Teaching as Practice

The relationship between the inner and the outer as teacher:

When I show up to teach, my job is to deliver the lesson (curriculum), and refine the path I take my students down in to make that lesson clear (teaching technique). Observing my students closely to know if the path I've chosen needs to be adjusted is a large part of this practice.

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And so I must be willing to abandon ship, start over, change direction, and sometimes even halt mid sail. Being adaptable is part of this. But beyond a willingness to see outside of myself is a necessity to sense within myself.

Teaching well involves curating a relationship. The best student-teacher relationships are forged when both parties are willing to progress together, and adapt as internal and external forces change. Just like in any relationship. This can happen over the long term (think of those students who have been coming to your classes for years), and also happens in the short term (first-timers, workshops out of town). The same principles apply in both situations. And the only way to know how to adapt is to hone the ability to listen without, and within. Said another way: you can't know where you need to go if you don't know where you are right now!

Teachers, see your students. Watch how they integrate what you tell them to do. Is it working? Is your desired result being achieved? If not, does it make more sense to adjust your expectation (maybe the desired result was unreasonable?) or to adapt your approach (result is reasonable -- pathway isn't working)?

Then, see yourself: the more you connect to your own body, to the presence in your experience while you teach, the more you can accurately read the bodies around you. And that's how you know when, why, and how to adjust. Find your feet first, before expecting your students to. Know if the method you're using is working for you -- often your need to change course will be felt in your own flesh. It might arise as anxiety, frustration, dissociation, temperature changes, distraction, etc.

In this way, teaching becomes practice just as your asana or meditation are practice. You go in to go out. Intimacy with students won't look like intimacy in your friendships or other relationships, but it will be filled with a similar charge that reads like those days when back bends come easy. The spark is lit, both parties are doing their part, and synchronicity happens.

Likewise, conflict in the student-teacher relationship surfaces just like in your other relationships, too. The good news is, conflict doesn't always mean you've hit a dead end: it's often an opportunity to redirect. Instead of letting the conflict take you further out of yourself, remember to pause. In that quiet stillness, sense where you are. Then thoughtfully discern what you need to find ease again, and take your students with you.