As I've mentioned, I've been taking ballet since January. The first term ended a few weeks ago - it was fifteen weeks long - and we've (slightly) progressed to the next level.
Though I raised my eyebrows about the teacher's approach the first night of class, I soon saw that there is a (very good) method to her madness. She is a gem. An astoundingly gifted teacher - and she has won awards for her teaching, I found out. I am a *huge* fan of hers - she is young, and has a sparkling, an effervescent personality that incarnates fun for the class, but she is also really skilled at explaining technical things. It's really a pleasure to spend my Monday evenings there.
That said, I have been really attuned, especially over the last few weeks, to what it means to be a student again. (What Now has written about this issue of returning to the classroom as a student -- much more thoughtfully than I am about to.) It started when the teacher - let's call her G - was teaching us a comparatively difficult step one night. I was frustrated; I tend to berate myself when learning any physical activity - it is a fault of mine. So G was teaching us this step and it just felt awkward and weird, to most of us, I think. She asked us to move back to the barre to start it over again, and then she playfully called out - still in her lovely, happy, sing-songy voice - "Ooh, we're getting some attitude. I saw someone roll their eyes there..." And she laughed and brushed it off and that was that.
When she said that, I realized that it had quite possibly been me that she had seen rolling my eyes; I felt as if my eyes had just done something, at any rate. And it had nothing to do with her, not at all. It was just my frustration - I wasn't liking the feeling of this thing we were doing, and didn't want to do it. But I was mortified that I had been seen, had been read like that. Had rolled my eyes at all. I thought of myself as a teacher, of how hurtful that kind of response would be. I fretted about it all week, and then at next Monday's class, I went up to G and apologized, saying it was quite possibly me she had seen rolling my eyes and assuring her that it had had nothing to do with her.
G didn't even remember the incident, but it led to a good conversation about what we perceive, as teachers. She is working on an MFA right now, and says that being a student again, after being a dance teacher, has made her alert to things she wasn't aware of, the first time she was a student.
It is very much the same for me. In the wake of the eye-rolling incident, I am newly aware of my presence in that ballet class. I tend to be overly serious and hard on myself, when I learn things like this. I realize that I often have a sullenness about me that must be quite unnerving, quite unpleasant, from a teacher's perspective. Hell, if I had me in the classroom, I don't know if I'd like me much! So I've been making a conscious effort to catch myself and snap out of my opaque, heavy presence.
It makes me think about my students and the energy they bring to class. How I read them, sometimes, as disengaged or hostile - when they may truly not be. It suggests that I might stop always referring everything back to myself, as an instructor. Stop thinking every reaction, every mood, every face, is about me. At the same time, it makes me want to have a frank conversation with the students about it...to urge them to be aware of the presence they establish in the classroom.