Do I have a bad teacher? Should I quit?

Discussion in 'Tango Argentino' started by M. Bingley, May 10, 2013.

?

Should I quit?

  1. Yes

    63.6%
  2. No

    36.4%
  1. M. Bingley

    M. Bingley New Member


    I'm debating whether to continue tango argentino. On one hand, it's an art form that I really, really enjoy. On the other, I'm becoming more and more uncertain about my instructor. I've gotten to the point where I'm thinking about quitting, and since there is only one tango school in my town, that'd mean stopping tango.

    The school is cliquish and insular. The instructor is narcissistic and immature. I can deal with this sort of stuff, but the two things below bother me especially, and I want your opinion -- does this sound normal for the tango world?

    1. The instructor has the irritating tendency to attribute character flaws to students who aren't able to keep up. The class is mixed, with students of different ability levels. It often includes complete beginners with only a few lessons under their belt. But this mixture makes it difficult for everyone to stay on the same line, which he often requests. His response is to yell at everyone, telling us to stop being selfish. In other words, he, as an instructor, can't see what the real problem is, misdiagnoses the problem, and in his blindness, is willing to accuse his students of something ugly when they're trying hard. This happens regularly.

    2. But the thing that makes me alarmed the most is that he doesn't seem to be looking out for the students' interest. He invites famous instructors to visit, and he encourages even beginners to sign up for costly private lessons with them. He needs to find money to fund the visits, and it looks to me like he's willing to rip off the beginners to do that. After all, what will beginners learn from celebrity teachers that they, at their stage of development, cannot learn from an average teacher? It seems to me that he's treating students as resources to be exploited, so he can get his advanced workshop.

    The instructor does have his good points, but in my mind they're not so outstanding that they'd outweigh the abusive behavior. (I can talk about his good points if you think they matter.) So that's why I'm thinking about quitting.

    So what do you think?
  2. Subliminal

    Subliminal Well-Known Member

    That sounds pretty bad... but if you like the dance why don't you find another teacher?
  3. Lilly_of_the_valley

    Lilly_of_the_valley Active Member

    The #2 is not necessarily an abuse per se. If I believe somebody is a great dancer and tango instructor, I will encourage a beginner to take a private with him/her, because one can learn a lot from such at any level. I have taken lessons from some wonderful people later in my journey, which made me wish I had access to them as a beginner. So, the mere fact that the instructor encourages his students to sign up for lessons does not mean he is taking advantage of them ( then again, perhaps he does, if the teachers he invites are actually crappy, and he knows very well that they are).

    As for #1, I don't know where it all takes place, but where I live people do not tend to tolerate abuse of the students/customers. Mostly they would promptly leave a teacher who makes them feel uncomfortable. Behaving like that is just bad business.
    Have you tried to call your instructor on his behavior? Has anyone said something like, "Hey, dude, calm down. Those students have had a few classes, you do not really expect them to keep up with the material the same way those who have been doing it for years do? now, do you??"
    Mladenac likes this.
  4. Lilly_of_the_valley

    Lilly_of_the_valley Active Member

    Also, I do not really understand why, if you decide to part with that teacher, you should quit tango altogether.
  5. Mladenac

    Mladenac Active Member

    A good dancer should also have good communicative skills. :)

    a) You can tell him in front of everyone about non constructive behaviour
    b) You can speak with him in private (which is much better idea)
    c) You can write him an email what you think and ask him

    The biggest influence you can get on him if you ask him for appropriate behaviour.
    And ask him what you would like him to do so you can all have better classes.

    You may write good points freely. :)

    Is he a single teacher??
  6. M. Bingley

    M. Bingley New Member

    To those asking why I can't just find another teacher: there isn't another teacher. I live in a one-horse town. He is the only one in town. So if I quit his school, I quit tango.

    Is he a single teacher? His dance partner is his life partner, if that's what you're asking. Except for his girlfriend, I haven't been impressed with the quality of dancers at his school.

    As for communication, he isn't open to that. He's authoritarian towards the students, and you get the sense that he doesn't want to hear questions sometimes. He will answer technical questions. But questions that seem to challenge his authority even just slightly make him defensive, and he responds with condescension and derision.

    As for his good points, he has some skills. I have done other movement arts for a long time, and I've been impressed by what this guy is able to see sometimes. He can be humorous and warm. He has dedicated himself to the art, and is quite serious in his own way. He charges basically a nominal fee, so his classes are really cheap. (In other words, he is not out to make money. But that makes it all the more surprising when he pressures students to take classes with guest instructors.)

    I think his dedication is a part of the problem. He probably feels frustrated that the vast majority of his students aren't the same way. Most are transient. He isn't mature even to deal with that, even though he's in his late 40s. So he responds with a sort of disrespect to his students.
  7. M. Bingley

    M. Bingley New Member

    I guess I'm trying to find out: how normal is this in the tango world?
  8. jfm

    jfm Active Member

    People of a certain personality type are drawn to activities where they can set themselves up as an authority.
    This happens as often in tango as it does in any other dance/hobby whatever.

