Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Prescription against Proscription

Continuing with the theme of how we learn...what's the role of the teacher, the role of the student. I think I'd like to see those boundaries get a bit more mixed up. I don't think the person in front of the room is all-knowing nor should we expect that of him/her--teachers are human beings, just like everyone else, with a bit more experience in a specific area.

I chafe against rigid heirarchies. I think they're stupid and are designed to protect power more than anything else. They are certainly not in the best interest of people at the bottom of the heirarchy, despite what the people at the top say. But, I'm not an anarchist, either. I think plenty of
things need to happen in a certain order to function well and I think some rules are very useful. Maybe it's the rigid that I have a problem with.

I think it is very brave to acknowledge ambiguity. It requires a sense of security and centered-ness that is tricky to achieve, tricky to maintain. But, once you are okay with it, the world gets a whole lot more interesting. There are a lot of nooks and crannies to discover once you
can sit with uncertainty.

What does this have to do with the teacher-student relationship? Well, again, not a big fan of heirarchy. I want my teachers to be knowledgeable and have a deep understanding of the subject at hand. But I appreciate a teacher who knows there is always more to learn and encourages his/her students to go deeper on their own. Some one who knows rules are made to be broken and that the answer is often "maybe. The best discoveries are usually made by some one who doesn't know any better and doesn't accept the boundaries set by experts. Gets out of the box.

Maybe what I'm saying is that the true guru is inside you. A good teacher helps you discover that, but the realization is your own.

Learn to sit with uncertainty.
Do not follow me, I may not lead. (Maybe the other true guru is 70s posters)


Anonymous said...

agree with the class being the teacher to the teacher and visa versa. but sometimes it's really nice to have someone show you the way to rock a hard asana. As i currently do not have the latter, i see where the hole is in my practice. i can stand at the front of my class and guide them, and learn from them, but feel as though my own teaching to myself has limits.

definitely giving me some food for thought

Anna Guest-Jelley said...

Love this! I definitely agree. When I was doing some of my graduate work, I learned, thought and taught quite a bit about decentralized and collaborative learning.

Sometimes I think when people see group work or whatnot in a classroom that all they see is chaos and that the teacher isn't doing his/her job. And that can certainly happen. But I actually think this work of empowering students, whether in a K-12, college, yoga (or some other) class, is some of the most challenging and subtle work around. I also think it has the most possibility for transformation.

I love how Paulo Freire describes the traditional method of education as the "banking method." You go to class, and the teacher inserts knowledge into you just like you put money in a bank; it's a very transactional relationship. But when we can foster critical analysis and dialogue and teach students to uncover their work (love how you put it about the guru being inside), then so much can be positively changed.

Thanks for this!

Anavar said...

Great post, I love your way of thinking. Thanks for sharing.


Jenn said...

I so appreciate this post. I'm finding myself doing a lot of questioning lately about life...and where both my desire to teach, and to continue to learn, fit in with the rest of my life. I'm questioning where my personal, and professional, interests really lie when it comes to yoga and fitness. How I honor my desire to honor traditions, without becoming inflexible and closed to the possibilities. I've found disappointment in situations where I expected to find teaching greatness, and been handed opportunities for growth at the most unexpected times by the most unexpected teachers. I think I used to think more about it all in terms of black and white. But now there are many, many shades of gray. I'm hoping that's a sign I'm relying less on what others say/think, and relying more on my own inner guru. (Then again, maybe I'm just mellowing with age.) :)

Lisa @ Plank said...

Bravo. Intrinsic and very simple but so true.

Brenda P. said...

Thanks, all.

Don't get me wrong...I'm all for thoughtful, careful, personal teaching (not so crazy about the giant, hotel ballroom workshops, but that's just me).

My education prof. said if all the energy in a classroom is at the front, something is wrong with the dynamic of the class, and I whole-heartedly agree.

As a teacher, I feel my greatest successes are not a room full of beautifully-aligned Triangle poses or perfect silence during Savasana (altho I love that, too), but when students comes up after class and ask where they can get their own props or what a good book or video is for them to practice with at home. To me, that means they are taking yoga with them and making it their own.

Teach a man to fish...

(@Jenn-I think learning to deal with grey is very much a part of getting older...maybe one of the best things! Good luck as you work thru everything.)

Anonymous said...

The hierarchy in the yoga classroom is sometimes just silly theater. I have a teacher that will observe some way I have to get into a pose and quickly suggest to me the same thing I am doing so other students think the technique came from her. Or, I've had teachers that try to correct me out of a safe way I have of getting into a pose without enquiring why I'm doing things that way.

There's absolutely no reason the students should not be given opportunity to make suggestions for getting into asanas. If we actively invite them to do so there is less drama than when a student makes a suggestion uninvited. The other side of that coin is that students have to be able to ignore wounded egos when teachers need to correct any unsafe practices a students offers.

We do need to step into the role when it comes to alignment. People are paying us to keep them from being injured. But, when it comes to themes or philosophy, hand it over to the students. I like to introduce a topic and ask students for their perspectives. Then I can just listen, learn, and moderate.

In regards to making yoga project-based as in your earlier posting, I would respectfully say that every student already has the option to have a vibrant and unique practice. And to practice with friends, making their own "projects" and sharing information. That doesn't need to happen in a class. People are paying us to manage a class and step into the role of teacher and make things run smoothly.

As others have said, what we can do is inspire students to see their practice outside of the yoga-studio box. We can introduce topics like yoga nidra, Taoist energy yoga, meditation, etc. Then students can research topics themselves or find other teachers or books or like-minded seekers.

I think "inquiry based" (another education modality) is a workable model in the yoga studio. Students are given a particular question to answer or solve. They collaborate to solve it. The teacher sets some parameters. This could be something like, "How would you teach someone to get their shoulder blades on the back body in pincha mayurasana?"
Or: "How can you use blocks or other props in a new way to make wheel pose more accessible?" Think of everything we as teachers could learn.