Ever since I started teaching I’ve strived to continually develop myself as a better teacher – either by learning (or refining) circus technique, learning related subjects (eg., gymnastics, first aid, leadership), or developing new ways of being and working with young people to get the most out of them. Sometimes I get it wrong but I think that most of the time I manage to get the best out of the young people I work with and manage to have good working relationships with them.
Below are six tips for teaching circus to children and young people that I hope will give you some new ideas and thoughts that will help you to be a great teacher.
1. Know Why You Are Teaching
Why do you teach?
If you’re teaching because you love it, brilliant. I love teaching. I enjoy teaching far more than I ever enjoyed performing, actually. But if you’re teaching because you have to, or because you just need the money or anything else, well, you’re probably not going to enjoy it anyway.
Create a bigger context for yourself. Find a reason to be there that inspires you. If teaching is “just a job” it’ll show and neither you nor your students will get much enjoyment out of it.
2. Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan
A lot of people hate lesson planning but a good lesson plan can make or break your classes, and the initial effort that it takes to create a plan will be far outweighed by the ease you’ll have week to week or session to session from having one.
The more you plan your sessions the easier it becomes to plan sessions.
3. Take Fun Seriously
There’s nothing worse than watching someone teach children and young people and be really serious with them. Thankfully I don’t see it too often – and I see it less often in circus than in some other activities!
If you’re going to teach children and young people, fun is one of the most essential components of your class. As much as they’re there to learn, they’re also there to have fun, and it should be high in your priorities for your classes.
If you can find a way to make sessions fun kids will respond. Not only will they be attentive, work hard, and progress but they’ll enjoy your classes and they’ll enjoy being with you. And guess what? You’ll enjoy them more too.
Play, have fun, joke, you don’t need to be serious all the time.
4. Treat Them Like Adults
Children are smart. Until someone (including themselves) tells them they’re not, kids are unbelievably bright, intelligent and present. To talk to kids as anything other than smart belittles them.
Now obviously you wouldn’t talk to a 3 year old in the same way you’d talk to a teenager, and you wouldn’t expect a teenager to behave like a 3 year old. Find a way to talk to them at their level. Engage with them on their terms. And above all, don’t be patronising. They’ll know it; they’re smart.
5. Be In Their World
There’s a classic family story that my dad occasionally likes to tell from when I was about 3 years old and starting to learn to catch. My grandpa told me to “keep my eye on the ball.” So I did. I picked up the ball and held it against my face.
Everyone sees the world slightly differently; children and young people see the world differently to how adults perceive it and there’s nothing you can do to make a young child see the world your way. They’re not going to be able to get in your world so you’re going to have to get in their world.
Get in their world, see the world how they see it, and then speak to them from there.
6. Teach To Their Potential
It’s all too easy to make decisions early on about how talented a student is and how far they’ll be able to go. Try to keep an open mind as to who is talented or not. If you make an early decision about who has little potential they’ll never have the opportunity to be successful in your class.
“Success depends on the idiosyncrasies of the selection process used to identify talent just as much as it does on the athletes’ natural abilities”
~ The Elements of Success, The Wall Street Journal , 15 November 2008
Imagine each of your students growing up to be professional performers and teachers, highly skilled and talented. Teach them as if it’s inevitable that they end up there.
If you can consistently teach to their potential, and catch yourself before you make any mistaken decisions, each of your students will have a chance to flourish.