What Makes a Great Teacher

It’s not what you think.

I started teaching tennis when I was 15 years old. I got lucky and somehow got hired at my local community center without a certification or experience. I loved teaching and decided to take it to the next level so the next summer I took my PTR certification with a man named Dennis Van Der Meer. Mr. Van Der Meer taught me not only how to be a great teacher, he also taught me my biggest life lesson ever…

I walked on the teachers court at Grey Rocks in Mt Tremblant, the youngest of all the students, scrawny, shy, yet somehow confident in my tennis ability, and I waited nervously. Mr. Van Der Meer, a tall slender man, walked onto the court and started grabbing tennis balls and placing them along his arm as he said: “Right handed players put your racket in your left hand. Left handed players put your racket in your right hand. This is how everyone is going to play for the next 2 weeks. Follow me.” Within the first 30 seconds of walking onto the court he leveled the paying field physically. Over the next two weeks he leveled it mentally.

Having to play with my non-dominant hand made me feel like a beginner. I felt like I couldn’t hit the ball no matter how hard I tried and it sucked. I felt un-athletic, ridiculous, weak and uncoordinated. Little did I know at the time what a blessing those feelings were. Those feelings taught me more than patience, they taught me understanding.When I started teaching I knew exactly what the beginners were feeling when they wanted to hit the ball but they couldn’t get their body to do what their brain wanted.

What I have realized over the years is that this lesson doesn’t only apply to physical activities, it applies to basic communication skills and life in general. It is a lesson in being able to see things from someone else’s perspective who may or may not have the knowledge that you have. It’s a lesson that has allowed me to put myself in someone else’s shoes many times over — it’s a lesson in compassion.

So, what makes a great teacher? Despite the criticism of the students. Despite the frustration being directed towards him. Despite some students dropping off. Despite everything, he had patience and he kept teaching. And above all he helped us UNDERSTAND and FEEL what it was like to be a beginner. THAT is a great teacher.

I went into the course with the goal of getting a small piece of paper that said PTR certified. I got my small piece of paper at the end of the two weeks, but I walked away with so much more. Oh, and I could also play full matches with my left hand. You think you can’t …until you do it.

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