Embrace What You Don’t Know

20121010-175025.jpg“Know your limits.” It’s a phrase people say a lot, so much so that it’s become almost a cliché in our society. In many areas of human endeavor, ignorance of our limits can propel us far outside them. Deliberately pushing our limits, with training and preparation, is a powerful and hugely important thing. Tripping, skidding past the limit without awareness that we’ve done it, veering off the road and crashing into the ditch? Not so much.

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Instructors: Check Your Ego at the Door

I thought about titling this post, “It’s Not All About You”, but decided that would be too inflammatory. But I want to talk about something that’s been on my mind lately.

Over at the Cornered Cat blog, Kathy Jackson had a post today about the fact that instructors are, by the nature of what they do, in a position of authority over their students, and she talked about the limits of that authority. One piece in particular jumped out at me:

[T]hat authority is voluntary, limited, and temporary.

It is voluntary because your students choose to enroll in your classes. The students who end up in your classes get there because they have made a choice to do that. They have lots of other things they could have done this weekend, but they chose to rearrange their time to spend it with you. They have lots of other things they could do with their money, but they chose to buy a class from you. You have to treat them with the same respect a shopkeeper would give a customer, because that’s what they are—customers.

I wanted to highlight this part of Kathy’s post because I think there’s another important aspect to the voluntary nature of this authority we have as teachers: The student who comes to us is choosing to do that because of what THEY want to learn. Your job as an instructor is to meet that need, to help them learn the skills they seek, or to tell them that those skills are outside your area of expertise and suggest the look elsewhere (if that’s true). Although you have the position of authority in the relationship, the relationship is about them, not about you.

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