Forum: Advice / Support

Communication issues with Teacher-heartsick
By kinsidhe
On Fri Nov 11, 2016 12:20 PM


I am having a really difficult time communicating with my teacher. It is not so much in the specifics of actual dance technique, corrections etc-though there is an element of difficulty there as well. It seems mostly on an interpersonal level. I am heartsick over it at the moment-as we have had another unpleasant exchange she was left feeling angry/frustrated/'pissed off'(her word) and I was left feeling bewildered,bereft,anxious,near tears,helpless....or something that incorporates all those things?

I need thoughts, advice, different perspectives, and would also greatly appreciate just some general support. I am hurting right now, so that is making this more difficult to communicate objectively. I will do my best and I will try very hard not to overwhelm with too much information but I am looking at 3 years of working with her and all the previous interactions with her seem relevant to my despair over understanding what has happened between us that we are having such a difficult time. It wasn't always like this.

I just dont know what to do anymore.

I know we do not process information, experiences,emotions the same way. That's pretty clear to me.

We come from vastly different backgrounds and have vastly different experiences.

Our Temperaments are very different: She is confident, bold, unafraid to stride forth-she takes her space and keeps it. I am shy, uncertain,find it difficult to ask for what I need and impossible to ask for what I want. I am getting better, but it is a struggle.

We have in common our independent natures, though I suspect we've come about them differently. Mine from a forced independence from very early childhood and a general sense I am 'alone' in this world. And hers from a confidence and self certainty that I have difficulty imagining.I would say we are both very determined people who do not give up in adversity.

It is important to know I genuinely love and respect my teacher. Her opinion of me matters to me. She has made me a better dancer and in my opinion is an excellent teacher. We have had warm and good interactions in the past so I know something has changed and it isn't just that we 'dont mix'.

It is important to know that I was raised to respect authority and especially my teachers and elders. The teacher/student relationship is uniquely important to me. I recognise that it creates a specifically 'unbalanced' relationship with her. I also recognise that I have made a conscious choice to allow her have a more 'powerful' position when it comes to our interactions. As the sign says on the wall: Rule #1 The teacher is always right, and Rule #2-When the teacher is wrong, see Rule #1.

I do as I am told. I follow the rules. I dont talk back or question her-though she has scolded me for doing so a number of occasions (each time I was struggling to ask for clarification on something she said but she wouldn't let me finish my sentences). I am respectful, polite, do not and have not raised my voice. I remain silent and pay attention when she speaks and do my utmost to be clear when I am trying to convey my own thoughts. I am not perfect, I get it wrong...apparently a lot. But I do not get it this wrong with anyone else but her-this is why I am confused. I dont even had this issue with any of my other teachers. Something about me or my way of communicating rubs her the wrong way. She is increasingly impatient with me and I am increasingly anxious with her.

The reality is: I have not seen her have the same difficulty she has with me with any of the other dancers. So I can't even say 'it's just her' because it isn't the problem lies -between- us.

Somehow, I am 'different' I just can't figure out what it is I am doing that is causing the issue. She is more impatient with me, more likely to shut me down before I can finish a sentence. More likely to just tell me something is 'wrong' and 'fix it' rather than explain what was wrong and how to fix it. She wasn't always this way with me...but it has become more and more frequent. To the point one of the other dancers said: "She's harder on you and yells at you way more than anyone else" and others agreed. One of the dance parents remarked that "it was like I was the teenager and she was the mom".

Our latest misstep came about when I tried to ask about the possibility of taking my class on another night. I had a huge number of thoughts and wants and needs and feelings I was trying to work out regarding my schedule and other outside needs. I thought if I could just sus out whether or not it was even an option I could possibly clarify in myself what my ACTUAL options were so I could make a clearer decision. (My mind flies in web like thinking from one thought to every possible contingency all at once. It is dizzying even for me.)

