Saturday, June 06, 2009

In a class my myself... to speak. I'm trying to find a class for me to take, but living in a small town means finding something that is at the right time, not too far and my style is an awfully tall order. And I am not filling it.

I tried a class the other day at a new studio in a nearby town. It was a lovely space, with a very knowledgeable teacher. But, I was the only person that showed up for class and, even though we practiced, I got the feeling that this was a bit of an inconvenience.

I've been trying to decide if this was the teacher's fault, or mine for being too aware of how teaching a group class to one person can be a real energy drain. I remember when I was a student, I loved classes that were on the small side, because it felt like a personal session and we all got more attention. As a teacher, though, I always feel a bit self-conscious--trying not to make the person feel like I'm staring at them or evaluating their poses, trying not to be disappointed that more people didn't show up. I usually try to make it feel like a private session ("do you have anything you would like to work on?"), to convey a sense gratitude to the student who made the effort to come.

Who knows what was going on. Maybe it's been a slow season and the studio is hurting for students, maybe the teacher wasn't feeling well (she did make herself a cup of tea during class), maybe I'm thinking about it too much.

What do you think? How do you deal with (unintentionally) small classes? How do you feel if you are taking one of these classes? I'd like to think I'm just being super-sensitive, but I'm inclined to cross this one off the list...


Yoga Radio said...

I so know what you mean. I'm a beginner yoga learner, so there was once when I accidentally signed up for a more intermediate yoga class. Unfortunately, there were only 3 persons in the class! Suffice to say that it was a painfully embarassing experience. Halfway through, the yoga teacher actually asked if I had turned up at the wrong class (was it that obvious??)... =P

Linda-Sama said...

I will never stay in a studio class if I am the only student because I don't want the teacher making $4 or $5 for 90 minutes of work. Those are worse than slave wages.

When I taught in studios, the majority of the time if one student showed up they did not stay because they felt uncomfortable being the only one.

Kristin said...

First, I didn't have a chance to say I loved your previous post. I've been *trying* to cultivate contentment within myself and I finding I'm much "happier" because of it. :)

Small classes:
I've had this happen a fair amount in a beginning vinyasa class I led last fall. 5 people signed up, but only 1-3 people actually showed up for the 8 week session.

My thoughts:
If it's a single person (or even three people) , I always try and be just as enthusiastic as if it were a full class. I will say something like, "Oh, you are lucky tonight! A private session!" or "Oh, small group tonight, this will be fun." It's like acknowledging there is a elephant in the room and that this isn't normal.

And because it is an individual or small group, I will then ask the ubiquitous question, "Is there anything you would like to work on?" I agree, I think this really helps personalize the session.

If it's one or two people, I will put my mat along side of theirs and do the session along with them so it's not like I'm looming over them the whole class. It becomes a couple people practicing together and as necessary I will do adjustments and suggestions.

The couple of times it happend to me my instructor did the same thing as I do for others - thanked me for coming, asked what I wanted to work on, and watched a bat fly around the room during savasana. :0

Tho I do find it odd that she made a cup of tea *during* your class! That to me says she's bored and would rather not be there. If she wasn't feeling well, she should have said so at the beginning of class - I tell my classes if I'm a bit off (sick, exhausted, just donated blood, etc) because they pick up on subtle things and it does affect the practice.

I would trust your heart on this one.

Jen said...

I frequently teach classes of 1-3 students and have gotten very comfortable with it and my students know to expect this. I think some new students are uncomfortable with it and I try to avoid hovering to much. I do much as Kristin does, practice with them, ask what they feel like working on that day, etc. But I have to say, for some reason small classes can be more tiring to teach than large classes. Not sure if it's just the energy of the large class or what??

I've had some wonderful experiences as the only student at a studio, but I do ask the teacher if they would prefer to cancel since I know they won't be making much $$. While vacationing in Denver I had an amazing private lesson with an anusara teacher. He poured a lot of enthusiasm into the class and I try to channel his energy whenever I unexpectedly have a small turnout.

Anonymous said...

