Richard from British Columbia, Canada asks:
“What advice do you have for beginning Tai Chi teachers?”
Thank you for your question, Richard. Each teacher needs to take his own path and develop his own unique style to be successful. However, there are some things that everyone should at least consider when teaching his own students. And so I offer you these 5 tips.
1. Separate hand/foot movement
One of the things students new to Tai Chi have difficulty with is coordinating their hands and feet. They often find they can do one correctly, but not the other. So try separating each movement when teaching it. First, have the student keep his hands at his side and just practice stepping. After a while, forget about the stepping (allow him to step however is natural) and just move one arm. Then, move just the other arm. Next, put both arm movements together while continuing to step however is natural, or not at all. Finally, add the hand movement to that of the feet, and work on coordination. The student will likely remember the movements much better and be able to progress faster.
2. Don’t overcorrect
One of my first teaching experiences was as an assistant instructor to one of Professor Cheng Man-Ch’ing’s senior students at the Yale Tai Chi Club. There was a woman in the class who’s left thumb just jutted up. I must have corrected it 30 times in the hour class. She did not come back. I learned something very important that night. Students can become frustrated and self-conscious when having the same thing corrected over and over. So now, I strive to sculpt the student into the Tai Chi form gradually, and not to correct anything more than once or twice in the course of an individual class, knowing that the correction will sink in when they are ready to accept it. If you find yourself in this situation with a student, simply work on other things with them. There is no end to what can be improved in Tai Chi.
3. Watch the eyes
Sometimes when working with a student for a while, he will seem distant, or his eyes will glaze over. He isn’t able to absorb any more of what you are teaching, and it’s time to move on to something else. So try doing an exercise with him, or a meditation, or anything clearly different from what you were doing. After enough of a break, he should be able to go back to the lesson, but if not, it may be time to end the lesson. A student can only absorb so much at a time, and sometimes it’s better to have a shorter lesson that leaves the student feeling good about himself than a longer one that leaves him drained and/or confused.
4. Be honest when you don’t know the answer to a question
Although this is a common experience of beginning teachers, it can happen to any teacher. And it will happen. A student will ask a question that leaves you scratching your head. In cases like these, it’s best to admit you don’t know the answer to the question and if you can, offer to get the answer for them. When you really don’t know and you make up an answer, not only do you risk passing on incorrect information, but if you give the answer enough times, you will begin to think it’s correct and you’ll start putting up roadblocks in the path of your own development.
5. Be patient!
Each student will learn at his own pace. Some may pick up something right away, and others will make the same mistakes week after week as if seeing what is being taught for the first time. It doesn’t matter. Neither the student who is having trouble learning, nor the student who learns easily and quickly is a reflection on you as a teacher. It is merely a reflection of their own ability. So be patient with each and every student who walks through your door. it is one of the best ways to honor and respect those who have chosen to study with you, and your students will appreciate you for it.
In T’ai Chi,