Thursday, February 16, 2012

Dos and Don'ts For Teachers: Pagan Blog Project

I have always been a theurgist and I write from that perspective. This list is for those that teach personal alchemy/theurgy. Though, I am sure some of it will apply for those teaching magick, religion and related fields of endeavor.

There is a list of dos and don'ts below. Some of them have an asterisk(*) or up carot(^) next to them. These are more clearly explained below the list. However, there are two items that relates to group work that I feel must be emphasized. So, I will cover that first.

Principal over Personality

I do not care how enlightened you think you are or may actually be, everyone has a favorite student or student(s). Embrace that. Know you have favorites. Acknowledge that in your heart. This is okay. Teachers are allowed to be human.

However, there some rules of conduct that you have for your group. Let us use an obvious example. Everyone has a some sort of rule that would prohibit one student from kicking another student in the shins. In a regular school, this is a black and white situation. Violence was done. You must meet out some sort of punishment to the one that kicked regardless of the reason. Then you find out why the kick occurred and you may punish the other if that person was picking on the kicker causing the kicker to lash out.

In an esoteric school, many feel it is not so black and white. Horse feathers! I doesn't matter what level of initiation someone is at. It does not matter that someone has just been initiated into something harsh which places their actions in an initiatory light.  You can deal with that subtle stuff later. It matters even less that your favorite student is the kicker. Deal with the fact that an assault took place first. Deal with it publicly when the action was performed publicly. Deal with it privately when it happened privately.

You have to maintain group discipline. One must adhere to the principal that violence is not allowed. If you adhere to the the bond of favorite student, you will lose the respect of other students and encourage the doer to repeat the offense. Instead, tell the student, you are my favorite. You have potential. That is why I was so disappointed when you did x. Clearly state in vary unambiguous terms what the offense was. This will drive the point home more than the punishment. The punishment is to let the other people in the group know that certain actions will not be tolerated regardless of who performs them.

I am not speaking of just physical violence, there are other forms of behavior that must be dealt with as well.

In short, deal with the offense by dealing with the behavior. Whom you like or dislike should have nothing to do with it.

If you need to punish often,  you're doing something wrong.


We are human. Everyone has issues they hide from themselves. Everyone has issues they are aware of but try to keep from others. Projecting these issues on others is VERY easy. When this happens, you look like a hypocrite. No one follows a hypocrite. The only way to deal with this is to admit your issues. "Look, I know I poke badgers with spoons. However, so do you. This is an issue I need to work on. It is also an issue you need to work on." Being accusatory over an issue you have DOES NOT WORK. Projection is a trick of the ego. It does this to hide your issues from yourself. "Yeah, I may be a little off but look at that crazy son-of-a-bitch!" It is an insidious easy trap to fall into. Guard yourself. It does not serve you well. It harms your student. It interferes with your ability to see your student clearly. Even if the student has a 'worse' case than yours. You have to emphasize to yourself and the student that your issue is worse. It is the only way for you to see clearly and the only way to keep your student from getting so defensive that s/he cannot hear your point.

  • Remember, the student knows more about his/her life than you do.
  • Serve the student. The student does not serve you.
  • Always be respectful of the student. The Golden Rule applies here too.
  • Humble yourself before you student's regularly*
  • Lead your students to the next level. 
  • If after a period of time**, the student doesn't get "it", change your tactics.
  • When you have taught the student all you can, happily let the student go. This is a happy moment.
  • Let your students challenge you. It allows them to think and you to learn.
  • Personal alchemy is tough. Take a fair amount of crap from your students as they need to vent but remember where to draw the line.
  • When you do not know, say you do not know
  • When a student calls you master, call him slave.***
  • Make sure you have a solid life outside of teaching. This helps keep you balanced. 
  • Do not get overly involved in solving your student's life problems.^
  • Do not cultivate an aura of mystery. When that shatters, and it will, you will not look good.
  • Do not let the fact that someone is drawn to your teachings convince you that you are their teacher.^^
  • Do not let students tell you what you want to hear. This is not learning. This is your ego.
  • Do no harm.
  • Never ever ever have sex with a student even if you are in love. Get them another teacher first. It will mess up them, you, your group and your relationship.
*  Humble yourself before you student's regularly  
  • When a student exalts a teacher that student will become disappointed in the teachings when the teacher's humanness is revealed. It is the teaching that is important not the teacher.
  • When you share your mistakes with your students, it keeps your ego in check. It is very easy to believe your true self is reflected in your students' worshipful eyes.
  • When you student makes a mistake, s/he will realize that this does not end one's theurgic career and that simply a self-teaching moment has occurred, just like it occurred for you.
  • While truly born of compassion, humility is a sign of spirituality. If you cannot delineate your mistakes to a student, are you truly humble? Many people feel that the student needs someone to look up to as part of the process. I disagree. All the student needs is to look up to what s/he can be and look eye to eye with the person that can help him to climb that ladder. Saying, that you made mistakes is not enough because it is an obvious statement. It is false humility. Detailing those mistakes demonstrates your humility and compassion. That said, you cannot beat yourself up for them and you cannot let your students beat you up for them.
** If after a period of time, the student doesn't get "it", change your tactics.
  • While this is subjective for each circumstance, it should be obvious when letting a student figure it out for himself is doing more harm than good. First, do no harm.
  • Changing tactics is a sign of humility as it shows you have the capability of considering that you may have made an error. 
  • If you did make an error, the only way to truly find out is to lay your cards on the table. Finding out is a good thing. It aids the student. It teaches the teacher. 
*** When a student calls you master, call him slave.
  • Regarding the teacher, see humility
  • Regarding the student, see the first line of humility
  • The adoration of the teacher by the student, while it may feel very good, should be strongly discouraged. This can be done without saying a word.
^ Do not get overly involved in solving your student's life problems.
  • Getting overly involved means you are claiming responsibility for their lives. This is not only not-humble but it is arrogant.
  • You will burn out and be of no use to your students.
  • Claiming responsibility for their lives is disrespectful to the student.
^^ Do not let the fact that someone is drawn to your teachings convince you that you are their teacher.
  • Again, this is a sign of a lack of humility
  • It is one thing to know you are the only one available for someone and doing  your best without being a perfect fit. It is quite another to think you can teach anyone that comes to you.
Note: This post is going up on the Friday Pantheacon starts. I will be attending the convention all weekend. I mention this because most often, if I don't post for a few days someone sends me a concerned email. I appreciate that but, in this case, there is no need for concern. 


