I make my living by teaching, and I love what I do. Because I teach beginning languages that are far from easy to learn, I have always believed that it is important for me to engage in the process of learning something new so that I may understand from current experience some of the cognitive, social, and behavioral/habitual difficulties of being a beginning learner. In the last ten years, I’ve learned all sorts of things from a variety of teachers: how to scuba dive, rock climb, yoga, knit, make bath products, and the list goes on. I can’t say I’ve learned any one of them very deeply, but developing expertise in any one of these areas was not really my purpose. My purpose has always been to identify the obstacles in my own experience of learning something new so that I could more quickly identify obstacles that my students were having and assist them in overcoming them.
Only recently, though, have I come to understand what it means to encounter a Great Teacher, one who inspires her student to delve deeply into a subject matter, to identify and dissolve the terms of the contract she has written with herself determining what she believes is possible or impossible to accomplish, and to blossom into one of the next-generation’s master-leaders. A Great Teacher feels like a surrogate parent because in his presence, the student experiences an awakening to a whole new world that is beckoning exploration, and the Great Teacher is his guide as he makes his first humble steps into it. Interestingly, it seems, we are never too old to experience that kind of awakening in the presence of a Great Master.
So, I am the student of a Master, and I cannot help but to reflect not only on how different the experience of learning is when a Great Teacher is one’s guide, but also on the qualities that make my Great Teacher great–what is it about her way of Being and Teaching that has helped to generate this inspiration, drive and wonder in her student? Here is an exploratory foray:
- RIGHT VIEW: a Great Teacher is not interested in being thought of as a Great Teacher. A Great Teacher is interested in his student’s progress. He provides a mirror so that the student can see his/her true self, which is full of unlimited potential.
- RIGHT SPEECH: a Great Teacher speaks the truth at all times with respect, generosity and compassion.
- RIGHT ACTION: a Great Teacher models ethical living; when confronted with one of life’s sticky problems, her student will probably come to a reasonable solution by asking, “What Would My Teacher Do?”
- RIGHT WISDOM: a Great Teacher always has the higher good in mind: the higher good of the student, of the teacher, and of the community; moreover, he has the wisdom to point beyond himself at all times–to other resources, other communities, other horizons, including the student’s own potential
- RIGHT LIVELIHOOD: a Great Teacher makes a livelihood because she is valued; she does not value the livelihood for its own sake, searching for ways to personally benefit from her teaching.
- RIGHT EFFORT: a Great Teacher knows what mental and emotional effort to bring to a situation to encourage advancement and independence in her students–whether it’s humor, sternness, calmness, or silence
- RIGHT INTENTION: a Great Teacher begins and ends with the intention of instilling independence, not dependence, in his students
- RIGHT CONCENTRATION: a Great Teacher entrains her students to her own focus of energy and knowledge
So, it has become clear to me that a Great Teacher is one who lives and exemplifies the Eightfold Path. Buddha sure was onto something…