Here’s a question for all the reluctant teachers out there.
How do you best help someone else who thinks of you as an authority and asks for teaching, but you really aren’t sure that you have much to offer? Especially when they are fixated on the what and how, and you have moved on to the why and don’t consider the what or how to be important.
A quote often misattributed to the Buddha (that actually originated with Madame Blavatsky) says “when the student is ready the teacher will appear.” I’ve never found that to be true. In my case, it’s always been “when the student is ready he will get off his ass and go find a teacher.” It’s never taken me very long once I started looking.
However, I’ve frequently found the reverse to be true: when the teacher is ready the students will appear.
Teaching 101 material with a 102 level understanding
I can’t tell you know much I wanted to teach in my early Pagan days. I had read about 50 books, I had been practicing consistently for a couple years, and it had done wonders for me. I had found something great and I was eager to share it.
Fortunately for all involved, no students appeared. I taught (usually co-taught) a couple of short-term classes for my CUUPS group and I led a couple of UU Sunday Services, but that was about it. I’ve still got most of that material. It wasn’t bad and it certainly wasn’t wrong, but it’s clear I was teaching 101 material with a 102 level of understanding.
After about eight years of steady practice, I was invited to teach at Pagan Pride Day. About two years after that I got my first invitation to teach at a Pagan gathering. By that time my knowledge base had grown considerably, as had my teaching skills. The teacher was ready and the students appeared.
I’m not saying you need eight to ten years experience before you start teaching. But that’s what I needed.
The teacher was ready – the students appeared
Sometimes the Gods send people to us. It’s happened to us a lot in Denton CUUPS, though they tend to find Cyn more than me. I haven’t taken any of them on in a one-on-one arrangement, but several have become part of our local groups and in some cases, have gone from “so new they squeak” to skilled priests and witches.
And that old saying about how if you want to really learn something, teach it? It’s true. For years I resisted teaching magic – I thought I didn’t have anything to say that someone else hasn’t already said. I was finally persuaded otherwise last year. Not only was “Operative Magic – Theory, Strategy, and Practice” my most popular class ever, my magical skills took a huge jump as a result of having to prepare and present the material.
So, to answer the question directly, perhaps Someone thinks you have more to offer than you realize. Perhaps you need to revisit the what and the how, to give you new insight into the why. Or perhaps you are simply the best teacher – or perhaps, the only teacher – currently available to this would-be student.
Or perhaps none of the above. Maybe they have unrealistic expectations of what a teacher – any teacher – can do for them. Maybe they’re unwilling or unable to do the work. Ask some hard questions and do some divination before you say yes.
But if the student has appeared, there’s a good chance the teacher is ready.
When leaders stop leading
Another question came in along those same lines.
What should we do when the spiritual leaders of a group stop providing spiritual leadership?
I occasionally hear stories of covens that have been going for decades. Denton CUUPS has been going for 21 years. Some groups grow into multi-generational institutions.
But in the Pagan world, these groups are the exception. Most have short lifespans, because most Pagan groups are centered around one or two individual leaders – the people who provide the spiritual leadership, the organizational leadership, and much of the hands-on work. They do it because they love doing it, because they’re called to do it, and all too often, because there’s no one else to do it.
But not even the best and most dedicated leaders can lead forever. Eventually they’re called to something more, or just something else. They develop health issues, financial issues, or family issues. Or they just get tired.
Good leaders know when to step aside
Hopefully they recognize that their time in leadership is coming to an end and make plans for a transition. I tried to do that when I stepped aside as Coordinating Officer of Denton CUUPS after 12 years (almost four years later Denton CUUPS is still doing well, even through a year of pandemic).
But some don’t. Maybe they wait too long and then leave suddenly. Or they hang on to the position and its power even though they’ve stopped doing the job. Or they think their situation will change in a month and they’ll be able to go back to doing what they’ve always done, but a month turns into two months turns into a year turns into forever.
Regardless of the circumstances, when spiritual leaders stop providing spiritual leadership, the group suffers.
Time to step up into a leadership position?
The first step is to see what’s going on. Do they need some help? One of the things that helped me in my last couple years in CUUPS leadership was adding a Communications and Technology Officer to take that work off my plate. Perhaps they need some help with their mundane lives. It may be that a little help will enable them to keep doing the spiritual work everyone expects them to do.
Or maybe they’ve reached the end of their journey as a spiritual leader. Maybe it’s time for them to step aside – not to leave the group, but to hand the leadership responsibilities to someone else.
Of course, before they can do that, there needs to be someone to hand those responsibilities to. Maybe it’s time for you to step up and start leading.
Sadly, not every such situation involves good people who only have the best intentions for the group. Some consider the group and the leadership roles to be their personal property and they will never let go of them, even if they don’t want to do the job anymore. Some simply can’t – or won’t – see that their energy and commitment levels have dropped to the point where it’s negatively impacting the group.
If that’s the case and you’re in a democratically run group, maybe it’s time to stand for election. You are likely to have to do some campaigning, pointing out with compassion and sensitivity what you’re seeing and why you’re challenging a long-term leader. If enough people are seeing what you’re seeing, they’re likely to support you.
Or time to move on?
In other situations, you may have no choice but to go somewhere else. If all is well otherwise, perhaps you stay in the group to be close to your friends, but you go elsewhere for spiritual leadership. In other cases you may have to leave the group entirely. While that is always painful, it’s better than staying in a situation that has gone from fulfilling to draining.
Give it some thought. Talk to other members of the group. Do some divination. And then decide what’s best for you and for all involved.