Toxic teaching is done by very prideful teachers. People who are too full of themselves to see the damage they are causing others. This often leads to gaslighting, a very poor way to teach, especially when it comes to the creative field.
The best modern example of gaslighting can be seen with the Disney movie Tangled. Here is a great commentary on it by a file maker and a licensed psychiatrist, a very good watch.
Are You Afraid?
What is the fallout of such a harmful relationship? A life of fear.
Gaslighting is an insidious form of emotional and verbal abuse that leaves the abused in such a state that they don’t believe in themselves anymore. This is just not a good way to teach creativity. How can the student imagine anything if they are afraid to even begin?
Toxic teaching is about the teacher. The student is told that who they are is weak and foolish. The student sees their unique self as quirks and foibles to be avoided. But you can’t run from who you are. The student is consistently at a loss with what to do. So they eventually give in and duplicate how the teacher creates. But what is to be done when the student is alone? In a creative field, insecurities lead to writer’s block.
What Do I Do?
If you under this abusive form of teaching:
- Get out. This will mean many things depending on the situation. If it is a family member or a teacher at school, as the psychiatrist in the video says, limit the time you can spend with them, or how much of yourself you reveal to them. You can be nice and cordial to them, but you must realise that any close relationship will result in toxic and abusive behavior.
- Find someone who believes in you. This means taking chances on a new teacher. Fear tells you to hide in your own little tower and do nothing new. Fear says that you aren’t good at discerning what an honest teacher is. Fear will tell you to stay away and test them from a distance. Just clam up and hide yourself. But the real test is to keep taking chances with people, be observant, and if you see it happening again, then you can move on. Fear blinds you from ever even trying again.
- Be confident in who you are in Christ. How did God make you? In the creative field, your quirks and foibles are actually endearing qualities to those who truly love and care about you. Your strangeness is something to be adored and cherished. It is to be cultivated and nurtured into maturity.
- Your talents are to be admired and encouraged through positive help. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t take any criticism, but you must discern the difference between toxic and constructive. Toxic is the Gordon Ramsay approach to cooking. It’s the drill instructor who yells at you until you are broken and then builds you back up to be exactly like them. This is useful for facing the traumatic harshness of war, but hardly helpful for learning how to cook or sing or write.
A Good Critique
In creative fields you need constructive criticism to help you get better. All criticism should be balanced with love. Because in the end, the relationship and health of the talented person is far more important than her art.
I used to teach piano. Beginner students were always very afraid to even start playing. They thought I expected them to play a brand new song perfectly. “No,” I told them gently, “I expect you to fail.”
They were very confused by this.
“You’ve never played this song. Piano is new to you. You are going to fail at it. That’s what I’m here for.
“But the thing is, I don’t care if you fail. The only way you can learn a new song is by failing multiple times until you get it right. What I care about is how you handle the failure. You can do this! Get back up! Think it through! Try again.”
A Wall of Pillows
Oftentimes, that writer’s block wall is made of pillows. If you press through, just keep writing something… anything! It will get easier and better.
In the creative field, the best way to learn something is to do it over and over again. Having many half-baked or half-finished ideas is actually very healthy. If you never finish a novel, start a new one. Each one will be better and better. This is how you create. You’ll do it better next time and the next after that!
You can always return to the old ideas and edit them later if you’d like, but keep starting over. Just don’t stop creating.
A Most Talented Student
Beginner piano students would ask me if I get bored hearing them play all of these easy songs. I don’t. To me, the joy of teaching is not in how far the student goes, it is in seeing that connection take place in their mind. When they finally grasp a new concept or idea, they light up like a Christmas tree. That is what I love about teaching.
But every now and again, I would run across a student who has a special gift for composing. For them, my approach is different.
Again, the drill instructor approach is not conducive to learning how to create. I don’t want to duplicate myself in the student. Once they know the basics, I want to show them who they are and set them free in it.
Toxic teaching is about the teacher. The teacher is always right. The student must listen and do exactly as the teacher instructs.
Now, if the teacher is teaching something solid like math, well then it isn’t toxic to expect the student to be quiet and learn. But even in that field, with the later undergraduate maths pertaining to theoretical physics and the like, the creative and honest approach is more ideal.
Honest teaching is about searching for the best idea. The teacher serves the student by lending his experience to the student. The student serves the teacher by trusting them enough to open up with her ideas.
The two will then work together to find the best idea. If that best idea is discovered by the student, then the teacher praises her for it. If there are too many ideas or too many ways of doing things, then the teacher differs to the student. This student must choose in the end how their creative work is to be.
How to Choose a Hallmark Card
My dad once told me that finding a birthday card can be daunting. There are too many to choose from. “Just go with the first card that works.” He tells me. This is a great approach when it comes to the creative field. Too many ideas? Go with the first best idea you come across.
You can always edit in a better idea later, but would you ever find that better idea by stopping the creative process? No! Make a choice and keep creating.
The Imagination is a Jungle
Trust me, I don’t know what I’m doing, and that’s half the fun! Creativity is about exploration into the unknown. You will need someone to guide you through this untamed jungle of an imagination. He will know what mushrooms to avoid eating. But it’s also a new jungle to him and it’s your jungle in the end. What relics of your imagination will you uncover together? A good teacher will help you find your creative self. A toxic one says, “Burn this jungle down and come into mine!”
Choose the honest path. Take a chance and open up to an honest teacher.
Honest teaching leads to creativity being cultivated in the gifted student. That student leaves refreshed and sure of themselves. The teacher is firm with their constructive criticism, but also very lenient on how the student takes it. In the end, it is up to the student.
This is how I was taught music composition in college and it is how I teach others to create whether it be in music or writing.
Trust me, I almost know what I’m doing.