If you attend fitness classes, do you work out with a teacher or instructor? If that seems like a strange question, read on. While it may seem like teachers and instructors are the same, there are some important differences.

Teacher or Instructor: What’s the Difference?

Consider this quote:

If you learn only methods, you’ll be tied to your methods, but if you learn principles you can devise your own methods. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

As the quote suggests, there is a difference between needing continual guidance from an outside source (an instructor) and learning how to learn under the guidance of a teacher. When it comes to choosing a teacher or instructor, there are benefits to both, but eventually, you’ll want to be able to function on your own.

Let’s look at the Merriam Webster’s dictionary definitions of both teach and instruct. This will help you decide whether a teacher or instructor is right for you.

Definition of Teach

  • to show how to do something; give lessons to
  • to give lessons in
  • to give knowledge, insight, etc. to

Definition of Instruct

  • to teach, educate
  • to inform
  • to order or direct

If you look closely at these definitions, you will see a clear distinction, even though they are similar. Which method is more effective for you? Do you learn better when you are taught or when you are instructed?

The Difference Between Teaching and Instructing

The definitions above suggest a major difference between teaching and instructing. Teaching involves guidance, example, and mentoring. This requires a deeper level of both subject matter knowledge and skill in caring for the student. Teachers invest in their students on a personal level.

Instructing, on the other hand, does not really require an investment or deep level of care for the student. Instructors simply impart information authoritatively, often by order or command. On a superficial level, this can be effective. If you need information quickly, your relationship with the source may not be so important. However, the skills and abilities that stick with us throughout our lives tend to come from teachers, not instructors.

Do You Want a Pilates Teacher or Instructor?

Most teachers waste their time by asking questions which are intended to discover what a pupil does not know, whereas the true art of questioning has for its purpose to discover what the pupil knows or is capable of knowing. ~ Albert Einstein

In terms of Pilates or any kind of fitness classes, instructors and teachers serve distinct roles. Sometimes a person can function as both a teacher and an instructor depending on the situation. In certain situations, a set of instructions guiding students through a series of exercises may suffice, especially for familiar routines.

A good teacher can help students move forward so they can continue to progress and improve. In other words, deep, lasting learning requires a teacher—someone invested in you and your success who can help you tap into your own abilities and identify what you need to do in order to thrive.


About Susan Sommers

Hi, I’m Susan Sommers. I’m a native New Yorker, living on the Upper West Side. Pilates Body NYC provides private in-home Pilates instruction, focusing on mindful movement that enables you to reconnect with your body. My mantra is fitness is achieved one thought, one step, and one day at a time. It is a commitment you make to yourself to treat yourself right and give your body what it needs as you age. I believe that Pilates is much more than exercise. I practice it as a way of life that brings strength, awareness, and mindfulness to everything I do. My wish is to help you experience the same.
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