Her initial response to my question started another web of thinking and I got lost. It wasn't until she asked me why I was asking that I was able to begin to give her part of my reasoning and workout what would be possible. The problem is: she got angry that I didnt give her that information immediately, that it wasn't until she asked me for clarification that she understood what I was asking and that I Should have been clear about that right away. Except I wasn't clear on it in my own mind, so I am not sure how I could have done what she wanted. I just know she was angry she had to ask me why I was asking the question in the first place. I can understand it can be frustrating to think you are talking about one thing and then find out you are at cross purposes, so I can understand her point. What I can't understand is the level of anger she experienced because I "didnt ask the right way". It certainly wasn't to deliberately upset or hurt her. I wasn't trying to manipulate her or anything like that and I really do feel horrible that I did make her angry.The other trouble is, if it had been anyone else but me, I truly believe she would not have reacted the same way.

Needless to say when I found out she was angry I became more confused and anxious. When I tried to apologise for being unclear and tried to explain I was in fact -trying- to give her the information she wanted she shut down me down every time with a "no". I would get out "I am sor.." and she would bark "no". I would try to speak again, and she would chastise me more. Until I was left shaken and silent and she walked away. The irony was she was lecturing me on doing a better job of communicating with her while at the same time not allowing me to communicate anything except "yes, ma'am".

I am Honestly sorry I hadn't communicated with her the way she wanted me to, but I just dont know -how-. I still dont and that scares me because I think we are just going to have this issue, again and again and again. I want to please her, I want to get this right. But I dont know how to talk to her. I am more afraid now than ever. In the past she has scolded me for 'too much information' and this time it is "not enough". She did say I needed to learn to communicate better with people in general and I couldn't tell her I dont have this problem with anyone else, despite her insistence that I must have.

I am not sure any of this even made sense. It's all just a big jumbled mess and I have to face her in class again tomorrow and I am so scared she will still be angry with me.

All I am certain of is:
I love having her as my teacher.
I want desperately to please her and to do well.
I know she does not need me, but I do need her.
I know:

She used to smile when she greeted me, now she does not even look up. She used to give me an occasional hug when it was needed, now she cant seem to bear being within 5 feet of me. She used to include me with her eyes when teaching in class, now, most of the time this does not happen. I miss the warmth that used to be there and I miss feeling safe with her and feeling like she believed in me. I miss being able to talk to her.

I will continue to work as hard as I can and keep doing my best to do as she asks. I just dont know how to talk to her.

I am sorry this is SO long! You should see all the words I've taken out. Thank you for your time.

10 Replies to Communication issues with Teacher-heartsick

re: Communication issues with Teacher-heartsick
By Moonlitefairy06member has saluted, click to view salute photos
On Fri Nov 11, 2016 08:52 PM
Sorry if I missed this in the very long post you wrote, but how old are you and is there a reason why you can't dance somewhere else or with a different teacher?
re: Communication issues with Teacher-heartsick
By kinsidhe
On Sat Nov 12, 2016 06:03 AM

I am an adult who is old enough I could have grown children if I had any and young enough that my instructor is in my parent's generation.

There are no other teachers available in my area, but if there were an option for me to change to another one, I doubt I would take it. She is an excellent teacher. I have developed as a dancer more than I ever believed possible working with her. I've had a chance to do things and go places I never thought possible being with this dance school. I wouldnt want to give her up for the world. When things are good-they are really good. It's just when they go off the rails for us, it is heartbreaking and bewildering for me because I am never really clear what happened. I really want to continue working with her.

Does that help?
Thanks for taking the time to read it all. It is really long.
re: Communication issues with Teacher-heartsick
By schuhplattlerPremium member
On Sun Nov 13, 2016 07:53 AM
First of all, very well done for not being critical yourself.

Get with a friend privately - someone who knows you both; can speak with this teacher; and can listen to both of you

For whatever reason, this teacher considers you a threat or a provocation, even though you clearly don't intend to be such.

She would not be critical of you unless, at some time, she had committed some harmful act and withheld it from you - or had committed what she thought was a harmful act, however severe or however trivial. She will continue to be critical until she has disclosed that act or until she finds out that you already know.

This is the best I can do online. You need to get with a friend who can work with you face to face.
re: Communication issues with Teacher-heartsick
By kinsidhe
On Sun Nov 13, 2016 10:26 AM

Thank you for taking the time to reply. I had considered the possibility of an intermediary, I think it would be helpful if there were someone who could help 'translate'. Unfortunately, our worlds do not really overlap. Meaning-there really isn't a single person I can think of that knows myself and her both. We have mutual acquaintances of course, but no one that truly -knows- both of us.

