Thursday, September 5, 2013

Prompt: Teachers (and Students)

There are many people this day and age that are searching for teachers. If you browse any Wiccan or Pagan forum, you'll find people searching. So the questions I am asking today is...What makes someone qualified to teach their spiritual path? In the case of Wicca, what would you look for? Years of study and practice? Initiation into a tradition? Teaching experience? What makes someone qualified, in your opinion, to teach another? At what point does a "student" become a "teacher"?
(Pagan Blog Prompts)

I'm not going to speak about Wicca (not being a Wiccan...), or even any other specific tradition, but instead I'm going to look a bit more broadly at the qualities most teachers, regardless of tradition, should have.

The first is, of course, at least a few years of solid experience in whatever they'll be teaching - be it their tradition, herbalism, or whatever else. It's hard to name an exact number, because the truth is, to steal a line from Doctor Who, "It doesn't work like that. Some people live more in twenty years than others do in eighty. It's not the time that matters, it's the person." To give an example, I've met people who happily boast about having been a Wiccan for more than fifteen years... and yet, they don't know when Imbolc is, or what it's about. Something that many others with much less experience would be able to tell you about with no issue. You need to find someone who hasn't just collected years, so to speak, but has filled those years with actual study and practice.

The problem is, if you're new to the information, you might not know how to tell if someone really has done this, or if a person is just lying or exaggerating. Years and even titles can be misleading, or totally made up. This is why it's important to get recommendations from others about a teacher, or to see how respected they are within their particular community, if you can do so. Even those things are not always a solid guarantee, but often they can shine light on some big problems.

Another necessary thing is some degree of consistency and stability. Personal practices grow and change, of course, but if someone is frequently making big changes that might be a sign that they're still working through a lot of things in their own practice, and so might not be ready to guide someone else on theirs. (One or two big changes is probably not a huge deal, that happens, but several in a short time is more of a red flag.)

Experience is good, but it's not enough. Knowing things doesn't automatically mean you'll be able to teach them. A teacher needs to be able to explain these concepts to others in a way that's easy for a beginner to understand. A teacher needs to understand that different people learn in different ways, and at different rates. A teacher needs to understand the order in which to teach things - how to build a strong foundation, and how to work off from that. How to present information, while still letting the student put in the work necessary to the practice.

A teacher needs to have patience, but a teacher also needs to know when a student (or potential student) is simply wasting their time. A teacher needs to know their own limits, and they need to be able to admit when they don't know something, or when they've been wrong about something. A teacher needs to be willing to still be a student, too. It's not easy to teach, and frankly I think we often don't give enough credit to those who do so well.

What about students, though? If you're looking for a teacher, the first thing you need to decide is what exactly it is you want to learn. I'm sure that sounds obvious to many people, but there are a lot of people who seem to skip that step for some reason... Additionally, a lot of people want to learn 'paganism,' which isn't really possible - paganism isn't a single tradition, it can involve all sorts of different practices and beliefs. (There are, however, some out there who are able to guide someone through forming their own eclectic practice.) You'll need to have some idea what it is you're after. If you're looking to learn a specific tradition, see what the requirements are for a teacher to have - if there are any. Some traditions have strict guidelines, while others are much more open.

Remember that teachers are people with their own lives. Don't waste their time - sincere questions or struggles are not a waste of time, but consistently being late, making last minute changes to plans, messing around, or not putting in the work to learn all are. If you're having lessons in the teacher's home, or in a public space, be respectful and leave things in the same condition as you found them (throw out your trash, etc). Be respectful of the teacher's tools and belongings. Don't expect your teacher to hand you everything on a silver platter, there will be points where you have to work for your information, and there will be points where you have to do the work of putting the information into actual practice.


  1. I have just discovered your blog. I consider it very interesting and useful.
    Pax et Fortuna

    1. Thank you very much! Your blog is quite interesting, as well. :)