Seattle-area fitness professionals share the traits that make a great teacher

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Originally published August 19, 2012
By Nicole Tsong, former editor of Fit for Life

WHEN A TEACHER is awesome, I spin faster, hold a pose longer, or do one more set of trunks. 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 master. We can’t always put our finger on what makes the class better, but we keep going back and dragging our friends along with us. We leave work early for them. We sweat for them. And on big days, we laugh – even if perhaps through gritted teeth.

“Please, God, have a sense of humor,” says Theresa Elliott, [now retired] owner of Taj Yoga in Seattle. “Humour makes the world go round.”

When it comes to staying fit, a great teacher can mean the difference between committing and quitting. But what are the qualities that make a great teacher? I’ve consulted with people who think about it a lot more than most – people in the fitness business and therefore in the business of building their rosters with great teachers who draw a crowd.

Everyone agreed that certification in their field and an understanding of the technique are mandatory. Teachers need to know the body and the rules about what works and what doesn’t.

In addition to training, the best teachers have a natural ability to organize information and intuitively understand how to pace a class, Elliott says. They can read a play and change their teaching style based on what they see.

But the other intangible qualities are just as important: energy, inspiration and that funny bone. “A good teacher is a great performer,” says Elliott.

Sami Sweeney, [former] owner of Pure Barre in Seattle, seeks passion. By taking a class, she can see when a teacher is burnt out or just treats it like work. His best teachers love technique and love to take lessons on their own. “They definitely shine when they teach,” she says.

Elliott says critical thinking also helps, especially in the world of yoga, which has exploded with all sorts of claims about how it will fix your life. Students know when a teacher is aware of the pros and cons of their industry and may even joke about it, Elliott says. “If you know how to use humor, you put people at ease,” she says. “When people are comfortable, they learn better.”

For Eastside fitness instructor Marisa Mancke, it all ultimately comes down to connecting and loving people. Mancke, who owns Happy Hour by Marisa, loves the people who come to her class. She makes sure to use everyone’s names and notice people when they come back after some time off.

Mancke, who has been teaching 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 going on 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 around. They want to be recognized when they are.

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