What To Teach

8th November 2009

(More Teaching articles.)

"Here's a lesson for all teachers: You may know what you're saying, but you never know what you're teaching" ~ Frank van Dun


Well, firstly I'm not going to say what to teach. I'm arrogant, but I'm not that arrogant.

What I'll try to do with this article is to determine some general principles of good practice for teaching - hopefully these principles are non-controversial, and non-binding.

You can think of this as the AT equivalent of the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), but with a bit more style.

Have a plan

It sounds obvious, but you should plan your lessons - or your courses - in advance.

The worst thing anyone can say when going into a presentation is "Oh, I'll wing it". That's never a good idea. If you have enough experience, enough ability, and enough communications skills, you can get away with it. But most of us don't have that combination.

So think about and plan what you're going to do. Even if it only involves ten minutes the day before the class, and a couple of lines scribbled on a piece of paper, make sure you have a plan.

Caveat: yes, it's possible to get too Soviet-5-year-plan about this, to overplan it and to try to impose a strict detailed structure to each class. However, I think it's safe to say that, based on my experience, the Tango scene is in no danger of suffering from this in my lifetime.

Tell students about the plan

Once you have a plan, at the start of a class / course, tell your students about it.

Again, you don't have to spend 10 minutes on each hour-long class doing this. But a minute or two, perhaps with a brief (30-second) demonstration, won't kill you or your students.

This is done simply to tell the students what the class will be about, to set their expectations, and to communicate what you're trying to teach.

Also, this helps to make the students feel comfortable - they'll know what to expect, and they'll know at the end of the class whether they've learnt what they should.

Write up what you do

Very few teachers "follow up" - they don't write up their class, they don't inform their students what they've taught or what they should have learnt. Teachers simply move on and expect the students to either make their own notes, or to simply remember what they've learnt.

This may well be due to laziness - or, being more cynical, it may be because teachers want to keep this information secret as a way to drum up business; IP protection, if you will.

But either way, I'd recommend having some information about the class, and providing this information to students. Even if only a couple of lines in an email.

Practice, rehearse, learn

Obviously, we all get better at something by practice. This applies to all activities. Teaching's no exception.

Similarly, again, preparation - rehearse what you'll do. I'm not suggesting a full dress rehearsal for each class you teach, but at the very least it's a good idea to go through your lesson plan (plan, yes, remember that?) with your partner.

There's a school of thought which says that you should not do this, because if you're a leader and you can't lead a step or move on your partner unawares, then you're not doing it right.

That, of course, is rubbish.

Firstly, even the best leaders may have problems leading something "cold" - I remember a Pablo Alonso class where his (new) partner had problems following him. If Pablo Alonso can't do it 100%, then I'm damn sure I can't.

Secondly, if your partner doesn't know what they're supposed to be doing, how can they explain the details of their part of the dance to the other 50% of the class?


Hopefully these are simple and obvious concepts.

I just wonder why so few tango teachers do them...

- David Bailey, 8th November 2009

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