I taught the first Blue Lotus four day “Teacher Training” this past week. I want to share one aspect that we investigated.
As a teacher, I consider myself to be a bridge. I am bridging eastern and western culture by bringing some “eastern” ideas to a “western” audience. This audience may not have been exposed to these concepts or, if they have been, it is often in an overly simplistic or caricatured kind of way.
When teaching eastern arts such as yoga, tai chi, qi gong, Buddhism and certain meditation practices, or Thai massage, we become immersed in a world of concepts, ideas and language that makes sense within itself but is not always as comprehensible outside of these particular constructs. One way this shows itself is through the words that we use. We might find ourselves using words like compassion, lovingkindness, energy, spirit, and meditation to name a few. We might find ourselves using these words with the assumption that everyone understands them in the same way that we understand them. But I would suggest that even if you got a hundred yogis together in the same room, you would have a hundred different ideas of what energy means. The added complication is that when you are in front of beginning students, not only do you have people with different ideas of what energy means, you also have varying degrees of skepticism or judgment based on their personal history with that word or concept.
I have outlined one way of considering this idea.
First, become aware of the vocabulary that you take for granted but that a newbie might find perplexing at best or off-putting at worse. The beginning student may even think they know the meaning of the word but upon investigation you might find that they have a wrong understanding of it. It’s important to keep in mind that beginning students need very basic things to be broken down into their most simple and clear definitions. This is not a dumbing down approach. It simply insures that when you speak, everyone is on the same page.
Teachers often miss this and make wrong assumptions about their students. It’s like the yoga teacher who has been practicing yoga for a long time. When they go in front of the class to teach a simple pose they find that upon teaching it, it’s not simple at all for a beginner. They might forget that they were a beginner at one time and what that felt like. They might have forgotten what their capability was at the time and how much they have learned and grown throughout the years. And because of this they might not even notice the student struggling or if they do, they might become frustrated and blame the student. A good teacher will develop a sensitivity to the new student’s needs and capabilities and become that bridge. In this way, start to pay attention to the words that you use and how they may be understood or misunderstood by your students.
When you determine that there is a word that would help the students in their learning because it embodies a particular concept that you feel the students would benefit from, take the time to define it using bridging language. In other words, define it in terms that would be easily understood by someone who has never set foot in the world you have been marinated in. Take the time to get clear and use examples and a clear, concise definition. Let them know that the word has many different meanings or nuances but that in the context of your class, this is how you want them to consider the word. After you have clearly defined the term, let the students grapple with it. Have them journal on it, have a discussion about it and give time for it to be understood. Also, make sure you listen deeply to the doubts of your students. Don’t expect them to jump on board right away. Honor their skepticism and don’t be afraid to question yourself and your preconceived notions. Be humble in the face of their questioning and recognize that you still have much to learn about the topic as well.
Here is an exercise you can do to help you get clarity. Take a few words that you use regularly in class that might be challenging for your students. Note: Even if you are not a classroom teacher, you may still find yourself using these words with friends or family. You will benefit from this exercise as well. On a piece of paper, write down those words and define them the best you can. See if you can keep it very simple, getting to the essence in just a few short sentences. Also, see how other people in your tradition define it and see if your understanding matches theirs. If not, you will want to let your students know other ways of looking at the word within your tradition. Sit with your definition for a while and see how it feels for you. Try it out in your next class and see if it still feels right. Try to elicit discussion about it and learn about your student’s thoughts and opinions regarding the word or concept you bring up. Make any adjustments and try again in another class.
By considering your words and doing this short exercise, you will help to open a whole new way of looking at the world to your students. You will be a sturdy bridge that, if tread upon, might lead some intrepid travelers to a whole new land, perhaps becoming bridges themselves.
Choke Dee Na Krup!!!