What Makes a Master Teacher

Episode 14

In the world of dance, yoga, and Pilates, the term “Master Teacher” often surfaces. But what exactly does it mean? At times, it appears to be a self-appointed title, as there is a lack of clear
definitions or criteria to determine who qualifies as a master teacher. Today, Hannah embarks on a journey to explore her interpretation of what it means to be an authentic and masterful
teacher. She delves into various aspects, such as the potential pitfalls of blindly following self-proclaimed masters, the essence of authentic and masterful teaching, and the significance of
tailoring movement to suit each individual, enabling them to feel comfortable and authentic in their bodies. Hannah also shares her perspective on why she questions the concept of a hierarchy among teachers and offers her concluding thoughts on the attributes and
characteristics of a master teacher. Don’t miss today’s episode of The Pilates Exchange; start listening now!

Key Points From This Episode:

• What does “Master Teacher” even mean?
• What makes a Master Teacher?
• Why the saying: “Those who can do, do and those who can’t, teach.” is total BS.
• Dangers of unquestionably following these self-proclaimed masters.
• Better tools to discern what is correct and what is valid in movement: teacher training.
• What authentic masterful teaching looks like.
• What it means to be a masterful student.
• The importance of training with other people: there is not just simply one “best” way.
• Just because you can do it doesn’t mean that you can teach it.
• An example of how movement is interpreted: how methods can change over the years.
• Fitting the movement to the person in front of you.
• Challenging and exploring movement in all different directions.
• Why Hannah doesn’t believe in the hierarchy between teachers.
• An example of a visiting teacher (at their studio).
• Uncovering beautiful movement; what masterful teaching does.
• Final thoughts on what a masterful teacher is.



HT: What makes a master teacher? Like what does that actually mean? Because it is a term that’s been tossed around and all sorts of different movement methodologies from like Pilates, there are master trainers, there’s yoga, there’s dance. So what does it really mean and is there a nefarious side to this? So I think that this is the topic that we’re going to go into a bit today.”




[0:00:29.4] HT: Welcome. Stick around if you want to learn about the art and philosophy of beautiful movement mixed with evidence-based exercise science. We’ll be having tough and inspiring conversations with other coaches, experts, artists, and athletes. Our goal is to challenge myths, explore concepts, and engage in healthy debate as we dive deep with intrigue and curiosity. 


I’m your host, Hannah Teutscher. I’ve been teaching dance, Pilates, and Yoga for over two decades, and what I’ve learned is that movement can be the joy that integrates us all together. When we can trust and express ourselves through our bodies, we are unlimited in our ability to change ourselves and our communities for the better. 


We, as movement teachers and coaches, have the power to help people experience this for themselves. Okay everyone, let’s dive in. Exchanging ideas and changing people’s lives, one session at a time. This is The Pilates Exchange.




[0:01:27.0] HT: So first thing, I think what I’ve seen is that many of these master teachers are self-appointing themselves as master teachers. We don’t know what that term really means. Is it how many times, how many years you’ve been teaching? Is it how many clients that you’ve had? Is it that you’ve been able to achieve some advanced yoga posture or is it in dance that you’re able to do, you know, eight pirouettes?


I really don’t know what it is in each different field because there are no clear terms for that and then, master teacher, what I’ve seen it mostly is it’s a branded recognition of how much time you’ve invested in a certain teaching, say, line, and how much money you’ve given that organization. That’s where it gets a little bit tricky, that’s where I see a lot of people about. 


What makes a master trainer? Is it any of those things? You know, I don’t think it is. I think masterful teaching can be after a few years of teaching. If you have something to say and a different way of explaining movement to your students, maybe you are a master teacher already. 


I’ve also seen teachers that have been – experienced classes with teachers that have been teaching for 20 years or 30 years and they’re terrible teachers. They’re not fun to be around and are not giving their students or their clients anything worthwhile other than maintaining this hierarchy of, “I’m the master and you’re the student” and I think that’s really sad. 


[0:03:01.9] There’s like this famous saying like, “Those who can do, do and those who can’t, teach” and I think that is just total BS. I think that there is people that are phenomenal at whatever movement method it is. So phenomenal Yogis, phenomenal dancers and they could do beautiful things with their bodies and Pilates and they can’t teach. They don’t have the skills, you know, pedagogy to be able to transport that information for their clients.


