SameBoat Shorts: Choosing a Guru — How to Tell a Good Teacher from the Other Kind by Farwell Forrest

Can you learn to canoe on your own? Sure you can. But it’s much easier with help from a good teacher, and that raises an obvious question: What makes a teacher good? Well, three minutes is all it takes to find out. In the latest SameBoat Short, Farwell tells you how he’d go about choosing a guru.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t learn to canoe* without the help of an instructor. You can. Or at least you can if the conditions are right — quiet water and warm temperatures — and if you have the necessary prerequisites: minimal fitness, reasonable patience, and sound judgment. These are very modest demands, of course, and as luck would have it, Tamia and I took our first strokes without benefit of instruction, joining the thousands of other self‑taught canoeists who’ve taken to the water over the years.

OK. It can be done. That doesn’t mean it’s the best way, however. A good teacher can make learning both easier and safer. It goes without saying that children should never be left to learn on their own, I suppose, but most adults will also benefit from competent instruction. Hmm… “Good teacher.” “Competent instruction.” That’s the rub, isn’t it? How can a beginner distinguish between a good teacher and the other kind? And how can a novice canoeist judge the competence of a stranger? Those are important questions, as I’m sure you’ll agree — but like most important questions, they don’t have simple answers. There are almost as many kinds of good teachers as there are beginning paddlers. In the end, choosing a canoeing guru is a little like choosing a doctor or a plumber. It’s largely a matter of common sense (that rarest of virtues), personal chemistry, and informed intuition.

Perhaps it’s best to approach the problem the other way round. It’s hard to define what makes a good teacher good, but it’s not too difficult to see what makes bad teachers bad. Let’s take a look at some of the danger signs… Read more…