What makes a Good Teacher and School – from Starfarm Tai Chi & Qigong

This is a common and difficult problem.

It is a problem for the beginning student in particular and also a problem for people who want to try another teacher. Teachers, too, have a problem. They are always looking for good students. One famous teacher from China said that only one in 10,000 students is really good. A beginning student, because of his or her lack of knowledge about Tai Chi Chuan, will not be able to tell who is a good teacher. It would appear that a friends imagesrecommendation of a teacher would solve the problem. But often this doesn’t work out because the right chemistry is missing between the teacher and the new student or because the students expectations are not fulfilled, even by a good teacher. There are several approaches to finding the right teacher for you. The first is trying to physically find what teachers are within your area.

After inquiring among friends, try the following:

Check the yellow pages for martial arts schools and ask them if they teach Tai Chi Chuan or know who does. Inquire at junior colleges, four-year colleges, and universities in your area about classes. They screen people before letting them teach. Check local bookstores and New Age newspapers in your area for listings of classes or workshops.
Inquire at recreation departments, acupuncture schools, New Age institutes, YMCAs, or YWCAs. Some spas and hospitals also offer classes.
There are listings on the Internet that could give you leads.
This is the easy part. Once you have found out about some classes, even before visiting classes, you want to take a personal inventory of what you want to learn.

Do you want to learn Tai Chi for health, self-defense, recreation, fitness, or spiritual growth? Or some or all of the above?

A realistic understanding of what you want to learn and what kind of effort you are willing to make is important. Also, evaluate what kind of difficulty you are able to put up with. Even simplest forms of Tai Chi require regular practice on your own and self-study to understand the dynamics and structure. Of course, people rarely do this. But making even a small effort to get this kind of self-understanding will help you make the transition to Tai Chi practitioner. The next step is to visit some of the classes being offered and observe what is being taught and how it is being taught. Most advice about this usually says to ask about the teachers credentials. Has he or she been teaching for a long time? Has he been practicing Tai Chi Chuan for a long time? Has he learned from a respected teacher or in a traditional lineage? Is he or she teaching something that has some tradition or is it something he or she created? Did he learn from a book or a video, or from a teacher with good credentials? Ideally, these are good things to know. Practically, they may not be much help. People who teach for a long time, may not be that good of a teacher, or their method of teaching may not be appropriate for you. Even a traditional lineage is not a guarantee of a good teacher, while if it is something he created, then you know that this is probably not what you want to learn. If the teacher has a large class or has been teaching for some time, you may not really be taught by the teacher, but by a senior student. Also, someone who has not been teaching a long time may be a better teacher because of their fresh enthusiasm and approach to teaching. In regards to the teachers manner, some teachers are strict and even may appear gruff but really have a heart of gold. Others may be smooth and may use it only to their own advantage. Also, you want to observe how he teaches and interacts with students and how they interact with him. But it not enough for the teacher just to be kindly and friendly. Do you want to learn what you see him teaching? Be aware that it is awkward for a teacher, who has been teaching a long time, to be asked a lot of questions regarding his ability and credentials. Some teachers find that the prospective students who ask the least questions and just join the class can be the best students because they are not hampered by negative thinking.

So, what are you going to do?

Invest some time and money in a month of classes. One class wont tell you much unless it is really bad. Then, if you are unhappy, you can try another teacher. Keep in mind that every teacher wants to find good students. They usually would not be teaching if they didnt love their art. Be aware that learning something like Tai Chi is not easy, although teachers try to help students work through the difficulties. Generally, if you have a good deal of desire and an intensity to learn, it will probably involve a lot of difficulty and frustration. That is not a bad thing. It helps to hone a better result. Remember, also, that the teacher is there to help you, but the learning is up to you. The best teacher cannot do the learning for you. Most importantly, the best teacher you will ever have is yourself. You need to cultivate the ability to have a dialog with yourself about what you are learning and motivate and encourage yourself to learn.
This doesn’t mean you can teach yourself out of your imagination or from a book or video. Just that you have to really apply yourself to what is taught. Also, your inner teacher has to be constantly looking for ways to improve what you are learning and practicing. This inner teacher has to be developed. Usually, the best students and teachers have this and the best teacher will teach directly to this inner teacher within you. Ultimately, a teacher can take you so far. Then you have to be able to develop yourself for yourself. As a student and teacher, most teachers have had to do this. If you can do this, too, your learning will go on endlessly.

-Marvin Smalheiser