I know other people that maybe don’t have the physical aptitude as others but they’re teaching skills are brilliant. Absolutely brilliant and they make every person in that room feel great in their bodies and efficient in the movement that they’re doing — and I think this is where we need to be going with our teaching, that’s a master teacher.


So we also threw around the term “Guru” which is like a Sanskrit term for master, so you’ll see that in the yoga world and in the ballet world, a ballet master, there is master teachers again, self-appointed and then a ballet master, something a little bit different. A ballet master is a term for a person who is training a professional dance company with a daily ballet class and helps with rehearsals. So that’s like an appointed job.


Some of these like dangers of unquestionably following these self-proclaimed masters. Do we really know the information that they have is correct, you know? I think that it’s better to be teaching people to take responsibility for their own bodies, teaching our clients to take responsibility for their actions to embolden them, to trust themselves and we need to maintain you know, our own critical thinking as teachers but also to help our students, our clients to be able to have critical thinking.


Each person is going to have their own idea of how movement should be done and I think in a teacher training program, the best thing is to help an instructor find their voice and their authenticity in training. We need to give better tools to discern what is correct and what is valid in movement because if not, it really slips very, very easily into this, and I’m having air quotes here, “Guru culture” where maybe that’s not the right term for it but we’re going to use it for now.


So, where we follow down a path of unquestioning this teacher. An example of this, what I may find beautiful in the dancing of that dancer is not necessarily the same as Christian’s, you know? So Christian’s my husband, for those of you that don’t know. We were both dancers for over 15 years, professional dancers and we can look and we can watch it a performance. 


[0:05:50.5] We watch even a class and I will be drawn to one person and say, “Oh my gosh, that was really moving” And he is drawn to completely different things. So we look for value, we look for and we value different things in movement, even though we have a very, very similar background. 


And even after all of these years of dancing together and working together, we have different ideas of what beautiful movement looks like or even, how to help clients, you know? So is his way right or is my way, right? They’re both right. Our perspectives are different coming into this, even though they may be similar, what I value is different and what he values is different and you teachers that are listening, what you value is different.


So you’re going to be seeing things and I’m not seeing when I’m looking at the same client. It also depends on you know, it’s a client or a dancer. You know, it doesn’t matter what it is, it’s the relationship that you’re building with that person. The same thing is for teaching. What he – You know, it’s not just about beautiful movement, what is beauty? 


You know, for me, beautiful movement is when someone is being authentic in their bodies when they’re feeling embodied, when they feel empowered to make choices. Whether that is to stop after a few repetitions because those repetitions were enough for them to get the most out of the exercise, great, perfect. That for me is beautiful. 


That takes the confidence that I’d like from our clients. That’s amazing and this is the same idea that goes into teaching on two different sides, right? The authenticity that goes into teaching, this is what I think a masterful teacher is, is knowing what you know and what you don’t know and teaching from that platform.


I don’t want to pretend that I’m anyone other than the experiences that I’ve had up to this point when I’m teaching. That’s great. When I can give that, the information that I know is true for me and I impart that to the next person, that is masterful teaching, that is authentic teaching, and on the client side or the student side, when they feel that they can do that movement in the best of their ability and I’m supporting them through that, if they can make those choices, that’s a masterful student. 


[0:08:16.1] We want that, we want students that are hungry for information because they’re using that critical eye to critical thinking, to be in their bodies different. You know, and why is this important? As far as Christian and I, like we want our students to train with the both of us because we both have different ways of teaching. 


We also want them to experience other things in their bodies. So whether it’s you know, try Pilates, try Yoga, go out running, do all those things because the more that we support our students to have different experiences in their bodies, that helps them as human beings, not just practitioners of one certain method.


So also, if they want to go out and take classes with other people, fantastic. Tell me what you learned, let’s talk about it. That’s great. They learned different training structures, they learned, you know, even the number of repetitions or the way we cue will be different from another Pilates trainer or a yoga teacher, and that’s lovely. 


That helps them along their path. Maybe I’ll learn something new along the way when they come back to it and this is also why we continue to train with other people. We need to help these methods or these people to get out of the thinking that they are the only one, right? That this is the only way. 


