Interview by Jessica Mifsud
How did you get into playing and teaching bridge?
I grew up in a family of card players. The flame of competitiveness has always burned brightly and driven me to the next level, always wanting to learn more. I remember reading articles in the local newspaper on the weekly party bridge games, always showing who won high and who won low, and being intrigued.
In 1965, some friends and I found a bridge teacher at Murray State University in Kentucky. From that first lesson, I was hooked. In those early years in the small towns, we played Party Bridge. In the 1970’s, we began playing Duplicate Bridge, and in the 1980’s, I joined the ACBL and begin to treasure each master-point I earned.
In the late 1990’s, I was playing in a tournament at The Vanderbilt Club in Nashville, Tennessee. Chuck Said was kibitzing my table. I was declarer, and when the hand was finished he asked if he could give me some pointers on play of the hand. His helpful comments made the correct play so clear, and stirred a desire in me to reach for a higher level in bridge. A few years later our local bridge club in Jackson, Tennessee, invited Chuck to come to our club and do a series of lessons in a three day seminar. By the end of those classes I knew that I wanted to teach bridge.
As always for me, I made a plan. Martha Leitshuh, the owner of our club, helped me become certified as a director. We sanctioned a new Saturday Game and I began directing and teaching. From day one I knew I had found my rainbow. My Saturday game grew in number of tables and I also begin to direct the Monday Night and Wednesday afternoon games as a substitute when needed.
In 2005, my husband, Jim, and I moved to North Dallas, Texas, because our only grandsons lived there. We settled in Denton to be near them. I wanted to find a bridge club quickly to make new friends (and hopefully find a need for a bridge teacher). I found only one very small duplicate game in town and they played on Thursday afternoon each week. One of the players, Mary Lou Collins, (who wanted to open a Bridge Studio in Denton) was directing a sanctioned game at Robson Ranch each Wednesday night. They needed a teacher and I got very excited.
85 students signed up for the first class. I divided them into three groups and taught three days each week. In 2010, I am still at Robson Ranch. I direct a sanctioned game each Monday afternoon and teach a class each Friday Morning.
The dream of a studio in Denton became a reality in July of 2007. I was elated to accept the position of Education Director and Bridge Teacher. My rainbow did have a pot of gold, filled with an abundance of students who were eager to learn bridge. Now I had to find these future students, get their interest, motivate them, encourage them, create study habits, and cultivate their passion for the game. If I am excited about the game, they are excited also.
Our Denton Bridge Studio is 2+ years old now. We are currently providing games and lessons 7 days per week. We had our first ACBL Sectional Tournament in December, of 2009, and in May of 2010. Our students have made all of this possible.
What is your teaching philosophy?
Summed up in one sentence: “The student is more important than the game”. I know every student is unique. Each student learns in his/her own way and at his/her own pace. It is up to me to bring their ability to learn to its full potential.
Do you have any advice for other teachers?
- Be organized.
- Prepare your lesson material well and be authoritative in class.
- Make notes on each lesson and correct your mistakes.
- Recognize each student’s accomplishments.
- Keep students well informed. I use email to help with this.
- Keep a record of each lesson’s date and class.
What are your favourite bridge books?
- ACBL Bridge Series (Club, Diamond, Heart, Spade)
- ACBL Play Course
- Pat Harrington’s “Play and Learn” and “Deadly Defense”
- Improving your Judgement “Doubles”
- 25 Conventions You Should Know
- I research and use a lot of Eddie Kantar, as well as other bridge authors
What was your reaction to the Teacher of the Year nomination?
My first reactions were:
HUMILITY — I am not deserving of this honor,
APPRECIATION — I thank each student for their dedication,
PRIDE — In my students. It is because of their success that I am being honored,
CONTENTMENT — When the support letters came pouring in from not only my students but also my peers, I got the “warm and fuzzy” feeling, and it is just wonderful.
DESIRE — To share the excitement of bridge with every potential student! (Now, let’s define potential)
As a founding member of the Denton Bridge Center, what challenges did you face getting off the ground?
Bridge Club history in Denton was one of failure. Several weekly duplicate clubs had survived for a few years but nothing long term developed. At Denton Senior Center, a party bridge game was being held once each week. Only ONE Duplicate ACBL sanctioned game was being played, and that was only one day each week. Mary Lou Collins dreamed the dream of a bridge studio. She approached me with the idea and we were off and running.
Money for bridge equipment (i.e., computer, tables, desk, chairs, boards, cards, bidding boxes) and all supplies was a necessity. Five bridge players (I call them Angels) stepped forward and loaned us $2,500.00 each. Then we needed to find a building in a location that we could afford. We needed more than two directors. We needed bridge players to come and play on a regular basis. When we had accomplished all this our next effort had to be aimed at motivating dedicated volunteers. But most of all we had to be determined to be successful.
