Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Oversight, Undersight...Who's Watching?

I was bidden by the ever-watchful Roseanne at it's all yoga baby, to think about yoga teacher training standards, so I am. I had hoped her post would generate more discussion--I guess it can't all be naked yoginis--but stayed tuned for her follow-up. I'm sure it will be full of interesting things to think about.

So, My Two Cents.

What strikes me about most of the yoga teacher trainings floating around, both completely legitimate and less so, is the limited oversight. I am steeped in the culture of educating (high school) educators, right now, and much of the discussion revolves around setting standards and then making sure they are reached. How all this evaluation happens, of course, is always a source of contention, but--on the whole--teachers are expected to meet certain standards, to teach specific information, and to make sure their students are competent and capable upon graduation.

With profit-driven YTTs, I wonder how much quality teaching can be assured and produced. If the justification for running a training program is to keep a studio afloat, that seems like a rather tenuous base for instruction. That's not to say there aren't a lot of good YTTs out there, but who would know? There's no system of evaluation for these programs, no qualified review board to make sure the Yoga Alliance standards are actually met, no continuing assessment of teachers once they have graduated. Well, I should say, no generally-recognized system.

It's a bit like herding cats--many traditions have their own methods of evaluation and don't see the need for external review.
Maybe that's enough for students familiar with that tradition and seeking those kinds of teachers. But for the general public, the numbers don't really mean anything because the YA-approved programs are basically self-reporting. They can say they are training capable teachers, because they've filled out the paperwork and paid their dues.

I'm not saying the Alliance standards, themselves, are lacking. Actually, I think they're quite thorough for a good, solid grounding in the basics. And once you actually start teaching, is when you really learn how to bring yoga to your students. But, how can anyone outside the yoga world understand what it means to say you have completed a teacher training? That you are "certified?"

Every once and awhile I take a look at nearby programs, thinking I ought to get some letters and numbers after my name. And every time I get discouraged by the idea of shelling out thousands of dollars for something that has very limited meaning. What's the point? Even aerobics instructors and personal trainer have standards and affiliations that require testing and re-testing, that make a lot of the YTTs look like opportunists. Enter your credit card number, here.

Organizing an oversight body would be a huge task. Some states are starting to require that training programs justify themselves. It's kind of a mess. But, leave it to the Canadians to initiate a conversation about how to start this process, instead of bickering about individuals' rights to make a buck, like we always do in the US. Maybe inspiration will come, maybe a movement is beginning. There are rumblings...

This seems to be a season of reflection and inquiry into the nature and future of yoga in North America; I hope the topic of teaching training will be an important part of the discussion.


roseanne said...

great post, brenda, and i appreciate the thought you have given this (if this was yoga blog school, i would give you an A+!).

yep, leave it to the canadians to start a conversation about this. i'm very curious to see what emerges from this community meeting. i love the idea of the teachers, studio owners and practitioners finding a solution.

i think that the intention behind the toronto community convo is based in a desire for quality, and a concern about how the yoga teachings are passed down to future generations.

at the talk that i went to at the yoga fest, the speaker, geoffrey wiebe (who will also be leading the upcoming discussion) suggested a peer based review system, similar to how academia works. i thought that was an interesting model, and requires the yoga community and mentors and teacher trainees to work together. perhaps it takes a village to make a yoga teacher...

let's hope this conversation will gain some momentum ~ even though it's not as spicy as nude advertising!

Rachel @ SuburbanYogini said...

Personally I am always astonished and amazed (and not always in a good way) by how quickly one can go from yoga student to yoga teacher in the US. 10 months or so seems quite a long training. Very often it's about 10 days!

Here in the UK it's about 2.5 years minimum. Sadly this is changing as everybody wants everything right now without work or patience. 2.5 years (in fact mine took 3.5 years) is a massive commitment and you have to be completely sure you are ready to have your weekends upended for that time, to be prepared to write at least nine essay papers, to take anatomy and physiology exams etc etc.

We have an overseeing body. In the interests of healthy competition you don't have to be registered with them to teach yoga here but they do the cheapest liabilty insurance and it is against the law to teach in this country without this insurance.

Yup, it's all quite strict and dogmatic but given the choice I'm glad I'm a British yoga teacher to be honest :)

Emma said...

Hi Brenda (and Roseanne!),
Indeed great post. It's difficult for me to give a proper opinion on this as I have just started training. I guess I'll find out when I start teaching - if that's in the Universe's plans- if it was really good or not (I feel it is, but I'm not in the right place to judge ;-)).

Roseanne I think Geoffrey Wiebe's idea is interesting, it reminded me of a conversation I had yesterday: I'm taking YTT in London, but I live in Brussels, where I go to classes once a week on top of my home practice. I told my Brussels yoga teacher about my London training, giving her an overview of the course and how we were gonna be assessed. Her reaction was good and she told me the course seemed thorough and good. And I must say, I was happy she kind of gave her approval.

So maybe as you put it it takes a village to make a yoga teacher. Which leaves us with another question: who watches the watchers? :-)

Jenn said...

Apparently the universe is pushing this topic right now, because totally unrelated to any blog activity, we discussed this very topic at my teacher training weekend this weekend. I feel fortunate to have picked a program offered by someone who not only offers a program to support his studio, but who is very invested in raising the level of awareness and accountability among the yoga teacher and teacher training communities. Looks like I have a blog post of my own to write now because I too feel pretty passionate about this topic...especially as I am venturing on offering classes in a space that has to support itself and have a little left over to provide me with income.

