If someone asked you how much you enjoy your job, how would you respond? Is loving your job really all that important?
For me, the dream of the perfect job began in elementary school. I couldn’t think of anything other than getting out of school and on with my life. I shifted my focus from hating school to convincing my mom that school was a big waste of time. She saw it differently. Rather than learn, I would constantly concoct new ways to escape my childhood prison. I was totally convinced, at eight, that I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up. Even though I hated school, I justified my actions because I had a plan.
Third grade sucked big time. Mostly because of the senseless multiplication tables that were drilled into my brain. The one thing that made that year tolerable was Career Day. The most memorable speaker was one of our local dental hygienists. She made an enormous impact, and gave me the direction I needed. It wasn’t her lecture on brushing and flossing, or the silly dental hygiene cartoon, that left an indelible mark. It was her five-foot red toothbrush. Sadly, I imagine today that kids would take toothbrush selfies, post on their social media, and be done with it.
School was the bane of my existence and the source of all that was wrong in my childhood. I was afflicted with ADHD, so concentrating was out of the question. What made school unbearable were all the distractions. If a bird flew outside the window, in my line of sight, I would gaze at it for a moment, watch its flight path, and instantly forget everything I had been taught that morning. Growing up in a rural town and finding a qualified teacher who could manage my ADHD would not come until fourth grade.
As an adult, everyone I’ve spoken with has had that one special teacher who made a significant lifelong impression. For me, that teacher was Mrs. Eklund. She stood out above all the other teachers because she was patient and caring. She worked tirelessly to help me understand and organize my thoughts. Her focused determination is a cornerstone of my personality. Throughout the years, most of my other teachers lectured for hours, made us memorize what seemed to be utterly insignificant information, and put on a movie so they could step outside for a smoke break.
When you Google the word “teacher,” the definition states: one who shows and explains with encouragement, demonstrates a fact or principle, and makes you understand with their personal experience. Meanwhile, “instructor” is defined as a person who gives direction or informs one of a fact. Personally, Mrs. Eklund was definitely a teacher by all standards. My other teachers were merely instructors.
In my current profession in the health and fitness industry, these titles are adopted and used interchangeably by individuals with various experience, education, and skills. You might be thinking why I think this is important. I bring up this point because in the health and fitness industry, it’s nearly impossible to know who is truly qualified, educated, and skilled at being a teacher. I’ve seen countless personal trainers with multiple qualifications, and they still do no more than instruct. It’s a sad fact that in a profession where we are supposed to teach, individuals merely instruct to collect their paycheck.
I remember a discussion I had with a mentor shortly after completing the final stages of a comprehensive Pilates teacher training program. After completing the nerve-racking process of testing out, I approached my mentor to pick up my certification. I remember the “I’m proud of you” hug she gave me just before she handed me the certificate. I stepped back from the hug, and with a huge smile said, “It is so rewarding to be a teacher.” She paused, took a moment to think of her rebut, and with a subtle eye roll, which was followed with a sad—and I must, admit—patronizing sigh, she said, “Oh, my dear, you’re not a teacher.”
For a moment, her words drifted in the air. I wasn’t sure if I felt like a deflated balloon or if I was a firecracker about to explode. I looked at her completely and utterly confused. She had to be crazy, I thought. I was holding, right in my hands, the certification that signified I was a teacher. She put her hand on my shoulder, looked into my eyes, and continued: “You have simply completed the necessary hours, education, and personal practice that signifies that you have gone through the process of learning the Pilates method. Your certification does not make you a teacher. What makes you a teacher are years of practice and the passion to teach.”
On the flight home, I remember feeling completely frustrated and lost. I had no idea how I would go home and tell everyone what she had said. For the record, I kept this little conversation just between the two of us. I wasn’t humble enough to admit she was correct. It would be years later before I acknowledged her little nugget of truth.
Today, I understand what it means to be a teacher. First and foremost, you need to love what you do. You must continually experience and educate yourself on the subject you teach. The truth is, you can only teach an individual something if you have personally experienced it yourself. If not, you’re merely instructing.
Personally, I use my body as a teaching tool and constantly hone my skills in order to relay a clear message. Learning how to better move allows me to teach the depth that comes with experience. I struggled with specific physical limitations from past injuries. I consider my injuries as a blessing, and use my experience to help teach my students how to move properly.
The important question is, “What makes a teacher great?” I truly believe you must love what you do in order to be an effective teacher. Everyone picks up on passion and enthusiasm, and that is what makes the biggest difference. Knowledge is also a big factor. Know your stuff—and when you don’t know something, acknowledge it and look for the answers. No one likes a phony.
One of my biggest peeves is when a personal trainer or Pilates teacher tells a student they can’t do something. I have worked with countless students who have previously worked with health and fitness professionals that have limited their growth because of their inability to teach. When I ask them why they were told they can’t or shouldn’t do a specific exercise, they tell me their former trainer had tried to teach them and when they couldn’t perform the exercise correctly or had pain, they told them they were the problem. Remember, an instructor can’t teach, no matter how much they try.
Teaching should be fun, and to learn, you must be engaged. Adults are nothing more than big kids who want to learn. What we need is the right teacher to do the job, and students who are inspired to grow.