Letters To A Young Teacher
The thing is I feel alone, in terms of doing the AT work, when I live in Taiwan.
I have heard about this feeling of loneliness and isolation from other Alexander teachers.You spend three years inside a school, then you graduate, and you are on your own. It feels like there’s no support. Life takes over and the work starts to fade away.
Shortly after I met Marj Barstow, when I was 25, I began to organize her summer workshops. There was a great community spirit at her workshops. In 1982, when we began the Alexander Alliance, my vision was to create not just a school, but a community/school. And somehow we did it. It’s now 34 years later and I am still part of an Alexander community. So I have never, first hand, experienced this kind of loneliness of which so many teachers speak.
If there are not other teachers close to you, then there are three things I can think of doing.
Invite people to come to you. I’ve invited over 50 teachers to my school over the last 30 years, some of them for many years, so I could study with them, and my students too of course.
You find a community of people you like and, when you can, you go to them. That’s what I did so I could study with Marj Barstow. I traveled 2000 miles in the winter and summer for ten years, and invited her to where I was every fall and spring.
You begin your own community from where you are. This is not easy and it takes great energy and passion, but it is possible.
It’s probably best to do all of them.
Just make a commitment to begin and you will begin to feel less alone.
Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I feel like I am gradually losing the coordination I had when training at my school. So my question for now is how to avoid losing the skill.
When Marj was 40 she stopped assisting A.R. Alexander in Boston and Pennsylvania, returning to Nebraska to help her father with their large ranch. She told me it was over the next 20 years that she really began to understand Alexander’s work. She said it was mainly through hard manual work on the ranch, and through training horses. She was a kind of cowgirl. She was beautifully coordinated, at 75, when I met her.
So what I hear in that story is that at some point you’ve got to get very interested in how you are doing the things you do in your everyday life, even that 4 hours of computer work that you are doing everyday at your job. You’ve got to be refining your own quality of coordination, and it’s important to find the pleasure in it all.
Now during those 20 years Marj hardly taught at all. But personally, I think it would help you to teach as much as you can. As you continue to figure out things about yourself and your own use, it really helps if you can share your insights with other people. For me this dynamic really works.
One time I asked Marj what I could do to improve my hands as a teacher. I was not going to see her for about 4 months. She told me to watch how I used my hands in everything I did. Everything. She said if I ever saw that I was distorting my hands, that I should stop for a second and then sense my whole body. She said I would begin to see that if I was distorting my hands I had to be distorting my whole body. Then she said once I knew how I was distorting myself I should free myself, that is, cease distorting my whole body, begin again, and this time find, as I began working, how not to distort my hands. She said if someone took a photo of my hands at any moment they should look beautiful.
Forty years later, I am still practicing this.
Erika Whittaker once told me a story. She said she began training when she was 16. She graduated 4 years later, stayed around for a couple of years assisting Alexander, met a man, got married, moved to Australia, got pregnant, had a daughter, raised the daughter, got divorced and found herself 50 years old. Someone said to her, “Erika, now, you could start teaching. You have plenty of time.” It hadn’t occurred to her. She thought, why not? I’ll give it a go. To her surprise she found herself tremendously better as a teacher than she had been when she was younger.
So the work is working within you, whether you know it or not.
That said, from my own experience I can tell you there is no substitute for teaching and using your hands as much as you can. Never turn down an opportunity to teach the work, and to use your hands. Look for those opportunities. Make them happen.
From some of your photos you look to me to be pretty physical: snorkeling, pilates, climbing, hiking. Tap into those communities. Let them experience what you do.
If you can find a movement form that you really like, a formal study, it can be another way to keep the work going, especially if it’s a form that requires great sensitivity.
I hope these thoughts help you. Let me know.