What is the school's approach to training Alexander Technique Teachers?
I have been asked by a potential trainee “from what angle do you and your program teach the Alexander technique?" My answer to this inquiry is as follows:
Over the 58 years since Alexanders’ death a number of interpretations of the Alexander technique have developed into different schools. Initially there were three first generation teachers who taught the bulk of the second generation trainees – Walter Carrington, Patrick Macdonald and Marjorie Barstow. A number of other first generation teachers also taught a smaller number of students – including Bill and Marjory Barlow and Peter Scott.
With the exception of Marjorie Barstow, the other teachers all claimed to be teaching the technique largely as practiced by Alexander, but their interpretations of what this involved had some significant differences. Marjorie Barstow was quite explicit in the fact that she had developed new ways of teaching the technique which differed from Alexander.
Some of the different approaches to the technique and where our teaching sits amongst those approaches.
Tradition vs Adaptation
On the one side we had teachers like Marjory Barlow who insisted on sticking to the teaching methodology of Alexander, (as she interpreted it) it, and Marjory Barstow on the other side who insisted that what was important were the principles and that if the principles were adhered to the teachers could apply and develop whatever methods worked for teaching the application of those principles.
The schools position in this regard is that what is most important are the principles of the technique and that each teacher will ultimately develop his or her own way of teaching this work. Our intention is to give trainees a very thorough understanding of the principles of the technique, both through a close study of Alexander’s own writings and by learning to apply those principles to their own process of change during the course.
To this end trainees learn to apply to themselves and to teach the full range of “classical” approaches to teaching the technique – chair work, table work, monkey, hands on the back of the chair, lunge etc. Trainees also learn to work in applying the technique in a whole range of different activities, including yoga and voice and performance. (I note that the “traditional courses” have never followed Alexander’s example in staging Shakespeare performances.)
In fact in an approach which is so focused on change and growth, I find the very idea of a “traditional” Alexander technique and bit incongruous.
Direction and Inhibition
Within the “traditional” Alexander traditions – Carrington, Macdonald and Barstow there is a significant difference in the understanding of these terms in practical work. The Macdonald work is much more active and energetic with a strong emphasis on direction & the Barstow work focused on clarity of thinking and direction, whereas the Carrington approach is much more focused on inhibition. This is not to say that all approaches don’t encompass both direction and inhibition - it is more where the emphasis is placed.
The school’s position in this regard is that all approaches have their strengths and weaknesses. In a teaching situation the balance of the focus between direction and inhibition will vary from person to person and from time to time. The directors own preference for working on himself is the Macdonald and Barstow approaches, but he realises that with some pupils the balance needs to be more focused on inhibition and non-doing. Trainees at the school are therefore exposed to the full range of teaching approaches and to this end we have a range of visiting teachers who we consider embody the best of the particular approaches they work in to teach at the school.
Group work vs Individual lessons
Some 20 years ago when I was starting my teaching career there was an awful kerfuffle about this in the Alexander world which has somewhat died down now. However many training courses today never offer any skill development for teaching groups.
The school's position in this regard is that the skill of working with and running groups is an essential one for teachers to have for a number of reasons. Firstly, some potential students only want to work in groups. Secondly, the running of introductory groups is a powerful way of promoting themselves and building up a practice. Thirdly, for teachers who are employed by institutions group teaching is the only option they have, and if the technique isn’t taught in groups it isn’t taught at all. Fourthly, working in groups adds a dimension to the work that isn’t there in individual classes – i.e. the ability of group members to observe and learn from each other and to really have to think. Fifthly, many trainees come to the course with pre-existing teaching skills in a range of disciplines which are normally or often taught in group situations and we need to teach them how to firmly embed the Alexander technique principles into the classes they teach.
I also recognise that the Alexander technique by its very nature is a technique applied individually. It can’t be taught like an exercise class where everyone goes through the same movements. And the requirement for a teacher to adequately teach a group is that in addition to their verbal communication skills they have to have the manual guidance skills and diagnostic and assessment ability which they develop in learning and practicing the one on one teaching.
“Pure” Alexander technique and other disciplines
The school believes that trainees can most effectively learn and develop their skills in the Alexander technique by its application to a range of movements, activities and disciplines. My observation of those who have studied only “pure” Alexander technique is that some have only rudimentary skills in the observation of complex movement activities.
The school encourages its trainees to apply of the technique to any practices or disciplines they may be engaged in. At present the school has one day which includes teaching voice and performance and one day where students look at the application of the technique to yoga teacher. The school also offers a Diploma of Yoga and Alexander Technique Teaching to those with very considerable yoga experience and who have the ability to be able to apply and impart the principles of the Alexander technique whilst teaching yoga.
Language and communication
What the Alexander technique brings to the teaching room which no other discipline does is the teacher who has highly developed skills in manual guidance. Focus on and development of this unique skill in the training course is vital. But along with this we also want to train people who can use language skilfully to engage their students thinking.
For trainees in the final part of their training the school runs two student clinics per week. These provide trainees with practice at teaching a course of lessons to a number of students under the direct supervision of the director or a senior teacher. Trainees must do a minimum of a series of at least eight lessons with five students. Most trainees do considerably more than this before graduation.
Because most Alexander teachers end up in private practice there is a whole set of skills which are not normally taught in most training courses, yet which we consider are essential for the transition from trainee to teacher. In particular, business, organisational, financial and publicity skills. Whilst this area is not focused on in the first 3 years and 1600 hours of the training the school does offer tuition and support for those in the process of setting up in practice.
An Active Community
Trainees from all over the world have attended our course, which adds richness and variety to the school.
The school is an active and dynamic teaching centre. In addition to the training school, we run s a very active public program with a wide range of courses, workshops and private lessons run by visiting teachers and teachers at the school.
This means that whether school is in or out there are normally activities happening here, and as students progress in the course they have the opportunity to participate and assist in classes – that is a chance to develop their own skills and also to learn valuable skills from highly experienced and effective teachers. It also means that the school has a pool of students for trainees to work on in student clinic.