Often people teach what they know. That is how I taught as a child. My younger brothers were taught how to tie their shoes by my tying my shoes and their shoes over and over again. It is also how I was taught as a child. My sister taught me how to iron my father’s handkerchiefs by ironing them in front of me over and over again. My friend Candy taught me how to shoplift, my friend Linda taught me how to ride her bike, and my father taught me how to drive all using the same technique – “watch me, now you try.”
Even the nuns used the same methodology -- countless hours of recitation and memorization, Écouter Et Répéter was even the name of my high school French text – listen and repeat. And for the most part it worked. I was a fast learner, I still am.
And yet, all I could say out loud were the words that others gave me. But at least these others had meaningful things to say. I quoted Marx, Fanon, Huey, Angela, and Eldridge. I spoke of dialectical materialism and scientific socialism, and I spoke of Black Power.
I was still a child in so many ways, but I was guided by more than just what I knew. So that when I taught, I discussed books written by others. I quoted Lenin and Mao, because I was so much more than what I could possibly articulate on my own. So I seldom asked anyone to repeat what I said, I instead asked what they thought. And then I would add my thoughts. My adage would be more like, “Hmmmm, okay now listen.”
But then something happened, almost imperceptible at first. I would say something and others would get quiet, lost in thought. What had been a discussion turned into a group listening to me. Everyone once in awhile, someone would ask me what book I got a particular idea from, and the question itself would confuse me. In my mind I was only speaking what was so plainly revealed in the discussion.
This continued for a while longer, till I suddenly realized that what was being “plainly revealed” was my own blossoming mastery. It was as if I turned a corner, and the more I acknowledge myself as the source the more was revealed to me. Then one day I stepped down from the podium at my church and everyone was so excited and full of energy, someone said words that frightened me, they called me a minister. I could be a priestess, a witch, and even on a brave day call myself a poet, but a minister?
A similar thing happened at witch camps, on email lists and in international Reclaiming meetings. I was called a senior witchcamp teacher. And again I was startled and frightened. People I admired and respected began nagging at me to write, to publish a book, and to teach. Everyone had words to describe what I was becoming, and all the words seemed close but a little bit off. Now I realize that the words they were all actually searching for was master, as in master of my craft. We do not have many words like that in our culture, especially for women. We can be divas, but it is truly hard to call a woman a genius.
But today, I think I have finally figured out what it takes to truly teach. I can identify at least four (or five) stages of learning. First you know things, and then you wield them. From wielding eventually comes mastery. And after mastery, comes understanding. And when you finally understand, only then comes wisdom.
Where are you willing to admit mastery or where it has begun to reveal itself? And where are you still repeating what you were taught or using others words in place of your own unspoken ability? Mastery begins when you own what you know and what you are able to do with this knowledge. Fullness comes from acknowledging this scarcity.
I still have a way to go before I attain true wisdom, and everyday reveals deeper mysteries. But today, at this moment, I celebrate one area where I have reached mastery. Today I acknowledge that I, Katrina Messenger, am a master at teaching.
© 2007 Katrina Messenger