When searching for a teacher, there are a few things that a student should know and ask. I have put together a checklist for folks who are seeking to find that special teacher.
1. The Witchcraft teacher-student relationship is one that is different from any other you have ever had (or should be). This kind of teacher is not like a public school teacher or a college professor- and the relationship should not feel this way. A Witchcraft teacher is giving of themselves to give you the most valuable thing that they have. The relationship is intimate and familial, like the teacher has adopted you in their family and is now personally responsible for your education and welfare as you do the work towards initiation into that tradition.
If you do not see your teacher regularly and frequently, you will not make progress. Seeing someone in person less than monthly is not going to cut it if you are serious about learning the Craft. Because you are asking a teacher to give you a lot of their time. Be respectful of that commitment that they are making to you. Do your work, show up on time and respect what they have to say, even when it may be hard to hear.
Getting back to the idea of distance learning (either by email list, web forum, or otherwise)- this does not teach the Craft. Exercises and periodic feedback does not give you customized instruction. Learning the Craft cannot be done in a classroom, one size fits most model. Heck, it hardly works for public education, why would it work for Witchcraft?
I ask you: if someone is advertising their classes like mad you have to wonder- who and what are they looking for? True apprentices who will carry on a sacred duty or simply paying customers? Are they seeking the select few who are destined to be Witches or just a mob of fawning people devoted to them and their foolishness? Witchcraft is not a commodity- so why are they using advertising- which is first and foremost a way to sell things as a way to find students?
Witchcraft and other pagan paths are trendy in some places. This gives rise to a lot of people stepping in to exploit that fact: by using people's seeking to either making money or devotees or both.
Further, the teacher that is loudly trumpeting themselves outside of their tradition where the public at large can find them are often precisely the ones who are not widely respected within their own community. They simply need to keep recruiting and advertising for new people to surround themselves with because the people that are their peers want very little to do with them. Many people want to belong to a religious community after their training is over, and you are undermining your prospects of having that happen if you choose a teacher unwisely. Many who study with or initiated by oathbreakers (for example) are not recognized as kin. They are shunned. They are not respected and what you have learned will constantly be called into question if you choose a teacher like this.
Why not ask around about this particular teacher? Ask people in their tradition(s) about them and if they could recommend them as a teacher. And don't be sloppy about your homework- asking only their initiates or their friends is not really finding out what the tradition at large thinks of them. When I approached my current teacher, I already knew who liked her and who did not within the tradition (and for what reasons). The ones who did not like her were ones that I did not like myself, so I was totally going in with my eyes open.
3. Avoid those that make their living by the Craft. This includes those that make money off classes, even if it is not their full time gig. By this I do not mean that very fine Witches (who may also be very fine teachers) should not charge money for a tarot reading or remedies that they make for others and also teach. I mean those that charge for actual Craft teaching- be it in book form, in classes, or workshops.
And they are just ideas and information- not actually the Craft. To get that passed to you, you need more than something easily bought. You need someone dedicated to your spiritual progress. You need a teacher, in the flesh- preferably one-on-one or in a very small intimate group (like a teaching coven).
Often these teachers-for-pay have dozens upon dozens of students, all hoping for special attention that never comes and they all want the initiation that will never happen with this particular teacher.
Here is what Free Feri Dot Org has to say about those that teach for money in that tradition:
"If you insist on taking online or distance classes on Feri, some teachers are better than others. Ask some hard questions...like any customer. Ask how many of their students they have ever initiated. Ask what their relationship with their initiator is, and with the rest of the initiate community. Be aware that the discussion from some quarters about how there IS no “Feri community” is a dodge to cover up the fact that there is a community, but those people do not have a good relationship with it. Ask to contact that person's initiator...that is not a rude question in an initiatory tradition when you are a prospective
student. Furthermore, ask, and consider from your own perspective, what that teacher's vetting process is. Teaching anyone who has the cash is a problem for the tradition, but it is also a problem for you as a student; it may place you in close proximity during an emotionally intense, vulnerable period with people who are unsavory or actually dangerous. Use your gut instincts but also use your head. Ask around. Caveat emptor."
Further, what is it in you specifically that called to this teacher? Did you just show up and they said "OK, I'll teach you"? If so, step back and ask yourself why. They should have a very specific reason for wanting to take you on as a student. They should be able to articulate what those reason(s) are to you. If they cannot, I would seek elsewhere.
In my case, I wrote a very detailed letter to my current teacher about where I thought I was spiritually, where I wanted to go spiritually, and what I was looking for in a teacher. It was a numbered list of about 8 things and each item was followed by many many paragraphs. I spent hours on that letter. The letter had enough specifics that applied to her (not that I knew that at the time- we did not know one another all that well) that she was compelled enough to meet with me. But my teacher is one that does not take most people on. She prefers a one-on-one relationship with her students and does not charge for teaching. It is a commitment of her time and energy to have such a relationship and so she is choosy and says no a lot.
Because I know how very precious the gift is that my teacher is giving me (not only Craft instruction towards initiation but her time, energy and focus), I try and return the gifts when I can. While she does not charge, when I see something that I think she will like (a bag of chantrelle mushrooms or some incense), I get it for her. These are small tokens, but that is the reality: how can I possibly "pay her back" or offer recompense for the enormity of what she is giving me? Because I recognize how sacred what she offers is, I know she could not possibly ask for money for teaching- it would reduce these gifts to crass commercialism.
Before having my current teacher, I was eclectic and solitary for many years (1989-2006), and decided upon my chosen tradition in 2006. I have had two other teachers in this tradition before my current teacher. One was a teacher that only met with her students quarterly. It was in a classroom model and we paid her, either in cash or in work trade. She makes her living this way. While I learned a lot (she is a gifted teacher), this model is only suited for the basics. If I wanted to progress towards initiation, I would need to seek elsewhere. My second teacher only taught up to 6 at a time, and all 6 students progress at the same pace with the same material. As a class, we did the sabbats together as well as a curriculum that my teacher helped design (along with a few people upline from her). She also took money for her classes- although not nearly as much as my first teacher. I progressed further, getting more individualized attention- but I also knew if I were to hone my specific skills and be a more kick-ass witch, I would need to seek elsewhere. You just know when the fits right or not, you know?
I leave you with a verse from Pink Floyd that seems appropriate to meditate upon:
And did they get you to trade
Your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
And did you exchange
A walk on part in the war
For a lead role in a cage?