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Massage Today
July, 2002, Vol. 02, Issue 07

Don't Teach with Your A** to the Class (and Other Valuable Teaching Suggestions)

By Pamela Ellen Ferguson, Dipl. ABT (NCCAOM), AOBTA® and GSD-CI, LMT (TX)

We've all faced some instructor's dazzling derriere for much of a class. We've all tried desperately and politely to crane our necks or leap this way and that to observe an instructor demonstrating a technique that is blocked from view.

Mirrors present the ideal solution for this problem of course, especially in large classes, and to give students a 3-D view of the practical demo. I also encourage my students to walk around me as I demo, so they can observe it from different angles and keep their own qi flowing at the same time.

Those of us who have taught bodywork for years need to be reminded constantly of the importance of clear sightlines for our students. In fact, it's good for us to sit in colleagues' classes or complete assorted CEU classes just to observe the silly mistakes we all too often make as instructors! My colleagues on the AOBTA board and myself have decided that a workshop on instructor training will be standard at all AOBTA conventions. At our last convention in New Orleans in January, I taught the workshop and had a lot of fun involving participants in role-playing, to highlight the best -- and worst -- aspects of teaching methods, from personal experiences and observations. In this article, I'd like to share aspects of the workshop, which are equally applicable to those of you who are current students, or teaching any form of bodywork, Asian or Western, or any practical aspect of physical therapy.

During the workshop, I described a CEU class I took many years ago, in which I offered myself as a model to a high-profile instructor of lymph drainage therapy. While he was demonstrating a technique on my legs, he answered assorted questions from the floor that had nothing to do with the technique he was teaching. I felt miserable, lying there with some 40 observers crowding around the table. The next day, I could barely move my legs. They felt like huge oak trees hanging off my pelvis. What a lesson! From that moment onward, I have taken extra care, before demonstrating a new technique or movement, to advise my students to:

  • Honor the receiver's qi space. Don't crowd around or jostle the table or mat where he/she is lying.
  • Avoid practicing assorted techniques on one another while an instructor is demonstrating. This fragments the qi focus and the focus of other students.
  • Hold all questions until the technique has been completed.
  • Focus on this technique until the demo is over, and don't confuse it with something observed last month or last year.
  • Avoid asking questions about a patient of your own until the demo is over. As instructors, we all need to be mindful of these points, and establish them at the beginning of class, not halfway through a demo. I also find it useful at times to observe choreographers, and the ways in which they:
  • ensure good sightlines (again, especially via mirrors);
  • repeat techniques and allow students to practice segments constantly;
  • break up a series of techniques into logical segments, instead of cramming too many techniques together at once; and
  • observe each student carefully, allowing for different levels and different learning skills.

I also have become increasingly mindful of students grappling with dyslexia, as I share some of those challenges. I recall, all too painfully, how ridiculous I looked in early Aikido training, where I would always spin in the opposite direction, and do things inside out, much to the amusement of my colleagues. So I share these experiences from day one when teaching new students of Asian bodywork. Whenever I demo, I encourage those with similar challenges to stand alongside me, not opposite me.

The art of the demo is at the core of our successful teaching. Equally as important, there is an art in integrating demo and theory, and timing! How often have I attended a CEU class and listened to some grandly eloquent speech for over two hours -- and then the instructor scrambles to demo a technique at top speed, with about 10 minutes left over to practice and exchange!

At the Academy of Oriental Medicine in Austin, where I have directed the Asian Bodywork department for six years, we have initiated instructor training days and peer review; we all observe one another teach whole classes, and segments of classes. The experience has been marvelous.

Let me share some of the highlights of the teaching tools we observed in one another:

  • Story telling, anecdotes, direct clinical experiences, and case studies are all vital ways of enhancing dry, textbook material.
  • The creative use of the blackboard for fun imagery and diagrams helps explain complex aspects of, say, the immune system.
  • The creative use of five element colors on the blackboard facilitates students' grasp of the meridians, conditions and Chinese Herbal remedies.
  • Thorough, clear notes are vital for students
  • Creative ways of tabulating and organizing information on the blackboard logically and clearly enhance visual learning alongside verbal instruction.
  • Discussion time is vital.
  • Humor and laughter help stimulate the creative learning process
  • Qi movements and meridian stretches not only keep students alert and fit, but they give experiential training in the ebb and flow of qi through yin and yang meridians and points.
  • Quizzes, and especially presentations and research projects, are invaluable ways of balancing exams to develop understanding and knowledge.

A final word: If you are busily training TAs, or planning to become a future instructor, here's a good prepping exercise. Review your own experiences as a student (all of them, not just those relating to the topic you are about to teach). Review the best and worst of your teachers, and the methods or techniques that best helped your learning process, or those that bored you silly. Enhance and incorporate the former, avoid the latter, and keep acquiring fresh methods. Also, don't forget to break your classes into small working groups from time to time. This gives everybody a voice and an opportunity to be creative. And you'll be amazed at what your students teach you!


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