A few months ago Mr Miller put up a post on his blog about when to teach magic. And I agree with what he said in his post, a twenty year old is probably not ready to teach magic. The question has been stuck in my mind all of this time though because I’ve seen so many horrible teachers and classes over the years. I’ve seen people teach classes on subjects they have no experience with using material they printed off the Internet earlier in the day and hadn’t even bothered to read prior to the class. I’ve seen people attend a weekly class for the sole purpose of reteaching the information to their own students while they were still attending the class.
In magic there are actually two different definitions of the word teacher. There is a spiritual mentor. This is a person that has a very close bond and relationship with a student for a period of time, and they specifically guide the student through their current issues and problems in order to get them to the next stage of their spiritual development. Although this type of teacher doesn’t typically remain in the student’s life for very long, the amount of time the teaching takes is indefinite. The teacher remains and teaches the student until the teaching is done. Likewise they don’t follow specific lesson plans. The teacher teaches the student exactly what they need to know. It should be noted that this type of teacher, if they are real, will never charge for their services or expect anything in return from the student.
The second definition is more akin to the type of teacher we see in school or college. It is a person who is teaching a particular subject, technique, or spiritual system to another individual or group of people. Sometimes these classes are taught in a few hours time. Other times they consist of multiple classes over a period of months or even years. Sometimes they are done online as correspondent courses. These classes are sometimes taught to members of a particular group, such as a coven leader teaching other members of the coven. Usually these classes follow a lesson plan or at least some sort of structured system. Sometimes the teacher charges students to take the class.
In the first instance it isn’t too hard to tell when you’re ready to teach. When a student is brought to you, and you instinctively know they are your student, and they instinctively know you are their teacher, and you instinctively know it’s the right time to teach them, that’s when you’re ready to be a teacher. The universe is going to do all of the work and bring to you the students who will get the most out of being taught by you when they need you the most.
It’s the second definition that people have trouble with. Personally I blame a failing system of lower education. Too many people graduate high school without any idea of what a real teacher is or what they’re supposed to do. In high school we see teachers as people who are rarely experts in their field that parrot information they learned in college and rely on special books filled with all of the answers to teach their class.
This is not what a teacher is. Teaching is not about giving someone information. Teaching is about explaining something to someone else and helping them understand it. There is a big difference between these two things. It is not enough to be taught the information and even have it memorized. It’s not enough to just have the information to give to a student.
To be a teacher you really need four things. You must have an intimate and expert understanding of the subject matter. You must be able to explain things well. You need to have proper understanding and respect for your students. And you need to project the proper image.
An intimate and expert understanding of the subject matter:
Notice how I said understanding and not knowledge. It’s not enough to know the material. You have to understand it. You have to completely understand it. You have to understand how everything works and operates and be able to develop the information on your own.
No matter how much you learn and study, no matter how much of an expert you are, you’ll never know everything there is to know about a subject. There’s always going to be something else there to learn. So what happens when a student asks you a question and you don’t know the answer? You figure out what the correct answer is. You don’t have to know everything to teach a subject, but you need to know the subject well enough to find the correct answer.
For instance I maybe know the correspondences for about twenty to thirty different herbs. Those are the herbs that either I use a lot, or ones like Belladonna that are so unique that they’ve stuck in my head. Now I don’t do much herbalism and I don’t consider myself qualified to teach more than an introductory course on herbalism, but if someone asked me the properties of a particular plant and gave me a day, I could figure it out. And I don’t mean I would look it up in Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs and tell them what he wrote. Yes I would look at what Cunningham wrote. I’d also look up the mythologies and folklore of the herb. I’d look up medicinal and biological information about the herb. I’d look up what it’s used for. I’d channel, I’d work with a bit of the herb if I could find some, and I’d meditate on it. And after less than an hour’s worth of work I’d find the answer. It’s not a big deal.
You have to remember too that eventually you’ll get a student that is smarter than you. And they’ll come up with ideas and questions that you would never even imagine. You will not be able to teach that person anything unless you understand the subject matter.
And to be honest, most teacher’s are stumped by the intellect of a five year old. The most common question that I’ve seen stump teachers is “why?” They tell the student something, and the student asks why, and they don’t have an answer.
You’re teaching a class on herbalism. A student asks you what are the herbal properties of Raspberries. You tell the student that they are used for protecting your house, to induce love, and to alleviate the pains of pregnancy (these are the uses given in Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs pg 186). The student then asks you why raspberries have those metaphysical properties. “Because Cunningham says so” is not a proper answer for a teacher. In order to teach a class on herbalism you need to be able to understand why certain herbs have certain properties.
