I think group work is great! I think one-to-one lessons are great too. What is most important is the quality of work, not the medium. Then assuming that we are speaking of good quality work, what are the pros and cons of each?
Group work pros:
- Group work involves interaction with other people and in that regard it is more like real life.
- Many of our habits and tensions are intricately linked with personality traits which only manifest in certain situations, often related to other people.
- Like Alexander and his voice problem, many tensions become exaggerated with the stress of performance – often related to a feeling of being judged or even just observed. This can include being under scrutiny in very ordinary ways. Group work provides a medium in which to learn about and deal with this.
- Many pupils never have the chance to exchange with their peers. The only other person they know who has any interest in Alexander work is their teacher, and one cannot have a peer relationship with one’s teacher. Trainees have the chance to interact and, thinking back to one’s own training, teachers can see how important that was.
- Group work gives scope for role-play, a dynamic tool for bringing to life real situations in which people have difficulties – and showing the efficacy of applying inhibition and direction. This is not for the inexperienced teacher or nervous pupil. It ought not to drift into psychodrama as this is something for which we have no formal training. It needs to be maintained at the non-clinical level (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychodrama: Psychological applications.), where nevertheless significant insights into misuse can be brought into the light.
Group work cons:
- Without regular and focused hands-on work the Alexander Technique does not penetrate sufficiently deeply into the organism; i.e. there is no embodiment of the teaching.
- Many people are self-conscious about their difficulties and would never consider bringing them into a public forum – at least at the beginning
- The mental aspect of Alexander’s work can become dominant, giving too much scope for interpretation based on idiosyncratic personality traits. The body, however, does not lie.
Individual work pros:
- The most important experiences are deep and inner; the quiet atmosphere of the private lesson is more conducive to such moments.
- Some psychophysical problems need a great deal of untangling; group work, with its limited scope for hands-on work, can be – as Peggy Williams once put it to me – “….about as effective as giving an aspirin to an elephant”.
- People are very different types. Getting to know the psyche, nervous system and habit patterns of a pupil is a very personalised process. The ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach of group work does not and cannot this fact take sufficiently into account. Only one-to-one teaching gives scope to tailor the lesson to the needs of each individual.
Individual work cons:
- One-to-one lessons can be expensive. Even though many teachers have a sliding scale of fees, some people feel that it would be just too self-indulgent to have private lessons in anything, so they wont try it.
- The hands of the teacher and the refined atmosphere of the teaching room can facilitate experiences which are almost impossible for the pupil to reproduce – often for a very long time. A false expectation is built up and the pupil, schooled in a kind of “Alexander virtual reality”, does not learn how to deal with the stimuli and reactions of their everyday lives – let alone more the demanding situations in which we all at times find ourselves.
I am of course generalising and many examples can doubtless be found of pupils who have progressed satisfactorily following both approaches.
During a student’s training it is important to provide sufficient focus on hands-on skills as this is the critical time when the embodiment of the teaching takes place. If this understanding of what might be called the “core work” of Alexander’s method is not absorbed into one’s being during this time, it is possible that it never will be. The skills involved in group work are not so different from those in other disciplines; acting, tai chi, movement or many other activities. The teacher needs to observe carefully what the pupils are doing and communicate clearly. Such skills can be developed according to the interests and capacities of each individual (utilising prior or parallel teaching experience in other fields, for example, or undertaking additional educational training such as is now anyway required by many local authorities before employing teachers to run adult education courses).
The “core work”, however, is unique to our discipline and cannot be learned elsewhere.
Best of both worlds
My personal preference is to include both, offering to the pupil the learning experiences which are most appropriate at different stages of their journey. The two approaches help the pupil to see in context what they are learning and what they need to deepen, and help the observant teacher to see gaps in the pupil’s (and their own) understanding.
© 2014 John S Hunter
Although she did not express it very much, Erika was concerned about the way that Alexander’s work had developed over the fifty years since she had been at Ashley Place. I will try and put into words in another post what she conveyed to me over a period of several years, but I recall that when on one occasion the subject of “hands” came up. I told her the story Margaret Goldie had told me, about FM saying after the class one day that “They are all in such a hurry to use their hands. I’m waiting for the one who isn’t”.
She was visibly shaken. This was obviously of quite some significance to her.
“Then why didn’t he tell us?” she exclaimed. Of course, I could not answer.
Soon afterwards she had the opportunity to speak to Walter Carrington about it, and asked him if it was indeed true that FM had said that. Walter replied that it was true.
“Then why didn’t he tell us?” she asked.
Walter’s reply was: “FM didn’t believe in telling people what to do”.
This whole incident had particular resonance for Erika because of the division of the students into two groups in the first training course and all that had ensued from that.
© 2013 John S Hunter
Other Posts on Being with Erika:
#01, London 1985 – Annual Memorial Lecture
#02, Brighton 1988 – Key Note Address
#03, Melbourne 1991 – “Come for lunch!”
#04, Melbourne 1991 – Tea Ceremony
#05, Melbourne 1991 – Jean Jacques by the Sea
#06, Back in Melbourne, 1992
#07, “Where did you train?”, London, 1993
#08, “It’s all the same”, London, 1993
#09, “Making the Link”, London, 1993
#10, A Lesson in Stopping, London, 1993
#12, “Yes, but you’re worrying!”, London, 1993
#13, “Nothing special”, London, 1994
A friend of mine went for her first lesson with Miss Goldie. Being from out of town, my friend was staying in the house of another teacher in London. When my friend got back to her digs, her host asked her, curious about the lesson with Miss G, “What were her hands like?”
My friend, to her and her host’s surprise, heard herself saying “Oh, she didn’t use her hands”.
She later explained to me that of course Miss G had used her hands, but what she experienced in the lesson was not about “hands”; it was about what was going on in her brain and nervous system.
Another colleague, speaking of his lessons with Miss G, once said that “she grabbed your throat with her bony hands and you thought she was going to throttle you, but in time you learned to love those hands”.
Some people I knew, quick to judge according to their own criteria, never returned after one lesson – not finding the soft, direction-giving hands they associated with learning the Alexander Technique.
It is true that Miss Goldie did not ‘give directions’ in the way most of us were used to. Sometimes she hardly used her hands at all – just a light tap from time to time as a reminder to ‘think in activity’; at other times she might be very firm in indicating a direction – particularly to the back.
My own impression was, like my friend’s, that the hands were almost incidental; there was a contact on another level taking place which called forth a different quality of attention.
She told me that Alexander, speaking of his students after the training course one morning, complained that ‘They are all in such a hurry to use their hands. I’m waiting for the one who isn’t”
© 2013 John S Hunter