Monday, July 25, 2011

Substitute Teachers/Subbing for a Class

Just a brief interlude from David Whytes 10 Questions!  This was on my mind. 

Two separate and independent conversations recently brought to my attention the issue of substitute teachers and subbing. I can also recall a blog posting or discussion on whether or not to announce a substitute teacher and some of the justifications for each, but alas, I don’t recall where that was.

First discussion involved my younger Sis. She is not a regular practitioner, but would like to be someday when her work schedule is not so wonky. The stars finally aligned to allow her to attend a class at her local Lifetime Fitness. She said she got there early, rolled out her mat in the middle of the room and watched the people slowly fill up the space. She estimated by the time everyone was in, there were about 50 people. Then the instructor came in, announced she was a substitute and that this was going to be a Hatha level II class…despite it being advertized as a level I. This caused some anxiety for my poor Sis…not what she had expected! Sis said they started moving, and the instructor put them in all sorts of pretzel poses. She said about 10 people out of the 50 could actually do those poses. Finally, sore, sweaty, and somewhat freaked out, she was able to quietly slide out of class near the end. Dismayed. Upset. In shock. Unhappy.

Second discussion was with a long time friend who has rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia and is on the generously built side. She signed up for a slow hatha class through her local community education and was developing a tenuous understanding with the regular instructor about her abilities. And then came the sub….who, according to my friend, seemed intent on singling her out with persistent adjustments throughout the entire class. Even though this was the first time the two had met.

Now, this isn’t a posting about an instructors ability to teach, but rather, how a substitute teacher approaches a class that is “not theirs”. They have not developed any kind of rapport with the students, they may never be back again, or back infrequently. I myself have subbed and have been in a class with a substitute instructor so I can see both sides of the discussion.

From my point of view, and humble opinion, why would an instructor bump up the level of a class from what is advertized? Ego? Misinformation? Misunderstanding when talking to the regular teacher?  This is where knowing how to ‘level’ a class is mighty handy. Offer a place for everyone to work, and teach from the middle. Anything more is just showing off. A more experienced practioner is going to know how to add on to a pose – and an experienced practioner is also going to know to accept what ever is being offered and work on the things that we “can’t see” (bandha’s, breath, internal alignment). Nothing will turn of a potential new student than being “blown out of the water”. 

Adjustments – a personal thing to be sure. I do very little hands on adjustment in part due to the nature of a flow class and in part due to my training. 98% of my adjustments are verbal; spoken out loud to the entire class or offered quietly one-on-one with much pointing. However, speaking from experience, if I’m subbing, unless the person is going to hurt themselves, I’m totally hands off. I don’t know the students, I don’t know what injuries they are coming to class with, what experiences, and I won’t see them again for months afterward. Or maybe never. Who am I to suddenly start making all sorts of adjustments based off of one 60 or 90 minute class?

I’ve seen students get hurt because of that. One gal I know received a ‘simple’ stretch while in downdog, in a workshop, and her hamstring hurt for 6 months.

Now this isn’t to say I haven’t made mistakes too. But I hope I’ve learned from them – and from watching others, and I’ve add those experiences to my filing cabinet of “things to be more aware of”.

So, fellow yoga peeps, what are your thoughts on subbing a class or being in a class that has a substitute teacher?  What do you like to do, or what do you like to see?


Nicole said...

Changing a class from level 1 to 11 just isn't fair without prior advertising. And it's good way for someone to get hurt. As for corrections, I don't mind gentle hands on to adjust me slightly, but using hands to push someone you don't really know into a deeper expression of a pose is never a good idea.

I love your idea of letting everyone work at their own level when you are subbing for a class, and you're right, more experienced practitioners will make the necessary adjustments for themselves.

Kat said...

I would NEVER go in planning on teaching above where the students are. If anything, I back down a bit, knowing that, as you say, the advanced students already know how to go further.

When possible, I make sure I make time to take a class from anyone that I might be subbing for. Not necessarily so I can see how they teach, but so I can observe the level of the students in their class.

Sara said...

Very well thought out post, Kristin.

I definitely have a hard time with the idea that a sub would come in and bump up the class level. Of course some teachers may not be able to level themselves but that is another issue.

As far as adjustments, I am ok with getting and giving a gentle touch to bring awareness to the body part in question. Anything where a body would be forced to adjust is outside of my comfort zone and outside of what I think is the right way to teach.

Kristin said...

Great feed-back! Thank you.

I know in a gym/fitness setting, the instructor may have more of a fitness background than a yoga background which would change how they approach a class. I have been in fitness classes where a sub has really ratcheted up the sequence or spin session for that day. Definitely disconcerting and still not appropriate IMO.

A yoga instructor should know better. Period. At least I would hope so...

Kat, great suggestion to attend the class you will be subbing ahead of time. I have done that and actually had some students thank me for doing so. Says a lot. said...

You've hit the nail on the head with your assessments. To bump up the class level is insane. When I need a sub, I make sure to have someone that is trusted, that will grill me about my class format and my students needs and wants.

Good conversation Kristin! And great tip above to attend the classes you may be subbing at some point.