Teaching isn’t an easy thing. Many people call themselves teachers and offer lessons, but what you fancy yourself, isn’t necessarily what others think you to be. Teaching is an intimate relationship about the deepest kind of trust. When somebody becomes your student, they trust you, your experiences and your acquisition of knowledge through your unique experiences, they are trusting you to share your knowledge with them. Although they are seeking your knowledge, your delivery and sharing of your knowledge may not always speak the way they need you to speak to them.
People are unique beings and like it or not, unless we are treated in a manner that makes us feel unique, we just aren’t go to listen. If we are just made to feel the same, instead of connected to, we’re gonna get bored and wander off somewhere else, it’s just human nature and ego aside, it’s just human to get bored. It’s not anything personal, but when you are a teacher, when your goal should be to share knowledge, you have to connect on a very personal level and really learn to speak to people’s interests, which requires needing to know your students.
When people come to learn Tai Chi, they come for all different reasons and you have to involve not just the people, but their interests. It’s a delicate balance, because you can’t make someone feel more engaged than another, cause it causes an interesting dynamic where other people feel ignored. Not that you are ignoring anyone at all, but not engaging people, makes the people you are not speaking directly to feel ignored, its just what they feel, completely independent of what your intentions may have been. You need to engage everyone. Even you are speaking directly to one person, get the class involved. Eye contact made with everyone in the room is so important. Even getting the student you are directly engaged with to speak to the whole class is a great way of getting your students to bond with each other.
Teaching isn’t about you just talking about what your interests in Tai Chi are, it’s about how you are able to play to the psychological needs of your students. Without the ability to engage the mind, you won’t make a bit of sense trying to engage the body.
I always enjoy asking people what they think Tai Chi is and what they hope to get out of it. I always ask this with privates and it’s even more fun when you have a group class. Your students get to know each other, you’ll find there are students with similar interests and backgrounds, it’s about creating this kind of connection that brings your students back, without building a connection, you have no relationship. Without the relationship, you are not a teacher, because you have no students.
I always remember dad saying that you have to speak to people’s feelings, this requires the keen art of listening and also listening to know when to leave certain people alone and listening when you need to pay attention to certain people. If there’s one thing we all do need, it’s the need to be paid attention to. In the dynamic of teacher/student, the student needs to feel the teacher cares, this is where you have to sometimes get out of what it is you think you are teaching and tap into how, what it is you are teaching speaks from your heart. Forget about what you are trying so hard to talk about about instead feel what it is you are trying to accomplish.
In my earlier years of teaching I was so good at repeating what dad said in class, but I didn’t feel the ability to flow with the class. I would memorize how dad to taught, down to the last detail where I was just running through a script on auto pilot and it wasn’t enjoyable for me or the students, so the next time dad was away they wouldn’t come to my class and the crazy thing is, I was relieved, because nothing is harder than being in a space of time where you have no connection to feeling, especially with Tai Chi. If you don’t feel yourself, your students definitely won’t feel you.
I didn’t start to discover my teaching abilities until mom and dad made me teach my OWN classes. Not classes where I was covering for dad. My OWN classes where I was able to realize that I can teach my own way, from my own experiences, incorporating my own knowledge and life experiences. The most important lesson I learned from having my OWN classes, was that I realized, I am my own person and I do have my own ideas, shaped from my own experiences. Too often I see students try and teach the same way I used to, trying to be just like dad. Or people want to be taken seriously and they want to respect the art so seriously, they suck all the natural joy out of their love for the art. Just be yourself, inject who you are and why you are there, into your class. Part of the reason why you have students standing around you to learn from you is because they are interested in you too and I think people forget about that. If you have students who choose to make time in their lives to be with you, YOU are a huge part of what they want to learn about too. Don’t try to teach like dad or “give” too much information all at once. Just connect and sometimes connecting is also about taking a break from all the Tai Chi too.
The fascinating thing about Tai Chi is that it does relate to everyone and everything in life, so it isn’t hard to go off topic, but stay on topic. This is where you just have to be a little creative. Talk about other areas of life and learning you have experiences with and share the Tai Chi experience of that experience with your class.
You don’t have to talk about Tai Chi for the whole hour to teach Tai Chi.
Find a way to share your life experiences with students so that they can also relate to you. This creates a unique bond between teacher and student that is always met with a smile in the eyes, its a deep connection that you can create an incredible synergy with.
I’ve always found that the best method to teaching is to make yourself a student of your students. You’re students are so incredibly interesting and intriguing, when you learn how to learn about them, they teach you how to teach them in the most interesting of ways.