasn’t able to do the content being taught (i.e. I can’t do a back bend, so doing walkovers isn’t something I can participate in). Once I had processed everything, what stuck with me was not being pissed about how people left (valid reasons or not), but instead, being really overjoyed at the results from the people who DID stay. They were incredible. They gave so much to the work, and each person had such gorgeous, unique movement. I was blown away by what I was lucky enough to witness from the participants. It was such an honor.
Not long after I got back from Pole Unbound, I was asked to sub a lyra class at an area studio. I said yes, excited to get the experience, and it was interesting. Being a sub of someone else’s class is different than hosting your own, I think. Much like subs in high school, I think subs in pole classes are met with some amount of skepticism. I had actually been in class with some of the gals I was teaching in the subbed class, but nobody seemed to be that bothered by a fellow student moving into the teacher role (thankfully). What proved to be a challenge for me was teaching in a different way than the usual teacher.
I chose to run the class a little more like my usual class that I attend, which meant that the curriculum was based on learning elements of a routine. With 8+ students, it was a large class to control, and tough for me to bounce between two hoops to make sure everyone was spotted correctly and shown how to break things down properly. With only an hour of class time, i did a super short warm up, then launched into teaching. I also chose to ignore the trapeze, because I barely know any moves on it, so I didn’t feel comfortable teaching anything. I did allow students to use it if they had experience on it, but I offered no actual instruction (which I had told them would be the case beforehand).
Some of the challenges of this class included the fact that a number of the students were teenagers. The teens pick up stuff pretty well, but keeping their attention can be tough. I ended up teaching the first 8 or 9 moves of my Pacific Aerial Art routine (which includes the same moves I usually teach to friends who are new to lyra), and everyone seemed to pick them up pretty well – the last move was one they really seemed to like. I also showed them one advanced move, which everyone was able to try.
Overall, I think it went okay, but I did feel like it was disorganized. I wasn’t sure if that was my fault, or just that there were so many students. I don’t know if the students liked the class, but I hope some of them took something good away from it.
Coming up in November, I’ll be taking an intermediate/advanced pole instructor training course. I’m interested to see what the content will be and how it will work. I genuinely don’t know what will be covered. I was planning to take a beginner/intermediate, but the company doesn’t have one until next year, so the owner suggested I do the int/adv because my personal skill level is suitable for that level of instruction.
In the meantime, I’ve got teaching on my mind: how to improve, how to work with different types of students, how to create curriculum for new workshops. I really want to have more opportunities to teach freestyle exploration workshops.
Some things I am considering:
Confidence – Through observation and experience, it can be tough to remain confident, both in your own abilities, but also your curriculum. One of the things that was great about Pole Unbound was that we got the chance to see that everyone can contribute. We all have value. It’s just a matter of owning what it is that is ours to do. One of the things I want to work on is feeling confident that I am worthy of being a teacher of others and being confident in my choice of curriculum.
Teflon – Realizing that some people may not like you, may not like your teaching style, or may not like what you teach, but that you don’t have to take it personally. I don’t mean ignoring solid, constructive criticism, because I think it’s valuable to self-assess and reflect, but taking things personally when they aren’t meant to be personal – when they are more about the other person than they are about you – is damaging.
Flexibility – While getting off topic can be really easy (“hey, can you show me this?” can bring you pretty far from your lesson plan if you aren’t careful), it’s also important to be flexible about the structure of class, especially when you have a student having difficulty.
Compassion/Empathy – With difficult students, sometimes it is hard to remain calm. Some people are toxic. It’s a fact. But, instead of being reactive, I think it’s valuable to take a step back and see if there is an empathetic approach possible. There won’t always be, but sometimes, you can find a way to create an encouraging, safe space for people to explore and move through their fear. And, if you can’t, it’s okay to wish them well and let them go. Just try to not carry that with you and let it impact your other students. This is a great lesson that I am working on for myself.
No Nonsense – On the flip side of empathy, I want to learn how to effectively shut down nonsense. Not being a bitch about it, but just silently demanding the respect that is deserved when instructing others.
On a final note, about Pole Unbound: the next retreat has been planned for May 2015, in Toronto. If you are interested in joining, use this form to add your name to the list of potential attendees!
Something to consider before applying:
What can you teach? Pole Unbound is founded on the idea that everyone has something to offer. This is not a “pay money to be taught by pole celebrities” retreat – it’s an “everyone teaches each other” retreat. With that in mind, consider your strengths as a poler and what you can teach to others in a workshop setting, because you will be asked for what you might be able to bring to the table in a workshop setting.
Everyone has something that makes them unique as a poler. Find yours!
Note: this sign up page is not binding, and the registration application process closes November 15th.