Tuesday, April 3, 2012



You could say that I have a teaching persona.

That persona isn't a false face.

It's my face.

My persona comprises all the aspects of myself  that I reveal, and how I reveal them. It also includes my repertoire of stories. And it includes my relationship with my students.

I see my job as creating a situation in which my student will learn by direct experience.

Their experience will validate what I have described to them from my own experience. Once they experience the truth, it belongs to them. They own it. That’s much better than them just taking my word for it. I could be wrong.

But once they know the truth, though they can choose to discard it, no one can ever take it away from them.

Sometimes I have to jar my student out of the person he is, so that he can be the person he can be. Each person is a unique individual, so each one requires a different  kind of jolt.

Sometimes it’s slow and gentle like erosion. We gradually wear away the previous person, until only the new person remains. Other times it’s like lightning, an abrupt faceslap of reality.  The more resistant to change a student is, the more tightly they hold on to their old self, the more strongly they argue for their limitations -- faults and weaknesses and inabilities – the sharper may delivery has to be.

I have to take my students out of their “comfort zone.”

Way out.

But usually a little at a time.

Desensitizing to old fears, sensitizing to new perceptions and understandings.

Sometimes they won’t like it much.

Sometimes they won’t like it at all.

There's no growth without pain.

But that’s what they’re paying me for.

I rarely have a “personal” relationship with a student, because it interferes with my ability to do the job I’ve promised to do – and I NEVER break a promise.

It’s an exceptional person who can have a “friendship” with someone and at the same time have a separate and equal “business” relationship with them, and maintain the distinction between and integrity of both those relationships.

There’s an old saying that if you lend money to a friend you either lose your money or you lose your friend. It’s something like that.

(In fencing, we learn to officiate impartially. And yet, I would never preside over a bout between one my my students against someone who isn't. Not that I think that I would cheat to favor my student. But I might have an unconscious bias in my student's favor -- or possibly be so alert to that bias, that I would be unconsciously biased against my student. Either way, it would be unfair to both parties. A wise man gives the tiger no place to put his claws.)

Most people seem to think that having a “personal” relationship with a teacher means that the normal rules of the teacher-student relationship no longer apply, but they do.

People use “friendship” to avoid having to leave their comfort zone.

You can be a teacher or you can be a friend – at least, the way most people define “friend.”

You can't be both.

As a teacher, you have responsibilities that a friend doesn’t have.

Safety, for example.

As your teacher it’s my responsibility to do everything I reasonably can to keep you as safe as possible while you learn. That means I will set down safety rules when I need them and I will enforce them without exception.

In my classical fencing classes I have a rule that NO ONE may aim a weapon at anyone who is not wearing a mask. If you violate that rule, you’re out of the class. Period. No exceptions.

Even if you’re my “friend.”

So teaching is an instance of rational authority that includes a disciplinary function. This element is not normally a part of a “friendship.”

Teaching, like acting, is about communication --- communication that involves much more than just telling your students the right terms or showing them the correct execution of a technique.

The smart money says that 90% of communication is not VERBAL. The actual words you say --  the “text” an actor would call it – is the least important part of the communication. The meaning of the words does not come from the words alone.

The para-verbal element includes such thing as pitch, volume, pace, rhythm and inflection.  The non-verbal element includes body language such as posture and gestures, facial expressions, and proximity.

How do you become adept at using these various elements to be an effective story-teller/teacher?

Same way you get to Carnegie Hall: practice, man, practice.

Actors rehearse scenes numerous times digging into the “sub-text” which is what the character is actually saying but not saying, while he’s saying what he is saying. They delve into “motivation” – why is my character saying that? What does he want?  All of this is because the actor’s job, too, is to elicit an emotion response from the audience.

Actors will rehearse every step, every pause every gesture.  And good actors can do the same show – tell the same story --- many times and still make each performance seem like it’s new, fresh and original. That's because they find the emotional truth that makes each performance feel new, fresh and original.

If you want to act like a teacher, teach like an actor.


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