Wow, what perfect timing... I have 2 Yoga classes back to back on Saturday mornings and yesterday was the first time in a long time that no one showed up for the first one and only one person for the second one. It's been a while since I've had to do a one on one class and i've never like them, I'm not sure why and I'm glad to know that other teachers feel the same way...yet when some one books private class I'm ok with must have something to do with how I plan a group class and what frame of mind I'm in for a group class as opposed to a private class.
Anyway I'm glad to know that other studios and teacher have very small classes at times...every now and then I get insecure and wonder if it's me or just some other outside influences. So this post came at just the right time for me.
Personally I would not feel comfortable being the only student and probably would not stay, but when ever I ask a lone student if they are comfortable with a private class they always say "oh yes!!"

Anonymous said...

One time a studio owner friend of mine asked me to sub teach a class for her. I accepted it because she has a more wealthy clientelle than I usually teach. I seem to have a number of 40+ women and men who are in moderate shape but like to do yoga once a week.

Her studio has a lot of former dancers and even some celebrities, including a very well know actress.

I wanted to teach there to challenge myself. To build my confidence with this type of student, also wanting to open up more prosperity in my own life to.

The studio has a policy that if only one student shows up they get a free pass to another class but they don't teach the class.

Who should show up - but the famous actess and of course she is the only student! As the studio policy was coming out of my mouth I was thinking "What am I saying! I want to teach this class - this is what I was visioning."

The actress offered to call a friend to see if they could come, but then I said - let's go ahead - I'm here, you're here so why not.

She went to change as another student arrived late for the class. I was relieved because I was feeling nervous about doing a private with a screen idol.

So it's funny to me that a "private" with her would be fun, but a "private" with one of my regular students probably wouldn't be as exciting.


P.S. This famous actress ended up being a lot like everyone else.

Ann said...

I had one of those 5 class card deals that was due to expire at a studio where I practiced when my regular class was on hiatus. I showed up one Tuesday afternoon to get my last class in and was the only student. I remember the teacher looking out the window forlornly for her usual students. She did ask me what I wanted to work on, and I said breathing since yoga really is all about the breath, and we breathed together for some minutes, which must have calmed her down because the rest of the class went well. I never went back, however. I'll never forget that look of disappointment on her face when all she saw was me there.

Barrett said...

Yeah, I think by definition, when you go to a group class, you expect a group class. If you wanted a private (or a semi-private in the case of just 2-3 people in class), that's what you'd sign up for. So I think in the room there's a mix of disappointment, worry, anxiety, and frustration. On everyone's part :)

Besides not making much money, the teacher has to reconcile herself to a totally different energy needed for, in essence, a private class.

When this has happened to me, I try to be candid. "Well, obviously, this is a smaller than average class, and when I just have 1 or 2 students, I like to find out what you'd like to do, as I would in a private session."

I give them the option of leaving, but I (try to) stay enthusiastic for them staying, because if they leave I know they'll never return. Why would you show up again when you've made the effort once and were turned away? If they stay and you give them a great experience, ask them afterward to spread the word because you'd really like the class to be successful. Or if it's normally a successful class, be candid with them and say, "Usually there's x number of people here, so I hope you'll come back again!"

Classes take many months to build up, and the most important thing I've found through 11 years of teaching is consistency. Be there when you say you'll be there. Don't cancel classes. Take the long view if you have one day of not making money - in the future, it will likely pay off with many more students attending regularly.

If it's not working after 4-6 months of effort (including marketing the class) it may be time to find a different time or location to teach.

My long-winded two cents :)

Barrett said...

Hmm. Yes that happens sometimes especially when a class is just starting up ...or not. It could be a really exceptional well-established teacher with just a one off class in which all the regular students just so happen to be out of town, or the rain is falling too hard etc. etc.

I haven't attended a class by myself in recent times but I have been in that situation as a teacher before.

When it does happen I am more concerned about what the student is thinking rather than my own feelings. I will not say there is no disappointment, but the overriding feeling is that I want my students to be comfortable. If even an iota of their time is spent worrying about whether I am comfortable...then to me that's stressful.

