Good Teachers Vs. Great Teachers - How to Find One and How to Be One

There’s a common misconception in the world of fitness that the teacher who is the strongest or most flexible is the best teacher. This is easy to believe, but the truth is that this alone can often be a detriment rather than a benefit! While someone strong and flexible can be an amazing teacher, it’s often the teacher who has been injured or has other physical limitations who is more effective.

Why? Because when you cannot do something, it makes you resourceful. It makes you understand how it feels to not be able to move in a certain way. A teacher who has been injured has learned to truly understand how to modify poses. He or she will have worked with their own body to figure out all possible ways to modify an exercise, and this makes them able to help you if and when you're struggling. So many teachers just don’t understand how it might feel to have a body other than their own, which makes it impossible to offer modifications. Teachers who can imagine how things feel in other peoples’ bodies are the rarest and most precious to find. Teaching advanced exercises to athletic bodies is, believe it or not, pretty easy. After all, athletic bodies tend to move into exercises with ease and require fewer modifications.  Most students with an athletic background already have a deep understanding of their bodies. And making a class more difficult is easy for most teachers: just add more reps, or hold the pose longer, or lift a leg here and an arm there. However, teaching a class of beginners is far more challenging, because some teachers unfortunately don't understand how someone else can struggle with an exercise that is so easy for them.

If you are a student, have you ever been in a class where the teacher explains or demonstrates something that clearly feels easy to her, but is in fact quite challenging to you or others around you? What did the teacher do in that situation? Did they ignore you while you were struggling, making you feel worse about yourself? Or did the teacher offer adjustments and modifications to help you feel like you can still do some version of the exercise? Then you might have felt successful. A teacher who consistently moves into difficult exercises without helping you learn modifications and steps to get there is only making herself feel good about herself. She's not helping you feel good about yourself. (If you are competitive, it may be that seeing the teacher show an exercise that's out of your reach is actually motivating, but for most people it has the opposite effect. This is also, why I would be very cautious of studios that only offer all-level classes. A total beginner and an experienced mover cannot do the same class successfully.) A great teacher will stop, look at what is happening in the class, and offer individual modifications to help each person move in a way that most serves them. A great teacher will acknowledge injuries, tightness, or weakness, and then help the student move into something that is healing for them. A great teacher knows and understand bodies that are not his or her own. Being able to modify poses to make them more accessible requires proper training, years of practice, and a good dose of empathy and understanding. The real skill of teaching is being able to show everyone — strong or weak, injured or healthy, athletic or not — how to do an exercise in a way that benefits them. Being able to make something simpler, easier to understand, and easy to follow is the hallmark of a truly great teacher. If you are a student, take the time to look for an instructor who listens to you and works with you. This may mean you try several classes or studios before you find the one that fits, but don’t give up! My heart really goes out to all students who have ever taken any fitness class in an attempt to become healthier, only to have their spirit crushed by an instructor who ignored them or made them feel bad because they couldn’t move in the way the instructor expected. Try out different instructors and studios until you find the one you resonate with, both in personality and teaching style. Any teacher that makes it accessible and enjoyable it is the right teacher. Most of all, don’t give up or get discouraged, and call me if you need help or direction.

Things to watch out for:

Ask if you don't understand what you are supposed to do. Is the teacher answering your questions in a way that you truly understand?

Is the teacher patient, not expecting you to do some crazy move in your first class (or ever)?

Here is another article, that talks about finding the perfect match for you. 

If you are a teacher or thinking about becoming a teacher, a good teacher training program will give you ways and methods to modify for people who can’t do the exercise in the same way you can. In fact, this should be one of the hallmarks of the program.

Mara Sievers