Early 2018 one of my movement teachers said something like, “It would be beneficial for you to master the the craft of teaching.” It wasn’t those exact words, but something to that effect. This was said to me in the presence of three other people who are teachers and therapists. They agreed, and I went into internal panic. “No, no, no, no, no”was my response. I could feel my pulse racing, and my face blushing. It took me a few minutes to notice that without thinking I had grasped one of my wrists and was twisting my own arm while not being able to hear what was being said to me next. I imagine what was said was encouraging and kind, and gave me an instant headache on top of the self-inflicted arm twisting and body contorting.
I got into a bit of debate with my teacher about it at that time. I explained that once upon a time, many years ago, in a distant land, I was a terrible teacher and did not ever want to do it again. In recent years when people in the movement community context ask me if I’m a teacher I have a standard cheeky reply to get out of the discussion, “Did you learn something?” I say with a big grin. That seems to be enough to get a grin in reply and buy me time to mysteriously float away from any additional inquiry.
From 1993 to 1996 I taught English as a foreign language in Eastern Europe. The first teaching job was in a high school in Prague. I was 23 and the kids weren’t that much younger than me. They were open minded and excited to meet an American. They were generally good students, and I felt terrible that I was completely unprepared to teach them, had no idea what I was doing, made mistakes in grammar and spelling constantly, blushed and trembled my way through every class.
I had graduated from college in 1991 with a BBA from a good school, got a good job in advertising right away. I was following the path of expectation, accomplishment and praise. I realized very quickly that I had a long time to wait before I could move up the ladder in business at that time. I was going to age behind office doors while my youth faded unless I made a change. I opened a world atlas, closed my eyes and put my finger down on Prague. I bought a one way ticket, sold my possession, gave up my DC apartment, and flew away from expectations.
Snow covered Prague charmed me immediately. A few days after arrival I walked into a busy Czech employment office on Václavské náměstí where no one spoke English. I handed my resume to someone and walked out. A few minutes later a woman came running down the street after me and pulled me back into the office and put me on the phone with Mr. Macek. “You can start tomorrow. You can live at the teachers housing, and we will handle your employment papers when we see you. Here’s the address.” What’s happening? I think I got a job. Teaching? Teaching English? I said yes. I needed money and a place to stay. I went.
Being in Prague at that time was magical. I also worked as a waitress at a Chinese restaurant where tourists and locals came to be served this exotic food served by American waitresses and chat with the Chinese lady owner who also spoke Hebrew. I was young, had energy and was happy to hustle for cash and fun. My social life at that time revolved around Obecní dům where the restaurant and several other social establishments operated by day, and a night club erupted underground at night. Occasionally my Czech students would show up at the club or one of the bars.
At school during the day the staff were permissive about my lack of teaching skills. They just liked having a native English speaker on staff. It was like a status symbol for them. They didn’t care that I knew nothing about teaching. It made me nervous and panic stricken constantly. The kids didn’t take me seriously, and honestly, I didn’t take myself seriously either. I enjoyed hanging out with the kids as equals and felt uncomfortable with the power dynamic.
About a year later I ended up back in the US for medical reasons, and worked a series of odd jobs to get by while I tried to figure out how I could again fly away from America. I figured out that since I had the teaching experience under my belt I could apply for the Peace Corps, and if I got in that would be a ticket back to Eastern Europe. I did and it was.
Peace Corps sent me to Hungary. I still wasn’t taking any of it seriously. I just wanted to have fun and float through life. Peace Corps offered actual teaching training as well as Hungarian language training. Many of my PCV friends were already established teachers with experience, skill and enthusiasm about the job ahead. I felt like I was a faking it, an imposter. I was happy to get the training, and enjoyed learning a new language.
