When I trained to be an Alexander Teacher at the American Center for the Alexander Technique from 1987 to 1989, I was fortunate to benefit from the wisdom of a large faculty of teachers with all levels of experience. Our Senior Trainers had anywhere from 6 to 30 years of experience teaching and training teachers. They each had a distinctive approach to the art of teaching. Alongside them, we were also taught by associate faculty, recent graduates and classmates who were at all levels of training.
I was taught a myriad of ways to structure a lesson, including many sequences for teaching a student in the chair, on the table, and in specialized activities (dance, playing an instrument, vocalizing, exercise, yoga) and tasks of daily living (washing dishes, lifting grocery sack, tying shoes, brushing teeth). I refer to these sequences as the choreography of teaching.
My teacher trainers always helped me adapt the choreography they taught to the moment. Every student is different, so the choreography was a guideline, allowing adjustments for the differences in my own and my student’s proportions, range of motion, learning style, sensory processing and the way we communicated with each other.
Over thirty years of teaching, there are some moves I have used consistently coupled with innovations, adaptations and improvisations that have arisen out of curiosity, exploration, necessity and adaptability.
F. M. Alexander recognized the intellectual, cognitive and mental aspects of his work as perhaps the most crucial element of the work, more so than tracking what is happening in bones, muscles and alignment. How we think about what we are doing is more impactful than just doing it.
As a teacher trainer, my first wish is to empower teachers to own what they know, and tolerate what is confusing or unclear in the moment. We are teaching our students a self-applied skill, so that they have agency at improved self-management and self-regulation outside of lessons. I train teachers by showing them the choreography so that they have a roadmap for where they are in a lesson, and then they are free to take a side trip and follow a thread that comes up without getting totally lost in the shape of the lesson.
I believe knowing the choreography and being able to adjust, adapt and improvise are critical teaching skills. As teacher and student, we need a frame and form to work with, and once we have that, it’s possible to venture far off the path and make meaningful change and progress.
I personally cannot be an effective teacher if I bring a paint-by-numbers approach to working with an individual. I have students of all ages, sizes, shapes with a wide range of mobility, discomfort and interests. The framework I have gives me a lens through which to assess where my student is and shows me a road map for how to get them where they want to go via Alexander Technique.
I teach best when I approach a lesson with curiosity, interest in the other, and no preconceived agenda about how much needs to be accomplished in a lesson. I am not required to have all the answers, and my expertise is in teaching the skills of the Alexander technique to another and helping them learn how to apply those skills with ever increasing mastery. I am working within myself with the exact same skills and concepts as I teach them, so we are both learning, all the time.