“Pilates is the only way to try and train the body” or I don’t know, kettlebell or the yoga, and it’s also a brand strategy, right? So if we – I think it’s really, really dangerous when we keep on selling the idea, “Well, this is the best way to do anything.” Well, maybe not. Maybe not for that person, maybe it is for you and that’s great.


[0:10:00.8] When we get into this concept of a marketing strategy, that’s where I get really uneasy. These things are developed to help their own brand of movement. I know of because I helped mentor teachers from different – I won’t name the brands but different Pilates, brands, and yoga brands that won’t graduate their students unless they could perform all of the advanced postures or the advanced movements and this makes absolutely no sense. 


Teacher trainees can teach what the movement is and how to adapt it for different bodies. That is teaching. It’s not just doing advanced contortions of the body, it’s a very small percentage of our students that would be able to do that anyways. Just because you could do it doesn’t mean that you can teach it.




[0:10:47.9] HT: When I started teaching, I felt underprepared and overwhelmed. I needed to learn how to plan my training so that it made sense but I wasn’t sure what was working and what wasn’t. So many teacher training programs leave out the actual art in the business of teaching. This is why we created Train the Trainers.


Train the Trainers is designed to give you the tools you need to create a powerful learning environment for your students. Gain access to the vault of our collected knowledge where you can learn everything, we have to teach you, whether you are a freelance teacher or a studio owner. 


Get constructive feedback on your teaching with actionable tools you can apply immediately. We can’t wait to be part of your teaching journey and to help you grow in your business. Welcome to Train the Trainers.




[0:11:36.0] HT: And we allow this hierarchy to creep in where we say, “Oh, well, this person can put their leg behind their head or do X, Y, and Z, do 20 pirouettes” We put the teacher on this pedestal for what their body can do and this is – that’s ableism. That is definitely ableism and is not looking at the information that they can give and even when they are giving that information, it’s not the last commandment of how things should be done. 


We need to be also thinking of ourselves as teachers and really discerning what it is that we’re learning and why we want to continue down a different path of thinking. So an example. I learned Ashtanga yoga with Darby is his name. He’s one of the big older generation people that studied with Pattabhi Jois. 


So when I learned yoga, I studied four – almost four years of daily practice with him when I was on tour with the dance company. I would practice every morning, and then I would come back after rehearsals and either demonstrate or assist his classes and I was really enjoying it. This is – it was great. I loved yoga. 


I studied with Darby, I studied with David Swanson. It would be fair to say that I had a very strong yoga practice and Darby said, “Go ahead, start teaching” and then many years later, I was about 15 years late, I was practicing with another yoga studio, another Ashtanga teacher and this is in a different country and he told me that everything I was doing was wrong. 


The way that I moved my arm was wrong. The order was wrong. His was the correct way. Both of these teachers had studied with Pattabhi Jois. So what had happened, who was wrong? No one. Darby wasn’t wrong, he studied actually with Pattabhi Jois first, he studied earlier. Patthabi made small adjustments in the order over the years and the way they did things. 


These two different teachers or three different teachers, they studied with this, in this case, a guru. They studied with this guy over a longer period of time, right? So Darby was first and then in the next one, next one and so you get a snapshot of what that person was teaching over a lifetime.


[0:13:59.0] So the way that I had learned was not wrong, you know it was Darby’s understanding of what Pattabhi Jois had learned from his guru, you know? And how I practice as an, at this point, former ballet dancer is different from how someone else will practice in their body. So we talk about the aesthetics. 


If you want me to bring an arm this way or this way, it really doesn’t matter. That is not the essential part of yoga, the same thing will go into Pilates, it would be exactly the same thing if you look at the whole time that Joseph Pilates was teaching and then you have different teachers that came out of it that are in a certain lineage and then those next teachers study with those teachers and then they say, “This is the right way, this is the way that he wanted it.” 


Do you really know? You know, like it’s again, a snapshot even if you studied for years or you know, however long with him, do you really know what he was thinking however many decades ago? So we beat each other down by saying, “Oh, this is the correct way. This is the only way. I am the master teacher in this.” I think that’s a little bit much. 