I've had a lot of thoughts about what I may be inadvertently communicating to her, that she may be reacting to-so I am trying to take an objective look at my body language, my internal processes as I approach her and see if I am setting things off without realising it. I can only change me-so that's what I will work with. My feelings of uncertainty, may be being conveyed to her through my non-verbal language and may be leaving her feeling uncertain herself-which I know is not something common to her experience and is something that is very uncomfortable to her. She may be reacting to that. We shall see. I'll keep trying.

Class went well yesterday, our interactions where good and I'll hold onto that.

Thank you again for replying. Different perspectives help make a clearer picture of a landscape.
re: Communication issues with Teacher-heartsick
By hummingbird
On Sun Nov 13, 2016 11:24 AM
Just a few questions. How long has this been going on? Is it an adult class or are you dancing with teen students? Do you both have the same first language?
re: Communication issues with Teacher-heartsick
By kinsidhe
On Sun Nov 13, 2016 12:24 PM

Thanks for the questions:

I take two classes a week with her (sometimes 3, as I am working towards my teacher's exam).

In both classes the ages are mixed as are the dancer's levels:

One class there are (usually) three teens about 14 and one 11 yr old (all of whom came to this teacher as I did from the only other teacher in the state), one adult who is older than the instructor who does not compete, one adult very close to my age (she has been with this teacher since she was a teen), and another adult who is relatively new to dance and new to this school. This class goes at a slightly slower pace and offers me a chance to fill in some of the gaps in my instruction and fine tune the basics.

The second class is a faster paced more demanding class which consists of a 7 year old and her 10 year old sister both of whom are very talented and/or show a lot of potential. Their mother and the remainder are also adults most of whom are more experienced than myself and have been with this instructor for a long time. Occasionally there is another teen about 16 when she is able to join us.

I would say I noticed a change about 2 years ago, it seemed at the time just an aberration or a 'bad day'. I let them go and worked harder to make sure I was open and cheerful and ready to work to my best ability. That seemed to help for a while, then it started again. It seems to have increased in frequency since about last February. The difficult times seem to come in 'waves'? As I said, sometimes things seem ok between us.

I dont know if it is a factor or not, but the first time I started to notice a change was around the same time we began to discover I had, at that time, some undiagnosed health issues that were interfering with my ability to dance. It's been a long road of tests and trials to learn what has been happening to me and how to manage it. While the health issues are chronic and 'uncurable', I can learn to manage them and continue to dance. I've done my very best to keep her apprised of them and what I am doing to handle them. They are not life threatening, and the doctors have encouraged me to continue with dance as it will help. She has other dancers with chronic health issues, so I am not certain it is a factor, but the connection in timing seemed to be there?

As for language, that's a little more tricky. On the surface, yes we both have the same first language. That is to say we are both from English speaking countries. I would attest that no, we dont really have the same first language, as she is originally from the Southern US and I am from Scotland. We are both now in the North East of the US-which even she has said is very different culturally than where she came from.

I struggle sometimes with my close friends here in the US still, with the differences in our 'common' language, especially if you add in the non-verbal aspect. There seem to be fundamental cultural differences as well, that are so subtle it is difficult to pinpoint. For example, when I wish to join a group, I look for a subtle acknowledgement and a slight nod or movement of the body that says "hey, why dont you join us" and here, it seems the protocol is to go up and say "hey can I join you?" and in the dance school..."hey what are you talking about" and just skip the permission asking altogether. Bewilders me! For me the latter feels 'rude'. I think that some feel I am 'rude' because I dont just join them. Its a puzzle. I find when I am back home I can 'read' other people better than I find I can here. I am not sure if that makes sense, but I've always felt as though I am 'translating' my thoughts all the time to another language. I AM translating my accent. When here, I speak with an American accent as it was taught to me in the schools (my native accent was 'unacceptable'). Oh and I am dreadful at small talk, which is just a 'me' issue. I am about as introverted as it is possible to be and it is a skill that confounds me to no end. I keep listening and practicing, but it seems to come so easily to the others in the school and me..? well. Not so much.

And I seem to need to use a lot more words than others do. (lol).