    When I was a learner I traveled between 30 and 60 miles each way to tango classes as i lived in an area with no tango teachers. What's stopping you from traveling to another town/city to find a different teacher? You could gather 4 other people from your current club so you go as a group and can take turns in driving while saving money on petrol.
    Lilly_of_the_valley likes this.
  9. dchester

    dchester Moderator Staff Member

    This was my first though as well. ^


    To the OP,

    I don't think most of what you have described is typical, but there is some cliquiness in tango, and in lots of other things (at least the ones involving people), as well.

    I don't think you should quit tango. However, I do think you should explore other options for learning tango, (at least until you get good enough that the teacher will treat you in a way that's acceptable to you).

    Taking private lessons can be much more helpful than a group class. If your dislike of this teacher isn't too great, it might be worth taking a private with him, and a side benefit is that it might improve your relationship. I would strongly encourage you to take privates from traveling (famous) teachers, as your budget permits. Some will be great, an some may not, so also solicit feedback from others in your community that you trust (and have taken privates from them previously), to increase the chances of success.

    I would also suggest talking to a few of the more advanced dancers in your area, and see if one of them would be willing to work with you. It really is possible to learn from someone other than an "official" teacher.

    Also, if there is a practica in your area, you should be attending that on a regular basis, and trying to pick up things there. One more thing, try to organize a "practice session". Find a practice partner, and work on improving your skills together. Make sure you are both able to freely express your thoughts and on what might be wrong (or what you are feeling from the other). Even better with practice sessions, is if you have another couple attend, so you can occasionally switch partners, as well as exchange ideas.

    You say you really like tango, so don't let one lousy teacher keep you from continuing.
  10. M. Bingley

    M. Bingley New Member

    I don't have a bad relationship with the instructor. I'm actually one of the students he likes better. He has extended himself to accommodate my needs, actually. My problems with this guy isn't with how he treats me in particular, but with how he treats everyone. That's partly responsible for the high turnover rate. (The other reason is that most people in my town don't get dedication to an art form.) Such behavior also tends to push out gifted people. His long-term students seem more distinguished for their ability to tolerate him than their ability to dance.

    Private instruction, even with famous teachers, is within my budget. The issue for me is that I am not convinced the instructor has his students' interest at heart. I think, under the stress of funding the visit, he started pushing everyone to take lessons with the visitor. To me, this is huge. Maybe I'm wrong about this. Also, one of you pointed out that even a complete beginner has something to learn from a good teacher.

    I'm basically down to the question of "how much abuse am I willing to accept for tango?" So that's why I'm wondering what the norm is. I have two personal friends who do tango in other places, and they haven't experienced anything like this.

    Thanks for your advice, though. Maybe I'll drive to the nearest other tango school (about 60 miles) and see what their classes are like.
  11. Lilly_of_the_valley

    Lilly_of_the_valley Active Member

    Your don't have to tolerate abuse. That person is not your family member. He is there to teach you tango, and if you still believe he's got something to offer you, take it.
    If the situation in the group lessons is so intolerable for you, take private lessons with him, or his lady partner, if he rubs you the wrong way. Use the acquired skills to branch out. A lot of people have to travel for tango. And perhaps, come back and help building a better tango community in your town.
  12. Steve Pastor

    Steve Pastor Moderator Staff Member

    Depending on where you are, traffic conditions, etc, 60 miles doesn't sound far at all to me. But then I've lived in places where I drove 50 miles to work each day, or 50 miles just to be around other people. And it was very rural with no traffic to speak of.

    Where do you plan on dancing once you have learned enough to dance socially?

    I can't see rewarding your current teacher in any way if you disapprove of his behavior as adamantly as you seem do.

    It seems to me that many people rely on the festival experience to get their fix in several dances, AT being one of them. So I see that as another alternative for you. Not as good as having a place near by, but WAY better than "quitting."
  13. dchester

    dchester Moderator Staff Member

    Basically, I'm trying to reconcile this statement "how much abuse am I willing to accept for tango", with the rest of your post, such as "I don't have a bad relationship with the instructor".

    I'm not sure (at all), but it sounds like you feel others are being abused, and that's what is really bothering you, and not so much that you are being abused.

    Also, it sounds like one of the main things you perceive as abuse, is the local teacher pushing students to take privates with traveling teachers.

    Now I'm not there to see the context of everything going on, so my opinions could be full of errors, but I don't see it as a bad thing at all (him strongly encouraging beginners to take privates from really good teachers), and IMO, it could be a very good thing. Thus if this is your biggest issue with him, I'd suggest that you reconsider some things.

    All that aside, there's still no harm in taking the hour drive to see if the other place is more to your liking.

