Finding your teaching style and voice takes time. I remember the first time I taught a class to my fellow teachers in training… I was really quiet and stood in one place leaning against a pillar. I was so nervous!
My flow was spot on and I did not need notes to remember my class but all the other things that make a class come alive were missing. After tons of observation and self practice my confidence grew! Pilates became part of my body allowing me to know what my class will feel like to my students. This is one reason I tell my teacher trainees to not rush into teaching before completing self-practice and observation hours.
I know the number of hour can be tedious but practicing is where you work out the kinks in flow, spring changes, timing, music, intensity level and if you are hitting all the planes of motion. Practicing is when you can play/learn how many exercises can be done in one direction on a piece of equipment. You will never get stuck if you forget your flow by practicing this! Practicing is also when you solidify progressions so when a client needs to modify or peel back to a more accessible version of an exercise you are prepared.
Practice comes in so many ways and you can check out 15 Ways Pilates Teachers Can Find Inspiration if you want to learn more but I have found the best way to practice is to show up on your own or with a colleague to run through exercises, concepts and flow instead of a regularly scheduled class. In scheduled classes you only get a small amount of time in each exercise so when you show up on your own you get to slow down, reflect and experiment.
Observation is where you learn how to navigate real bodies, cuing, timing, manage all levels, and how to turn a hot mess around when things goes wrong. Inspiration is also a huge bonus!
Take your observation a step further and ask the instructor questions if it is a live class or email them about a class you observed online. The more you know the why behind their choices the faster you will understand the multifaceted uses of Pilates. There are lots of things that go on behind the scenes of a class. Teachers choose formatting/programming based on the students level, abilities, injuries, syndromes, diseases, requests, and the way a student is feeling that day. All of this information can come prior to the class you observed.
So you may be wondering where practice teaching fits into all of this? For a teacher trainee I like to look at it as a round robin… You can observe a class then practice what you enjoyed before teaching it to someone. You can practice your flows then teach it to someone. You can also practice some moves then ask a certified instructor to incorporate a few of moves in a class so you can see it taught then teach it to someone. Any combination works!
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Practice teaching is when you learn how to speak to different demographics and if the cueing or language you use will land. Practice teaching is when you realize how many exercise you can really fit into a general population class. (hint: it’s fewer than you usually choose.) This is also when you realize that privates have the opposite problem with programming. It is easy to run out of material during privates if you pace them like a group class. Since you only have one student, changing the springs and transitioning between exercises goes faster. Before you know it… you have hit all the planes of motion, done reps to fatigue and you still have 15 mins left in the hour. I find slowing down asking for subjective feedback during exercises and incorporating a great cool down/mobility/flexibility segment at the end are great way to make them feel appreciated and heard. Also, be sure to use at least 5 mins of the class to set up/confirm the next appointment, get feedback, and allow for them to ask questions because if you have back to back clients you will not have much time to clean and reset the space.
One more thing to acknowledge about practice teaching is that it is when you hone your eagle eyes. This is when you get to walk around the client to assess their movements and abilities. You get to learn what an exercise looks like when the student is engaging or relaxing the muscles of focus. Adding this component is when you can help a client level up or have an “Ah ha” moment but reaching this level of teaching requires intentional self practice and mindful observation.
The take away from all this is that being prepared builds confidence and free’s you up to let your personality shine rather than panicking to remember exercises or not being able to cue without demonstrating. Combining self practice, observation and practice teaching hits all the senses making it become second nature when you teach. Your students will appreciate the time you take outside the classroom!
When you are practicing an exercise try constantly scanning your body from toes to head, fingertips to fingertips to note where your body is in space. Pay attention to hot it feels in that space. Notice where your body is connect to a surface or not… how does that surface feel? Pay attention to all the external feedback the equipment or mat is giving you. This will help you relate and relay information to your clients.