In my other life I work in interactive marketing and I'm told that if you write lists in your blog, you get more "hits." I am tempted to joke about how I know how to avoid being hit, but instead, here's my list of 5 Ways to Become a Better Teacher - with one BONUS way!
These tips were developed with yoga and aikido in mind, because that's what I teach. But who knows, they might be useful for teaching sports, music lessons, even physics!
#1 Develop Confidence in your voice and in your demeanor.
If you're having trouble with this, start with your voice and your demeanor will follow.
#2 Watch Your Students.
I'm always amazed at how many teachers get so wrapped up in what they are saying and thinking that they miss the very confused looks their students are giving them, or the fact that their students are doing some thing totally different than what they were asked to do. You can learn a lot about the quality of your teaching by watching your students. And certainly you can help them more.
#3 Give each student One Thing to think about.
I think this was the first thing I learned as a teacher, back when I was 16 and a friend asked me to give her guitar lessons. I had no idea what I was doing, but if I could come up with one thing to say, I was teaching and she was learning! From the student's perspective, when you're trying to learn something difficult, it's a lot easier if you can focus on one area. If you can get better at that one thing, you become more confident, and a student with confidence will learn better. Not only that, but as teachers, working to find the one thing that will improve a student's practice is excellent for developing our own powers of perception.
#4 Explain the Benefits of what you are teaching for the student's practice.
When you give a little reason why, it gives them a reason to keep doing it. This sounds obvious, and yet many of us fall into bad habits: "Bend the wrist," "Push into the balls of the feet," "Extend farther," "Don't overextend." All these instructions need to have some context so that the student can begin to feel the results for themselves. Ultimately you want them to be their own teachers, not just automatons following your instructions.
#5 Find a way to relate what they are learning to Daily Life.
In the long term, if your students feel that what they are learning from you has benefits off the mat, they will keep coming back to this practice for their whole lives.
BONUS WAY to Become a Better Teacher
This one's worth all the rest!
#6 Slow Down.
In aikido, students (and instructors) often want to practice at "street speed," thinking it's more realistic and therefore a better way to practice. In yoga, some teachers have a tendency to go from pose to pose without pausing. And, unless guided to do otherwise, students will often jam themselves into poses rather than finding them gradually.
Unless we practice slowly, the mind has no time to process the very delicate feelings of the body that are involved in doing the technique or asana correctly. When we are moving slowly, we listen to the instructions and try to make them happen in our bodies. But as soon as we speed up, we go back to old habits.
Maruyama Sensei is fond of saying that if you practice junk 1000 times it's still junk. The best way to make sure you're not practicing junk is to practice slowly.