Interview by Jessica Mifsud
What is your teaching philosophy?
Keep it Simple: There is so much I want to share, but must keep in mind that this game is a life-long learning experience. I want to create a good experience for the students, one that keeps them wanting more. Go slow: Most courses give too much information too fast. I prefer to limit and focus each lesson, presenting more lessons over time.
It’s essential to providing a place for the students where education is part of the game. My teaching doesn’t stop in the classroom. Teaching means encouraging students constantly, sharing my own experiences with them when they are feeling really dumb (which this game can make you feel) and always being available when they have questions, in the classroom or out. Keeping up with what’s happening in the students’ lives through e-mail, phone, or whatever it takes to make them comfortable with the challenges of the game. I hear too often about the bad experiences players have had. I hope I can change that, one student at a time.
How did you first get into playing Bridge and then teaching Bridge?
In 1997 I retired from my career of hairstyling and salon ownership. I knew very few people who played Bridge, but I loved cards, so when my aunt asked me to take lessons from her, I jumped at it. I was used to being very busy and I was getting a little bored being home. I liked the idea of Bridge because I wanted to meet new people.
After eight lessons my aunt asked me to join her at the local Bridge club, I was excited and apprehensive at the same time. I played with a very experienced Bridge player. I am not sure what I was expecting, but my first experience was upsetting, to say the least, I went home with a stomach-ache and a headache. I liked the concept of the game, but hated the club. I tried many times, but couldn’t get the hang of the game without getting upset every time I played.
I quit for awhile, then took more lessons. The owner and teacher of the local club, Norma Black, continued to encourage me, and would call me often to play. I had several partners along the way, enjoying their friendships the most.
I vowed at that time, that with my years of service experience, I could make a difference for newer Bridge players by creating a safe, educational and fun environment that would keep new Bridge players coming back.
Audrey Grant was offering an accreditation course based on her Better Bridge series, so I took her class. That was a beginning of new challenges and wonderful friendships in the classroom, and at the Bridge table.
Your students credit you with having really grown the membership of the club where you teach. Most importantly, you’ve been able to keep people coming back. What has been one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
I was teaching Bridge and I realized that the students needed a place to play and experience the game while they were learning. Our unit did not have a game for newcomers, so I became a director and learned the table movements and the computer, which was a big challenge for me. I priced my lessons to include that day’s beginner game, so I was able to keep them playing, and with more Bridge experience they became confident in there game.
What was your reaction to being nominated for the ABTA Teacher of the Year Award?
I was stunned, to say the least. I knew our unit had grown and I knew I had built a club in our small community. While I had gained many devoted student, I couldn’t imagine why I was so special to them—I was just doing what I like to do. Even before they told me of the nomination, I had felt like a winner, because, although I am the teacher, my fellow Bridge players teach me something new about life every day. I treasure my time with them and can’t imagine myself without their support and friendship.
What advice do you have for other teachers?
Every student progresses through different stages of their learning experience at their own pace. One size does not fit all, and patience is extremely important when dealing with an older student base. It is extremely important to listen to the student’s body language: it speaks volumes. If you can correct or help diffuse uncomfortable situations early on, you can create a loyal student base.
What are you favorite Bridge books?
Audrey Grant’s Better Bridge series, I like her approach of cards on the table, rather than on a chalkboard. This method has been very effective for my classes.
Eddie Kantar’s, Thinking Bridge 1. I use these hands when we evaluate bidding, playing and defense.
For reference material, Max Hardy’s Standard Bridge Bidding for the 21st Century, Barbara Seagram’s 25 Bridge Conventions You Should Know, and Watson’s The Play of the Hand at Bridge.
Have you ever played at any tournaments in addition to teaching? Do you have a favorite story to share?
I have played in tournaments all over the country. I have had many memorable partners, and a lot of fun traveling to new areas. My favorite tournament was this year. I took one of my students to the nationals in Reno, Nevada. What a pleasure to have her for my partner. Three years ago she attended my Introduction to Bridge Class with no Bridge experience, and here I was playing in the Nationals with her. We placed third in our pairs event and were thrilled. Sharing a partnership with my student is priceless.
Which convention do you enjoy teaching most, and why?
Slam bidding is my favorite, because by the time I teach this the students seem to have some grasp on the game and are eager to bid higher.
How does using the “cards on table” technique affect how you prepare your lesson plans?
If anything it probably adds more detailed information to my outline, because I am adding new cards to the sequences to change the hands to reflect what I am trying to teach to the students.
To stay on track, I have to be well prepared; but I feel the students see what I am trying to teach more clearly than they might were I using a chalkboard, or an overhead projector.
Having once been an uncomfortable student yourself, do you have any tips for how other teachers might best help their own uncertain students?
I would like to say I have recruited all my students to become duplicate Bridge players, but I have not.
It’s really not how knowledgeable I am as a teacher that makes the biggest difference. This is a people business, and making the students comfortable, providing friendship, and lots of food, helps in the process. I try to discover the students’ expectations when they first start coming to my Bridge classes and build on that. There are some students with whom I have worked for over year, now, and, still I can’t convince them to play in our games. Patience is most important, because nothing happens overnight.
Your students have told us a lot about you. What would you like to tell us about them?
My students are professionals, athletes, homemakers, next-door neighbors, friends and family. What I admire the most is their desire to challenge themselves with Bridge in their senior years, and they have honored me with the opportunity to help in the process. Our Bridge players have a wonderful sense of humor, and are happy to encourage each other. They have proven that Bridge does bring people together in ways that enriches our lives. Last, but not least, they are wonderful cooks!
What do you like best about the game?
Bridge has enriched my life by keeping me mentally active and challenging my abilities. Bridge has given me a sense of accomplishment. Bridge has given me a better understanding of people and their fears, and joys in their lives. When I walk into a tournament, I feel like I am among friends, sharing the same passion. I am grateful for my Aunt, who introduced me to Bridge. There were a few bumps along the way, but all well worth it.