Perhaps the Most Important Question of All
In Honor of All Those Doing Their Best to Train Future Generations of Alexander Teachers
It is no secret that many teacher training programs in the Alexander Technique have closed their doors or are struggling mightily to keep them open. It seems that only a few programs are actually thriving. Why is this and what can we do about it? Having just returned from the Congress in Chicago, having had such a wonderful time, having been inspired by so many, I wish more than ever to help Alexander teacher training programs survive and thrive. But where to begin?
Perhaps we teacher trainers can learn something from Abraham Maslow, the famous humanistic psychologist and author of Toward a Psychology of Being and Motivation and Personality.
Maslow decided to study mentally healthy people instead of people suffering from serious psychological issues. He studied what he called, ‘self actualizing people.’ Basically, this is what he found.
Self actualizing people exhibit certain traits. What if our directors of training exhibited these same traits? Might we too begin to actualize ourselves and our training programs?
Here is a list of nine traits found in self-actualizing people.
One. Self actualizing people know how to enjoy the journey, not just the destination. They are flexible, they can change; they adapt. Self actualizing people embrace uncertainty and ambiguity. They do not cling to the familiar.
Questions arise. Are we teacher trainers enjoying the journey? Are we flexible, able to change and adapt? Or are we clinging to what is familiar to us?
In MSI Alexander writes:
“…That rigid routine we refer to as habit, this rigid routine being the stumbling-block to rapid adaptability, to the assimilation of new ideas, to originality.”
And in CCC,
“…Boldly to make the necessary change, should he ﬁnd that the fundamental principles concerned are defective; and to make the necessary adjustments which are essential to the acceptance and assimilation of new and approved knowledge whilst going on with his job.”
Two. Self actualizing people accept themselves with all of their flaws, and others with all of theirs. They know they are not perfect. They accept imperfection in themselves and in others.
Questions abound. Are we teacher trainers willing to admit that our teacher training structures may not be perfect, that we may not be working inside the one and only absolutely ideal model? Are we willing to admit that our teacher training structures could be improved upon? While we are at it, are we willing to admit that the Alexander Technique is not perfect, that the procedures through which we teach the principles are not perfect, nor the teachers with whom we trained perfect?
Three. While inherently unconventional, self actualizing people do not seek to shock or disturb. They are neither conformers nor rebels. They resist enculturation. They are free thinkers, able to think outside the box, self-starters. They take responsibility for their own destinies.
Are we teacher trainers taking responsibility for the success or failure of our teacher training programs, or are we coming up with excuses as to why our schools, if they are not thriving, are not thriving? Are we blaming our failure on society? If our schools are not thriving are we afraid to think outside of the box, to trust our own instincts?
Four. Self actualizing people have an endless desire for personal growth.
Are we teacher trainers still growing, or are we just doing the same old thing year after year? Have we long ago decided on the best way to train teachers? Are we still studying, still learning from others? Are we improving?
Five. Self actualizing people are passionate; they have a mission in life, a calling that, in some way, serves others.
Are we teacher trainers still truly passionate about the work? Is the work still new, still fresh? Are we still in love with the work? Is our love for the work still contagious? Is it overflowing into the world?
Six. Self actualizing people can see the forest through the trees. They don’t get hung up on petty details. They impart a sense of serenity.
Do we teacher trainers have a vision for our schools, our own vision, a unique vision that expresses who we are and what we care about? Can we give voice to this vision? Are we thinking in years, or are we thinking across generations? If the work is working in us then we will not be overcome by fear or worry, but will walk into class modeling that which we wish to impart.
Seven. Self actualizing people are full of gratitude, full of wonder. They are at once realists and optimists.
Are we teacher trainers being realistic? That is, are we meeting reality as it is now? Are we attuned to how life is for people now, within the countries, cultures and economies in which we live? Are we being realistic about what is possible for people as far as training is concerned? Are there people out there who would love to train with us but cannot because of the realities of their lives? Are we feeling hopeless about our teacher training programs, pessimistic, bitter, or are we taking the challenge and meeting it with courage and conviction, with passion and energy? Are we full of gratitude for the work and for the task of passing the work on to others?
Eight. Self actualizing people nurture deep relationships with a few people, but at the same time they feel affection toward all people.
Do we teacher trainers love the people with whom we work, our co-directors, our co-teachers? Do we nurture these relationships? Do we feel real affection for our trainees? Do we like people? Do we truly wish to serve?
Nine. Self actualizing people are humble, with no sense of entitlement. They exude quiet confidence.
Are we teacher trainers humble? Do we harbor the need to feel that we are better than our colleagues, that our way of working is right, is best and everyone else’s way is inferior or wrong? Do we speak ill of people within our profession, do we gossip, do we hold unfounded prejudices? Or do we see ourselves as one piece in a beautiful puzzle, no more, no less? Can we get to that place within ourselves where we no longer have to defend our work, to that place where we have no enemies because we wish everyone well, want everyone to succeed, to that place where there is no side to take, but only one loving sphere in which we all live and work? Can we open ourselves to receiving help from others?
If we wish to be a healthy, vibrant, self-actualizing community, a community full of healthy trainees and teachers, a community full of healthy, vibrant and successful teacher training programs, perhaps Maslow is offering us the map.
Ultimately, the success or failure of a teacher training program rests squarely upon the shoulders of its director/directors. If our teacher training program is failing it serves no one to blame society, the economy, our trainees, our faculty, or our professional society, if we should belong to one. We must begin with ourselves.
To summarize, according to Maslow our directors of training and our training programs need to be flexible, that is, ready, able and willing to change as opportunities arise. If our training structure is not working are we willing to experiment and do what is necessary to make it work? Are we willing to accept the fact that our training structure could be improved upon? Are we taking full responsibility for how our training program is doing? Are we afraid to think outside the box if it isn’t doing well? Are we still growing personally? Are we modeling what it means to be a good student, a good teacher, a good person? Is the work still new, still fresh for us, and if not what can we do about it? Do we have a personal vision of the work? Can we give voice to that vision; get our vision out into the world in a way that is powerful and beautiful? Are we being realistic, or are we living in the past? Are we able to, as Alexander says, free ourselves from our rigid routine, the stumbling block that prevents us from adapting rapidly, assimilating new ideas, and being original? Is there enough love in our hearts for the work, for the people with whom we work, and for the people for whom we work, perhaps the most important question of all? And finally, if we are on our high horse can we get off it and stand on common ground along with all our fellow teacher trainers, no matter the lineage, no matter the political affiliation, and help one another?
Lots of questions; no, lots of problems.
Abraham Heschel, a famous rabbi, once said that questions have answers, but problems have solutions. He believed that man was a problem, a problem to be solved. It is we who are the problem.
And, it is we who are the solution.
Let’s commit to solving our problems, alone, deep within ourselves, and together, through generous acts of kindness and goodwill toward one another.