ON BEING A BAD TEACHER, IN MEMORY OF JUDITH LAKIN
There has been alot of dialogue in the past few years within the Alexander Technique community about how to solve a very practical problem: continuing to improve the quality of our work, which is inextricably entwined with effects of the economic challenges faced by both teachers and students in trying to carve out the time that is necessary to train. The core of this concern, as I see it, is the direct correlation between the quality of the work, the benefit it brings to our students/the public, and our ability to thrive financially as well as psycho-physically while doing this work. If we are thriving, we are able to carry the work to more people, who can share it with more people….etc. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Alexander Technique, it may help you if you choose to read on, to know that a common sentiment among us is that a little change for the better, a delicate shift, can be more powerful than a gigantic effort to change.
Thereʻs a hidden monster for me that is brought out by all this talk of improvement. It took me a long time to see it: the fear of being/training/supporting the training of “BAD TEACHERS!” I realized this yesterday when this fear welled up in me, yet again, after reading the latest post on one of the gazzilion Alexander Technique blogs out there right now.
Thankfully, a fond memory followed the fear, and it made me feel so much better. It was of a conversation between myself and Judith Lakin, one of the many amazing members of the faculty at The American Center for the Alexander Technique (ACAT) during my training. You might not have heard of Judith…she was an art teacher in the NYC public schools for many years, and a visual artist, before she got her training in the Alexander Technique. She also made a many trips to Nebraska to study with the well know American Alexander Technique teacher Marjory Barstow, and often told us stories about Marj in her classes. She was on the faculty at ACAT for many years before she died in 2006 of lung cancer. I had the good fortune to be able to assist as a volunteer in her classes for almost six years.
Nearing the end of my training, I asked Judith something like: “Can I trust that one day I may become a “good teacher?” This question arose from my inability to trust my teachers, and my belief that I really sucked but no one would tell me the truth. She replied something like: “In this moment, if you trust your thinking – there! – youʻve just made things a little better. Trust your thinking, you donʻt need to worry about these things.” She might have had her hands on, or not, in the moment of -THERE! – but if you were going up she always shared her excitement about it! Countless other encouragements flood my memory. I remember asking her what she thought of some of the work I was doing with the Dart Procedures, which were such a different way of working than what she taught me, and she said, “well, show me!” and I did, and she put her listening hands on me and then said, “that seems great!” My self doubt never seemed to bother her either, or worry her. Her answer to any question you might ask her – and in each situation it was always so useful – was to think to herself, well, free my neck, let my head move up delicately, let my torso follow, and see what comes out of my mouth THEN.” It was simple and easy to grasp. I also remember her saying “I think anyone who even attempts to do this work, as a student and/or as a teacher, is an amazing person and ought to be congratulated!”
Another remarkable thing about Judith was the fact that I never heard her say anything negative about another Alexander teacher. I donʻt think she was a saint. I just think – though I canʻt ask her now! – that she really didnʻt believe there WERE any “bad” teachers, because she believed so deeply in the principles on which the work is based. My current interpretation of her behavior is that she just saw a bunch of struggling humans. Iʻm not the only teacher who has remarked on her qualities of steadfastness and support during our times of doubt in ourselves or the work. Based on my observations of her teaching, and my experience of her friendship, my conclusion is that this was not a starry eyed faith, but one based in her own long experience. For her, if you were applying the principles that Alexander discovered in that particular moment – which we all are! – you were a “good teacher.” The essence of the matter was always in the next moment, in the power of your thinking, and your trust of it in the future.
I must still be coming from a different frame of reference, because I still worry, quiet often, about being a “bad” teacher. I try to be a “better” teacher, and I sometimes worry about people who I think desperately need the know about the Alexander work but may encounter a version of it that makes no sense to them – including my own. Maybe this will stop, now that Iʻve become aware of it! I think my worry is not a help to anyone, but just a left over from the many years of severe verbal abuse in my childhood that put me in a state of PTSD. The first time I felt an “Alexander Hand” – a listening hand – on my body, the framework of that traumatized state disappeared. A new view opened up. It took quite a bit of work for me to learn this new way of being and to be able to live in it when I am teaching. Even though I graduated from a training program, the most important graduation is the one that happens every day when I say to myself, “Trust your thinking.” Itʻs the ongoing decision to trust the process that Iʻm teaching. Thanks to everyone out there who is learning, living, and teaching the Alexander Technique, or whatever it is or becomes. Thanks to all my teachers, the ones that were easier for me to learn from and the ones that were harder for me to learn from, thanks Judith. You are all doing a great job.
I know this doesnʻt solve any of the problems we are facing, but I do hope itʻs encouraging to someone who might need a little boost today.