The lost beginners’ discussion
In one of my previous posts about the lost beginners, a reader of the blog shared it with a phrase he remembers his teacher telling him. “This is a perpetual beginner…“ he said. The discussion that followed was a very interesting and enlightening one and it went in the direction of whose fault and responsibility it is to inspire and transfer knowledge in order to expand Tango. On one side a friend supported that it is the students’ responsibility to learn what they are taught and on the other hand, I supported that it is the teacher that should be responsible for transmitting the knowledge effectively. I turned the question in my head for a long time and I think I finally have an answer. Both are correct!
As I mentioned in other posts multiple times I had the opportunity to teach in my professional life in subjects totally unrelated to Tango. Having had this experience I realized that I approached tango differently. I always tried to see how my teachers were trying to transmit their knowledge and how well that worked. Maybe I could take ideas to improve my teaching I thought. So although I entered the process as a student I wanted to have a peak on the other side. Moreover, the question raised in the comments I described above is something that I also had discussed many times with my students under an obviously different context.
In order to understand the problem I took a step back. I realized that teaching and learning are not really the same process. One person can teach people that nobody learns anything and one person can learn something without someone teaching it to them. Actually, we might be going towards a society where learning is mostly going to happen without a teacher (at least in the sense we now think of). Remember the video about School in the Cloud by Sugata Mitra? Having this distinction in mind we can easily understand that a student is responsible for learning while a teacher for teaching.
A student is responsible for taking the knowledge provided by the teacher and understanding it. Learning means that you take the information, analyze it, process it, understand it, and finally make it part of you… own it! This is a process that in many cases will create new questions from the student where the teacher will then come into play.
On the other hand, the teacher is responsible for teaching. Teaching first of all means that you have gone through the process of learning and you now own the knowledge you want to transmit. Then it involves finding the right way to transmit the knowledge in a way that the student can take it and pass it in the learning process. You need to be able to make yourself clearly understood and since every different student might have different backgrounds and needs you must be able and adjust your methodology based on what will work better for each student.
Whose fault is it?
As it is obvious this teaching-learning process is partly a communication and partly a self-work process. Every part must be able first to communicate their part (be it the knowledge or the questions) but most importantly they must be able to work by themselves either to learn or to refine and adjust their teaching methodology. This is where the problems start.
When this process fails it is very easy for each part to blame the other for the failure. It is very easy for a student to say… “This teacher is useless…”. It is also very easy for a teacher to say…“This student is a perpetual beginner… They will never learn”. The difficult part is to look at yourself and ask. “Do I do my part to the best of my abilities? Could I do something better to make it work?”. As usual, our minds will take the easy route. They will try to blame someone else, avoid responsibility, and relieve themselves from the effort of searching for an improvement.
Why learning tango is different?
Learning tango is obviously a teaching-learning process like any other. However, there is a slight difference from the traditional school experience. In the traditional school experience, you are usually forced to go to school and learn what you are taught. Nobody asks you if you like or if you are interested in what you learn. Somebody else has decided that this information is important and you must learn it. For the most part of it, this is true. The skills you learn in basic education are fundamental for your life in general. As you progress through and form a character, some things will be more interesting than others, and therefore learning maths for example might be more fun and interesting than learning a foreign language. This is a crucial factor in the learning process because it provides motivation. When you have motivation you will be more likely to devote the time and effort required by the learning process. Otherwise, who cares?
Tango is not part of a standard basic education curriculum that you need to take in order to finish school etc. Tango students enter willingly a class and start taking classes each one for their own reasons. Some because they are amazed by shows like “Dancing with the Stars”… others to find a partner .. other because they need some exercise in their life… etc. The common denominator is that nobody is forced to take up Tango. Therefore they all have an interest and some motivation. The teacher therefore doesn’t have the excuse of the lack of interest. This is a given.
The teachers’ biggest problem
Given that the student has an interest it is then up to the teacher to take this interest and build on it. As already discussed many people enter Tango having false expectations. But that also happens for so many other hobbies. It is up to the teachers to first of all manage and turn these expectations in a somehow more realistic direction. If as a teacher you manage this in your first classes I believe it will definitely help create and maintain a healthy and fruitful interest and motivation and it will help you raise your success stories.
Having said that, it is also important as a teacher, since you are the one who is in the position of power and authority to make clear your expectations from your students. That means that you need to make clear that you can only provide some information but the actual use and evolution of it is in your student’s hands. You need to tell them that learning means working and that you expect them to do their part of the job. Now, this is the tricky part. Very few people are prepared to take over more work when they start a new hobby. I mean… If you tell that to your students they can easily turn around and go away thinking… “Yes… I want to learn Tango… but do I have to work for it? Forget it. I am working all day… I didn’t come here to work even more!”.
Here I think is the crucial point of failure for many teachers. They fail to give you a reason for doing that work. They fail to explain to you what is at the end of this process. What is the reward you will get? Why do the hard work? Because explaining the feeling of happiness and joy from heavenly tandas, the feeling of connection, the feeling of emotional relief, the satisfaction of musical playfulness, etc. are all so intangible and theoretical that only by experience one can understand them. You need to be that good in your communication and delivery as a teacher to make this something so relatable, understandable, and most importantly inspiring enough that will convince your students to take the effort to get there.
Tonight’s Goodnight Tango
Tonight’s Goodnight Tango is the biggest problem tango teachers face. Inspiration. They lack the tools to inspire their students so that they stay and take up the necessary effort to finally let the dancer come out of them. There are many versions but I think the one of D’ Arienzo is more fitting not because it is more inspiring than others but because it binds the inspiring melody with a strong stable and easy-to-understand rhythm to make it more relatable for beginners.
How about you? How inspiring was your first teacher? What role did they play in staying with tango? Did they manage to inspire and motivate you or did you find that motivation in something else? How would you try to motivate your students if you had any?… Or how you do it already if you are a teacher? Let me know with a comment below, an email, or a PM on Facebook… oh… and if you liked it… don’t forget to share it with your friends.