Barry Brittan has been skiing for 50 years and teaching for 13. Each fall, he attends the ski instructors' training course at Ski Liberty (where he teaches). Every three years, he is required to take a training course conducted by the Eastern Professional Ski Instructors of America (EPSIA) to maintain his registered status. As a member of the Ski Liberty racing team, he often attends training sessions for the racers.
For 12 of his 13 years as a teacher, he has learned what to teach.
This season, for the first time, he learned how to teach.
Brittan is part of a system that must adapt to a constant influx of new teachers. Each new teacher has to learn the syllabus, so that a student going from one teacher to another does not have to unlearn his last lesson before learning the current one. Ski-instructor training is limited to less than a week of preparation each year, and about all a new ski instructor can expect to learn is the ski school's progression: first lesson is the wedge turn and straight running, next lesson is the step turn, etc.
It is no wonder then, that all teachers teach alike; they teach the way they learned from teachers who teach the way they learned. They stand the class in a line and explain the maneuver, then demonstrate it, then explain it again, then demonstrate it again, then watch each student as he or she takes a turn trying the maneuver. Then the instructor criticizes and corrects the student.
"It's the old Austrian idea; 15 people watch one person perform for the ski instructor, the god," said Otto Frei.
Frei is the man who taught Brittan how to teach. Frei is chief trainer for the Eastern Professional Ski Instructors of America (EPSIA) and he spends his winters running workshops for instructors at ski areas up and down the East Coast.
Frei believes students learn by doing, not by listening. He believes the job of the ski instructor is to make it possible for the student to ski properly by choosing the right exercises and the right terrain to teach each maneuver. Frei tells instructors that students should ski, not stand in lines listening to lectures.
Frei also believes the reason no one teaches instructors how to teach is economic. Frei thinks it is experience that makes a good ski instructor, not the method he teaches or his skiing ability. If ski instructors were paid more as they became more experienced, there would be more experienced instructors around, according to Frei. Instead, most instructors drop out or become ski school directors.
Brittan teaches because he likes people and he likes to see them have fun. He is able to teach because he has a regular job and he is not married. He is a sales representative for a company that provides fund-raising materials for schools, churches and voluntary organizations. Because he makes his own schedule, he is able to teach all day every weekend at Ski Liberty, where he is required to be available for at least seven classes a week to keep his position. If he hustles, he can teach one class Friday or Saturday evening and three classes on Saturday and Sunday.
A part-time instructor like Brittan makes between $3.50 and $6 an hour at Ski Liberty; full-time instructors make about $10 an hour. Brittan thinks the $80 he laid out for Frei's three-day course was money well spent. He learned something new, something he could apply immediately--and did. "It was great. The class was up on the mountain twice as fast, and had more fun. I'll never teach a class standing in a line again," Brittan said.