Why I Resisted Being Called a Teacher

I resisted the title of "teacher" for a long time. When I was 22, I spent several months living in Mexico. I went to a couple meetings of a writing group -- a handful of expats, mostly North Americans, gathering to discuss poems. I was by far the youngest person there. I wrote one poem about a woman who'd broken my heart (can you believe it took me so long to realize I was gay?).

And one of the older writers in the group, who happened to be a numerologist, offered to give me a reading.

At that time, and for a long time after, I loved getting readings of all kinds. My yes was enthusiastic. She asked me for my full birth name and some other personal information. And it's so interesting, though this was in the spring of 1997, what I recall is that she said I was destined to be a teacher.

All I could really picture was a classroom. Or my parents, both of whom were faculty members in higher ed. And I just couldn't see it, this teacher me. How would that ever occur? I had no conscious interest in pursuing a career in education, and my limited thinking at the time didn't avail me to less conventional expressions of this "teaching" word.

My resistance of the word teacher was borne of caution. Too many gurus. Too many self-help, self-improvement coaches. Too much noise. Too many people saying, I can show you the way. I know things you don't. Teacher had become closely linked in my brain to spirituality, and I was very, very wary of identifying in any way with a role that would distance me from the fact that I, too, am learning, and that would likely be rooted in the soil of unexamined, i.e. harmful, privilege

At some point, and this was not an a-ha moment, more of a gradual unfolding, like the way a season changes and becomes another season, gradually then all of a sudden but so subtly it's easy to miss the transformation, I stopped worrying about it. I think my own awareness of binaries and how they play out in me, usually as expressions of internalized perfectionism, helped with this.

In other words, it's not teacher OR practitioner. It's teacher AND practitioner. It's not leader and follower, it's using my gifts to invite other people to use their gifts. No one is eclipsing anyone else.

I'm not a "light worker" or a goddess-y type -- that's fodder for another post.

But it turns out I do teach something, which is the very same thing I'm here to work on: Showing up. Being honest. Staying with a process even when I can't see where it's going or know for sure things are going to turn out ok, whatever that means, learning to listen to my body and soul, and also doing the uncomfortable work of confronting my defenses and blindspots.

How all of this plays out is the stuff not of looking good or creating a six-week course that will change anyone's life. It's the stuff of real life, real relationships, real change. Turns out real change is a very, very, very slow process. It's also a remarkable, beautiful, fulfilling process to behold, if you can hang in there with the parts that completely suck, that is.

Much has sucked. Much has been not at all what I had in mind. And yet I come back to nugget of wisdom from a teacher who is no longer in my life (though she is clearly still in my head), which is that everything has gone the only way it could have.

I had hoped to take a little Shabbat nap but my head was too full when I went to lie down, so I got up to write instead. I'm glad I did.

The thing with sitting down to write when you have absolutely no idea what to write is that you always end up somewhere. Something always happens.

As with writing, with life. That’s what I love teaching.