A fine line (April, 2022)

Singing is vulnerable stuff. And as it turns out, teaching singing is pretty vulnerable stuff too. Teaching and learning are such deeply integrative processes that it is sometimes difficult to discern where the line between them is. The exchange alchemy that is the teacher-student relationship is so intertwined and complex that it’s often impossible to say in any given moment who is teaching whom, who is learning from whom. A teacher, in the best sense, is more of a guide and facilitator, a mentor. And the student opens themselves to this guidance, but also brings their own knowledge and experience to the table, at times encouraging and prompting the guide to take them in the right direction, and sometimes even charting the path for a bit.

In an ideal teaching-learning situation, it doesn’t really matter who’s doing what, because the exchange is so rich and fruitful, mutually beneficial to all parties. The trust is inherent and it feels safe to try, fail and rise again.

But no situation is ideal, and teachers and learners are humans after all. We are emotional beings, influenced by events of the day in our our own lives, activated by things that happen in the act of learning and doing. We don’t always show up as our best selves. We are not always as present and aware as we would like to be. Sometimes we fail one another, lose sight of our purpose together. The relationship becomes clouded by feelings and the communication gets muddy. In these instances we can unknowingly cause suffering and even harm. And it goes both ways. Students can harm teachers too. Because we all need love, support and encouragement to do our best, bravest work.

So today, whether you think of yourself as a teacher or a learner (and of course, we are all both), I ask you to consider the following: How much can you expect of yourself, and how much can you expect of your mentor?

Remember that no one, no matter how gifted, can ever read your mind or know your feelings as you do; that if you don’t offer things in clear communication, your actions may be misconstrued (humans being champion story-crafters, especially in the absence of information). Is a teacher a therapist? (I know: a little bit, yes). Is a student’s inner life your business? Who is teaching whom? Who is responsible for what’s happening? What is your/my role in this moment? Where is the line?