Brenda P. said...

Thanks, all. These are all interesting thoughts...
-@Ro: Peer-review, yes! It spreads the responsibility around, but it also forces the community to cooperate.
-@Ra: I think it's good the British system requires commitment--then the training is taken seriously.
-@E and J: I'd love to hear more about your experiences and opinions as you continue with your YTTs.

Sometimes I think I'll just get a degree in Physical Therapy. It would require academic rigor and, at the end of the day, the piece of paper would actually stand for a recognized body of work. Of course it would be completely lacking in yoga philosophy, etc...

For now, tho, I'm heading off into secondary education-land, a whole 'nother ball game...

walkert said...

I agree... Interesting post and one that concerns my business. RockLoungeDurango.com is a new climbing gym/yoga/coffee concept in Durango, CO. Most of our teachers will be new graduates of the local yoga school here. Rachel's comment sparked my interest as she mentioned that in the UK classes take about two years. What are your thoughts here?

Also, regarding content, if you'd like to write about our business please let me know. I'm a blogger myself and I'm always looking for new things to write about! Following your blog now... Thanks!

Abby said...

Thanks Brenda! I admit, I didn't have the most comprehensive TT. I was naive at the time I signed up, and can't justify spending another few thousand dollars to improve how that looks on my resume. Instead, I've filled in the gaps with teaching, reading and observing other teachers. Both my bachelor's and in-progress master's degree are in related fields.
This ultimately doesn't benefit anyone. Good teachers are lost in the shuffle when having a teaching certification means nothing, meaning yoga students are missing out on getting really great, effective teaching. (If I had a nickel for every class I've been in with inappropriate sequencing, adjustments, or just blah teaching, I'd have my 500-hour by now!) I would even venture to guess that many studio owners would rather be focusing on their classes and developing long-term student relationships rather than churning out TTs, but it's the TTs that put them in the black.
I just hope that we evolve into something with a little more integrity, and that the Toronto conference helps determine the steps in that direction. In the meantime, I'll continue to try my best to pay, endorse, and sustain the people and practices that further a sophisticated and healthy yoga for everyone.

Anonymous said...

I think one should have to actually take yoga classes from a variety of teacher for years before they even think about teaching Yoga. Yoga teacher are popping up in my area like Starbucks and it has become a secretly extremely competitive industry. Drama students and art student and dance students (just because they are very flexible), are taking a few months long course after "falling in love" with Yoga after their first class at the local gym. I took years (20 actually) of regular attendance before I thought I could teach. 20 years might be a bit long, but if I have to listen to another 25 year old fresh out of drama school instruct me to "feel the delicious stretch" I may vomit. I think Iyengar teachers have to have a regular practice with the same teacher for 5 years before you can teach, and I think that's the way to go.... I don't teach Iyengar but I think that is a good idea.
Thats my 2 cents

Brenda P. said...

"sophisticated and healthy yoga"--I like that, Abby. That's what I prefer to all the fast, hot, trendy, fat-burning silliness vying for attention.

And, Anon, I agree about teachers. Prejudiced, tho I may be, I also want a teacher who's been around the blocks many, many times. Don't know what I'll do when I'm in my 70s, but, for now, I always gravitate towards some one at least 20 yrs. older than me.

Sara said...

The requirements for yoga teachers training do seem to be a bit on the skimpy side. 200 hours isn't much. In addition, like others have said, some folks are brand new to yoga. I was shocked during my TT that a few of my co-students didn't have a previous yoga practice. I practiced almost daily at home for about 4 years before I ever took a class, and then another 4-5 years of taking classes regularly and trying out different teachers and styles before I decided to take teacher training. That said, I'm not sure I like the idea of more rules and regs. But I do think it is important for a teacher to be accomplished in understanding the way a body should move in order to be a safe teacher. It's just a tough issue. Thanks for bringing it up.

Anonymous said...

I wanna see a peer review system. It will require a group (everyone?) agreeing on what the critical component of a core yoga curriculum will be, what methods will be used to assess success, or lack of success, of that curriculum, and buy in from a large majority of the yoga community. How that works in an era where the big thing is branding your yoga style by saying how it is different and better than everyone else's yoga is a big question.

Mirella said...

You have touched on a subject very near and dear to me! Some of your readers have said exactly the same thing I have been saying. 200 hours isn't enough, I too was shocked that some in my YTT did not have an established personal practice, and that the real learning begins once you start teaching. I feel like my 200 and 500 hours yoga teacher training was wonderful and life changing but what I would like to see is mentorships with experienced teachers once you've completed the initial training. I also feel that these "schools" should have tests and graded assignments to be sure that the students are learning the material. It shocks me when I see YTT programs being offered in 10 days!

kerry wills said...

I don't have any confidence that bringing higher standards of over-sight will be helpful in the yoga sphere. Standards appeal to the lowest common denominator (ie. whatever the average student can execute) rather than raising the abilities of an instructor. Think "No Child Left Behind."

Organizing and financing a new oversight organization could improve things, but what is the goal? Better teachers? Better teachers aren't necessarily better trained and tested. There are many qualities of good teaching which we can't even define, much less standardize.

The burden of proof here should be on the teacher to show adequate ability. And students have a responsiblity to take care of themselves. Not everything can be governed. Ultimately, cream rises to the top!