I've been a ski instructor for the past 14 years. I've been teaching in a seasonal program for the past 13 years. In that program, I ski with the same children for the entire season, and often, for multiple seasons.
I started off with 4 and 5 year old students that first season in the seasonal program, and skied with them as they got older. One boy from that first year skied with me for 7 seasons. Another girl skied with me for 6 years. Over time, as my students got older, and I became a better skier, I found myself skiing in much more advanced terrain on a regular basis. The past four years, I had been teaching 12-14 year-olds and most of my teaching was based on tactics - how to ski advanced terrain given the conditions at hand. I spent way less time teaching the basic movements of skiing. And, to be honest, I found that my teaching was getting stale. I wasn't getting better, and in some ways, I was regressing because I wasn't spending the majority of my time teaching the very core movements of the American Teaching System.
Last summer, I made a request to my boss. I explained what I wrote above, and asked if I could move back to teaching younger students - preferably in the age 6-7 range. She was very happy to honor my request. She had 2 main points as she said yes. First, she said that any time an instructor wanted a change because that change was important in allowing the person to become a better instructor, she had to honor the request. The mere fact that I thought a change would improve my teaching was reason enough. Secondly, she felt that we might have too many of our most experienced instructors teaching at the top levels, and they might be more effective if they could teach younger students, getting them moving correctly at a younger age.
(As an aside - this is an old issue in the ski industry. Many long-time instructors do not want to teach adult beginner lessons. This usually has to do with compensation. Private lessons typically pay more than group lessons. And, the tips from private lessons can be quite nice. When I taught adult beginner lessons as a rookie, I rarely got a tip. Long-time instructors want to work where they can make the most money. I understand that. At the same time, if we are going to create life-long skiers, shouldn't the best instructors be with the least skilled students, so those instructors can help create successful lessons, and create passion for the sport with early successes for the students? Terry Barbour, the ski school director at Mad River Glen, wrote a great article on this subject in the national PSIA magazine a few years ago. Regretfully, I can't find the article online, but I thought it was one of the best articles I'd ever read on the needs of the beginner ski student.)
In the end, my boss moved me to a group of 7 6-7 year old boys. We have about 50 coaches in the program where I work, and only 2 of them are certified at PSIA level 3 (the top certification level). She moved both of them to younger groups as well. I think we have 4 or 5 level 2 coaches, and I'm one of them. So, in terms of certification, she moved 3 of her most experienced coaches "down the ladder" to work with younger skiers.
For me, the change was everything I hoped it would be. I did way more teaching this season than in previous years. I had a very clear set of goals in my head for the class. There were things I knew I had to get done, and a few things that I knew I probably wouldn't get to this season. I will admit that I didn't have an average group of 7 year old skiers. These boys can fly. They like to jump off anything big. They think trails - even steep trails - are boring, and the real fun is in the trees, in deep bumps, and in the air. But, despite their fearlessness and ability to get down anything, they still needed to learn how to truly ski.
This past Saturday, I was working on two different lessons related to racing. One of the boys in the group asked me if we could just ski, and skip the teaching, given that it was the last weekend of the season. I reminded them that we had a team race on Sunday morning, and this would help us all to do better in the race. So yes, I needed to teach. I wanted to teach.
As I handed out evaluations to the parents yesterday, I went into detail about what we had accomplished this year and how it related to my plans. I talked about a couple areas where the students still needed more work, and that my teaching this year had set them up to move on to those next topics when the snow flies next winter. Every parent thanked me, and remarked about how much their son had learned this year. I told them all that I'd suggested to my boss that we keep the group together for next year, and that I'd like to remain their coach. I got nothing but enthusiastic responses to this.
It really feels like one of my most successful years ever, although I am certainly a bit biased.
I do know a couple things had become true the previous few seasons. First, I dealt with some significant health issues last year. That made the year very challenging for me, and I felt like I let a group of teen girls take control of the group from me. That was disappointing to me, but it also reminded me that the younger students seem to want to learn, while the teens often truly don't want to be explicitly taught anything. Last year, I found myself frequently counting down the number of work days until the season would be over. If my "hobby job" gets to the point where I can't wait for it to end, maybe I shouldn't be there. And, in the previous 3-4 seasons, I'd felt that way every year, at least to some extent.
This year, I couldn't wait to get to the mountain and teach the boys something new. We had a lot of cold days and a lot of good snow. I feel like we got a lot done. I have so much more to teach them, But, all of a sudden, it's over for the year.
Skiing isn't over for the season, just teaching. I'm looking forward to skiing with my wife and friends over the remainder of the ski season. But, even if it ended tomorrow, I'd consider it to be a successful season.