We have accomplished that. Within two years we had returned almost one half of the $2,500.00 to each of the Angels. We have purchased the Bridge Mate Electronic Scoring system, a new computer, and a new Dealing Machine. We have moved our location once and now we are needing a larger facility to accommodate our growing number of members.
Your students come from three different communities, not counting those you mentor online. How do you find this effects your teaching?
With much planning it all flows together. Flower Mound stands on its own. I start with bidding, play of the hand, and then defense. I do not direct a game there but they do come to the studio in Denton to play from time to time or attend a more advanced lesson. DBS and Robson Ranch works easier for me. I try to teach from the same book at both of these classes when the need is there. It allows them to attend both locations to re-inforce the lesson or not miss out if they had to be absent.
The best part of the different communities is the students opportunities to make new friends. They develop new bridge partnerships. Teaching in the three communities supports the “Word Of Mouth” system. This produces more success than newspaper ads. Student testimonials about their bridge class is the ultimate choice in recruiting new classes. Each different community supports the other locations and feeds participation and new bridge players.
We always encourage ACBL memberships for our new students. With each community I encourage local play. I help them order the supplies and set up their computers for ACBL scoring. I always take a copy of my Bridge Bulletin to introduce membership in ACBL. I am looking for those students who will be good candidates for ACBL Directors and Teachers.
How do you develop your lesson plans?
- Look at the number in the class, and assess their level of play.
- Do they need a daytime or nighttime class?
- Choose the Text Book and Coded Cards (if available).
- Order student text books, flippers, and copies of any additional material I am using.
- I use Deal Master to make hands which relate to each lesson.
- I research all materials available to me on each topic. Make notes and date the lesson. Maintain files on each topic.
- I send informative fun emails using their pictures and comments detailing the next lesson and activities daily.
- Keep a good supply of sharp pencils, lots of food, and plan fun special times for the students.
- During the first part of each lesson we talk. I listen to the student’s questions and we study the day’s lesson together. They play hands with the coded cards from the lesson and/or the prepared Deal Master/Dealing Machine Hands.
- I remind myself that I too was once a beginning bridge student, and know that I must bend down to their level and share this lesson with them.
With all the teaching you do, are you still able to play bridge as much as you’d like?
The answer is a very quick one: NO. Time will not permit me to play in a sanctioned game daily. I can always find the time for two weekly games at the studio and I participate in as many tournaments as my schedule will accommodate. Tournaments are very useful for the students. They provide a different playing experience and the excitement of the large crowds and the wins always motivates the student which leads to a passionate bridge player. Most of my days end with a bridge tournament online.
What is your favorite convention and why?
My favourite is Jacoby 2NT, because it is an easy convention to teach and understand, because 27 or 28 TPC in some hands will produce a small slam, and because using the J2NT and showing shortness will help you find that slam. This is exciting for the student.
Your students have told us a lot about you. What would you like to tell us about them?
We have college students who drop in from time to time at the studio to play or kibitz. Some of my students are new moms or have toddlers at home. Some are recently retired and want to learn the new bidding system and many have never played before. Some have never worked, some are blue collar employees, some are senior citizens and bridge is their only challenge, others are Doctors (MD), PHD professors, business owners and all walks of fame and life. But they have one thing in common – they want to learn to play bridge, and I want to help them learn. They enjoy each other and they have fun.
My youngest student is my grandson who is now 10 years old. My oldest is Dr. Gladys Lawhorn who will be 99 on May 12th. I spoke with Ms. Gladys today at the studio and she reminded me that although she has been playing this great game for more than 80 years, she still has a lot to learn. (I might add that I am confident that she will win in todays game as she normally does).
Most of the students have grown to love bridge tournaments. Their success in winning MP’s is evident when you look at the Mini McKinney and The Ace of Clubs.They all have name tags, special T-shirts and Blue Demin shirts with logos. They are designing a new T-shirt for “Teacher of The Year” to wear to New Orleans. Our bulletin board has 6 “Texas Limos” and the saddles are quickly filling up.
There are always students in each class quick to acknowledge their appreciation to their teacher. They send me fresh flowers when they know I am having a bad day. They send specialty dishes from their kitchens home with me to keep my husband happy. They hold “Jo Bryan Days” and make me feel like “Queen For A Day”. On Graduation Day, I give them Diplomas and Trophies. They reward me by making “Bridge Graduation Caps and Gowns”. They remember me on my birthday and do luncheons. My students love me because they know that I love them.
My STUDENTS are the reason I teach bridge. They make me a better bridge player.
What do you like best about the game?
- The Challenge.
- It is a game of luck, skill, and partnership.
- Online, on land, on sea, wherever you are, you will find a game of bridge.
- The game invites passion and dedication.