I was sent to a small village in southern Hungary to teach at an all boys technical high school Most of these kids would never leave the region, and weren’t motivated to learn English. At the beginning I was a dedicated teacher, followed the text books, did some lesson planning, but I didn’t enjoy teaching English, and these kids were not interested at all. There were constant disruptions, and miscommunications. Word spread fast that I wasn’t disciplining my students. The school sent one of the teachers to my home to speak with me about my lack of discipline and the unacceptable nature of my teaching. The wanted me to use the dictation method of teaching. I hated that, but it’s what the kids were used to and what that system expected. I tried it, and the kids revolted. In one of my classes boys played catch with a full bottle of soda which exploded. Since I and several of the boys in that class had a bad reputation with the administration we tried to handle the situation without leaving the room. The boys convinced me that one of the large machines in the room functioned like a clothes dryer and they proceeded to take off their clothes and put them in the machine. This sort of chaos was the norm in my class room. At another point I told one of my afternoon classes that I would no longer hold class in the building and that if anyone was truly interested in speaking English they could meet me at the pub instead. A few took me up on it. At one point I tried to re-commit myself to the craft of teaching and put time into lesson planning and went back in with an open mind and positive attitude. The class was going well, I was starting to think, “wow, this lesson planning stuff really works, I might actually be able to do this.” And just as soon as I had that thought I started to smell smoke. I turned around to find a fire burning on a desktop, boys huddled around in laughter. All I could do was laugh. I could not discipline these kids! I also thought it was funny. I stopped trying after the fire incident and just showed up hoping someone would make it stop.
I would occasionally bring in newspapers, and the boys seemed interested in the advertisements for Nike shoes and Levi’s jeans. They would laugh at the prices. I came to realize that the American educational import these kids really needed was economics, not English. Their world had changed, and they didn’t have the tools to understand the world market or how to compete in it. I decided that it wasn’t up to me to decide if the capitalist system was right or wrong, but I did believe it was right to create access to education about all economic models. I stopped teaching English, and became a PC Business volunteer working to bring economics education curriculum into Hungary. This role felt great, and I experienced a lot of success on behalf of my Hungarian colleagues, schools and students across the country. We even took the model to Albania. It was such a relief to be off the teaching stage, and I promised to never do it again.
Flash forward 23 years to 2018. I find myself in a conversation one evening with a Czech dancer during the Movement Medicine Initiation workshop in England. I pull out a few funny phrases in Czech that I still remember, and shared the above stories with him. He then said something to the effect of, “so are you here to work through your resistance to teaching?” Ha! What a good deep belly laugh I had then. Maybe I am, maybe I am....
Later that evening I shared that moment with my teacher, and he took my hand and said something to the effect of so maybe you’ll see what everyone else can see about you....or something like that....I’m getting a headache just writing this now....
He said he’s here to support me and will continue to support my practice as long as he breathes. Wow, sounds like a long term commitment, the likes of which I am unfamiliar. I’ve now heard Ya’Acov and Susannah say multiple times that they are into long term commitments with their community and the Apprentices. I realize that is a statement that has stayed with me and held my attention. And so here I am, sitting with my many understudies that prevent me from teaching and simultaneously keep me in this movement community. Lump in my throat growing. Had to just lean back and stretch my arms, roll my neck back.
Here’s a quote from the School of Movement Medicine’s website description of an aspect of the Phoenix workshop:
As we develop, life provides us with the perfect challenges through which we can evolve. On the Phoenix Retreat, we work with what we call the ‘creation story’ you have inherited and lived from, whose characters we call ‘understudies’. In the theatre, an understudy is a person who learns another’s role in order to be able to act as a replacement. On the stage of life, these understudies often take to performing nearly all the time, while the real stars wait hidden in the wings. They shouldn’t be blamed for this; they came into being with the intention of protecting your essence. However, without your attention, they will continue their performances for your entire lifetime, even if it no longer serves your deeper interests.
In my Co-Active coaching work we use the word “saboteur”, which used to be known as “gremlin”. In Movement Medicine we talk about “understudies”. All of these words are merely frameworks for looking at the mental constructs that prevent growth, change, removal of obstacle, movement of stuckness, repetitive story, individuation. Here are some of the understudies I may be taking into the first Movement Medicine elective, where we will dive deeper into the Insight Council practice and SEER process.
Understudies to examine:
I’m a shitty teacher
I don’t like being an authoritarian
I don’t like exerting power over anyone
I’m a reluctant public speaker
I can’t speak in front of people
I’m not an expert on anything
People shouldn’t listen to me
Footnote: I happen to be sitting in the Phoenix cafe at Findhorn writing this essay on Thanksgiving Thursday. Dorothy Maclean was brought in with her assistant and sat down beside me. She is wearing a red down coat, a rainbow knitted hat and gloves. They are currently chatting about favorite colors, coffee and maple syrup. She’s had her hot chocolate and is up on her walking sticks and heading back out into the cold. As I turn I see and confirm that the voice in the back of the cafe is that of Jonathan Caddy, son of Eileen Caddy. His presence also strongly felt everywhere here. Aware of my quiet anonymous presence here. Grateful to be able to dip in, get what I need, give what I have and soon move on. What a gift it is to be held and received by this gentle community. So grateful.