The holiday season and ritual viewing of the Muppet’s Christmas Carol got me thinking about how our past experiences impact the teaching methods we use today.
Have you ever caught yourself repeating things your parents or teachers used to say? I’ve noticed myself speaking in the same rhythms and cadences of my past teachers. One of my teachers said she felt like her own teacher’s ghost was on her shoulder!
The sayings and mannerisms we inherit from our teachers could be supportive and appropriately challenging; critical and unsupportive, or even neutral. It’s amazing the powerful influence of a teacher, and how learnings get passed down through generations.
To clarify a bias, Born to Fly values a supportive yet challenging approach to teaching aerial arts. We believe that learning can only happen when a student is comfortable and generally not stressed. While a low level of stress is to be expected when learning something new, our goal is to give students some choices about participation so they don't enter crisis mode. At the same time, we don't promote coddling students, or letting them do whatever they want because learning aerial arts does require discipline and specific progressions for safety and growth. Overall, we encourage a balance of support and challenge in the aerial class (see yoga instructor Francesca Cervero's work for more on this concept).
When the teaching methods we use from our former teachers are supportive, this is a great thing! But sometimes, unsupportive methods or comments can creep in. Here are some questions you might ask about how you may have been influenced by former teachers and parents, and even how your own self-talk comes into play. Once you've looked at your values and habits inherited from teachers and parents, you can consciously evaluate whether or not these “ghosts” serve you. The questions can be answered in any order, and you are free to skip questions.
What are some sayings or mannerisms you've inherited from your teachers?
List these patterns out on paper. Think about how these sayings influenced you as a student and now as a teacher. List everything, but please don’t judge yourself! This is not the time to self-criticize. Looking at what is there is the first step to finding your power and connecting with who you really want to be.
Would you say these mannerisms are supportive, unsupportive, or neutral? Are these mannerisms serving you as a teacher?
Label each one individually. Most people will have a combination of supportive and unsupportive mannerisms. Please note that challenging a student does not mean being unsupportive - sometimes that student needs to recognize that they can stand on their own two feet, and challenging them can be the most supportive thing to do in that situation. Knowing when to support a student or challenge a student can be a tricky thing, and it can change moment to moment. (This is why reflection after each class is vital to your growth as an instructor, but I digress!)
What were the philosophies/values of your teachers and parents?
Did your teacher use a strict/authoritarian approach? Did you have a coddling teacher who let you do whatever you wanted? Did your teacher offer a balance of appropriate support and challenge? Perhaps you have had teachers with different approaches, and you wish to examine each one individually. Do keep in mind that no teacher or parent is perfect, and that everyone is only human.
How do you talk to yourself when you are struggling?
We often internalize our parents, teachers, and other authority figures when correcting or modifying our behavior. When talking yourself through a struggle, do you say encouraging things like, “I’ll get it next time,” or, “I’m learning a lot because this is challenging"? Or do you say things like “I’m not good enough,” I always mess things up,” or “I’m a bad person”? How we talk to ourselves is not just a reflection of our personality and how we were corrected growing up, but often it impacts how we teach.
Are there any connections between your own self-talk and how teachers corrected you?
You might make a visual representation, drawing lines from philosophies/values on one side of the page to your own self-talk on the other side.
What kind of teacher do you want to be?
Why do you teach? What kind of “ghost” do you want to be for your students and their students, and their students' students? What does a supportive teacher do/say? You could create a vision board (cutting out magazine photos and words) that represent the kind of teacher you want to be, and the messages you want to be passed down through generations.
What action could you take now?
Based on your reflections, what action do you want to take? Could you spend more time with teachers you admire? Do you want to change your internal self-talk so that you are supporting yourself more thoroughly? If this blog post triggered strong emotions, please talk to someone such as a trusted friend or professional counselor. And remember…examining our teaching practice is a lifelong process. You are not alone, and the Born to Fly Network is here to support you and your teaching in any way that we can.
Note: Further discussion of this topic can also be found in the Aerial Teacher’s Handbook in Chapter 1: Why Teach?
Our authors include our Master Teacher Trainers as well as Born to Fly™ Certified Teachers.