Jul 19, 2011

Who has the right to teach

More than in any other creative profession I've worked around--music, theater, visual art, architecture--figure skating professionals are unusually threatened by the idea of new members of the profession, and even of volunteers, unusual for youth sports, where volunteer coaches keep the lower levels going.

Competitive students
This, of course, is where most professional coaches come from-- they were once competitive, or at least high-test students. Many clubs will not allow you to coach on their ice without at a minimum, an Intermediate freestyle or equivalent dance test; PSA will not allow you to take even the lowest ratings exam without either having tested, or passed a student, out of the Pre-Juvenile level.

The question comes in when the student is the coach; that is, kids who are still testing or competing. Believe it or not, there are sour grapes among coaches about current students teaching, even on classes, and we all go fairly ballistic when they start having a lot of private students. Some clubs or rinks have rules governing this--no privates if you're a "junior" coach; restrictions on the amount they can charge, etc.

High school skaters
Not quite the same thing as competitive students teaching, this would fall under a similar category to parent volunteers. I get plenty of "non" skaters in my annual high school class who are solid enough on skates to teach tots and beginners, and the daycamp at my rink has the counselors go out with their groups, rather than skating pros.

Adult skaters
This is me. I was a low-level adult skater (barely FS3), which frankly is fairly scandalous. I thought so at the time. Fortunately I am an ethical person and both set about testing the lower USFS levels and getting credentialed through PSA.

But I don't see the difference in a FS5-6+ adult onset skater teaching or a FS5-6/Juvenile+ former child skater teaching. In fact, adults have very important things to bring to the table, starting with they can remember what it was like learning beginning skills because they weren't 5 when it happened. From my observation, adult onset skaters have a very steep acceptance curve among coaches.

Parents who are recreational skaters should not be coaching private students. But I would love to know if there is a program that works utilizing parent volunteers in beginning classes. You'd have to qualify by demonstrating basic skating ability, and you'd have to have some minimal training I think, but every other youth sport absolutely relies on volunteer parents as coaching, judging, and referees . Why not skating?

College skaters
Summer job anyone?

Side job
Some of the best coaches I know have second jobs (or more accurately, the coaching is their second job). In many areas, making a living as a skating coach is nearly impossible, and benefits (vacation, pension, health care) is pretty much unheard of. So, if you've got another job, should that be looked upon as a sign of your lack of commitment? I've heard this argument.

Skating in general needs to be inclusive rather than exclusive. It's better for the sport, the culture and the kids if there's a place for everyone.

Who teaches in your program? Does your club or rink have rules regarding this?


  1. There is an annual high school class?

  2. Three mornings a week 6:45 to 7:30 November thru January. Usually have about 40 students.

  3. How do coaches feel about student volunteers who are giving hours to an ISI skating school to qualify for an ISI scholarship?

  4. As for the "adult-onset skaters," another thing I would imagine they bring to the table is LOTS more experience with life and the processes of having to explain things to people who don't already know/understand them. Nothing drove me crazier at my daughter's ballet school than having a college girl--excellent ballerina, no teaching experience--assigned to teach the preschool class. She was TERRIBLE because she had no idea how to engage small children, how to explain and demonstrate at the same time, how to teach in a way that would "stick" for them, how to organize a class session. Adults who are technically lower level skaters than the current competitive students but who have had lots of experience teaching/explaining thus strike me as perhaps BETTER for teaching LTS classes than a super-talented young kid. Just my two cents...

  5. On the other hand, I had a student volunteer in my class last week, and I loved it. My coach is long past doing jumps herself, and it was really helpful to have this sweet young girl who would not only demonstrate but could also say, "when you do X, it should feel like..." So, I'm all in support of that, just wouldn't want her to have sole charge of a class herself yet at this age.

  6. I think the point is that all of these types of people bring something to the table. Restrictive rules that take only one dimension into account--current or former skating ability--miss out on a lot of other critical aspects of youth sports, teaching/coaching, and teachers, and things like WHY someone is doing this--for instance, to qualify for scholarships.

  7. Xan, I couldn't agree more.

    On another note: I'm having a "maybe I'm too old for this" day where it seems like I can't do anything right. Or, not even right, but just incrementally better than I did it last time. Advice--even a post!--on how to get through those inevitable lack-of-progress-slumps, especially as an adult skater with no cheery peers to meet up with at the rink and just keep one going, would be most gratefully received!

  8. There are a lot of those young girls who have the skating ability yet perhaps lack experience and class structure. However, if they don't get to try teaching a class on their own every now and then, they will never gain any experience in the field and will never really be any good at teaching. How do teachers learn to teach (besides going to school for it)? They practice teaching! That's why they do "student teaching" at the end of college instead of just throwing them into the work force. Until they practice on some real kids and find out first-hand what works and what doesn't work, they have no chance at being as good as a seasoned teacher who has been in the field for 20+ years.

    Therefore, although it may be frustrating to have your child be taught by a younger teacher, that is the only way for them to really get good at teaching. And in addition, I think there's something to be said for the energy that most younger coaches bring to the classes.

  9. Anonymous-- especially since that is literally the ONLY way you can learn to be a figure skating teacher. There are very few seminars and no actual professional track; even the PSA ratings, except for group, focus very little on actual TEACHING skills like lesson planning, skill acquisition arcs, etc.

  10. MommyTime, I hear you... I also had a "too old for this but wait I just ordered skates that cost HOW much?" moment last week when I pulled my quad doing sit spins.

    I think the truth is that everyone has bad skating days, including the kids. Even good days usually feel like two steps forward, one step back. I tell my daughter that skating is for stubborn, determined people. :)

    On teaching, I think that having coaches available from a variety of backgrounds only adds to the experience, and I am glad our rink offers this.

  11. Great idea for a post! On it.

  12. Awesome - I can't wait to read it!

  13. Oh, I can't wait for it either!

    Emily, thanks for that. Somehow just being reminded that other people have these days too is helpful. So, I've learned, does being given something new to work on. It helps to tackle a new challenge because that feels like progress, somehow, even though the old one still needs lots of practice too -- so I got my coach to give me a footwork sequence to work on as a respite from my own spin disasters.

    @Anon, I TOTALLY agree that without teaching practice, no one learns to be a good teacher. (I am a lit professor.) However, I do think that there is something to be said for starting as an assistant and getting some mentoring from an experienced teacher before being given a class all of one's own. In the ballet case I was talking about, I think this college girl would have been a good teacher for older kids who would already be more focused and have a better vocabulary and grasp of ballet (say later-elementary-school and up). The problem was that her utter lack of experience as a teacher made her unable to teach the 5-year-olds much of anything, since she couldn't even get them all to pay attention to her at the same time -- unlike the much more experienced teacher who'd managed the very same class brilliantly in the summer. So, while I appreciate that teaching practice is a valuable experience (and I would say that even after 10 years, I still learn things from my students every year), I also think that more systematic mentoring, "apprenticeship" if you will, would be advantageous BOTH for upcoming teachers and their students.

  14. It continually astonishes me that rinks assign the LEAST experienced teachers to the most difficult classes, namely the tots, adults, and beginners.