Saturday, 1 February 2014

On 14:43 by Victoria Stanham   No comments
Brian Metcalfe
I fully understand this question. Being prone to teaching myself stuff by reading and watching and listening, I’ve often asked myself this question. Much to my inner-student’s delight and inner-teacher’s frustration I’ve come up with 4 good reasons to attend a class taught by another teacher.

1.     A teacher who is experienced in what you are trying to learn can perceive what you cannot… and that saves you precious time and frustration.

Much as I like learning stuff on my own, I have to acknowledge that it can sometimes be a long and drawn-out affair, especially when I get stuck and have to experiment with a thousand possible variables before hitting on the right one that needs tinkering with. So now, whenever I’m stuck in my progress, I look for someone who fulfills two basic criteria:

a.     They are good at that which I want to be good at (this criterion gives me a clue that the person has traveled the road I’m traveling and has met and overcome at least some of the obstacles I’m meeting)

b.    They know how to teach that which I want to be good at (this criterion helps me avoid those great performers who’s best explanation of how to perform like they do is “well let me show you how I do it”. I don’t need showing how you do it great, I need explaining what I’m doing wrong.)

In Alexander Technique jargon people like to talk of “false sensory appreciation” in the student. I don’t like that term too much, because to me the word “false” implies that the teacher has the “true” sensory appreciation… and that is just plain silly.

Teachers don’t have the truth. What teachers have is experience in the road you are trying to travel. Having more experience is akin to seeing a wider picture. So you go to a teacher so that she may help you expand your vision too, that you too may see the wider picture. And when you see the wider picture, you can see how the different pieces fit together.

A good analogy is the jig-saw puzzle. Imagine you are building one and you are stuck because you have a whole bunch of blue pieces that are creating a picture of the sea, and suddenly you get a piece that most definitely looks like a bit of grass. Try as you may, you can’t fit grass into your sea. Then suddenly someone comes who has built that puzzle before and tells you, “Oh no! The picture is not a seascape, it’s a lakescape [I just made up that word] and the grass was somewhere on the down-left side corner.”

Well, at least to me, that’s more or less what a teacher does, she opens my eyes to the wider picture.

2.   A teacher can take care of some stuff so that you can take care of other stuff… and that saves you precious energy.

Being a bit too proud for my own good, I sometimes delude myself with the idea that “I can take care of it all”, or worse, “I should be able to take care of everything, or I’m not good enough”. Well, that is just obnoxious of me.
Truth is, everything is some sort of dynamic system, and in every dynamic system every part has a role to play. You need to play your role to the best of your ability, but you really should not try to take on the role of everyone else. That just makes for a very boring play.
Imagine if you went to see Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and the actress playing Juliet, suddenly decided that she really didn’t need the actor playing Romeo, she can very well do both characters herself. Well, it might make for an interesting adaptation of the original play… but it’s not Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet anymore.
"Falling teacher" by Pitel
In a learning situation this plays out similarly. For example, when I’m in the role of Pilates student I don’t want to be wasting mental energy deciding which exercise should follow the one I’m currently on. What I want to be concentrating on is on my execution, on improving my performance. I am trusting that my teacher is going to play her role too. Therefore she will both know how to give me a coherent sequence of exercises to perform, and how to correct my execution of the exercises.

3.   A teacher can make you rethink all your preconceptions about what she’s teaching and you’re learning… and that takes you to the next level.

This is a variant on the first point, and a highly uncomfortable one at that. Don’t go to this type of teacher unless you are looking for a necessary jolt out of your complacency (or you’re a masochist).
I sometimes love to be challenged and moved out of my complacency, this generally happens when I’m becoming far too smug about my knowledge and progress. That is when I look for a teacher who has an approach or style that diametrically opposes mine. She’ll then shake me out of my smugness (probably make me a bit angry in the process, but I can take it) and open my eyes to new possibilities. It doesn’t mean I have to take up her whole philosophy, but I can widen my own horizons.
But sometimes I just need to learn the stuff or to advance in the stuff, not be totally shook up and stood on my head when I wasn’t all too sure where my head was in the first place. If I know the teaching style of the teacher is "to leave you naked in the cold rain", then I make sure as a student that I know what I signed up for, that the teacher can satisfactorily explain why she's using that method, and that I agree with it on some level. If not... I get out, fast.
4.   Going to a class gives you a regular source of feedback on your progress… and that helps you stay with it when it gets rough.

Learning can be individual or in groups. Either way, when I sign up for a course of lessons with a teacher I’m not only taking advantage of her expertise in the subject, I’m also taking advantage of two very important extras.

Firstly, attending lessons gives me a regular source of feedback. Anything you do regularly becomes a habit (it’s part of your neurology), and it’s good to have regular feedback on what you’re doing so that you’re not habituating wrong patterns. Those minor adjustments that happen at every lesson keep me on a straighter path to my goal.

Secondly, attending lessons means I’m more prone to apply the knowledge in between lessons. This happens for two reasons:

1) I like to have something new to investigate at my next lesson, I like to make progress;
2) Let’s face it, it’s good to have some external source of motivation… who likes to admit at every single lesson “I’m afraid I haven’t done my homework again”?

And as an extra of extras, if the lessons are in groups, you get the whole community aspect. It just feels good to be in a group that shares your enthusiasm for something. When you’re learning with others, you’re also learning from others (who said your only teacher has to be the one running the course?) and you’re also building relationships (and that is one of the components of a happy life).

So now go, grab that thing you have been meaning to get better at, and find yourself an Alexander Teacher. There’s good chances she can help you become unstuck (after all, we use our bodies for everything we do, don’t we?).

As usual, comment, questions, and counter-arguments are most welcome. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments box below. We all learn from each other, and your comment might just be the next reader’s “a-ha!” moment. Share the wealth. ;-)

Victoria  J


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