Oddly enough however, whenever this happens, if it is left up to me alone, I would still prefer to teach the class.

Every opportunity to teach is an opportunity to learn. It is from my observation of the students one week that guides me as to what to focus on for the next. It is my effort to help them that hones my teaching skills and makes my instruction more and more effective.

I dont want to miss that opportunity even if its just one student.

So I would say as long YOU are comfortable and you are convinced that the teacher is also comfortable ...I would say stay. You might be surprised to get an exceptional private class that is equally beneficial for the two of you.

JonnyDelux said...

I've been reading for some time now on different yoga traditions and techniques with hopes of teaching a class. This blog has been most helpful as I have been the only student to show up for class and know the potential for awkwardness. Thanks very much for all your insightful experiences and opinions:)

Sara said...

I have been on both sides of the situation. Once, before I was ever a teacher, I showed up for my regular yoga class and I was the only one to show up. My teacher canceled the class saying that she didn't teach unless there were at least 3 people there. I was so disappointed and a little angry. I felt like a I did not matter to her and that hurt. If I had known her policy before hand I might not have taken it so personally but I didn't know it and I did take it badly.

Now, as a teacher, I remember that experience and if I have a class with only 1 or 2 people I try to help my students feel as wanted as possible. I ask them if they have any favorite poses or anything in particular they want to work on. And I always let them know that if they made the effort to show up, I want to stay and teach them.

I have come to appreciate these low number classes and I think my students do to. They often mention it later to other students (in front of me) saying something like, "I got a private class last week. It was so great." or something like that.

Thanks for the great post. Namaste.

Anonymous said...

What an interesting post, and what interesting comments!
I have also had the experience of just a few, or only one, person showing up to a usually full class, and my response depends in large part on my emotional state. When I am tired and emptied out, I have been known to feel very disappointed, especially at a studio where I get paid a flat rate and know the owner is making a loss. But mostly, I really enjoy one on one teaching - I think it's the best way to teach! Provided the student is comfortable with that, of course. And I also ask what people want to work on :)
BTW, the tea i nthe middle of class thing? I think I know why that class was empty...

jules said...

I remember the first time I taught a student (my mom) as a yoga teacher. I felt like it was slightly awkward because I could sense that my mom was feeling self-conscious that I was observing/looking at her the whole time. Some people enjoy the anonymity of being in a group class where the entire focus isn't just on them.

On the other hand, I know of a student who regularly hires my teacher as her private instructor. He focuses entirely on her health issues for the entire class. It's quite helpful and necessary to have 1-on-1 sessions when in a yoga therapist role, I think!

However, I do think if you are expecting a group class, it takes a quick change of mindset to adjust to the new environment!

Brenda P. said...

Wow, thanks all for your great thoughts and comments. I think a posted policy is a good way to go, so students don't feel singled out.
On the other hand, if you are canceling a class on a newcomer, you will probably never see that person again.

I'm very lucky in my situation at the Y in that I get paid, no matter who shows up, so I never cancel a class. When I am teaching on a per student basis, tho, I do the class if the student is interested because I figure I will make up the difference when 15 people show up.

It is very tricky balancing the energy, but I would hate for some one to sense that I was disappointed in the turn out. Like many of you have said...I try to give the feeling of a spontaneous personal session.

LaGitane said...

I think every situation gives you an opportunity to learn something about yourself, and that's always the lens you should be looking at things from. If this situation made you feel uncomfortable, it's worth wondering why. If you feel like you are being too hasty, give the studio another shot! If you feel like it's just not right for you, that's fair enough as well. :)

When I end up with a really small class I encourage students to share with me what they would like to work on, and try to create a class focused on their needs. It might not be the session I planned, but the opportunity to get to know my students is always something worth exploring, and it means I can cater to them better in a large group setting.

On another note, my current teacher turned me away the first time because I was the only student! He was very nice about it though and encouraged me to come back for the next class. Although I was quite disappointed, I came back as he asked - and found a truly wonderful teacher.