Saturday, July 07, 2007

Reading the Classroom (part two)

Once you’ve been teaching yoga for a while (or anything, for that matter) I wonder if you can ever go back to being “just” a student. Whenever I attend a class or workshop, I find myself watching how the instructor deals with teaching issues, as well as simply participating in the practice. What modifications does s/he offer for Adho Mukha Svanasana (Down Dog)? What guidance does s/he give during Savasana (Corpse)? How does s/he deal with some one who refuses any suggested adjustments? I try to focus on my own practice but being in a class means interacting with a variety of students and I can’t ignore how other people are processing the information the teacher presents.

When I write a lesson plan, I try to imagine how the class will unfold for my students. Where will they need more instruction? Who will have difficulty with certain poses and needs a specific modification? I try to remember my student-only days and think about what made a class the most beneficial for me. I find a combination of words and action—and I’m not sure I could actually say how to create this combination—made the various asana come alive to me both physically and mentally.

I think the most important thing to me, as a student, is sensing that the teacher is tuned-in to the dynamics of the classroom. I want to feel as if s/he is watching how the instruction is being followed; if there needs to be more explanation; if we are getting the benefits of the pose or need to be adjusted; if s/he is willing to adapt the lesson plan to fit the needs of this particular group of students. I want a class to have a plan, but I want that plan to be organic so it can change if it needs to and the teacher is comfortable with going “off book.” And I like surprises: for instance, if the teacher sequences asana in an unexpected way that makes me experience the asana differently than I have before.

I also place high value on a sense of humor, a soothing voice and a deep level of understanding. Although it probably isn’t fair, I want my teacher to have more experience than I do with yoga. I’m not sure I would be happy with a teacher that was significantly younger than me (check out this New York Times article on the subject). I have never been in a class where youth and inexperience factor was an issue, but I’m pretty sure I would be skeptical…

What if your class and teacher are close to your ideal, but not quite? Pat asked last week about getting a teacher to talk less…I’ve been mulling the question, because I think it’s a good one. As a teacher, I want to know if some one is having trouble in the class and if I could do something to help them. As a student, I’m not sure I’d have the guts to comment of such a personal element of the class (good Midwesterner that I am)—especially if it seemed like the teacher was proud of his/her style of explanation. Maybe you could suggest a different approach to the teacher as something the class might try (adding a silent meditation? doing a class without music?) or ask if there are
quieter classes at your studio. I usually vote with my feet, if a class bothers me, but I’m not sure that is the most constructive solution.

What have any of you dear readers tried? How do those of you that teach prefer to get feedback? What do you all think are good/bad traits of a teachers (I realize it’s a personal preference, but I’m curious to hear what students value)? I’ve bared my soul (sort of) about what I like in a yoga class, now let me hear from you. ©Brenda K. Plakans. All Rights Reserved


Corilee said...

When I read your selence article I thought about times when I'm teaching and am not aware that the class has sunk into a blissful state and I need to shut up and let them be. I guess it's an ego thing. Silence is scary to teachers - we think we need to be expounding great Truths non-stop. Maybe an approach for Pat is to give some reassurance to the teacher that their teaching is great, but ask for a chance to use it in some silent breaks too.

Anonymous said...

One of the things my trainer said in a recent training was about saying less and breathing more. Working on our ujayi breath while walking around to assist is a powerful reminder to help our students to breathe.

I also like to ask for any requests before class any poses that students may want or areas that they would like to work on. I try to accommodate them. Also, at the end of class sometimes I ask and then can prepare for the next class with this in mind.

I am a new teacher (only started teaching since Jan) and I agree with you when you said that you will always be a is very different for me to take classes without having that teacher mind set. I think that it ultimately helps my students though.

Kristin said...

I had to chuckle at your comments about watching what another instructor does during class! I find myself doing that and I remind myself this is a great opportunity to work on my own focus.

Thanks for posting such interesting thoughts and comments. I am significantly younger than some of my students, but that doesn't seem to bother them (they keep coming back). And I know there will come a time when a student will have more experience than I, but I hope they appreciate my class for what I have to offer, not what they can "get out of it". I think you can tell when an instructor is strong and accomplished in their practice and not just doing it because it's something cool to do.

I used to do a set lesson plan, but I found it didn't work very well. Now I have a loose idea what I would like to accomplish in a given class, but even that may go out the window depending on who walks in the door on any given day. (noting, I teach Ashtanga and Hatha classes.)

I always ask before class, "Does anyone have any questions?" Sometimes someone asks, most of the time silence. I always let my students know I encourage questions, and often I will get a question after class.

Hmm...good/bad traits. I like a teacher who keeps the class engaged and moving. I like a teacher who can explain internal alignment, but not too much (that talking bit). I like a teacher who can laugh during class. I like a teacher who goes to workshops.

I DON'T like a teacher who says, "this is the only way to do this practice". That makes me very upset and angry.

Brenda Plakans said...

Thanks for all the ideas...these are some good ones. Kristin--I am a lot younger than some of my students, too. I guess, right now, "a lot younger" for me means in the early twenties. I'm glad my 60 yr. old students don't hold my age against me!


Total Health Yoga - Kris said...

Great post! After I began teaching, it became a struggle for me to separate the teaching from the learning or experiencing. Maybe that's the point. To not separate, and rather to join the two. A really excellent teacher is able to learn constantly from their students as they pass out some of what they already know.

My personal practice is when I really "bunker" down for some "me" time. With that said, if an awesome image or sequence comes to me, I used to stop and write it down to share later. Now, not so much. I've come to realize that to really practice what I preach; I too need time to stay focused on the silence within.

In a workshop or someone else's class, my intention is mostly to become a better teacher. So, I enjoy it, but really focus on how I can use it in teaching. It's my home practice that I tailor more for myself and that works well for me.

As for feedback, ever so often I hand out feedback forms. I've been doing this for years and perhaps one day I will stop, but it's been a decent way to allow people the opportunity to be honest and still remain anonymous.

Finally, as for traits of a teacher. To me the most important thing is knowledge, openness to share that knowledge, and seeing students as equals--not somehow "lesser" than the teacher. Todd Norian talks about taking the "seat of the teacher". The idea being that anyone may be in that seat at a given time--it's not "who you are" but where you are at that moment in time.