Thank you, Kristen.
And I mean the sincerest of thank yous to the entire AMTA– from the National Board Members, to the Council of Schools and the Nominating Committee, and to individual AMTA members. Thank you for acknowledging my life’s work and the passion and commitment with which I pursue it. I am deeply honored to be named this year’s Jerome Perlinski National Teacher of the Year Award winner. I join a distinguished group of educators, represented unofficially today by the 2005 winner, my friend and colleague, Ruth Werner. And now, today, I have the additional pleasure and honor of interacting with you, my colleagues in the teaching of the somatic arts and sciences.
Give me another minute or two for publically thanking a few more folks, then I have some thoughts and feelings about teaching that I’d like to share with you. We’ll probably have some time for you to ask me your questions as well.
Thanking all who have contributed to my development as a teacher would be unacceptably lengthy; however, I must deeply thank, as a group:
- My sweet family and friends for their love, support, and patience.
- Roughly 9000 students, some of whom are here today, for opening their minds, hearts and bodies to my instruction. From them I have learned how to teach. Without you I don’t exist as a teacher!
- And thank you, my gifted colleagues, those current and those in the distant past, from this country and around the world, and with various areas of expertise. I treasure our interaction and your companionship. Especially warmest thanks go to the other teachers of my Pre- and Perinatal Massage therapy courses: Linda Hickey, Liz Ellis, and Jennifer Hicks, and all of our wonderful teaching assistants.
- I owe special gratitude to the dear and talented faculty and staff at my home-base school, the International Professional School of Bodywork in San Diego. Many of them are equally deserving of this award. In particular thank you, Eugenie Newton, our executive director.
- To my own staff, especially my business manager, Marjeanne Estes, I’ll say it for the umpteeumpth time: I don’t do any of this without you beside me. Thank you! Eugenie and Marjeanne, this award has my name on it, but I hope that you feel it as a tribute to you each as well.
Do you know what this award means to me? I am a fervent defender both of the artistry and science of our work. My receiving this award, at THIS time in our profession’s development, renews my hope that we will continue to value both intuition and intelligence as we train therapists for today’s challenging, changing and exciting possibilities.
And what is the official meaning of this award? It honors the memory of Jerome Perlinski, an extraordinary educator and much beloved Council of schools leader. He is remembered for his recognition of others’ gifts and talents and his ability to bring out their best. He helped raise training standards, improve teaching methods and educate massage practitioners about the importance of ethical, professional behaviors. When colleagues remember Jerome, they use words like inspired, passionate, motivating, principled, and exceptional. Aren’t those traits towards which we all aspire as teachers? I liked to think that I have these qualities. Receiving this award tells me that my colleagues see some of them in me as well.
I certainly do feel inspired. Someone once said “The noblest of professions is that of teacher.” Think about that. When you see your students’ progress, “getting it,” don’t we think “yes, he is getting it!” We might give ourselves a self- congratulatory “pat” on the back for investing time in that student, but what we are INSPIRED by is actually THEIR successes, in spite of or perhaps because of their difficulties. 34 years into teaching, I still delight in the rediscovery of body and mind made by students as they take the journey to become a MT. Teaching people how to make others feel better, more loved, more in touch with their inner self- how great is that!?
I am passionate about my work. It gives me great pleasure and greater satisfaction. I have always liked to get my hands and feet in the mud. In the same manner that children like to run through puddles and play in the mud, I delight in the sensations of my fingers probing, helping to release tension, and unify energy. Considering that we come from the dust and go back to the dust, teaching massage therapy keeps my hands in the mud of the human flesh, my heart open, and all the while demanding that my head analyze, categorize and synthesize= a great juxtaposition. The confluence of spiritual and material in our work is very energizing to me too. As a teacher, I am able to zealously pursue a spiritual mission through a vocational means. Jerome Perlinski was principled. Here’s a few of my principles as a teacher that I invite you to considering adopting too: teaching comes from experience and wisdom, not just information. Inspired teaching only comes when one is being oneself, not trying to be a Xerox of another teacher or role model. I also subscribe to the old African proverb “It takes a village to teach a child.” Instruction is not just an individual pursuit. The community of learners– teacher and students– is as important as the content of the course. So in my teaching, I attend to the web of relationships in each classroom, and use it to support each individual’s learning.
