Towards a Practical Philosophy for Building a Successful Alexander Technique Practice
This is not a checklist of things to do. Rather, it is an attempt to address the philosophy (a “system of principles for guidance in practical affairs”) that underlies a successful Alexander Technique teaching practice. I have only included the points that I consider to be the most important to success, and they are not presented in any order of importance.
As with all “Directions”, they are likely to be effective in direct proportion to the clarity with which they are conceived. Some of these points may make immediate sense to you, whereas others may take a lifetime to understand fully. Although we will each have our own priorities when developing our teaching practice, confusion on any of the following principles may indicate to us an area for potential development.
1.We are highly trained teachers of a remarkably effective Technique. Although we may feel that we are not the most experienced or gifted teacher, the reality is that we have much to offer and our pupils have a considerable amount to learn from us.
2.It is important that we always treat our pupils with care and respect. The primary aim of an Alexander lesson is to provide a pupil with the best possible opportunity to experience an improved Use of themselves. Since it is almost inevitable that our pupil will stiffen up in an atmosphere of criticism or harsh judgement, it is our task to avoid these unless we are exceedingly sure of our reasons for doing otherwise. Nearly all of the modern research on teaching and learning backs this approach.
3.Vocationally, a teacher is a person who delights in being a contributor to the educational advance of another. An ever-growing desire to assist in this way is a sound basis for a successful teaching practice.
4.Although our work as teachers has therapeutic consequences, we are not ‘therapists’ as such, but rather teachers of a unique educational method. Reading the pamphlet by Walter Carrington ‘On Categorising the AT’ may help to clarify this central point, or Miriam Wohl’s comparison in Statnews between the work of our profession and that of Speech Therapists: both are tuition processes that can have therapeutic consequences.
5.Most new pupils need more than one lesson each week in order to do as well as they can, and advising that they do so is usually in their best interests.
6.Some teachers may find that they continue working in a lesson for some time after the pupil has ceased to improve. Although this is usually caused by a commendable desire to help as much as we can, it is not always in the pupil’s best interests. Not many pupils can benefit from lessons longer than about 40 minutes.
7.Our pupils may be affected more than we realise by our general level of dress and personal hygiene, as well as by the presentation of our premises. A carefully dressed teacher may find it easier to make pupils feel comfortable. Home teaching environments may be improved by the removal of any distracting items. It is probably best to avoid alcohol before teaching.
8.Both we and our pupils will benefit in a practical way from our clear sense of why it is that we wish to teach the Technique. Whether by overt means or subtle, these reasons are likely to be communicated to our pupils.
9.The most successful teachers are usually more interested in helping their colleagues than in competing with them. The attitude of mind that is created by a co-operative viewpoint is likely to enhance one’s skills as a teacher, attract pupils and to encourage other professionals and colleagues to assist us in building a practise.
10.We should be careful never to make claims for the efficacy of the AT as a cure. Rule 50.1 of the UK Advertising Standards Authority states that only medical practitioners can claim to ‘cure’ and then they must not give any guarantee. A rule of thumb is that the Alexander Technique can help with conditions for which misuse is a contributing factor. Since it is impossible to know for certain whose symptoms will benefit from improvements in Use, it is always a matter of taking lessons to see if the Technique can help. However, since improved Use is almost always of value to a person, we need feel no inadequacy at being unable to guarantee an outcome. We ought never to attempt to diagnose a medical condition, and should advise our pupils to discuss any health concerns they may have with their doctor.
11.Our pupils and classes may find it helpful if we are familiar with the published scientific research now available on the effectiveness of the Technique for certain medical conditions. In this regard, it is particularly useful to be thoroughly conversant with the parameters and results of the ATEAM trial published in the British Medical Journal. This is the most important research currently available in support of the effectiveness of the Technique (albeit only on lower back pain) and an ability to communicate these data clearly and accurately is likely to help when building a practice. There are also some smaller studies on the effectiveness of the Technique for breathing, Parkinson’s disease, etc. and most of this information is available on the STAT website.
Addendum: there have been several further studies since I wrote the above, the most important of which is the neck pain trial. See Julia Woodman’s website for an excellent summary of the research to date.
12.When introducing the AT at a public talk, Adult Education class, etc. we have an opportunity to inform on a subject in which we are expert and for which we have enthusiasm. This is why we have been asked to lecture, and it is not polite directly to endeavour to ‘recruit’ pupils. This leaves us free to present the AT as well as we are able. If someone is interested in what we say and thinks that we may be able to teach them something, then they may approach us for lessons.
13.It is to our advantage to avoid tax by careful tax planning but to our disadvantage to evade tax. Apart from the ethical and legal considerations of tax evasion, it generally uses time, effort and imagination better employed in attracting new pupils and teaching them well. Tax avoidance, on the other hand is legal and good practice.
14.Be clear with yourself about how many lessons you would actually like to give each week and when you would like to be available to give them. This is of great importance in building a successful teaching practice.
15.Introducing other disciplines into an Alexander lesson may be inappropriate and a breach of the STAT Code of Professional Conduct. There are very good reasons for this rule. It may be impolite, and quite possibly unethical, to alter the basis on which our services were initially contracted and to do so may confuse our pupil about the nature of the Technique. Of course, the application of the Technique to the development of other skills and, more cautiously, the application of other skills to the development of an understanding of the Technique, are not usually in breach of this principle.
16.It is the responsibility of all teachers to read and think about the issues raised in the STAT Code of Professional Conduct. This is available from the Society Office or on the STAT website here. Rules regarding the nature of the teacher-pupil relationship, responsibilities to colleagues and responsibilities to the profession are there for the protection of us and of our pupils and for the protection of the good reputation of our profession.
17.Some teachers may wish to reconsider how much they charge for lessons. Despite considerable training and many years of dedicated work and professional development, some Alexander teachers charge much less than other professionals with comparable qualifications and experience. When deciding how much to charge, remember to factor in such things as ‘overheads’, holidays and pension contributions. If you think a higher rate will put people off, you may be mistaken. My own experience, even in low-income areas, suggests that one’s fees, give or take a few pounds, are not usually a pupil’s first consideration.
18.It is important to be aware of the issues around physical contact. If your intentions are clear and honourable, difficulties are unlikely to arise. STAT has provided guidelines for working with children.
19.Our strengths may be of great assistance in building a practice. Are you a musician, athlete, academic, rider? Most people are better able to communicate with people whose interests they share.
20.Effective teachers are always working at the development of their practical and personal skills. As long as our practical skills are adequate, it may be our personal skills that are the more significant in the building of a successful practice.
With regard to practical skills, most teachers can benefit from the regular exchange of work with colleagues and from teaching supervision. Isolation, particularly in the case of new teachers, can lead to a loss of skills and this may undermine the confidence needed to build a successful practice.
With regard to personal skills, it should be noted that we are principally teachers, and there is much literature available on how people learn and on the personal qualities universally to be found in the most effective teachers of any subject or discipline. There are many potential routes that you could take to develop these skills, such as private reading or attending courses.
21.It is almost always better to leave our pupils free to make their own decisions. Our pupils lead complex lives. We may think that we know what is best for them, and we may even be right. However, since we really cannot be in possession of all the relevant information, we ought only to offer the gentlest of advice on those matters for which they have consulted us professionally. We should take care not to burden our pupils with our own life issues or worries or to impose on them our views in matters not directly relevant to their learning of the Technique. We should remember that anything that our pupils may say to us of a personal nature ought always to remain confidential.
22.Don’t be afraid to ask people for their help. Many people will be glad to assist. No one ever succeeds alone.
© Peter Bloch, 2000 - 2018