by Elizabeth Langford
One day you will receive your diploma authorizing you to teach the Alexander Technique. What then? There is no ready-made job waiting for you. As things are at the moment, you will have to convince people that you have something valuable to offer them. Who are they, these people you need to convince? Of course they are people with whom you are, or will be, in contact. With the best will in the world, I can’t do that for you. I can run a teacher’s Training Course and keep in touch with teachers trained here, if they so choose; I can keep my hand in and contacts alive by giving private lessons; I can give workshops, lectures and interviews when I’m asked to; I can write books, articles, web-site material and letters to the press and to colleagues; continue to do my best to prevent unqualified people from pretending to teach the Alexander Technique; and generally do what I can to uphold the reputation of the Technique, as I have always tried to do. But although probably from time to time I shall have an opportunity of recommending a pupil to one or other of you, I can’t do much more than that. So what are you going to do about it?
I don’t believe any of you embarked on this training with the idea that it would be an easy option. My impression is that you have all had enough experience of the Technique to enable you to think it important enough to want to share it. How are you going to convey that importance? I’d like to encourage you to think about that now, while you are still in training. don’t leave it until you are qualified and then be disappointed if you meet a lack of demand for your abilities. Now is the time for you to be gathering information about the Alexander Technique and its history. Now is the time to get used to chatting to friends and acquaintances about what you are studying. Above all, it is now that you should be getting a clear picture of what distinguishes the Alexander Technique from other techniques and approaches that your contacts may have heard of, and that they dump in the same basket of ideas, for want of better information.
This won’t be easy for you at first, because you often won’t know enough to answer their questions, and certainly you must not give answers that are misleading. So, on the training course, ask your questions. There is a lot that schools and even universities never teach you about how to learn in a truly adult situation.
Learn never to be afraid of asking a silly question, for it is the silly questions that must be asked! So ask them of us, your teachers. (In front of other people, and especially in print, remember the anonymous prayer: God, help me to keep my big mouth shut till I know what I’m talking about N and sometimes even then.)
I try, during the training course, to give you the information I know is essential. But I can’t remember it for you; I can’t relate it to knowledge you already have from your own past experience; and I can’t tell you the right words for talking about it to the people you happen to know. I strongly suggest that you keep a notebook, a sort of diary, to remind you of what you have learnt that day, of your own thoughts about it, of questions that remain unresolved for you, the turns of phrase that have helped you, where to find useful references in the books we study, and so on. Get in the habit of jotting down at once anything that you want to remember. It is a good plan to review your notes ten minutes or so after making them, then an hour later, then twenty-four hours later (approximately). That way you are not likely to forget them. And they will remind you of practical things we have tried together, and that you can return to when you have a spare moment. There is usually time for all this on the training course, but not everyone knows how best to use the time they have.
I can think of two other useful ways of using training course time. One is, quite simply, to watch what goes on. You may not always get much meaning out of what you see, but I have noticed that people who often have a good look anyway, with or without understanding, are the people who get on best in the long run. And chatting, which I just mentioned in another context, is far from being a waste of time, provided that while you are chatting, you inhibit and direct as well as you can. When you are teaching, you will often want to put pupils at ease by chatting to them about ordinary things. New teachers don’t find it very easy to think about their directions and carry on a conversation at the same time. Now is the time to practise thinking about directions while you’re talking, eating, everything.
Another difficulty that lies ahead is that nobody is a particularly good teacher from the moment they qualify. We all start modestly, usually with friends we have succeeded in interesting N everybody knows somebody! Naturally this means you can’t start with many pupils. I don’t suppose that surprises you. It even has its advantages, because ours is a tough job and a new teacher would find it very hard going to take many pupils at first. On the other hand, in order to get into your stride, you need plenty of experience of teaching: so that as you improve, the word will get round that you are a good teacher, and your practice will gradually increase. Anyone who has done any kind of freelance work will tell you that is the way things work. If you seem to be really in the wrong place to attract pupils, be prepared to travel or even to move.
Until your clientele develops, I’m afraid you will just have to face two hard facts: one is that part of your income may have to come from elsewhere. I don’t suppose that worries you too much. You are all capable people who have already worked at something, and it wasn’t starvation that decided you to embark on becoming an Alexander teacher. And if this training doesn’t teach you anything else, I suppose you will have learnt something about the value of patience!
The other hard fact to which I referred is that part of the experience you need may not be productive of income. Between us we can do something about that. I have always maintained, as Alexander did, that newly qualified teachers, and others, have a lot to gain by making time to work on the Training Course as teachers. Usually it has worked out rather well N though occasionally I have been disappointed, as FM himself was, by people thinking they can go it alone too soon. The present group of teachers working on my Training Course tell me they have always been helped by the contact with students and with each other, as well as with the more experienced teachers. They discuss together teaching problems they have encountered, and gain confidence from seeing students improve. Often even a new teacher can tell in a few minutes of work with a trainee whether a particular approach is likely to be useful, whereas with a private beginner pupil it might take weeks to get the same encouragement N or to discover they were on the wrong track. Also, being still close in time to problems encountered during their own training, they often have the satisfaction of being able to explain something to someone who is currently going through a similar problem. As things progress, they are increasingly helpful to me in running the Training Course. All in all, a very satisfactory situation for all concerned, as it allows us all to advance together. I should not feel at ease with any other arrangement.
This continuing contact with their former fellow students, as they develop as teachers, gives rise to opportunities of working together on introductory courses and workshops. Again, these may not bring in much immediate income, and sometimes entail long journeys just not to let down the other teacher(s) concerned. On the other hand, they do give teachers hands-on experience with people of all sorts of different shapes, sizes and age-groups, besides the chance to find out how their explanations are received in varying circumstances. And very often there will be one or two of those present who want to continue with a course of individual lessons
Here I must emphasize the importance of something that you may find rather difficult to insist on. Too many teachers let themselves be talked into giving once-a-week lessons to beginners. It is essential to explain that that is NOT the way we work. Alexander himself insisted on five lessons a week for the first few weeks, gradually reducing the frequency as the pupil started to get the idea. Some of his pupils were in quite a bad way, but even to people who are in reasonable condition, you should suggest three times weekly for the first week or two. If they say they can’t afford it, explain that it will give them better value for the money they will be spending. (You can also offer staggered payments.) If they say they haven’t got time, suggest starting their lessons when they have got time, e.g. during a holiday period. (If that doesn’t suit your plans, too bad! Which do you want more, pupils or holidays?) If they say it is too far to come, suggest a colleague who lives nearer, if there is one; if not, offer to arrange something if several pupils in the same area want lessons. Only in the last resort, if there is no other solution, should you agree to see what can be done with weekly lessons, pointing out that the results will probably not be as good. Why should any of us imagine we can do what Alexander himself refused to attempt, what Walter Carrington, with his vast experience, doesn’t attempt? You want to build a reputation as a good teacher, and that is not to be done by accepting a teaching situation that is unlikely to be successful! Remember, too, that the reputation of the Technique itself is in your hands from the moment you qualify, so play fair with your colleagues by giving yourself every chance to do your best work.