August 5, 2012

Three Silly Things They Told Me in My First Teacher Training. ~ Michael Graglia

What I Learned Not to be True in Teacher Training

I always start my sessions with the TTs (teacher trainees at the studio I teach for) the same way.  I ask them what their questions are, what they are still worried about. Last time, they asked about adjustments, sequencing, modifications, and many other things. Too many.

Was I like this as a teacher trainee?  Did I think that after a few weeks I would be able to know all there was to know about teaching yoga? Probably, in fact, I was likely worse.

I still remember three things I heard in my first teacher trainee that were given to us as dogma. Today, however, I would tell them exactly the opposite.

These three imperatives were heavy, I can see pretty advanced teachers pulling it off, but when I think about telling new teachers these things, I just chuckle.  Here’s what they said:

1)     Each class should have a pinnacle pose and sequence for it.

2)     Make sure you adjust or touch every student.

3)     Teach to the middle.

Here is why, with all due respect to the teachers who shared so much with me, I disagree on these.

Each class should have a pinnacle pose and sequence for it.

My advice is exactly the opposite, get your core sequence down cold. Make sure that if you don’t feel creative or have any time to think of something new for class you have a foundation that you can use every time.

And I call myself a Vinyasa teacher? Yep. I found myself saying to them, exactly what Sean Conley said in his first tip for new students: keep it simple. Once you have that foundational sequence, that framework, you will find all sorts of wonderful little bits to work in. As you take other classes with teachers, you will catalog this posture or that transition and weave it into your dance. But to think of making every class a creative experience focused on a specific pose stresses me out and I’ve been teaching for six years!

Ah ha! He’s a newbie. Yep. It will be at least another decade before I’d consider myself a good teacher, but I’ve been at this long enough to be sure this advice was too much for new students. Find your sequence, stick to it.

Make sure you adjust or touch every student.

Crazy talk. That’s just crazy talk. Four reasons.

  1. Teacher training is not Massage school. Touching human bodies is an art, that requires knowledge, skill and practice. You should neither assume you have those skills, nor expect yourself to do this.
  2. Even if you did know some good adjustments, if you are early in your teaching career, your quiet mind is working overtime as you talk to five, eight, a dozen, 20 students…and while you are learning to do that, you have to adjust someone too?
  3. Energy is real. This is really a whole other book, or at least a blog, but those Thai Massage and Reiki people are onto something. Touching in a yoga class can result in transfer of Prana, Chi, Energy, whateveryouwanttocallit. It takes some practice to become familiar with your own energy, to share it, and to ensure that you don’t unintentionally take on somebody’s negative vibes. Touching people requires full attention in these regards, so I would be very impressed if a new teacher was able to do this and keep a class going.
  4. If you adjust someone wrong, you can get sued. It is one thing to call out a pose and have someone tweak something, but quite another when you touch them and something goes wrong. Be very careful about touching people you don’t know, I still tend to limit assists to regular students and people I can see have a strong practice.

Teacher training may or may not be adjustment school. Go read Anatomy Trains, take a Thai Massage course in the Village and practice on some friends before you try adjustments in class. Adjusts can be very powerful, but it is better to wait a while and get them right than to get them wrong.

At this point, I’m hoping that experienced teachers are seeing my point, if not agreeing with me. So let’s go closer to conventional wisdom:

Teach to the middle.

When I hear this, I see the teacher avoiding interesting variations so as not to scare off the newer students and skipping over foundational modifications so as not to bore the more advanced students. This is missing great opportunities to really transmit knowledge.

What’s wrong with giving a few options? Extended side angle anyone? “Elbow on the knee, or hand on the floor. Feel free to bind. Too easy, go ahead and take Bird of Paradise, step your back foot…”

There are four options. The beginners have their option, the Jedis have permission to play and everyone sees how the poses sit together; the new students understand what lies ahead and the advanced students are reminded of how the poses stack, which is useful because advanced students are either teachers or they are going to be.

This might seem a bit early for new teachers, but I’m not certain. A teacher can think of a pose in at least two levels so they should feel free to share that. “Teach to the middle” is just a bit too constraining to my way of thinking.

In conclusion: keep it simple, don’t rush into touching people and feel free to give options. Go teach, it keeps getting better.


Editor: Seychelles Pitton

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