7 Ways to Become the Teacher You Wish You Had

I’ve been giving consideration to what works and what doesn’t work in our studio classes as well as 
my public secondary school classrooms. How can I make sure I’m reaching out to my students? By being the best teacher I wish I had at my student’s (tango) age.

Here’s what I think that takes:

An ongoing education. The teacher must stay connected to their “beginner’s mind”. They have to have their own reminder of what it is like to learn something new, something out of their comfort zone, something challenging in order to be an empathetic, compassionate, understanding teacher. Also, there’s nothing like being a beginner again to remind your ego that you aren’t a Big Important Know-It-All — there will always be things you do not know, that you have yet to discover and understand.

Feedback loops. Between students and teachers so that teachers know what experiences students are having — then teachers will know what works and what doesn’t. Between teachers and teachers — to build support and try new ideas.

Language lexicon training. Ahhh, the importance of having a shared vocabulary! When we share the use of the same words and phrases, we better understand one another, and there is an ease to learning. This shared vocabulary can be simple cue words like “smircle”, a Sangha Space favorite, which signifies it’s time to gather together. All of our teachers use “smircle” in all of our classes so that we build a language together. Tango and other subject areas have a shared vocabulary so that other teachers and students around the world understand what exactly is being demonstrated and practiced.

Also, using positive or neutral language makes everyone happier. Instead of saying, “Don’t move so slow”, you can give more concrete feedback such as “You’ve got all of the steps, now can you try adding more energy?”

Role PlayingLiterally “try on” the posture of a student to learn more about what they are feeling and thinking. Move the way they move. What manifests itself in their movement? What is being released and what is holding them back?

Security training. Security – the opposite of insecurity. Teachers, be available; walk around, ask students how they feel about , ask students what they would like feedback on specifically, and ask them what they thought of an exercise. Students, show up; be willing to engage with the material, with each other, with the unknown (true learning happens when we allow ourselves to be surprised), claim ignorance, and follow the first rule of improv – accept offers and invitation of knowledge & build on what your peers contribute.

Curriculum – it must be yours. The curriculum must be the teacher’s own creation. Even if it sucks at first! There must be regular revisions (this is where feedback loops help!) because, one day, it will be exactly the curriculum that THAT community needs. Teaching someone else’s “excellent” curriculum will not work and will not get you to that goal.

Research. Stay informed. Stay clued in. Network. Social media is so good at helping you do this! Ask teachers what they’re working on, reflecting on, how their students’ needs are changing. Exchange ideas when invited to do so. Invite them to share their ideas with you. Be open to hearing them and thank them for sharing their thoughts. Observe to see the way another teacher demonstrates something or interacts with a particular kind of student. Use what ideas you want, when you want.

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