    My two cents (if it's worth that).
    Lilly_of_the_valley likes this.
  14. M. Bingley

    M. Bingley New Member

    Good catch there, dchester. Let me explain. The instructor gets annoyed at certain people in the class, and he wants to yell at them. But he knows better, so rather than targeting the specific people (who often don't deserve it anyway in my opinion), he stops the class and yells at everybody as a class. That's how he deals with his anger issue. Pedagogically, as you can imagine, this is just a really bad way of getting corrections across to people who need it. This is also an unprofessional way of addressing whatever problem he perceives.

    I am rarely a target of his anger, but as a member of the class I get yelled at along with everyone else. That's a form of abuse, and it does affect people. On the other hand, when I work one-on-one with him, he's always been polite and frank. So that's why I seem to be saying contradictory things.

    The instructor is a more effective teacher after drinking some and mellowing out. Alas, he just doesn't drink enough. I've tried to encourage him to drink more by offering to pay for it.

    I get his frustration. Most of his students are not as dedicated as he was, and he has some long-term students who are just not very good. In one case I think the student basically has reached his physical limitations. I can see that, and if the instructor can diagnose the more subtle problems I've seen him diagnose, then he should be able to see that, too. No amount of anger will change that student for the better.

    You are right that the biggest problem I have with him is pressuring people to support visits by celebrity teachers. I see what you're saying, but when some students can barely put one foot in front of the other, it really seems like they can improve more economically just by making use of the local resources. But maybe they can improve even faster if they throw more money at it.
  15. Lilly_of_the_valley

    Lilly_of_the_valley Active Member

    Well, the local resources is just this guy, and as you pointed out, he easily loses patience with the beginners. Since he is probably aware of that problem of his , it makes even more sense to him to send the students to take lessons with other teachers. So, doing that, he probably has the students' interest in mind, after all.
  16. M. Bingley

    M. Bingley New Member

    If he was thinking that, he would have said, "I may not be so great at teaching beginners, but this famous teacher is. So you should take lessons with him!" Instead, he said, "You can't get good at tango without spending a lot of money." Intention matters more than effect here.

    Incidentally, he's not exactly impatient with beginners. He's impatient with people who don't learn fast, who ask questions about his program, whether they're beginners or seasoned dancers. Behind this is a mixture of insecurity, arrogance, and lack of empathy.
  17. Mladenac

    Mladenac Active Member

    There is "Mutiny on the Bounty" going on. :D

    So why don't you confront him with the behaviour in private, in public or just leave from the class.
    He is not aware of his behaviour and how it affects the group.
    I don't know why you support his drinking habits.

    You all guys love dancing, but the self respect is crucial for quality dancing also as dancing technique and musicality.
  18. opendoor

    opendoor Well-Known Member

    Hi Bingley, of course you should quit, but not dancing tango:

    ..you do not need an instructor (or teacher) at all. All you need is a woman that knows to dance tango. Continuously ask for a feed back. Practice in your corridor hall, in your garage, on the dance floor of your community hall or in the back-room of your local cultural-corner-shop. There are so many alternatives. Think you´ve already read my slogan: tango learning is social learning in the first place. The first exercise for a brand-new tango newbie is to fill the address book of his mobile. When I started tango I had no money to afford lessons. I went to socials and in a snap I got to know all those advanced tango-gazelles.

    Suggestion: The open air season starts, so invite the local tango crowd to your first sun-set-special flash-mob spon-longa (spontaneous milonga). All you need is current music on your mobile, boxes, and a crate of beer. (Ok, admitted, also alc-free beer, candles, and some tango-empanadas.) By the way I´ve also jet organized flash-mobs in winter time on a frozen lake! Simple google "tango flashmob" and get inspired! There are so many opportunities for you.

    I also did it, think it´s ok (assumed being fair and sincere, of course).
  19. M. Bingley

    M. Bingley New Member

    Someone sent a PM to me and suggested that my instructor probably doesn't want the students to get good. This actually resonates with me.

    My instructor speaks regularly about how difficult learning tango was for him in the beginning, how people mistreated him. It's sad that he hasn't been able to overcome that, and even though he promises to create a better environment for the students, his past still comes out. He has something to offer, something that he acquired with pain and great effort. Alas, he hasn't freed himself from what others did to him. Abuse begets abuse, and now he's passing on the bad stuff, too.

    Looking at what I've written as well as what my fellow dancers have advised, I feel I should definitely leave that school. I'll see whether there is room for tango in my life.
    Thanks, everyone!
  20. Mladenac

    Mladenac Active Member

    Selective reading again.

    Have you ever tried to talk him privately about the issue?

    Obviously he have been traumatized, but with proper approach you can change that since you have quite good relationship with him.
    I wrote several times about that.
    The best thing you can do for the community and yourself is to talk to him about the behaviour during the class.
    Sometimes we are not aware of our behaviour and this completely corresponds to your teacher.

    If you want to quit quit, but AT is not for quitters.
    You will always come across teacher you don't like, partner you don't like, music you don't like,
    floor you don't like, ... .

    The best thing I got from AT is to be adaptive to a situation and to stand up for myself.

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