In the final minutes of 2014, I found myself in a loud room full of total strangers, except for my family, seated next to a 72-year-old woman. We scooted closer to each other on the crowded L-shaped couch and leaned in for an unexpected conversation, at the top of our lungs, yet still under the din of the partygoers.
“My daughter tells me you teach Spinning. I love Spinning and do it at least twice per week, but oh, how I miss my last instructor.”
What followed was a lengthy exposé from one of the industry’s most loyal, yet marginally recognized participants.
Out of curiosity, I probed and discovered that she had no idea there were brands of indoor cycling. She said, “Do you mean that there are different styles like Ashtanga yoga vs. Bikram yoga? I thought it was like taking salsa classes—you just get the personal style of the instructor. I moved and joined a new gym and no one comes close to my last instructor.”
I couldn’t help myself; I had to ask. “What distinguishes a good instructor from a bad instructor?”
She didn’t even hesitate. “First of all it is the music. It has to be music that I like.”
I resisted the urge to ask her what that was; frankly, it’s a crapshoot if participants will like our music or not. I wanted the nitty-gritty. “Music is really important,” I affirmed, “but tell me what your last instructor was like that you haven’t found in other instructors.”
“Well,” she hesitated and thought for a moment. “I had been taking classes for five years before I met him. In my first class with him he asked me how old I was, if I had any medical conditions he should know about, and then he changed the setting of my bike. I didn’t even know I was riding too low for five years!”
“That’s awesome,” I replied. “It is so important to trust that your instructor is looking out for you.”
“Yes, he really cared about me, even though I was the oldest in the class.” She shook her head. “None of my new instructors, and I’ve been to four at my new gym, have even asked my name.”
Thinking that I might have been guilty of this myself at some time across the years of teaching, I encouraged her to keep going to the classes and give them a chance. “Maybe they’re just giving you time to get accustomed to the new gym and don’t want to overwhelm you…maybe?”
“I’ve been at my new gym for more than a year.”
We were interrupted by a shout from the crowd. “Ten minutes to 2015, everyone! Get your champagne!”
“Would you like me to go get you a glass?” She declined. She had class in the morning, after all.
“Do you know the instructor who will teach tomorrow morning?” I figured that she was planning on this class, so maybe the instructor was one she liked.
“No,” she replied. “The schedule just says “TBD. ‘To be determined.’ I hate that.”
“It’s nice to know what to, or who to expect, isn’t it? How will you know when you find your new favorite instructor?”
The room grew louder and louder. Both of us were straining our voices to be heard. She put her hand on my knee and leaned in closer to my ear. “I used to think that the best instructor had the fullest classes. Not any more, though. I know when the instructor is perfect for me because I change my schedule to attend the class.”
I said, “Well, it is so nice to meet you—I hope 2015 will be your year to attend great classes.” I wanted to go find my kids and husband for the strike of midnight. But she stopped me. She hooked her arm through my elbow and proceeded to finally answer my original question.
“A good instructor cares that I showed up for class and tells me he misses me when I don’t show up. A good instructor corrects me on my bike. Imagine all those years I was riding too low! Goodness gracious—I could have hurt myself! A good instructor has music that makes me forget I’m exercising and teaches me so I forget I’m struggling. When I leave, I know it was good for me, but I also look at the schedule on my way out so I know when to come again.”
Before we knew it, the crowd was cheering and we were separated by well-wishers. I didn’t see her again and I never caught her name.
I wake up this morning grateful for her enthusiasm and candid conversation. Seventy-two years young and actively seeking out indoor cycling classes because she knows how good they can be, but her gift to me was a realization that I want to share with you as you take on another year of teaching classes to the general public.
For all the professional networking we’re always seeking, we can’t forget that ultimately, it is the participant we serve. My resolution for 2015 is to truly network by connecting with class participants whenever I can. I know I can teach from the bike with the mic, but I have so much to learn from the bikes in front of me.