Seattle-area fitness pros share the traits that make a great teacher – The Seattle Times

Originally published Aug. 19, 2012
By Nicole Tsong, former Fit for Life writer

WHEN A TEACHER is great, I spin faster, hold a pose longer or do one more set of core. Even when I don’t want to. Especially when I don’t want to.
We know when we are in the presence of a great teacher. We can’t always put a finger on what makes the class better, but we keep going back and drag our friends along with us. We leave work early for them. We sweat for them. And on great days, we laugh — though maybe through gritted teeth.
“Please, God, have a sense of humor,” says Theresa Elliott, [now retired] owner of Taj Yoga in Seattle. “Humor makes the world go ’round.”
When it comes to staying fit, a great teacher can be the difference between being committed and giving up. But what are the qualities that make a teacher great? I consulted with people who think about this a lot more than most — people in the business of fitness and thus in the business of packing their rosters with great teachers who draw a crowd.
Everyone agreed that certification in his or her field and an understanding of technique are mandatory. Teachers must know the body and the rules around what works and what does not.
In addition to training, the best teachers have a natural ability to organize information and intuitively get how to pace a class, Elliott says. They can read a room and shift their teaching style based on what they see.
But just as important are the other intangible qualities: energy, inspiration and that funny bone. “A great teacher is a great performer,” Elliott says.
Sami Sweeney, [former] owner of Pure Barre in Seattle, looks for passion. Taking a class, she can see when a teacher is drained or treating it simply like a job. Her best teachers love the technique and love taking classes on their own. “They definitely shine when they’re teaching,” she says.
Elliott says critical thinking also helps, especially in the yoga world, which has exploded with all kinds of claims about how it will solve your life. Students know when a teacher is aware of the good and bad about their industry and can even joke about it, Elliott says. “If you can be humorous, you put people at ease,” she says. “When people are at ease, they learn better.”
For Eastside fitness teacher Marisa Mancke, it ultimately comes down to connection and loving people. Mancke, who owns Happy Hour by Marisa, loves the people who come to her class. She makes sure to use everybody’s names and to notice people when they return after some time off.
Mancke, who has taught fitness for 18 years, was overweight herself. She knows what it’s like to come to a class where she didn’t know anyone, didn’t understand what was happening and was out of shape.
When a teacher says your name, you feel like someone cares, she says.
“People want to be part of something,” she says. “They want to be missed when they’re not there. They want to be recognized when they are.”
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.


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