Tips for Teaching

23rd June 2010

"And therefore education at the University mostly worked by the age-old method of putting a lot of young people in the vicinity of a lot of books and hoping that something would pass from one to the other, while the actual young people put themselves in the vicinity of inns and taverns for exactly the same reason." ~ Terry Pratchett


After writing up some tips for learning, I thought it'd be good to provide a mirror-image of this, as a "tips for teaching". Well, hey, I have a whole year's teaching experience under my belt, I therefore feel fully-qualified to lecture the world, with complete authority, about what Tango Teachers Are Doing Wrong.

On a slightly more serious note, this Lessons for beginners post from MsHedgehog has initiated some thought on my part in this area.

This is by no means an organised article, it's just a random and non-exhaustive collection of a few thoughts.

Have A Plan

My main recommendation for teachers, last year, was to Have A Plan.

It's not exactly rocket science, of course - teachers should all have lesson plans. Professional trainers certainly do.

I think I said most of what I wanted to in that earlier article, so let's assume that teachers have - in some form - a lesson plan.

Make notes

Whilst I have strongly recommended that students take notes, it's unfortunately true that very few of them actually do this. (For an example of someone who does, look at the TangoStudent blog.)

And short of sitting them down on desks with notepads, then lecturing them, there's not much else teachers can do during the class to encourage students to, well, remember stuff.

On the other hand, I've already said that a teacher should have a lesson plan. Whilst a lesson plan is not the same as course notes, it's got some correlation. So it makes sense, to help students by publishing such notes, in order for them to act as aides-memoire for the students.

Unfortunately, if you Google for "Tango Class Notes", one of the top results is... this site.

One honourable exception: Homer and Christina Ladas. They take this concept further; they produce didactic videos, and publish these to Youtube - for example, here.

Stay grounded

"Were you told what to do with your soul, or to imitate the action of a tiger/kitten/river/snake or any other animate or inanimate object whose relation to yourself was purely metaphorical?" ~ the classic Beginner questionnaire post

It's very tempting to wax lyrical about the beauty of tango, or to try to convey complex and subjective emotions, in an attempt to persuade people or evangelise about the enjoyment of the dance.

Don't. That's not your job. The people at your class? They want to learn to dance tango already, you don't need to persuade them during the class, they've already been persudaded.

By all means, proselytize Tango - but do it on your own time, or as part of a marketing effort to persuade people to come to your classes. Don't do it during the class. Don't get lost in similes at the expense of clarity.

Rest and listen

Personally (and surprisingly to me), I found that teaching a class is less physically tiring for me than learning a class.

I'm quite happy to teach a 2-hour class without a break - just give me some water to drink and I can keep on going. But as a student, my concentration definitely flags after about 75 minutes. My absolute maximum is about 90 minutes; after that I just give up for most classes.

So, obviously, I need to ensure my students don't get so fatigued that they simply tune out of the class. There's probably a good reason why most classes are an hour long. Any longer, and people won't get anything out of it.

There's a wider issue here, of teachers needing to listen to the class. It's not just asking "Any questions?" once or twice per class, it's not just spotting where people are going wrong in their physical movements. It's more like being able to interpret their non-verbal feedback; are they interested, happy, or (in this case) tired?

(Here's a hint: you're aiming for "happy" ;) )

~ David Bailey, 23rd June 2010

Related articles