Another principle: be consistent in observing and inquiring to find out where a student is in her understanding of the course content. Meet students where THEY are, then take them in assimilable steps from there to where they need to be.
A few others: Quality massage therapy education offers a balance of artistry and science, left and right brain understanding. MT teaching involves content and feeling. Embrace and support that balance.
Want to motivate your students? Make eye contact with them. Looking directly at your students, individually, conveys respect, interest, and personalized care in instruction. It’s one of the most effective ways I find to reach a student.
For me the ultimate reward or experience is when teaching comes full circle. That is, when the teacher learns from the student and in essence the roles reverse. In almost every Pre- and Perinatal MT course that I teach, there’s at least one student with a maternity healthcare background. I usually learn a new treatment, hear an inspiring story of maternal or medical achievement, or have my perspective widened when they share their experiences. I have a great love of books. I love to hold them, turn the pages, and run my fingers through the text. Quite naturally, I’m very tactile, even as a reader. I have a burgeoning stack of books to read, many recommended by students. Two favorites, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth and Birthing from Within, were students’ recommendations to me.
I was recently deeply satisfied while co-teaching with a mentee of mine with whom I have spent about 8 years in developing her skills. She led a group discussion with warmth and a firm, but gentle control. She contributed observations to students, recognizing difficulties and achievements that I was missing. She explained concepts so clearly and fully, saying that she had embodied my teachings, I found myself wondering, “How insightful and clear! Did I teach her that?!” Certainly she has taken what she learned from me, and has gone beyond.
Last month I helped a former student and teaching assistant close her very successful practice of over 20 years. In the aftermath of an auto accident, she is unable to sustain a full time practice. I witnessed her gratitude for her years of teaching and doing massage therapy, her acceptance of the end of her career, and the grace with which she completed her time with her clients. What an inspiration in how to let go, move on, and embrace change!
So here’s my deepest motivation for teaching massage therapy: In the early 70s, I taught personal and spiritual growth seminars that were too esoteric, seeming to have no practical application for the students. As I developed my own bodywork skills, I understood that teaching therapeutic massage and bodywork would convey a spiritual message: Humanity is One Spirit, while giving students a livelihood. MT is a career of “right livelihood,” earning a living while serving others. Some students might come initially just to be able to hang out their shingle, but many find along the way the spiritual foundation and truths inherent, and their lives, and all those they touch are transformed.
And transformation, on a worldwide scale, is what we need to become a more peaceful world. When a shooter goes rampant, someone explodes himself in a marketplace, entire villages are ethnically cleansed, or a young woman is reported raped, I get solace and hope from knowing that each new massage therapist’s touch offers the antithesis: an experience of connection and nurturing that has the potential to eventually activate a more widespread knowledge of Unity and cultivate harmony and joy. I invite you to become similarly motivated.
So let me conclude with the example of one of my mentor teachers. My tai chi teacher, 90 something year old Abraham Liu, has been a role model since 1975. He teaches by example, with wit, grace, and intelligence. A master, he never is condescending, interacts individually with his students, and he lives and practices what he teaches. He relishes learning from other masters, and he reads extensively. He teaches with the warmth and wisdom of a kind grandfather, the sparkly eyes of a toddler in full exploration, and the patience of water flowing over rocks, sure in the knowledge that even a granite boulder will eventually be grains of sand. He is humble and accomplished. “Ah, Grasshopper, someday you will understand.”
With this award, I add Jerome Perlinski as a role model, and I invite you to as well. I wish you all the best as you seek inspiration and success as a teacher. May you have at least as much joy, satisfaction, and peace as I have had as a teacher.
Thanks for interacting with me, and for making the connections you have at this event. I’ll wait around afterwards a bit if you have anything else you’d like to address with me.