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Letters To A Young Teacher – Starting Out.

Rilke's Letter To A Young Poet

Rilke’s Letter To A Young Poet

I just recently graduated from an Alexander Technique Teacher Training Course.*  The director spoke of you. During school we watched your video, The Top Ten Myths About The Alexander Technique. I went on to watch your other videos. The myths were exceptionally enlightening. It sparked great conversations during school.

I’m currently starting my own Alexander Technique practice and am always looking to expand my education. I’m also currently returning to college, and in the process of finishing my science degree, as I started it before AT training.   

Do you believe AT can support one fully? Especially just starting out. I’ve had a very slow start and it’s becoming clear that it takes time.

Expanding your education is the best way to build a practice, because the better you become as an Alexander teacher, the more your students talk about you and recommend you to other people. Being able to teach well in groups, as well as individually, makes it possible to get more people interested in you, and in the work. Living in a place where there are universities and performing art departments can help, but it is not essential. Marketing skills are necessary for anyone who has their own business. A bit of charisma goes a long way. You have to love people, and love teaching. Sometimes finding a niche, some group that you are especially qualified to teach, like athletes in your case, distinguishes you from other Alexander teachers. Jeremy Chance, an Alexander teacher here in Japan has given a tremendous amount of thought to this subject. It might be worthwhile to see what you can learn from him. 

I would not hold on to the idea that it takes a long time to get a practice going. That thought might have a way of working against you. More than time, it takes a good strategy, some creativity, some guts, and particular skills. But there is nothing more important then becoming excellent at what you do. And you get good at teaching the Alexander Technique by teaching the Alexander Technique. So finding a way to teach, a lot, is essential to becoming good, and successful.

I landed two half-time positions in university theater departments when i was 28 years old. I sent out 200 resumes across the country. 198 rejections. 2 acceptances. This ensured me students every week, lots of them. I did this for 6 years. That got me off to a good start. But all the while, when I wasn’t teaching, I was studying with Alexander teachers, Tai Chi teachers, Aikido teachers, modern dance teachers, anyone I could learn from.

When I decided I wanted to teach introductory workshops in AT, I went anywhere to do them, even when there were only 3 students and I lost money. I knew I had to practice introducing the work to all kinds of people. I knew I needed to practice, that there was no substitute for practice, and lots of it.

If possible, assist on a training program. The graduates who did this over the years at the Alexander Alliance, and who are doing it now, are the ones who have become, and will continue to become some of the most talented teachers. Keep your heart and mind open to learning from Alexander teachers trained in other Alexander lineages. Marj Barstow, my main mentor, was my second teacher. I didn’t meet her until I had been studying for 5 years. Everything opened up for me when I met her. You never know.

When I first met Marjorie Barstow, I was a poor graduate student majoring in modern dance. What little money I had I spent on education. One night I told Marj that I wanted to be a full time Alexander teacher. That was my dream. I was 26 years old, almost 40 years ago. Marj told me that you can’t make a living as an Alexander teacher. I think she was trying to protect me. Maybe she didn’t want me to be disappointed when my dream fell through. Maybe she didn’t see that the times were changing, that interest was really growing in the Alexander Technique. Maybe she said it because she knew I was the kind of kid who would try to prove her wrong. Marj was tricky.

But I have made a living now as an Alexander teacher for 35 years, and a good living, enough to raise a family, enough to send two kids to college – in America!  And now, when lots of men my age are being forced to retire, I’ve got work, work I love. Every morning I wake up feeling grateful, grateful that I made my way as an Alexander teacher. And of course grateful to Marjorie, and to all my teachers.

So if making a living as an Alexander teacher is what you want, go for it, go for it full out. Give it your best. Don’t quit.

And remember, a successful teacher has many students, but a great teacher has many teachers. Aim for becoming a great teacher. The success will follow.

*For purposes of privacy, I’ve chosen to leave out the name of the training program and the particular graduate who wrote to me.

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