In the past month I have been teaching quite a bit. Being the analytical person that I am, I have been picking apart some of the experiences I have had in our last three locations. In total, I have taught five courses. Most teachers will agree with me when I say that each course has its own flavor or dynamic. Over 90% of the students I have interacted with in the past month have been amazing, not only as massage therapists and students, but they appear to be genuinely nice people.
At the end of each course we pass out evaluation forms, which are turned back in to us anonymously. For the most part, these students appear to be happy with what we are providing. They positively comment on the fact that we are prepared for class, teach the material quite well, and behave professionally. Most embrace SMRT as a modality that they can integrate into their own routine with great success, some even tell stories in class about having integrated moves with great success after leaving class the day before. On the negative side, they want us to carry more anatomy pictures (something I am working on) or a few do not feel they have enough time in class to fully absorb everything.
But it is the comments that have nothing to do with us that interest me most. Last month I taught an SMRT: Shoulder, Axilla, Ribcage, and Upper Back course, which is a 3-day course. In the first few minutes of this course something interesting happened. As the introductions were being made, definitive judgments were spoken. It set the tone for the course. After hearing several people say – in what I would describe as a condescending, superior tone – that they “do not do full body massage,” four of the new-to-CE-only-do-full-body therapists approached me to say they did not want to trade with anyone else in the room.
I understood their reticence, but insisted that they trade with others. I asked a few of the other students, who turned out to be compassionate and talented teachers in their own right, to trade with them, and I thought it worked very well. But, when I read the evaluations, someone commented that the thing they liked least about the class was something out of our control, having to trade with someone who did not have the skill or knowledge to challenge them and help them learn. My thoughts were as follows: Yes, I was the teacher for this course and I take that responsibility seriously, but I do not have control over students attitudes, history (i.e., whether or not they have taken CE’s), or ability to learn on their own. While it made my job difficult in some ways, I just found it rather fascinating.
In the second location, I taught two courses, which were a day and a half each. Registered for both of these courses was a man who is blind and 74. He approached me before the first class began to say that he did not need anything special and he did not want me to feel like I needed to change anything for his disability. I recognized almost immediately that I did need to change something. Instead of saying, “watch”, and then doing a move, I needed to fully verbalize what I was doing. He was interesting in that he wanted to be the first on the table so he could feel the work before doing the work, but each time he fell asleep, snored loudly, and could not remember what had been done. So, he asked his partners to read the moves from the book to him.
Most had no issue with this, but one student was visibly irritated by the process of reading the book to him while he worked. This student called me over to tell me that one of us needed to guide him because reading the book while getting worked on was detracting from being able to learn. Later, when I read the evaluations, there was a comment about how distracting other students were and how that was not really our fault. I do not know, however, if that comment was made by this particular student or another. And, again, while I understand that we all hope for that amazing group where everyone in the room has the same level of commitment and enough experience to hold their own, most of us know that finding that group is beyond our control.
In the third location, we once again taught two courses, a day and a half each. There was a student in both of these courses that embodied every difficult attitude and behavior a student can possess. This student had issues with perceived authority, and as the teacher I was the perceived authority, so she attempted to argue with me quite a bit. She was intensely comfortable with her routine and did not see any reason to change it or to incorporate anything new, this created resistance to learning. Each time she worked on a partner, she rebelled against what she was learning and began to do her own thing, forgot where she was in what she was learning and had to start over. This led to her rarely finishing any piece of work. When her partner worked on her, she asked each and every one of them to work on her hip, right thigh, and right knee. We were learning the neck, head, and back. Each time she spoke in class, she pontificated and went off course, making it necessary for me to interject and pull her focus back to the class. She was also a student who needed constant attention and did not understand what to do until it had been explained several times and shown several times.
When I went back and read the evaluations, there was one comment from someone who said their partner was unable to finish any of the work, so they were unable to experience it. But throughout the classes, the other students embraced her. At times, they chastised her, told her she had not listened to what I was saying or that she needed to focus or that she needed too much attention, but they did not shy away from working with her. By the end of the two courses, she felt like she had a good basis to learn the information, she had hooked up with three other students who all lived in the area and was going to trade with them, and she bought two DVD’s of other areas of the body.
I get good (some would say great) reviews as a teacher, but watching students makes me wonder, how much of what students take away from a class is about me and how much is about the other students? My teaching assistants are amazing and really contribute to each student’s learning, but if you have a partner who is unable or unwilling to understand what is being taught in class, can you transcend that and still learn as much as you are capable of learning? How much of the responsibility of learning something new is with the teacher? How much is with you as a student? And how much with other students?
I am curious what you all think about this. I would love to get your feedback. Please email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a comment on my Facebook page ( https://www.facebook.com/pages/Full-Circle/160826314019087).