Every day’s a learning day for a teacher at the gym

I have concluded that there is almost no activity which doesn’t teach me something about teaching.

Freed from some of the rigorous constraints on my time by leaving a school environment, I’ve taken to a daily gym session to force me out of bed, refresh my mind and body and ready me for the challenges of the day. After that I do some brain training or piano practice and settle down to my To Do list.

While sometimes I’ll go into the gym gym, where everybody pretends to be there on their own and that there are no other inconvenient people cluttering up the place and spending too much time on the machine which you want to get onto NOW thank you very much, I prefer classes. I go to yoga, Zumba, body conditioning and body balance. This is because I have an unconditioned body and can’t balance to save my life, a fact which has been reinforced in my mind by being asked to sit for what seems like hours, but is only about ten seconds, in a Hindi Squat or Bird Pose.

There are lots of instructors who take these classes, but I have my favourites. Today, we had an instructor who is not one of my favourites. She is lithe, friendly, incredibly knowledgeable and thorough. I feel mean not ranking her among my top 5. BUT…

She talks too much. She talks all the time. Whenever she gives an instruction, she adds verbiage. Lots of it. Helpful hints as to how to achieve the posture, alternatives if you find it difficult, reasons why it’s good for you and which muscles it’s particularly exercising. All around the room women’s heads are bobbing up from their Swan Pose or Double Bow, trying to make sense of what we’re supposed to be doing. And she chucks in, casually and incredibly quickly, lots of Sanskrit yoga-speak that not many of us understand. So it takes ages for us to work out what to do, and as soon as we’ve got into the Ballerina Pose without falling over, she’s off onto the 2,000 words about the next movement. It’s bewildering.

The regular teacher doesn’t use lots of words. She is slow and precise and tells us what to do in short instructions which focus on precise movements. “Spread weight evenly between your hips”, “angle your breastbone to the ceiling”, “clasp hands behind your back”. She does them one at a time so you can manoeuvre yourself easily into the pose. It’s all very calm and methodical and there is a total absence of Sanskrit. I understand every word and every instruction.

I’ve just finished writing the section of my book on Strictly Positive Differentiation, in which I describe classroom strategies for teaching students who may have specific challenges – dyslexia, attachment disorders, attention disorders, autistic spectrum disorders, using English as an additional language among others. In all the books and sources I have read teachers are counselled to chunk down instructions and to use few, but very direct, words.

When you think about it, it’s no surprise. We’re just learning like babies. Even trussed up and grunting in the Bird Pose.

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