Because we have no firm standards of training for Witches and Pagans, many of us struggle with the issue of becoming a teacher. How do we know that we are ready? How do we know that we aren’t being presumptuous?
I’ll just start by saying that anyone who extends themselves as a leader, teacher or organizer in the Pagan community is going to get “hated on.” It doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong; it just means that someone is threatened by you. Consider the criticism honestly and sincerely, but don’t let anyone wound your self-esteem. It might be their issue, not yours. On the other hand, if you hear it from more than one source who has had an opportunity to interact with you personally (not the Rumor Mill), then maybe there’s a grain of truth and you should work on the problem.
There are some significant “marker events” that tell you that you are ready to teach. The best one is what inspired the title of this article: “When the Master is ready, the Student shall appear.” When someone comes to you and asks you to teach them, they believe that you are ready and that you know more about it than they do. If this has not happened to you often, the best way to handle it is to say honestly, “Well, I don’t know if I know any more about this than you do, but I’m happy to teach you what I can.” If this happens to you a lot, and in regards to several different Pagan topics, maybe you should consider becoming a more formalized Pagan instructor.
There is another significator. Eventually we reach a point in our development when most of the books out there, and most of the Guides in our area, are repeating the same stuff we’ve heard over and over again. Eventually the basics are no longer sufficient, and we crave something more. At this point, I believe it’s time to start teaching the basics. There’s no better way to find out what gaps you have in your own knowledge than preparing a 101 class for the first time! When I did it, I learned that I knew almost nothing about our history and so I researched eagerly (and eventually overcompensated; a tale for another time).
The other benefit of reaching out to teach others is that those who really do have something to teach you – the elders, the ones who founded your community who have been doing this for twenty plus years – will sit up and take notice of you when you do. They just don’t have time or desire to answer the questions of every fresh-faced newbie on the scene, but if they see you teaching and they think you are a good fit, they may reach out to you and start to offer you advice. Or, you can always ask one of these elders whom you respect for advice on teaching for yourself. The result could be a lifelong relationship of real value in your personal path. I have had a few and know there will be many more.
A third good marker is time. Judy Harrow, respected Wiccan author and 3rd Degree High Priestess, writes in her excellent book Wicca Covens that it takes about seven to ten years, on average, for a Witch to progress from beginner to initiate of the 3rd Degree. That’s about the equivalent amount of time spent acquiring a Master’s Degree in a subject. But remember, you don’t need a Master’s Degree to teach; you need a Master’s to write a thesis and thus define elements of your chosen field. You require a Bachelor’s Degree to teach, and that is why most traditions of Wicca acknowledge the 2nd Degree or equivalent as the “teacher’s level.” A Bachelor’s degree takes four years to complete, so depending on how focused your study and practice have been, three to five years as a Witch is probably a good estimate of time required to learn what you need to instruct others. Notice that I say “estimate,” not “inviolate rule.” In my own tradition we say this: at 1st Degree, you should know that Wicca is your chosen path. At 2nd, you should be able to teach it. At 3rd, you should be able to teach the teachers.
There is a fifth significant indicator. Jealous nay-sayers aside, you should be able to view anyone who has been doing this for longer than you as an opportunity to challenge yourself and learn, even if they make you angry, even if you have a major personality conflict. If you feel embarrassed and threatened by them, ask yourself why. Maybe they are the arrogant self-centered jerks that you believe that they are. Or maybe it’s you.
Don’t let fear or uncertainty stop you from pursuing the teacher’s path. Doubt is normal and even healthy, as long as you are willing to answer “I don’t know” when you don’t, or “I believe” when you’re not sure. Judy Harrow writes in Wicca Covens about starting to get things going and “waiting for the real witches” to show up and do it properly; then realizing that we are the “real witches,” just doing what we feel called to do. And that is the last marker of your readiness; you must feel called to do it. Teaching out of a real or perceived obligation will not help anyone, least of all you.
Next in “Seekers and Guides”: Finding your learning style.