Your Teacher is Always Right

Since my last post was about looking for the lesson in everything your teacher does, I’ll expand on that a bit with a realization I came to recently about being a student.

I’m a user experience analyst by day, writer, former technical communicator, and amateur horse trainer for fun. In each of those contexts I hear the same kinds of statements: “They’re just lazy.” “They’re too dumb to understand.” “They’re being difficult on purpose.”

When you are a writer, user experience designer, teacher, or horse trainer, and your reader, user, student, or horse isn’t “getting it" (let’s just call that whole group "students”), it’s always useful to assume that the problem lies with you.

It’s not that every failure of a student is your fault, but coming from that assumption is where you find your power to influence the interaction. This is a point I’ve been making for years. You aren’t using language they understand. You are asking more than they can do at the moment. You haven’t sufficiently grabbed their attention. You haven’t engaged them sufficiently in learning.

If, in your mind, your student “really is too dumb to understand” there’s nothing you can do about that but whine and justify your failure. But if it’s that you are presenting the subject in a way they aren’t able to grasp, then you have the power to change that. By adjusting your communication style so that this student (however dumb they may “really” be) can understand, you can reach them. If users aren’t reading your 400-page manual, maybe it’s because it’s deadly dull, and hard to browse through quickly. Change that, and maybe they’ll turn to the manual instead of calling Support. If your horse is “being a pain” maybe you’ve made learning difficult and frustrating for them. Figure out how to make it easy and rewarding, and watch their “attitude problem” disappear.

These are things I’ve been saying for ages. It’s your responsibility to reach them. If you aren’t reaching them, it’s your fault.

Recently, as a new Aikido student, I’ve seen online several instances of students (often total newbies like myself) who have decided that their teacher isn’t quite all there when it comes to teaching, managing the dojo, or executing techniques. Or sometimes there are just subtle variations in things different teachers or sempai say or demonstrate, which lead a student to doubt that person.

In watching these discussions, and my own reaction to receiving conflicting information, I’ve discovered an equally powerful complement to the above position: Your teacher is always right.

Yes, of course there are teachers who should not be teaching. And if you really have one, leave, and find a better teacher. But in general, when you are the student, the most useful position to adopt is that your teacher knows what the heck they are talking about. As above, it’s not that your teacher is always right, but by assuming that they are you stand to benefit the most from their teaching.

If something doesn’t seem logical or effective to you, you could say to yourself “This doesn’t make any sense.” If your teacher presents a technique that’s different from how you’ve seen it done somewhere else, you could decide that your teacher doesn’t have a clue. So there you are, with a clueless teacher who’s teaching things that don’t make sense. End of story on them – and on your learning.

The more useful position, that your teacher is always right, leaves you asking the questions like “I don’t understand this -what am I missing?” or “This is different from what I’m used to seeing – how is this way better?”

Instead of shutting down, mentally, you are engaged in ongoing exploration and questioning, looking for opportunities to expand your learning.

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