What does it mean, to take a student? It doesn’t actually matter whether you’re a pagan, wiccan, druid, musician, or artist, the core issues are the same. Being a teacher is a position of responsibility, and not something to take on lightly. Your student is trusting you to know more than they do, to guide and direct them. If you don’t want to be that responsible, do not offer to teach. Students are going to question you, ask for clarification, come up with problems you hadn’t thought of, or reasons you’d not considered. If you don’t like being challenged, don’t teach.
Do you imagine that teaching is all about passing on your experience to another? Telling them how to do it? Showing them the right way? Producing a follower who upholds your beliefs, continues your traditions and gives you some immortality. If this is what you want, then you are, to be honest, going to be a dreadful teacher. I’ve been taught by such folk, and they are depressing, demoralising and restricting souls, the desire to make the student like them seldom compatible with enabling the student to achieve their full potential. Being a mentor is not about knowing it all. Instead, what is called for is the ability to hold a space in which the student is supported in their own learning. We can guide, offer advice, share experience, hand over facts, talk about technique. But when it comes down to it – no matter what we teach – the student will be the one doing, and if they can’t ‘do’ on their own terms, the odds are they will quit.
Of course we know more than our students, that’s why they want to learn from us. But what we know, especially in Druidry, is what suits us. We know our own habits and beliefs, our own assumptions, needs and methods. Does that make it best for our student? Maybe not. They’re a whole other person, and ‘best’ for them might look very different. They might not share our beliefs and priorities. If we try and force them our way, we may put them off entirely. The best students want to think for themselves. They will ask questions and expect answers. “Because I said so” is never good enough reason. If you’re asking someone else to always trust that you, magically, know what is best from them, that’s a frightening amount of responsibility to take.
I’ve done a lot of mentoring over the years – with varying degrees of success. I’ve taught writing and reading skills, meditation, Druidry, and singing, to name a few. I’ve also been taught, in assorted fields by numerous people, formally and informally. The same things have held true in all disciplines.
1) Teach your students want they want to learn. Be led by their enthusiasm, don’t try and force your agenda on them.
2) Answer their questions and do not be afraid to say if you don’t know the answer.
3) Accept their right to challenge you and their right to disagree.
4) Never use emotional blackmail or any other form of manipulation to try and make your student do things your way.
5) Nurture your student. Challenge them, but don’t push them to breaking point. You don’t have to take them apart, or belittle what they have done to make your teaching seem valuable or to bend them to your will.
6) Look forward to the idea of them being better than you. If you in any way resent the idea they could be, then you are not mentor material.
7) Praise their successes. Acknowledge their failures, and help them see where they can progress, but do so without totally demoralising them. If they lose faith in themselves, they will give up. It is not about survival of the toughest.
8) As far as possible, make them do all the work, all the running, all the thinking, all the conclusion drawing. What they figure out themselves will stay with them, and if the answers they find are not your answers, so be it.
There’s a belief out there in some quarters that good teaching is brutal and that good students are passive receptacles of everything you throw at them. This is total rubbish. Good teaching enables, good studying challenges the teacher. It’s not about gratifying the teacher’s ego, or turning the student into a mini-me. It’s about helping the student do what they want to do, as well as they possibly can.