LEARNING WHAT YOU NEED TO TEACH
There’s a saying that we teach what we need to learn. I don’t agree. In my experience, if we don’t know something, trying to teach it
seems irresponsible. Rather I believe that we should teach what we know, not what we don’t know. Then, we can learn about ourselves while we teach.
Many years ago, I was in Amsterdam to facilitate a three day
crystal healing workshop. I was pretty excited when I got there. I had lugged a heavy suitcase over there, filled with crystals, some for healing and some for selling. I had studied the healing energy of all kinds of crystals and although I had never run a workshop, I felt that I knew my stuff.
Between the time change and the anticipation, I didn’t sleep well the night before the workshop and when I got up, I was exhausted. But I
carried on, arranging the crystals in groups and studying my notes. When the students were about to arrive, a woman walked up to me with a Dutch accent and introduced herself. “Hello,” she said. “I’m Elke. I’m your interpreter.”
I was stunned. I thought everyone spoke English. How would I
work with this? It would take twice as long to express myself because everything had to be repeated. How would I deal with the long pauses and stilted conversations? I looked past Elke and watched the students filing in. My mind was spinning and I suddenly felt like I had no business being there. I had felt confident and prepared but now I felt tired, blindsided and insecure. After thirty people had shown up, again I was taken by surprise. They had told me there would be twenty at the most and I wasn’t about to ask ten people to leave.
As they took their seats in a semi-circle of chairs, I stared at the empty chair in the middle. I wondered why no one was sitting there when I realized that it was for me. I sat and looked around the room at the large group of people who were waiting for me to start. I went into auto speak and began talking about my experience of crystals, waiting after each sentence for the interpreter to do her job. It was awkward and confusing and I wasn’t sure if I was repeating myself or making any sense.
It was a monologue until a hand went up and a woman said
something in Dutch. I was relieved that someone was participating and I put my attention on the interpreter. She said, “She’s having trouble hearing you. Can you speak up?”
I nodded and raised my voice. I spoke in fits and starts and broke the people up into smaller groups so they could work with the stones and share their experiences. I showed them how to do “crystal layouts,” arranging them in shapes, getting my feet back under me when a man raised his hand. He had a confused look on his face. The interpreter said, “You’re moving too fast. Can you please slow down?”
I’m not sure what happened for the next hour but when it was time to take a fifteen minute break, I went into another room and cried. I
didn’t know what I was doing. I was educated about crystals and their healing energies but being a teacher was way out of my understanding and my comfort zone. I felt like an imposter and I called a friend who regularly facilitated consciousness workshops. “I don’t know what I’m doing,” I told her. “I thought teaching was showing other people what to do but I feel so inadequate.”
“When you give a workshop,” she said, “you share your knowledge but you also learn a lot about yourself. Just keep going. You’ll find your rhythm.”
I was humbled and when I walked back into the room after the
break, I realized that we were all on the same path but in this case, I was a few steps ahead. The work I was doing went beyond teacher and student but I wasn’t teaching what I needed to learn. I was teaching what I already knew, I had studied and done my homework. but now as I shared my knowledge, I was learning about myself. I felt better, I had changed my attitude and I meshed with my
participants. When it was over, I felt a sense of accomplishment. I had connected with my students and I had learned how to slow down and work with other people.
I have a new career since then and as a writing coach, I’ve been able to follow the same precepts. I’ve been teaching six-week writing
workshops since 2016 and in 2020, I moved my classes to Zoom. I was lonely, I wanted a sense of community and I was afraid that teaching online would be less intimate but that hasn’t been true. I teach my classes for me as much as anyone else and the connections we’ve made has been fulfilling for all of us. After my
experience in Amsterdam, I don’t feel separated from my students. I don’t feel superior or wiser than they are. I just do a short mediation, I suggest a topic for them to write about and then I get out of the way. Granted, I have a lot of knowledge, I’ve written dozens of books and made the bestseller list a number of times, but when I teach, it feels like we are all in this together, sharing our writing with each other and having stimulating conversations. I can’t tell people how to write. All I can do is help them remove the blocks to their creativity and allow their creative expression to flow freely.
Connecting with other people is crucial for our mental health. Even if you work alone or live alone, a healthy dose of connectivity can help you feel that you’re not separated from the world at large. When we teach something we know, we can’t tell anyone what to do but we can encourage them to step forward, take a chance and let their natural talent shine through.
Socrates said, “I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.”