More on teaching versus learning

This kernel of truth from my yoga instructor this morning: “Want to give a gift to your teacher? Do the work of learning and show the progress you have experienced. Period. Don’t offer me gifts! Literally, the greatest joy I experience as a teacher comes from seeing my students progress, because then I know they have experienced the joy of learning for themselves.

In total honesty, I am a teacher at heart, because I do experience a transcendent joy when I see any one of my students progress through one of their personal challenges. And by “progress” I mean not glossing over it, not trying to find an easier way out, but really doing the work of learning. And yes, sometimes there are tears along the way. I still have tear stains on my violin and I remember plenty of moments in my own learning that seemed impossibly hard. But eventually I did learn. I didn’t stop at the tears. I let them flow, but then I kept going back to try again.

Now, as an adult who is five years into a new venture as professional teacher, I ask what it is that I would like to see my students learn (make possible for themselves), AND what it is that I am teaching (demonstrating to be possible).

In any learning environment, there is an interplay between these two things – what the students are expected to learn and what is being taught by the teacher. There are teachers all around. In a classroom, each of the students is also a teacher. By giving an answer, by participating in a certain way, by listening, by exerting effort – all of these are demonstrations of what is possible. But in order to progress, each student must actually learn for themselves. This is a personal process, something experienced internally first before it can be demonstrated externally.

What I most want my students to learn is that what they make possible for themselves in violin is only a demonstration of their infinite potential as unique human beings. In order to really learn this, they must first learn the lessons of violin – meaning, make the fundamentals possible for themselves, and show progress through greater difficulties over time. But then they must also venture outside the realm of violin, and apply what they have learned to other disciplines. In order to really believe in their own limitless potential, they must go in the direction of their wildest dreams, their greatest enthusiasm, and their deepest heartfelt desires. They must then apply the skills of listening, understanding, concentration, training, self-inquiry, and perseverance in the pursuit of those goals. And then they must realize that this is life. Life is not the singular focus on attainment of goals, but rather the constant application of our unique selves – our own skills and our own experiences – in the direction of our dreams. As we go in this way, in this direction, we will encounter many opportunities along the path that will test our skills, push us to develop them more, and equip us for ever greater challenges, and ever bolder dreams.

Holding this wish in my heart for my students is only the first step of my process. But examining what I am actually teaching, through the example of my life, is another.

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