I mean, if we go back like to the yoga teacher that said I was doing everything and my practice is wrong, well, I wasn’t bothered by it. I had already been practising over 15 years, probably about the same amount as this person. So I have already seen in ballet for example how a method can change over the years and there is no right or wrong for me. That’s fine, like it was what works for my body and that is how I teach.


So these great teachers, I think the real great ones, you know maybe where we sort of latch onto people like Joseph Pilates, I am sure he was a fantastic teacher because I think he was probably making adjustments for people’s bodies for the person that was in front of him, right? It’s the same as a choreographer, you want your dancers to look good on stage. 


[0:16:10.2] You want the Pilates instructor, you want your student to feel comfortable and good in their body, so we will make adjustments for their body. I don’t need to fit them into the shape of some person, some brand told me that this is the correct shape and then we need to inhale here and exhale. 


We fit the shapes, we fit the movement around the person that’s in front of us for their talents, for their abilities, for their goals, you know, whatever that goal is that they are working for, where is the physical deficits, where do we need to work harder to push past the boundary? Where is that boundary where we need to stop and say, “Hey, you know this movement isn’t good for your body” and that’s okay, we just won’t do it. 


It doesn’t make you any less of a practitioner, there is no right or wrong way to move the human body. We need to move it and challenge it in all different directions. This is the same for a dancer, we should explore as many different styles and cross-train. It is the same thing for a non-dancer, a regular person. 


Do you try different methods, try different teachers? Us as teachers, we shouldn’t be taking that personally. We should be encouraging people to do that. It is about exploring movement, it’s not making shapes, especially not making shapes of some like long-gone teachers but they might have wanted. 


So then it is our job as the teacher to help our students and the clients explore movement in a way that’s safe for their bodies. We can still be working within the confines of whatever movement method that is and we could still recognize that there’s more than one way to experience that method. 


[0:18:01.3] This concept is really just essential to us and the way we teach that we are partners or we’re coaches in the movement. It is not the end-all-be-all. This is also, comes in to when we talk about master teachers. We have a lot of visiting teachers that come in and say hi to us in our studio in Dürnberg or even online, we do that sometimes as well. 


Something that I require is, “Let me know what you would like to learn from me and I will give you any information that I have.” I feel too strongly about how movement can change people’s lives. To horde my information and only teach our clients or that, “Our method is the secret method” nah, not at all. 


You come in and you would like to take a class and learn from us, fantastic. I will teach you anything but the teachers that come in have to be a little bit clear with what you want to learn, you know? Because I don’t believe in this hierarchy between teachers. You’re a teacher, I respect you that you’re coming to learn with me and I would like to learn with you, from you as well at the same time. 


If you are coming in and you say and I’ll ask you, “What would you like today?” or you know, “What are your intentions?” If you would like to just take a class and move within one of our structures, brilliant. We could do that, that’s easy but you’re only getting a moment snapshot of what our clients experience, right? 


You are getting a training structure on one day. Maybe you’ll like the exercises, maybe you don’t, it doesn’t really matter because in the way that we coach our students is that there is a relationship with them and we know where they are going towards and what their goals are and what sort of cues work for this person as oppose to this person. So even in a group class, you’re keeping track of all of that so everyone feels supported. 


[0:20:00.7] So when you come in as a teacher and you would just like that one class to take a class, it will be a little snapshot, you won’t get all of the teaching experience, you know, the method behind it because you haven’t asked the questions of what you’re liking, what you would like to learn. 


You know, any teacher that comes in after class, they’ve said, “Oh yeah, I just wanted to take class or train class.” I’ll ask you if you have any questions like, “Do you know why I chose anything? You know, these exercises over these exercises?” and if you don’t want to know, that’s fine. 


You know like there’s no need to go deeper if you don’t want to know that but to help our teachers figure out what it is, I would love to have a teacher come and say, “Hey, I would like to learn how to structure these movements better” or “Why are you choosing these cues as opposed to these cues?” because this is about helping people make choices. 


An example, we had a visiting teacher who came for class recently and it was a Pilates teacher and we were working in a group class and we’re doing a short box series and I had given several different variations to different people during the class. It was a side-over box or a mermaid, it depends on what method rather what brand you teach. 


