The mediocre teacher tells, the good teacher explains, the superior teacher demonstrates, the great teacher inspires.–- William Arthur Ward, American Writer (1921-94)
Teach me, Guru!
It is all very well to learn about any of these topics through books, websites, DVDs and so on.
But at some point, especially if we want to go beyond a rudimentary understanding of whatever interests us, most of us need to find a mentor, a ‘guru’ – a teacher.
The best advice I can give you about this is that teacher needs to be someone with whom you feel you can build a rapport. They have to be good at what they do. And they need to be able to make you really feel part of the group and to be able to recognise and cater for different levels of proficiency or natural ablility.
It is possible to reasonably happily attend gym or sport classes with a teacher you don’t particularly like or you don’t think is particularly good.
But it will not work if you are learning meditation or tai chi or yoga from them. With a discipline or activity of this sort, which goes beyond the purely physical onto a mental or emotional plane, there has to be another level of connection.
And part of this is an enhanced feeling of trust. These learnings are, by their nature, more emotionally and mentally intimate than a pure sport or recreational class, so your teacher needs to be able to open up, sometimes very personally, about their own experiences, and you need to feel you would be comfortable doing the same around them.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Over the years I have attended courses and meditation retreats led by a variety of teachers, training in or advocating a variety of personal development experiences, meditation / relaxation techniques or other such esoteric pursuit.
Some have been absolutely wonderful. Some have been OK. Some have had an almost opposite effect to good. And very occasionally I have come across teachers so driven by their own egos that I would consider them as being borderline dangerous to the health of some students.
Unfortunately it is often only considerable experience and the security of some prior knowledge of whatever you are learning and its effects that allows you to recognise such people. But a good rule of thumb is, if you feel uncomfortable with a certain person or technique, it would probably be a good idea to view this as not suiting you and/or to look for another teacher.
And if your teacher of the moment is claiming that theirs is the ONLY valid technique and that you are not meditating / practising correctly if you are not following THEIR technique, then I suggest you run a mile and perhaps also advise others to do the same. There are many valid techniques and anyone claiming they have the ONLY valid answer is not a guru but a god in their own mind.
I have experienced this once in my meditation history in a week-long meditation retreat. I was able to resist this leader’s bullying because I was already a very experienced meditator and knew that what I was seeing may have been extensive knowledge, but that this was more than matched by an equally extensive ego. But before I recognised this and made a stand against this person, I watched the psychologically adverse effects he was having on a vulnerable beginner. So meditation did not prove to be a positive and inspiring experience for her – at least not on that occasion.
What makes a good teacher?
- Clearly demonstrated extensive knowledge of whatever is being taught
- Clear structure and organisation of the learning experience
- An ability to clearly express oneself and to give instructions
- An ability to ‘hold the stage’, i.e. command attention without being overbearing
- Awareness of and the active catering for different levels of physical ability and knowledge of the particular activity
- The provision of options where appropriate
- Awareness of safety and restraint in never pushing people beyond their limits
- Anticipation and circumvention of possible problems or potential for harm caused by over-confidence or lack of knowledge
- Tools and techniques that enable self-directed practice opportunities outside classroom times
- The fostering of an enjoyable experience for all
- An almost instinctive awareness of who needs help and how to help them
- Approachability and lack of defensiveness at questions or queries
- An ability to share personal stories and experiences in a way that engages and motivates (and inspires and amuses)
- An ability to make the activity fun and rewarding
- A sense of humour and an ability to laugh at oneself
- Authenticity, Passion and Love for the activity
That’s about it. Not too demanding, am I!