One of the student's problems is the teacher.
The more time that's been spent together and the more trust a teacher has earned from his or her students, the more the teacher's problems are exacerbated. Put simply: the teacher is good at some things and not so good at other things. If he is not careful and wise, his students will suffer from the same issues. Because I am aware of this problem, I try to avoid becoming a problem for my students.
How can I do that?
- By understanding what my weaknesses as a teacher are and working on them.
Teachers need to spend a lot of time working on weaknesses, probably even more time than on strengths. For that reason, I am constantly exploring new material, ideas and fields. If you rely only on your strengths, you will become a problem for your students if they stay too long.
- By being honest about things I don't know so much about. That said, if the right time to go into something has come, I need to do my best to facilitate it.
This can mean that there is a topic floating around that we should learn now, but the teacher does not have a lot of experience with it. For example, when I started to teach handstands, I could only hold a handstand myself for 10 seconds. Still, it was the right time to start, because the movement community was very much into handstands. My students at that time were very interested in learning handstands and asked me if I could teach them. Since I was learning handstands using a methodical process that directly provided me with proven knowledge, I was able to start teaching the basics early and even help people reach the 60 second handstand goal. Because I could use knowledge that had already been tested by other people, I was able to start teaching without first amassing years and years of experience in this particular field. Today I am better at teaching handstands, of course. Doing it that way was obviously not ideal. But still, my students from that time got very far, and we went down the path together. So, to summarize: sometimes you might need to teach something you are not very experienced with, and try to make the best of the situation.
I also sometimes pick up a topic that is new to me and learn it along with my students. For example, a couple of years ago we started practicing BJJ. I had almost zero experience in that discipline (a few trainings, one workshop, some ground fighting from my Japanese martial arts days), so I asked one of my students, Simon from Hamburg, to come to Berlin for a couple of days. Simon taught our group BJJ for six hours per day for several days, providing us with principles and concepts so that we could continue exploring the work without him afterwards. My role then was just to schedule trainings and organize the sessions in the way I'd learned from Simon. All technical details were discussed in the group, all investigation was done together, and all new insights were shared with everyone. In this situation I was not the teacher: I was just the organizer.
Another situation I've had was that the person who could teach was actually part of my group here in Berlin. One such situation was working with balls, which includes many different things like throwing and catching, juggling, dribbling etc. I passed that part on to Clemens, who was part of my teaching team. He was much better at that work than I was, and he was also very motivated to further explore the topic. So, when we worked with the balls I became a student in my group, letting Clemens teach.
Teachers! Do not get in the way of your students. We are all incomplete and lacking many things, but a good teacher is aware and can compensate for what he's lacking. The ego of the teacher should be tamed, so that the teacher has no problem telling the student "I cannot teach you this, you need to go to another person". Send your students away if it will help them grow. Don't hold on to them too tightly, or they will replicate your flaws.
What is your teacher's personal narrative?
Find out what your teacher's personal story and narrative is. Why is he thinking, saying and doing things the way he is? Find out where things are coming from. Be attentive when he says something about his past. Analyse your teacher so you don't fall into traps. Be attentive. Identify any dogmatism.
Teachers should ask themselves what their strengths and weaknesses are, and in which ways they risk becoming a hindrance to the development of their students because of their history. Tame your ego. Know your place. The student should ask this of the teacher, and of course of himself as well.
Note: I am writing about strengths and weaknesses here, but of course preferences are very important in this context as well.
Joseph Bartz 2017