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What makes a good teacher?

This question, asked so frequently from many different vantage points, has no one answer, instead, challenging the respondent to review and articulate something meaningful from their own unique experience of the question. As a yoga teacher and perennial student, my answer to this question continually shifts and expands.

I’ve had *a lot* of teachers in my life, and while the subject of study has changed and concept of teacher has broadened to include things like phenomena in the natural world, young children, mean-spirited people and illness alike, there are a few common threads that help me define a good teacher in the more traditional sense of the word. Here is my short list.

1. A good teacher is a good student. This means that the teacher is continually seeking to better understand their own potential and to broaden their breadth of knowledge. They recognize there is no one way to understand any given subject or the world we live in. With grace and humility, a true teacher sets ego aside to continually be in the role of the student, not so embedded in their own beliefs that they cannot invite another perspective to challenge their model of understanding the world.

2. A good teacher knows the topic. It may sound a bit obvious, but many teachers come from only a few years of experience and one angle of the subject. All good teachers should have a multidimensional approach in both absorbing information and teaching it.

3. A good teacher is quietly confident. Without being boastful or condescending of other teachers, modalities or students, it takes an inner confidence to stand up in front of a room and teach something meaningful that others may or may not know already. It has been my experience that this quiet strength comes from an honesty and awareness of the boundaries of one’s own knowledge. I am always impressed when a teacher admits to not knowing the answer, but takes the time in collaborative exploration with the student to find the realm of possibility.

4. A good teacher is compassionate and passionate. Compassion for the students and passion for the topic should be a prerequisite for all teachers. We all learn differently. While some people rely on heavy handed militaristic teachers for a more disciplined learning approach, a good teacher can be firm and compassionate without being bossy, aggressive or dogmatic. It goes without saying that anyone teaching for a paycheck is in the wrong profession. Teachers should be teaching because of their unbridled desire to pass on whatever knowledge they have of the subject matter. For the students who have come to a class to learn, the teacher’s raison d’être is always evident.

5. A good teacher is engaging and authentic. Communicating something of value to another being entails knowing who you’re speaking to and engaging with them from a place that is real. The best teachers I’ve had, from nursery school to graduate school and straight through to my present day Rolfing training, speak to the audience in a way that is both relevant and personal.

Whether you are looking for a university degree, a yoga teacher certification or a degree in fashion design, consider who your teachers are in your day to day life, and what qualities drive you to learn and blossom. Chances are, you may learn a thing or two about yourself by looking to whom you gravitate for knowledge and understanding.

A dear teacher of mine once told me to work with (study with, cultivate relationships with) people who celebrate my strengths, who see my potential and challenge me to rise to it. This advice has been some of the most powerful and transformative that I have received, and reminds me of the importance the work teachers from all walks of life impart to their students. The more a teacher asks the student to think creatively, embrace their passion for the subject and offer compassionate critique, the more the student can rise above challenges and hardship to be better, happier, more educated, and most importantly, more self aware.

The “Sahanavavatu mantra” is one of the shanti (peace) mantras which has its origins in the Taittiriya Upanisad. This mantra is often used to send the message of peace and prosperity. The mantra may also be used to invoke God’s blessings for harmony amongst teachers and students. AUM saha navavatu, saha nau bhunaktu Saha veeryam karvaavahai Tejasvi naa vadhita mastu maa vid vishaa va hai AUM shaantih, shaantih, shaantih. Meaning of the Sahanavavatu Mantra Let us together (-saha) be protected (-na vavatu) and let us together be nourished (-bhunaktu) by blessings of divine manifestation. Let us together join our mental forces in strength (-veeryam) for the benefit of humanity (-karvaa vahai). Let our efforts at learning be luminous (-tejasvi) and filled with joy, and endowed with the force of purpose (-vadhita mastu). Let us never (-maa) be poisoned (-vishaa) with the seeds of hatred for anyone. Let there be peace and serenity (-shaantih) in all the three universes. This mantra highlights the nature of the teacher-student relationship that produces ideal results for the student. The transference of mental, spiritual and intellectual energies from the teacher to the student can be achieved through a mutually nourishing relationship which is based on (mutual) respect, joy (of giving and receiving), and absence of malice or negative thoughts.
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