Teaching: Now That You’ve Got The Lion Up the Wall

Apparently, years ago, the infamous Walls of Death were a big thing – people would ride motorcycles, cars, you name it around inside a walled enclosure and pick up enough speed to be able to move up onto the wall. (There’s some great Physics here, of course, discussions of centripetal and centrifugal force and all that.) It was also a spectator sport, of course, because there’s nothing human beings seem to like more than the threat of imminent death and a good crash.

I stumbled across this image and immediately thought about teaching.

Wall of death with a woman driving a car, with lion in passenger seat, while motorcycle rides on the wall above them. No, seriously.

Take that, dogs – this is the ultimate “head out of the window” experience.

Apparently, women riding with lions in the sidecar or passenger seat was a big thing because… well, I’m guessing that no-one had invented the Internet yet. More seriously, look at this picture. This is an excellent example of keeping everything up in the air as long as you keep the balance right.

To get to this stage, someone had to:

  1. Find a lion.
  2. Train the lion to deal with the noise and rush of cars (or find an appropriate lion sedative).
  3. Find a woman who liked driving along walls.
  4. Convince her that it’s ok that she’s riding next to a large wild animal that could fall on her if it all went wrong and would either crush her or maul her.
  5. Find a stalker crazy enough for the woman that he would learn to ride on a wall so he could sashay behind her nonchalantly as she went on her lion date.
  6. Hire Vidal Sassoon to style the lion’s mane because, seriously, check out that ‘do’. That lion is owning the ‘drome.

Of course, one mistake, one miscommunication, one problem with the track, and those keen people looking over the sides at the world’s smallest NASCAR track will get what they secretly want, which is a sudden and unpleasant fusion of human, metal and lion. With extra fuel poured over it.

Teaching a large class, or a smart class, or a large and smart class, is a really challenging activity. You can’t prepare for the exact questions that students will ask and this gives you two options: don’t take questions or get good at rolling with it and staying on your feet. Keeping the momentum going in class is crucial. Once you have the class with you, you have to keep moving, heading in different directions, taking what they say and integrating it. Basically, good teaching with a good class is like trying to write a coherent screenplay for a movie that is being filmed now, except that they keep changing the actors and the plot on you as you go. How do we prepare someone for this?

To get to this stage, you have to:

  1. Work out if you have the ability or the desire to teach. (First, find your lion…)
  2. Train yourself to deal with difficult questions, active classes, changing techniques and methodologies, often by working from an excellent background in theory and practice. (Or find an appropriate stimulant. Like coffee. 🙂 )
  3. Find a class that needs a teacher like this or turn your existing classes into that class.
  4. Prepare your students for the fact that asking questions isn’t going to hurt them, that appearing wrong is part of learning and that their learning experience doesn’t have to be scary or dull.
  5. Find some other teachers, or support staff, who think the same way as you do and get them together.
  6. Style your materials to match your teaching, your students and your environment. (Fix your ‘do’ but in the teaching materials sense.)

You need to have an excellent preparation strategy to be able to look like you’re just handling things on the fly. The amount of work, practice and preparation that must have gone into that “lion” picture says it all. Each participant trained for this and, most of the time, nothing went wrong. Like pilots, who train for the moment when they have to really earn their money, a lot of teaching is somewhat routine.

In class, with live students, with evolving situations and lots of questions – it can seem pretty intimidating but that’s when the preparation comes in.

Plus you have to remember that very few poorly answered questions are going to leave you lying in a pit of motorcycle parts, covered in fuel, while a lion wakes up beside you and looks at you. Comparatively, it’s really not that scary at all!

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