Having just rounded up co-leading another certification course for Yoga Tune Up®, I’ve been thinking intently about what makes for excellence in a teacher. Sometimes new teachers are looking for just the right strategy to “make the students come back” or “have a successful career”.
There are many manipulative strategies to get followers: you can cultivate their dependence on you through acting like only you have the answers they need; Or through a critical attitude towards them so they are always feeling sort of diminished and seeking crumbs of your approval; Or by subtly threatening them with failure and ill health if they stray; Or by acting like your circle is the most special circle and to be near you is to be a part of the in-crowd or “family”.
All these strategies can work to make students follow you. Because students are vulnerable. They come to a teacher from a place of need, so they are more susceptible to these tactics. They are also vulnerable because authority figures can trigger old patterns around their need for parental approval and so tug them into old patterns.
All the more reason for you as a teacher to ensure that you play no manipulative games with your students or followers. You are in the service industry. And the biggest thing you are serving up is your own true self.
“You teach who you are” is a phrase that popped into my head several years ago. It means that as much as you think you are teaching a technique or idea, you are always teaching who you are. Every word choice and gesture displays who you are. The energy you exude conveys your real self. You cannot hide yourself behind the teaching.
So how do you become an amazing teacher? Practice what you teach every day. Live the wisdom you offer. Forge ahead and cut the path you hope your students will follow. Gain instrumental knowledge for their inspiration and advancement. Be both a humble student and a courageous thought leader.
This is not to say you should live a sterile or controlled life – really live the life you believe in! You might be all sober and monk-like, or you might be a world-class partier. You might be cautious and impeccable in your every move, or you might hurl yourself at new challenges, fall on your face, and jump back up proud of your bruises and scratches. The point is, do YOU fully. Own it.
Then, just by being in your presence, the students will learn that they too can bravely uncover and discover who they are. By example, you will show them that they are already free to define their own world. And ironically, this is exactly what will make them come back – and make you a wildly successful human being, and teacher.
*Image: one of my favorite teachers Jiddu Krishnamurti. This guy was so rad that he disbanded the group that formed to follow him called The Order of the Star. In his dissolution speech he said this:
“I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular path.”
Damn dude. That is some teaching badassity!