Some people are naturally confident, effective teachers
Some people are naturally confident, effective teachers. I’m not one of them.
In fact, I used to want to quit teaching and speaking almost every single time I did it.
But only for the first 18 years.
Yes, it took me that long to trust and enjoy myself as a teacher. Gulp.
I had been thrust into teaching at a young age when The Woman’s Comfort Book became a bestseller. I was 28, 29 years old. I started getting calls to do workshops, lead retreats and give keynotes. I had zero idea what I was doing. (This was 1992 so no Internet to search for help.) I flailed about. I’d waste weeks over-preparing, then I’d collapse when my teaching didn’t go the way I’d imagined.
And if the students didn’t rave? I was crushed.
I felt ashamed and alone in my failures. Why was this so hard for me? I fantasized about moving to a yurt in the woods or opening a cheese shop. Anything but teaching!
Then I began to befriend other teachers at places like Omega, at conferences, and through the growing online world. I got a little lighter when I learned many of them struggled, too. (I will forever owe Elizabeth Lesser, co-founder of Omega, a giant debt of gratitude when she said, to my tentative sharing of my struggles over lunch, “Oh that happens to me, too!”)
But still I struggled much more than I wanted. Until one day a dear friend, whom I looked up to as a teacher, confessed his struggles to own being the teacher he already clearly was. I heard these words come out of my mouth, “I think I want to support teachers.”
But it wasn’t until I created the program TeachNow that I truly stopped suffering as a teacher. Isn’t that adorable! We teachers, we so often teach what we need to know.
So what did I learn over the last 6 years of crafting and offering TeachNow to over 1800 students, first in partnership with Michele Christensen, then on my own? I learned:
- It was normal to wonder if you should quit. To soar at one workshop and crap out at the next.
- Most everybody feels naked and achingly vulnerable when sharing a new idea or exercise.
- That the best way to get better at teaching was to do it a lot. One thing that had been holding me back was waiting to be chosen to teach or speak, often leaving months between gigs. I began hosting my own retreats and offering online programs instead.
- To stop fire hosing my students with too much material in the name of “giving them value” and instead to create sacred containers where safety, community and connection did most of the heavy lifting.
- The importance of making consistent and engaging offers, and to stop being afraid to say, “I’m offering this program and this is why it might be good for you.”
- And to write copy that weeded out the people I could not, or did not want to, serve. I could have just right students!
All of this made me oh so much happier and oh so much a better teacher. I would still have doubts — normal. I would still semi-dread teaching — normal. I would still not be a great fit for everybody — normal. But overall? WOW.
And yet, there was still something missing. Something I’m still working on.
Which would be: owning it.
By “it” I mean owning the particular flavor and blend of knowledge, energy, caring, and experience that is mine. And mine alone.
If you have read me for any time — some of you go back with me to 1992! — you have watched me in my struggle to own my… wisdom? power? integrity? Those words only hint at what I’m working on. The closest word I can find is wholeness.
Owning the wholeness of myself as a writer and teacher.
Why in the heck that is still sometimes difficult for me could fill a book (and is filling parts of the memoir I’m working on) but the reason I share this with you is because the struggle to own the wholeness of yourself is your primary work as a teacher, as a creative, as a person. We all struggle with this. Of course we do!
But when we think that struggle is shameful or should be hidden behind an amour of “I can’t ever share what I know” or “I need to take one more certification course before” or in being the brittle expert who insists her way is the only way, we will never fully enjoy the amazing joy of connecting to our students. There will always be a crick in the hose of our flow.
How do you own the wholeness of who you are as a teacher? That’s a holy question, a lifetime of a question and I can’t help but offer a few ideas drawn from my own experience and from creating TeachNow:
- Allow ‘I don’t know’ to be your favorite phrase. Knowing it all is not the same as owning your wholeness.
- Hold sharing what you know and being a beginner at the same time. You will develop your ideas more fully only by teaching, not by keeping them in a neatly organized file on your hard drive.
- My dear friend and wonderful teacher Susan Piver once asked me, “Whose work do you want to extend?” Forget being unique. Take a page from the world of science where everybody stands on the shoulders of everybody who went before.
- Where do you keep teaching what you think you have to teach? Where do you feel false or that you have outgrown an idea? See that area or idea as clearly as you can and then… let it go.
- Conversely, what are you afraid to teach? What feels so yours, so untested, you just can’t imagine sharing it? Gather a group in your living room, warn them this might be total ca-ca, and teach it with your full body and heart. Then ask for feedback.
Wanna join me for a deep dive into what might be keeping YOU from getting your scary sh*t done so you can finally get your creative, important, or just straight up joyful work out of your head and into the world?
Register here for my brand new LIVE video training on Wednesday, March 22nd at 11am Pacific (2pm Eastern).
Originally published at Jennifer Louden.