Robert’s Review: A slow and graceful journey of discovery, only occasionally disturbed by barking and howls from the dog in the basement.
The two-day tai chi teacher certification course was being held on the UNCA campus. I became anxious and frustrated with the last-minute email announcing we were required to register online for parking. I had to enter my information into their online form three times before it was received graciously. The resulting email with my printable parking permit never arrived in my inbox. I parked in the lot closest to the training and left a note on my dashboard. Surely that would appease the parking lot patrol. Surely, I would be thinking about it all day. I hoped practicing tai chi would allow me to let it go.
I felt my tension level dip a bit when I entered the classroom and found my former tai chi classmate and lunch buddy already into the process of registration and orientation. Our instructor for the course was a Master in Tai Chi for Health. That sounded impressive and indeed I was in awe of her. Her moves were done slightly differently than my previous teachers. Ha! I had already learned how to handle that problem (learn them all, then chose what’s best for me). We brainstormed on paper, we broke down tai chi movements, we were instructed in history and theory and doing. We practiced teaching so that we could see how hard it was and how much we would need to meticulously prepare for each class we were going to teach.
In addition to previous instruction, a more recent twenty- week tai chi class sponsored by Land of Sky Regional Council (a local social services program) had prepared me to transition from student to instructor. In this training, we were learning to look at the moves from the perspective of those future unknowing students; I had already passed through those ranks! I could not wait to meet my future students. I wanted to put them at ease as my teachers had done for me when I first started. It was fun getting to know my fellow potential teachers. We had arrived at that moment from different backgrounds and different places to help each other learn and plan for that first opportunity to teach.
Planning for my first teaching experience began with the notice that I would be working with my former teacher Jane. I felt a dump-truck’s worth of stress cascade off my shoulders as I realized I would not be going it alone, but with a well-loved mentor. I had every intention of hanging onto her coattails for as long as possible, but as our course progressed, Jane’s confidence in my teaching gradually bolstered my own confidence.
During the planning phase of our first class together, Jane and I were cautioned there were three students who were blind registered for the coming session, a fact which had the potential to derail us. Fortunately, I had worked with people who were visually impaired, through my work in physical therapy, yoga instruction and programs for people with special needs. Jane consulted the Tai Chi for Health professionals for guidance. We weren’t supposed to touch any class participants, which made it harder to plan for teaching our new students. We spent a great deal of time writing out excruciatingly explicit directions. Wordy, cumbersome directions which would have to be given verbally to everyone in the class. I tested these instructions on my blind-folded husband to ensure their accuracy and ease of understanding. After a few tweaks, I felt these directions were ready for a real-class situation.
On the first day of class, two students with vision impairment came to participate along with a lovely group of 20 or so other students. We tried out our lengthy verbal instructions with one of us demonstrating and the other standing with the two ladies for whom all this blathering was intended. Too much yackety yak information was overwhelming for them as well as for us. We decided to bend the rules a bit and asked them if we could touch them to guide any misdirected motions. They said yes. Things went a bit more smoothly from there. The long-winded instructions were abandoned.
We got to know and love our tai chi students. We had a nice room in which to conduct classes at the Land of Sky building, a mere 3 miles from my home. As we gained momentum in the learning process, we gained that special flow that occurs when a group of people practice tai chi together. Then it was over. We finished up our 20 weeks of instruction and planned for the next class. Some of our students were continuing on with us in the next session, preparing to learn part 2 of Tai Chi for Arthritis and Fall Prevention with Jane. I would be instructing a new group of students.
A large number of people appeared in our classroom on March 6 of this year. I was ready to tackle my next challenge. Everyone was buzzing with anticipation, ready to go, eager for the experience of learning tai chi. Then we got the call. The Lockdown Call. Classes were being postponed. We expected a few weeks of delay, not the total cancellation that ultimately occurred. We did absolutely nothing for a few months.
I was still in my whiney phase of the pandemic when I received an email from the Healthy Aging programs director at Land of Sky asking if I was interested in teaching tai chi online. I consulted Jane. Jane declined, so I declined. I considered what would be involved if I tried to teach online on my own. It scared the crap out of me. No way. I consider myself among the most thoroughly inept of computer users. Though I write this blog each week, I have someone I can call when things go wonky. I am capable of learning the basics, but become horribly strained when I’m expected to learn anything beyond kindergarten level computer skills.
Later I was coaxed into attending a Zoom meeting given by other tai chi teachers in the state who were successfully conducting classes online. Interesting, but still a no-go for me. As the summer waned, I was eventually invited to observe two local teachers who were finishing up an online class. They seemed nonplussed by the online part of the class. I was surprised when I found out later that this was the first tai chi class either of them had taught. They were brave women. I admired them. I still did not want to teach online, but hooray for these two!
And it came to pass, by decree or witchcraft or pure blind luck that I, Cheryl Perry, received a gift from the gods of Web-Land. Sarah, one of those tech-savvy ladies I observed as she and her co-teacher taught online, offered to teach a class with me…on Zoom. Did I have a choice in this matter? I like to think I did, but I said yes so quickly the answer may have come from my habituated-ly bored brain, or, in the back recesses of it, I actually wanted to teach a class online. I was, after all, a woman who did stuff, not one who lolled about the house all day consuming tea and crumpets (I only do that part-time). It was safe. It was technically supported. It was time.
I had to rearrange the furniture in my living room and dining room to accommodate the space needed to be seen on screen in my entirety. I had to plan for proper lighting and audio. Most of all, I had to plan for keeping my dog from running between my feet, howling at the neighbors and generally Zoom-bombing my online class. When we began teaching, I realized everyone in the class had to deal with the same logistics.
As the class progresses through the weeks, I give thanks every Friday for having Sarah to handle the messy, technical stuff. She patiently deals with the typical “there’s a little camera icon on the lower left side of your screen” problems and the running of shared-screen videos as well as tackling half the teaching load. Some of our students know less about navigating technically-advanced systems than I do. I don’t judge; I simply sit back and let Sarah explain it to them. Sometimes we have ghostly voices asking “can you see me now?” slightly reminiscent of those old mobile phone provider commercials. I simply get my best camera angle and speak as loudly as I can as I demonstrate ancient martial art movements aimed at keeping us all upright, even if we have the occasional technical glitch…or barking dog.
Making it happen (with lots of help),
Guest Editor Robert is also useful for moving furniture and keeping the hounds at bay. He enjoys being part of the story.