Celtic Witch said...

A lovely post on teaching do's and don'ts. As a teacher myself I can truly understand what you've said. In fact I rather dislike being called a teacher, a facilitator is a better word. The students and I are on a wonderful learning process and I learn so much from them. It's a collective adventure where discussion holds sway. I really enjoyed reading this post of yours.

LexxWrites said...

I love this post as a person who has co-lead an open circle this is always a subject that needs to be breached thank you :)

Andrew B. Watt said...

Nice list!

(The teacher in me thinks "principle" not "principal").

As a middle school teacher, I'm conscious that the relationship between me and a student rarely changes from the point of view of authority and direction-of-instruction. There are students who teach me new things, but I'm usually sliding those things into a previously-existing worldview. They just don't present teachings that overwhelm my existing mindset.

In a ritual or liturgical concept, this is part of the reason why I've been reluctant to join magical or occult orders (AODA and the freemasons being the two exceptions). One of the things that I like about lodge structure in general is that the officerships are supposed to rotate among members — so that sometimes I'm a teacher within the lodge, and sometimes I'm an ordinary member, and sometimes I'm a candidate for higher membership. I'm working with some folks to set such a group, but it's slow-going — meeting is difficult enough without also trying to cycle officer positions effectively.

All the same, one of my most powerful moments as a 'magical teachers' was moving from the presidency of our group to the past-presidency position, and realizing I didn't have to be the teacher any more. I could be in the role of the learner again. I understood the truth Greer talks about in Inside a Magical Lodge that in Paganism we have a lot of High Priestesses and Grand Poobahs, but very few Secretaries and Heralds, and very, very few Past-Presidents... It's powerful to be the chosen teacher in your circle. It's equally powerful to give that role up to someone else.

Annette Breaux said...

Excellent post! As a teacher myself, I certainly can relate to each of these "rules" you have listed. Really enjoyed reading this post.

Shoshanah said...

This post, it is very useful, I am not a teacher myself and I feel very difficult to consider it because I see it is something so much complicated.
I just have one doubt, what do you mean with 'punishment'. Because we are talking of adult students, if it is theurgy at least, what kind of punishment can you apply, or it is just to say everyone in the group 'this kind of behaviour is not acceptable'.
Thank you again.

Robert said...

Susana, that is a good question. In group work, there can be a need to enforce a level of discipline. For instance, Golden Dawn rituals are quite complex and take some preparation time for the seven to eleven officers involved. If someone were to show up drunk that could be so disruptive as to waste all that prep time and be very disrespectful to the group adn the person to be initiated.

Theurgically, you deal with that one way. As a group leader, you may need to punish that person by removing such responsibilities or asking that person to leave the group for a short time to get his/her head screwed on straight or you may ignore the one-time incident. There are no hard and fast rules, save transparency.

If someone is being consistently disruptive or mean-spirited some sort of action may be required to drive the point home that this behavior is not acceptable. I have never seen a group that was well run and lasted for any length of time that hasn't had to impose some sort of discipline on someone to maintain smooth operations.

That said, if this is a common occurrence, leadership is doing something wrong.

It should go w/o saying the punishment should fit the crime, be well-delinated and understood.