The second most common question that stumps a teacher is when the student figures out a contradiction. If you are teaching something from a text that you got from a book, that you got online, or someone else’s lesson plan, I can almost guarantee that there are contradictions within that one work. If you are combining more than one work by different authors together, I can positively guarantee you that there are contradictions. A lot of older students may be too stupid, bored, or scared to point it out, but if there is a twelve year old taking your class, I can also guarantee you that they will notice the contradiction and point it out to you and want you to explain it. This is the thing that twelve year olds do.
If it’s someone else’s information that you don’t understand, you won’t be able to figure out the contradiction. You won’t be able to figure out which part of the information is correct or incorrect, or be able to see that both are actually correct because there is some third piece of information that isn’t being considered.
And also, if you’re just telling your students the correct answer you’re a bad teacher. A good teacher doesn’t just give their students the correct answers. A good teacher teaches their students how to find the correct answers. Teaching someone how to go about finding the correct answers to any question they may ever have is infinitely more valuable than telling them the answer to a single question. The only way you can teach someone that though is if you actually know how to find the correct answers.
Be able to explain things well:
It’s not enough to just give people the information. After all, anybody can open up a book or read a page off the Internet. If you have your own personal information you’ve developed yourself, that might be worth something if you really are the only source of the information. But more than likely, even if you have developed your own information, someone else has already put the same ideas into a book, or on a webpage, or someone else is teaching it. There really isn’t a point to teaching someone if all you’re doing is giving them information. Unless they’re illiterate, they can get it themselves.
Good teachers are able to explain subjects to their students in a way they can understand it. Imagine you’re teaching a class on spellwork. You’ve been casting spells for twenty years. All of your friends that you talk to have also been doing it for a decade or more. You’re an expert at it. You understand every part of it. And so you go into the class and explain everything they need to know in a way that you, and the people you normally talk to, would understand. And your students go, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
As a teacher you need to be able to explain the subject to someone who doesn’t have a background in it, who doesn’t yet understand it. The best teachers are the people who can remember what it was like before they knew anything about the subject, and so they explain it in a way they would have understood it.
Bad teachers make subjects seem complicated, confusing, and difficult, because it makes them look smart because they understand it. Good teachers make the subject seem uncomplicated and easy to understand. They make it seem like you don’t even have to be very smart to get it, you just need to have a proper explanation.
This is what teaching is. It’s a skill and of course it can be developed. Some people are going to be very good at it and some people aren’t. If you aren’t very good at explaining complicated subjects in a way that other people can understand them, then you need to work on that before you start teaching. That is, essentially, what teaching is.
Have Proper Respect and Understanding of Your Students:
I’ve seen a lot of magicians who are very knowledgable yet will never be teachers. They don’t have the right personality to be teachers. They get annoyed when people don’t understand things right away. If a student isn’t picking up the information, they see it as a failure on the part of the student and not a failure on the part of the teacher. They’re often times mean to their students. They aren’t there to help their students with their needs.
If you want to be a teacher you need patience. You need to understand that some people will have a lot of difficulty learning certain subjects. You have to be able to change your teaching style and methods to meet the needs of the student. And you have to remember that not every student is going to be really smart or easily pick up the material. As a teacher you have to be able to teach all of your students, not just the ones that are easy to teach.
People who constantly complain about how stupid or ignorant everyone in the community is are not cut out to be teachers. Teachers don’t complain about that, they do something about it. It’s okay if most of the people in the community don’t understand anything about magic. Teachers don’t expect everyone to be able to figure this stuff out on their own. Teachers are there to figure out a way to help people understand magic and spirituality.
Be Able to Project the Proper Image:
Magic is a spiritual path. No matter how well you know the subject and how well you can explain it, if you cannot project an image of being a spiritual master, no one will want to be your student. At least no one worthwhile.
We have certain expectations of spiritual masters. And if you want to be a teacher you need to meet some of those expectations. It isn’t really that hard. First off you have to seem intelligent and like you know what you’re talking about. If you actually know and understand the subject matter though, you’ll seem like you’re intelligent and you know what you’re talking about.
The second part is you need to be professional. This is easy too. If you say you’re going to teach a class at a certain time, make sure you show up and you’re on time. If you say you’re going to do something, like pick up supplies for the class, do it. Treat your students with respect. Don’t be mean to them. The second part, acting professional, is once again easy. It’s amazing not many people can do it.
The third and final part is you have to be emotionally stable, at least while teaching your class. This means you can’t go into violent fits of rage, you can’t break out crying, you can throw temper tantrums, you can’t have nervous break downs, you can’t come to class expecting your students to talk you out of your current suicide attempt, ect. You’d be amazed at how many people who want to be teachers can’t manage to do this.