a memoir by Horst Abraham
One of my "pet peeves" are spirited discussions centering around the analysis of a new World Cup champion's "moves" without an equal interest in looking at how, if at all, such "moves" relate to what we are doing with students.
My own bias was drummed into me during my learning at St.Christof/Arlberg. Professor Kruckenhauser taught me that I first and foremost must be a teacher, a teacher who happens to practice his craft on snow—an exciting, rewarding and challenging environment that puts all my skills and competencies to the test. Hence my bias that we need to be teachers who ski, not skiers who teach.
Kruckenhauser said that the core competencies of teaching are universal and transferable to any other domain of life and work. He also suggested that a person's particular bias towards teaching or skiing as his or her "primary passion" would manifest itself many ways. For example:
- How do we feel when teaching a beginner class versus an expert class?
- What is the spirit that speaks from us when meeting a 'klutz' versus a talented student?
- How do we feel at the end of a day of teaching, and does our energy level reflect the type of student taught?
- How do we apply our skill sets in other situations of life?
- How we can make use of the study of people, learning, and teaching to many other dimensions of life?
To say Kruckenhauser convinced me would be something of an understatement. I will remember him always for inspiring me to become a master teacher. (Although I have a long way to go!) Today, many years later, I can apply my craft to any other situation. The wisdom that I gained from skiing and ski teaching is eminently useful in my new work.
Yet Kruckenhauser, who was never more than a stem christie skier himself, also saw the value of skiing as a sport in and for itself. He saw it as an exquisite medium that manifested joy, exhilaration, fear, beauty, and ego-busting qualities, all at once. This paradoxical confluence of diverse and often opposite qualities makes the sport of skiing not only exciting beyond comparison, but also complicated with many variables. Certainly skiing provides the ultimate challenge for a teacher to produce learning and performance.
Kruckenhauser's goal was to bring teachers to conscious competence levels in order to generate unconscious competence among students. As much as possible, he bypassed the conscious part of learning emphasized by most learning theorists as being so crucial to learning. His dream was to facilitate a kind of learning that would be borne by the spirit and bring to life the innate skills and competencies all human beings possess.
By his own admission, his teaching system failed in achieving his dream. I recall a powerful demonstration of his convictions about the nature of teaching. One day, after four and a half years of study, training and development, I was the last person still struggling to complete a test of theory at the Bundessportheim. The question that caused me to lag behind my classmates was: "How do you make a parallel turn?" I ended up spending over an hour composing a partly scientific and partly intuitive answer to the question. When I handed in my test sheets to Kruckenhauser in the darkening room, I could not help but consider that these flimsy papers would determine whether I would have to remain to study another year or if I would pass.
After only a short glance at my answer, Kruck gave me the papers back and said, " Redo your analysis." I was floored. Though I was mentally exhausted, I labored another half hour, adding further detail and generating a pungent summary.
As I put the final touches on my submission, Kruck, who had remained sitting with me in the dark room where my study lamp was the only source of light, began to speak. "All your deep analysis is better than what I could produce, Mr. Abraham. It will make you a great diagnostician, able to read people and situations. But when it comes to making a parallel turn," he said, about a turn he himself was never able to do, "remember what's most important. Love your student. Make the turn with spirit, flow and rhythm. Then your student will know what to do."