Show a picture and ask "what is it?"
She will say "A tree"
I will say "a picture of an oak tree probably in the autumn because the leaves are turning, but it could be still the summer and the leaves are just turning early possibly due to drought or maybe it has a disease of some kind..."
re: Communication issues with Teacher-heartsick
By hummingbird
On Sun Nov 13, 2016 07:42 PM
That makes a lot of sense.

First of all your teacher has some difficult classes to teach and plan for, she's having to take into account very different levels of social and learning levels as well as dance abilities when planning each class, that can be an exhausting task, when you get to teach you'll know what I mean.

Two years is a long time for this change to be going on for, we all have off days, even as teachers but two years down the line is just odd!

Speaking from experience you might both have English as a first language but you don't both have the same first language! I know this sounds odd but it's true.

I'm a Brit who's moved to Canada and I can tell you there have been plenty of times my Canadian has fallen short in certain circumstances. Please be aware that we might use more words but there are many times what we say sounds brusque and blunt to people from our adoptive countries.

Be aware of how you speak to other people and think about how other people where you now live would respond in those situations. When we move countries we have to assimilate into the local culture and sometimes that means a lot of homework. Just look upon it this way, if your teacher is having problems working out how to work with you how are your future students and their parents going to cope?

I know this is rambling a bit but I wanted to address each of the questions I'd asked.
re: Communication issues with Teacher-heartsick
By kinsidhe
On Mon Nov 14, 2016 09:24 AM

Thanks for replying.

I have taught classes myself of mixed ages and levels, so I can appreciate how exhausting it can be! There is so much work that happens before you even see the students and then when you are working with them every sense is turned full 'on' and there is the constant internal assessments and adjustments that happen. This is one of the reasons why I recognise she is an -excellent- teacher. It is also one of the many reasons I make sure I am as fully ready and present as a student as I can be for her, to make sure I dont add one single bit more of a demand on her than is absolutely necessary.

I am grateful to you for the validation that English is not the same everywhere. :) Sometimes I wonder if it is just me that finds it challenging.

I think I have done well as far as assimilating for the most part to this area of the world. I really cant think of a time or anyone else that I have had this strong of an issue with as far as communicating. Yes, of course, I've had the occasional misstep here and there with others. Sometimes it is language/culture differences sometimes it is just me that has been the issue, but never to this extent or with this frequency and always I have been able to discuss it with the person and come to an understanding.

Your thoughts about assimilating though have put me to thinking about the smaller 'sub-culture' that is the dance school. I am finding that more bewildering than the larger society and am having a more difficult time sussing out the 'rules' of exchange and expectations. Not in the actual classes-those are standard-Very easy to follow. Eyes open, ears open, mouth shut and pay attention! I am good at this, always have been. No, it's something else. It's outside the actual classes. I just cant put my finger on it. I get the sense she in particular is unsettled by me and she does not like to be unsettled or uncertain. I dont think she actually dislikes me, but perhaps doesn't like the feelings I evoke?-if that makes any sense.

My teacher has described me as "the most self-effacing person she has ever met" and has said I was "Too polite". She has encouraged me in the past to be more bold, once getting impatient with me as we boarded a plane because I was hesitant to push past people in front of me. She once challenged me to go a day without saying "I'm sorry". I dont do a good job of holding my space, for example, if I am heading to a checkout line and someone else is as well, I let them go first-always.

Perhaps, it is just my manner that irks her and when she is stressed or tired it is more difficult to accommodate that? I'll see if my attempts to change my non-verbal signals helps at all. It seemed to a little in my last class.

She is, I think, a basically very kind and compassionate person, and feels very uncomfortable when she can't 'fix' a problem. She is very aware of my extremely turbulent background and has said on one or two occasions that her heart breaks for me-maybe it is just all stemming from that?

I dont know...just musing along here.
It will be ok, one way or the other.

Thanks again.
It's helpful to have an exchange of ideas.
re: Communication issues with Teacher-heartsick
By kinsidhe
On Fri Nov 18, 2016 10:40 AM
I've had time to think some more and for the most part I think I can manage to cope with the turbulence as it happens, if it happens.My most recent classes went fairly well.

