Three Teacher Traps and How to Spot Them

Three Teacher Traps (And How To Spot Them)

 

The teacher/student relationship is one of the most gratifying connections a child can have with an adult.  It can sometimes have more of an impact than a child-parent relationship.  Even between adults, the bond between teacher and student can be immensely powerful and can offer opportunities for growth and healing that the student may have missed in childhood.

 

The relationship is also ripe for abuse.  I’ve had relationships with teachers that were problematical, and I’ve seen much worse between others.  Even good teacher/student bonds can have bad aspects, or a shadow side.

 

There are three “traps” in particular that even the best teacher can fall into.  As a student, or a parent of a student, you should watch carefully for these occurrences.  They can explain some strange behavior on the part of a teacher, and may help you to know what the best move is in regards to the relationship.

 

  1. The teacher teaches you as if you were just like them.

 

Some teachers do not consider the student’s particular learning needs.  They see themselves as a source of information.  In their mind they know what it takes to learn the subject, and it’s up to the student to follow that successful path.

 

Really, that path is just the one the teacher took, and because they were successful on it, they assume it will work for everyone.  When a student won’t, or more often can’t, follow the teacher’s exact process, the teacher may get frustrated and might resort to insults to shame a student into trying harder.  

 

All you can do with a teacher like this is recognize that they have a limited means of telling you what they know.  You may want to find a tutor or second teacher to help with the rough spots until you know enough to connect with the first one again.  If you are unable to get anything other than a sense of shame from this teacher, you should consider finding someone else.

 

2) The teacher must transform you into someone just like them before they can teach you.  

 

This is a variation on the first teacher.  In this situation, the instructor is not content to simply watch you flounder when you are unable to emulate their process.  In order for them to feel as though they are doing their job, they must transform you into someone like them.

 

While this teacher is going farther than the first one by guiding you to a place where you can benefit from their knowledge, the situation is potentially very dangerous.  If you do not resemble the teacher, then you will be labeled flawed from the get-go, which can be a terrible thing to live with.  Even worse, the teacher may have been abused and can only teach you how to overcome your difficulties by taking on the role of abuser.

 

If you have a strong self-image, you may be able to tolerate, or at least have compassion for this kind of teacher, who most likely endured this exact same situation as a student.  If, on the other hand, you are vulnerable or insecure, you are most likely going to find the process of transformation inauthentic at best or humiliating at worst.  Many a fine performer has spent years recovering and finding themselves again after having been torn apart by a well-meaning instructor who had no other way to teach them.

 

3) The teacher may undermine you once they no longer have anything to offer you.

 

This is the most pernicious trap of all.  Teachers may cherish their relationship with students, and may dislike coming to the end of it.  That ending may be emotionally painful for them, like a kind of death.  Some teachers will do whatever they have to do to prolong the relationship, including, perhaps inadvertently, undermining the confidence of student has built up over the course of years.

 

The point is to reinforce the student’s need for the teacher.  In some cases, a teacher would never want to admit that they have reached the end of their effectiveness with a student.  It is far easier to find ways to break the student down in order to either end the relationship with the teacher still in power, or prolong it indefinitely with the teacher always in the superior position.

 

Sadly, these situations can happen with the finest of teachers, many of whom have the best of intentions.  That can make things both immensely painful for the student who may cherish their teacher, and bewildering if the situation is not recognized for what it is.  There is no remedy except to know what is happening and to recognize it as a sign that it is time to move on.

 

No teacher is immune to the possibility of exhibiting these behaviors.  If I were to manifest them, I would want my students to tell me.  For that reason, it’s important that they know that the confusion of the relationship that results from these behaviors begin with the teacher, and not with them.

 

Have you been in one of these traps?  Did you know what was happening?  How did you deal with it?

 

Adam Cole is a music educator and performer in Atlanta, GA who is certified in the Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education.  His posts can be seen regularly on www.mymusicfriend.net.  Please subscribe to be notified of each new post!

2 comments

  • Marilyn Feingold

    Marilyn Feingold

    Very interesting topic. I never thought about this ...especially the teacher that becomes possessive of her student and in order to keep control, becomes unnecessarily critical. I will certainly be tuned into that in the future. Thanks, Adam.

    Very interesting topic. I never thought about this ...especially the teacher that becomes possessive of her student and in order to keep control, becomes unnecessarily critical. I will certainly be tuned into that in the future. Thanks, Adam.

  • Suzannah Callaghan

    Suzannah Callaghan

    Great article, Adam. Relevant in my work in therapy, too...all three traps. Well said!

    Great article, Adam. Relevant in my work in therapy, too...all three traps. Well said!

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