Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.
What qualities do you seek in a teacher?
This question arose at a recent yoga workshop that I attended. My classmates (predominantly beginners, although this was supposedly a teacher-training workshop) spouted off the obvious: Sincerity. Empathy. Passion.
I held my tongue. I needed gather my thoughts. To me, it was a complex question that could hardly be summed in catchwords. Even if I agreed about a particular quality, I seemed to diverge regarding the way it is best expressed.
Take passion. A lot of people try to display their passion for yoga out loud. Newbie teachers often gush: “I love yoga!” “Yoga changed my life.” “It’s great for everybody.” Enthusiasm can be contagious but it has to be real.
To me, passion need not be verbalized. It’s clear when someone is passionate about an endeavor (or a person). World-class athletes need not profess love for their chosen sport. It’s obvious by their work ethic, physical condition, mental focus, and pure achievement. Couples in love need not announce to the world, “I’m crazy about him/her” or “my s*x life is fantastic.” It’s obvious by their dynamic, by the look in their eyes (and why do folks feel compelled to announce everything to the world anyway!).
So, as my classmates were agreeing that a teacher should be passionate (and display that quality to her students), I was thinking, “No, no, get a grip. Tone it down.”
On my list:
- A teacher with high standards: I am drawn more to strict teachers than to lenient ones. They are generally more observant and critical. (Criticism need not be pejorative but, rather, careful and thoughtful assessment.) They raise the bar for themselves and for others. And the best can do so with decency and humor (plus the two other qualities mentioned by my classmates, sincerity and empathy).
- A teacher who doesn’t try to please others: In the USA, land of ready smiles and open arms, teachers are typically very friendly with students. Fine if its genuine. But I can’t stand trite pleasantries or the “yoga voice.” Also, teachers should know their role as teachers; I prefer my teachers to maintain a degree of professionalism, even a bit of reserve. Teachers who are too eager to befriend their students might be feeding their own egos and agendas. To me, parents should know their role as parents, coaches as coaches … and teachers as teachers.
- A teacher who pays attention to each student: Maybe I’m spoiled by Iyengar yoga, in which individual adjustments are integral. I expect teachers to know students’ names and to correct improper form. But I’ve dropped in on large vinyasa classes where total beginners are flailing about (think wayward knees, banana-shaped handstands, and accidental balletic arms and turnout) yet ignored. Unthinkable in an Iyengar class!
As for personality and verbal style, I cannot pinpoint any one type that appeals to me. Standout teachers might be intellectual, cheerful, austere, dramatic, modest, quirky… it’s not one or another individual characteristic but the gestalt of a person. It’s impossible to articulate why one teacher resonates with you while another is merely passable. Consciously or not, we all define our own X factor.
What about you? What appeals to you about your teachers?