However, there is one issue that arose during our last uncomfortable exchange that I am having more difficulty coming to terms with (letting go?) and I am not certain how to handle it. It's left me with a great deal of hurt feelings and a sense of unfairness. Perhaps it wasn't unfair and that is just my take on it. I am really not sure. I do know I feel hurt and really do not want to face it again.

We had to submit our goals for the coming year to her back in Sept. It is always a difficult task for me, as I find it creates more anxiety for me-always seems to stand out as something that can be later pointed to show where I 'fell short'. It's my issue and I am working on it. I know stated goals are supposed to be good motivators and it helps her as a teacher gear her instruction to help us meet them. For me, it feels like handing over my heart-scary!. One of the goals I put this year was to develop better communication with her-we've been having such a time of it, I thought it might help focus my intention and let her know I was aware there was an issue and was wanting to resolve it or at least make it better. We never discussed my goals beyond me saying it was difficult for me to fill out the sheet and her saying-"just give them to me."

This latest interaction we had in which she was angry with me, she suddenly brought up this goal of mine. She said "you put as one of your goals to communicate with me better", To which I said "yes, ma'am I did...". She said "well, you're not doing it!" and I said "I'm sorry, I am tr..." and she said over the top of me "No! you're not!, you are not communicating with me, you are not giving me all of the information". She kept on for a little bit on those lines of how I was not meeting that goal and that I was "just not communicating with her". She was angry when she said this so it felt even more like an accusation of deliberate failure on my part. I feel like she threw my goal in my face and I wish desperately I had never mentioned it at all and just worked on it myself. It feels unfair. Perhaps it isn't?

I keep circling around to it in my mind, which of course is not helping. I dont know what the best way to handle this is. Do I just move on like it didnt happen? I think this is preferable to her-but I cant be sure. Do I try to talk to her about my feelings, in the hopes that we can come to an understanding? And if I do how is the best way to broach the issue? I dont want to come across as accusatory or like I think she is just being 'mean' to me or is somehow not a good teacher. I do not want to be disrespectful. I am really struggling with this. It seems to me that whenever I dont understand her it is because I have failed to understand and whenever she doesn't understand me it is because I've failed to be clear. I think communication is a two way street, but maybe in this case it is only one way and Should be only one way? What do you do when someone has gotten the wrong end of the stick with you but wont let you sort it out? How do I manage this sense of being backed into a corner...judged and convicted without a trial? (it's a bit dramatic I realise, but the intensity of the feeling is there).

I think my biggest problem is that I never feel like I get to say my side of things. I am not heard. It troubles me. I've just sort of moved on each time. Started again, tried to do better. I am just starting to doubt I will ever be better enough.

My impulse is to give her a revised goal sheet with my communication goal removed. I think I want to protect myself somehow. I always feel vulnerable letting people know my goals, what I see as my areas that needs work, what I hope to attain etc. Would this be a bad idea?

I've rambled again. Thanks for wading through this mire.
re: Communication issues with Teacher-heartsick
By schuhplattlerPremium member
On Sun Nov 20, 2016 03:27 PM
First, you need some validation for who you really are: . . .

Secondly, there is a "Success Stories" board under the General tab. Go there and inform us of your successes.

It is important to know that I was raised to respect authority and especially my . . . elders.
Don't carry this too far. That is how a good many young women have gotten abused. I sincerely hope that this teacher has accepted the responsibility that goes with her authority, and I am not implying that she hasn't, but that is for you to decide.

each time I was struggling to ask for clarification on something she said but she wouldn't let me finish my sentences
Often it is better to politely query something in writing and submit the query outside class time. If you can do it without being immediately present, e-mail or suggestion box for example, so much the better. 1. You then have the advantage of her curiosity, so she is not as likely to cut you off. 2. She can make her comments in the margins and keep reading, so that she herself can see your full situation. 3. She can view your case when she is not "ticked off" by the immediate scene. 4. The written copy tends to keep her from digressing.

Her initial response to my question started another web of thinking and I got lost
Again, state your case in writing, so that if she starts another web of thinking, she will look very conspicuous.

I love having her as my teacher.
Could that be because she is the only teacher around?

I know she does not need me,
Don't be too sure. Never disparage yourself or minimize your strength or power.


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