So then the teacher asked, “Well, why is the arm here or is the arm here?” and I said, “Well, what makes sense to your body right now” and she said, “Well, I learned it, it has to be this way. This is what Pilates taught and you’re doing it differently.” No, I know this person did not study personally with Mr. Pilates. 


I said, “Okay. What you’re doing now, does that feel comfortable? Because your shoulders look very uncomfortable” and her answer was, “No, but that’s the way he taught it and that’s what you should be teaching, as well.” Like no, side over box, this is going to strengthen your oblique muscles, right? 


[0:22:01.9] When you are leaning over the box, you’re coming back up, the arms, they’re just an aesthetic preference, that’s all. You could do whatever you want with the arms. I could teach you the shape that we think that maybe he had done. Great, that’s a shape. I’m going to teach it in my version of the shape because I’m a dancer. 


That’s my background, that’s my movement vocabulary so I could teach it like a dancer but what I do for my clients is that I know what their bodies are doing over a period of time, so I will pick out different variations for those arms so that my client feels comfortable, that my client is getting the best, safe experience. The best challenge that they can do for that day. 


Does the arm matter? To me, not at all. Not at all. Actually, some of these ballet arms that would make them feel so uncomfortable and I don’t need them to feel uncomfortable. If I have a big guy in there that happens to be a professional athlete, getting all pretty flowy arms, well, I could teach it to him but is it going to help him? I don’t know. 


So if I unpack this small little conversation, the arm angle of that particular movement is just aesthetic and it does very little to change with the actual target as the exercise. So what my dancer eyes would like to see the arm movement in a certain way but I am not going to assist on it because again, it’s just aesthetics. 


Pretty arm movement is pretty movement, beautiful movement is when something feels comfortable and authentic in the body. Masterful teaching is being able to uncover that for that person that’s there and as far as the teacher that came in, sure, if she had wanted to learn to go this deep in the conversation and I was totally up for it after class but no. She just said, “Oh, it’s like any other Pilates class.”


[0:24:03.1] Yeah and that’s true. It’s like any other Pilates class. If you don’t want to go deep in it, absolutely, you know? Because it’s a snapshot. It’s a little piece of someone’s day and what I’m not going to do, especially as a teacher comes in, what I’m not going to do is tell that person that everything that they’ve learned up to this point is wrong and my technique is the right way. 


I won’t do it. I’m not going to, in that one hour or even if you stay the whole week, maybe we train together five hours, I’m not going to pick apart everything that you’ve learned up to this point so that I feel better about myself because I think that’s very, very ego-driven. I know that this person went to go study, dare I say, down the road with another teacher in our field. 


“Oh, it was so amazing. This person did this and this and partnered me the whole time and I learned so much.” Well, great but it could be that you are open to having someone else be the master over your body. You were looking for an experience where you didn’t have to be critically thinking about the choices that were made and that’s what we do. 


That’s the difference, I am not going to tell you right or wrong. I’m going to ask you different questions and you’ll uncover what you think is important for your teaching, for your body and what you would like to give to your students. I am not going to say, “Oh, you know, my way is the only way.” 


So what is a master teacher? I think a master teacher is, for me, the definition that I set out, it’s a teacher, it is someone that can support their students in their movement experiences. It’s a teacher who will think critically about their own information about what they have is it true and keep on updating that to make sure that they are on the newest best stand of what science has to offer. 


[0:26:16.1] A masterful teacher is, for me, someone that partners their students, I am not talking about physically but walking the road, the journey with them together, making these discoveries with them together so there’s mutual trust, not a hierarchy. I think that’s what masterful teaching is. 


Thank you for joining me today. I’d love to know what your thoughts are, so reach out to me either on email or on any one of our social media channels. I’ll leave you with this, I go back to, it’s about exchanging information. It is about supporting each other in all of these fields so that we could do better for ourselves and with our clients. 


Have a good day. 




[0:27:12.7] HT: Thank you so much for joining us today. I hope you enjoyed the conversation. A great cost-free way of supporting us and the podcast would be to give us a five-star rating. You could also look down into the show notes and grab anyone of the free resources for teachers. I hope to see you next week on The Pilates Exchange. Happy teaching everyone. 



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