TEACHER is such an obviously universal Archetype. The role of Teacher exists in all cultures throughout history in relation to the sub-archetype image of the Learner (or, Student). This relationship and the roles expressed may take different forms, though. Some Teachers instruct quietly by their very example; others may be more didactic and direct.
One of my favorite Teachers served as a role model for my own apprenticeship to teaching while in college. Antoinette Mann Paterson (now long departed from this pale plane) was a Philosophy professor at the college I first attended in Buffalo, New York. She would teach in front of a large Introduction to Philosophy class with her eyes closed! It was like she was channeling the information to be transmitted to the young, fertile minds in the classroom. Then suddenly she would open her eyes, turn and face a specific student with a direct question. There was something amazing to me about the passion she displayed.
One day Dr. Paterson had been invited to visit a class in Creative Studies which I was taking. I arrived about twenty minutes early to the open studio area we held our class in; she was already there, sitting unidentified with a couple other students around a table. Suddenly she turned to a young man who had brought a paper mache piece of art he had created for another class. “How in *** did you DO that!”, she asked him. “I could not do that; how did you transform paper, nothing really, into that magnificent FORM?” The student was dumbfounded. I don’t remember how he might have tried to answer Toni. But this is how she began introducing us to a “Philosophy of Creativity”.
Another time at the beginning of a semester I went to Toni Paterson’s office to ask if she would conduct an Independent Study for me.
“About what subject?,” she asked.
I said the first thing that came into my mind: “ Silence,” I answered; “A philosophy of Silence.”
In the course of our following discussion, Dr. P. asked me what I thought about the meaning of Life. I had been in a depressed state at that time because of something that had affected me emotionally the prior summer. So, I answered her: “Life…Really? So, what?”
“Take out a pen and a piece of paper,” Dr. Paterson directed. “Now then, I want you to write down a question with two words in it: ‘SO …WHAT?’ Bring me the answer in ten pages or more by next Thursday!”
When I came back to Dr. Paterson for my conference the next week, I had scoured a wide range of literature about the meaning of life. But Toni Paterson took this further. She sat me down at a table with a pencil and a large sheet from a sketching pad. She asked me to arrange “WH-question words” around the corners of the blank page: WHO? WHAT? WHERE? WHEN? WHY? Then as we talked she drew a diagram linking all these to a central, newly constructed word: WHAN! That was the answer to “So, What”, she suggested:
“The answer to ‘So, What?’ is “WHAN!”
She was so right! Whan, that elusive common denominator principle has from that moment on been a torch of Light in the Darkness for me. There doesn’t need to be an answer to everything; the ESSENCE is WHAN! See? This enigmatic Lesson lifted me from my depression. Life didn’t have to have a meaning or to “add up to” anything; It IS what it IS; it JUST IS! This freed me to start thinking “outside the Box” (or as a later friend has taught me: “There is no box!”)
So, how did Dr. Paterson TEACH me such a life affirming lesson? First, she set me to task, rather than trying to answer my facetious question, “So, what?” for me. Second, she took that question of mine quite seriously, as a matter I was deeply concerned about. Third, she helped guide me to a satisfactory resolution of the anxiety I brought to my question, by encouraging me to read about what others had thought about in relation to my subject (showing me I was not alone in my angst). Then she helped me to comprehend a deeper underlying principle that gave rise to the question in the first place!
Toni Paterson was THE TEACHER incarnate! I have never forgotten HOW she approached teaching, and this has helped me to cultivate my own TEACHER strengths.
But what do I mean by calling THE TEACHER an Archetype? What do you think? Have you ever “let out” your TEACHER part of Self? Sure, you have, right? I still after 35 years of university teaching often feel THE TEACHER coming forth through me in a classroom. When I first began teaching, I knew I could rely on “stepping into” the ROLE of TEACHER in order to overcome my naturally introspective personality and to shine forth expressively to share about what the students were there to learn.
Maybe you have experienced your own Inner TEACHER in your role as a parent or as a scout leader; or, when you have felt a strong impulse to share a point of view that you feel instinctively someone else could benefit from hearing. We all have a bit of THE TEACHER within us, as well as the counterpart character of the LEARNER. In fact, a Teacher cannot but be the Learner first!
I am deeply indebted to and grateful for all of the wonderful MENTORS I have experienced as Teachers in my life. These were not always formal classroom Teachers; they were friends, family, even my pets who have taught me the true meaning of Life! Which is WHAN? Yes, that’s right; it is the WHAN of unconditional or divine Love, the essence of Life Itself. For, what else ever really matters?
I welcome your Insights, Comments and Stories!