Appreciating conscientious teachers

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Last week some singing friends and I attended a tango class in midtown Manhattan that had been advertised as beginner friendly. They wanted to go because they are fine dancers who are interested in investigating unfamiliar forms. I went along because I enjoy their company, but I had some apprehension. I am a klutz, and dance lessons are not my most comfortable milieu.

At the beginning of the class, the teacher said something I didn’t understand about “beginners.” I thought she was asking who was there for the first time, so I raised my hand. She snapped, “You don’t have to identify yourself; you have a big sign over your head that says, “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Things went downhill from there. She yelled at dancers for misunderstanding directions; she pushed and slapped several people for “grapevining,” i.e., using their hips as though they were performing an Israeli dance rather than leading with their upper bodies. One of my friends, a gifted dancer, asked her to demonstrate a step again because, she said, “I’m completely lost,” and the teacher retorted that no, she would not waste her time that way.

It was so awful I actually started to enjoy it. Tango is not a skill that I absolutely need to have; there was no urgency for me about learning the steps or gaining the teacher’s approval, so I just relaxed and took in the show, trying to memorize her attitude and affect for later use in character work.

But reading Aeron’s most recent column, I was struck even more forcefully by her dedication to improving as a teacher, and to doing right by her students, than I probably would have been before this experience. It is tempting, at least on bad days, to take out our frustrations and disappointments on perceived underlings, and building in a system to ensure fair grading is one way to combat this tendency.

So, as the school year starts again, I want to thank all of you who don’t belittle and humiliate your students, and who are invested in providing the best possible education in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Judging from the posts and comments on this blog, that is pretty much everyone here, so thank you all—and triple thanks to those of you who will be teaching my son as he begins his college career today.

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