Teaching Tip 1: Know Why You Are Teaching

About a year ago I wrote six tips for teaching youth circus and I thought it was about time I followed up with something similar. Rather than write six more tips I decided that I’d go into a bit more depth into those six original tips one by one.

Photo by Claude Fisicaro

Context is decisive

I enjoy teaching far more than I ever enjoyed performing. My performing career was pretty short-lived. I didn’t love it. I performed because I should; because that’s what circus artists do. It wasn’t an authentic expression of my passions, my desires, or of me. It was a struggle, an effort and, although I enjoyed performing while I was actually performing, it was ultimately unfulfilling for me.

When I was about 10 and learned to juggle the first thing I did was try to teach the other kids in my class. Teaching for me has always been a much more natural expression of myself. It’s easy for me; it’s fun.

Why do you teach?

Stop and consider for a moment why you teach.

If you’re teaching because you love it, brilliant. But if you’re teaching because you have to, because you need the money, or for any other reason, you’re probably not going to be satisfied by it, and your students won’t get as much from your teaching.

Context is everything.

Even if you need the money – and believe me I still need the money I earn from teaching! – creating a bigger, more powerful context for yourself will give new life to your lessons, it’ll bring you more enjoyment, and it’ll have students respond better to your teaching.

Creating a Context

There are many ways to create a new context but before you try to create a new context make sure you distinguish your current context. Up until now, why have you been teaching?

Think about your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations leading up to, during and after your class. Think about the things you said and how you responded to students questions, comments or actions. Look at who you’re teaching for (are you teaching for yourself or are they for another person or organisation?) and what you or they have said about the classes, students, or even the business.

If you look at your whole experience of teaching you’ll start to discover the context you’ve had for teaching so far.

There’s nothing wrong with your current context, it just may not be as empowering or enlivening as you’d like. And there’s nothing to say that you can’t have an empowering context one day and a disempowering context the next.

Maybe it’s empowering, maybe it’s not, but whatever it is it’s the context you’ve had.

Once you’ve discovered and distinguished the context you’ve had so far you have an opportunity to create something new.

Creating a context could be as simple as making declaration of why you are teaching.

[A declaration] brings forth the possibility that it speaks, in the very act of speaking it.  Such speaking has a direct and lasting impact; in the very act of speaking, it alters the course of events.

~ Werner Erhard

It could be imagining or creating a vision board of where you see your classes or students in 5 or 10 years time.

It could be creating a dream holiday and realising that each class is moving you one step closer.

It could be creating a show with your students for the end of the year or term.

Whatever you create, it’s got to be big enough that it inspires you, that it pulls you forward and gives you a new lease of life for your teaching. A small, ordinary context will shrivel and die a quick death.

Having an unusually large goal is an adrenaline infusion that provides the endurance to overcome the inevitable trials and tribulations that go along with any goal. Realistic goals, goals restricted to the average ambition level, are uninspiring and will only fuel you through the first or second problem, at which point you throw in the towel. If the potential payoff is mediocre or average, so is your effort. I’ll run through walls to get a catamaran trip through the Greek islands, but I might not change my brand of cereal for a weekend trip through Columbus, Ohio. If I choose the latter because it is “realistic,” I won’t have the enthusiasm to jump even the smallest hurdle to accomplish it. With beautiful, crystal-clear Greek waters and delicious wine on the brain, I’m prepared to do battle for a dream that is worth dreaming. Even though their difficulty of achievement on a scale of 1-10 appears to be a 2 and a 10 respectively, Columbus is more likely to fall through.

The fishing is best where the fewest go. There is just less competition for bigger goals.

~ Tim Ferris

Once created, your new context needs to take root. If it only lives in your head it will be like a mug of hot chocolate: gone too soon, leaving nothing more than a yummy memory.

Now, there’s nothing to stop you from creating and recreating each time it fades, but for your new context to live, grow and even expand it needs to live outside your memory. Share it with your friends, family, colleagues, students; make a vision board, stick post-it notes around your home, book your holiday flights, create a business or draw a picture. It doesn’t matter what you do as much as it matters that you do something. The more it lives outside of your mind the stronger it will be and more real it will become.

Context is everything. And knowing why you do what you do is at the heart great teaching.

The UK Youth Circus Network Festival 2012

During half term I attended the 1st UK Youth Circus Network festival but rather than write about my experience of being at the event (which I felt was similar to attending the NYCE last year) I though I’d give you some other perspectives. What follows are a few “guest posts” written by some of the young people who attended the UKYCN festival from youth circuses around the country. You can find photos from the festival here.

Lucy, 14, Five Ring Circus

For the last three days I have been at the first UKYCN ( United Kingdom Youth Circus Network ) festival. It was hosted by Wookey Hole Circus in Somerset which is run by Gerry Cottle, with Willie Ramsay and Lesley Gardener. There was over 90 youths there altogether from 18 different youth circuses around the UK. Continue reading