TEACHING: MAKE THEM OR BREAK THEM
Recently I had an experience with my horse riding teacher that left me kind of devastated. She made a remark about my looks that was a) very hurtful (it brought back all kinds of youth trauma) and b) very inappropriate. After the initial sadness and the anger that followed, there was the sudden realization that this is something that unfortunately happens a lot when someone is in the 'teacher position'.
As a teacher myself, not of horse riding, but of the craft, the way this woman not only treated me, but also my fellow students is so against all the ethics I hold when teaching.
What kind of ethics are important when teaching? And I mean any kind of teaching here, not just the craft.
Using power to empower
The first thing a teacher should always be aware of is that the teacher-student relationship creates a certain power issue. Students usually come to a teacher because they want to learn things from someobe who is a senior in that particular field. This creates a certain hierarchy, the teacher knows more about the material presented than the student. So you could say that the teacher in this field holds more power than the student. In my opinion a good teacher will empower his students to try and fail and try again within the safe container of the classroom, gym, riding school etc. Because that is how we humans learn! A good teacher will be aware of the responsibilities that come with this power and will teach with authority, not act as a dictator and will certainly not belittle the students. My own experience is that while teaching I can still learn a great deal from my students. I have been teaching kids and their wisdom never ceases to amaze me.
Staying grounded in the glamour
Then, there is the glamour that comes with teaching. I see that within the Reclaiming tradition I am a teacher of. Even though Reclaiming is a tradition that is very averse to hierarchy and power-over issues the position of a Reclaiming Witch Camp teacher is quite idealized and many campers long to be one when they grow up. I can start rambling about how unglamorous the job of being a witch camp teacher is and how much hard work it is, but that goes beyond the topic of this blog.
Fact remains that the glamour is there and of course it does something with our egos. Students do look up to their teachers, and as a teacher you do get a great deal of attention. All very flattering and if you forget to ground and are not surrounded by people who keep you sane this could easily go to your head, resulting in feeling better than the rest and behaving accordingly.
A teacher shouldn't behave like a diva.
The importance of trust
Trust is of utmost importance when being in a teacher-student relationship. This goes both ways. As a teacher one should be able to create an atmosphere in which students feel safe enough to put their trust in the teacher. Students must have the feeling that they are taken seriously, that their questions will not result in joking about them and that their personal stuff is not shared with others without their permission. Also, they have to trust that you indeed know what you are teaching them and where you are in that process. As an example: I wanted to join a challenging activity at my gym last week, one I never took any classes for. I asked one of my instructors whether he thought I could finish that activity at all, and he said he was sure I could. Well, I trust this instructor, he knows my routine and knows what I am capable of. I took the class and ended up in the fastest half of the class!
On the other hand, as a teacher you have to trust your students. Trust that they will learn the things they need to learn from you. And as a teacher you have to trust in Magic, if that is what you are teaching (and even not) – it is amazing what can come through you that is directed towards your students' needs.
Teaching is service
As a teacher you are being of service to your students, and your community. And a community can be anything, a school, a gym, a camp. The show is never about the teacher, it is all about the students and creating the best learning possibilities you can for and with them.
And the last thing I want to highlight: once you have become a teacher that does not mean you never have to be a student again! As human beings we are never done with learning, and for teachers remaining a student is mandatory. To study new things expands our capacities even more, makes us aware of our blind spots. What areas can we make even better? How can we keep coming up with new and challenging exercises or deepening practices? What helps to motivate me when I am studying and how can I use that information when trying to motivate my students?
Know your work
I have been lucky, I have come across a great many fantastic teachers. In the craft I had and still have fabulous teachers, and at my local gym I train under the supervision of instructors who have really gotten the points mentioned above. All these teachers are models to me: they motivate, make me explore my boundaries, they don't provide an easy ride, but they always remain respectful to me and my fellow students and enthusiastic about what they are teaching. I deeply honor them and am grateful for their impact on my life and all they have taught me.
One more thought
Oh, and very important: they know what they are doing! This is THE ground rule when teaching: know your stuff! There is nothing that will damage trust more than a teacher who doesn't know what she is talking about, or who doesn't know routines, movements etc etc. That doesn't mean a teacher can never make mistakes, after all, teachers are human too.
Make sure you show up to the job on time and well prepared. And don't let your mood swings (yes, teachers have those as well) influence the job you were hired for! Your moody remarks may have more impact than you are even aware of!