Tuesday, 26 February 2013


 When I was doing yoga teacher training, I heard the warning more than once – being a sub can really suck.  Yoga can bring out strong emotions in people and yogis often become attached to a certain teacher.  I’ve been guilty of it myself; a different teacher walks in and you get a strong urge to walk out or cry or simply grumble to yourself through the whole class that your regular teacher would be better. 

As a substitute teacher, it can be difficult to manage people’s expectations of the class. When you teach at a large studio, some students simply attend when they can, but others will only come to classes led by a specific teacher.  Most people are pretty reasonable when they don’t get exactly what they’re expecting, but that’s not always the case; I’ve heard stories of yogis crying, storming out of the room and complaining the studio when the teacher they were expecting is absent.  I have witnessed this kind of behaviour and it’s not pretty. 

Last night, I subbed for another yoga teacher for the first time.  It was also my first class since I returned to Western Australia so I was a little bit nervous.  I really had no idea what to expect from the students; I’d never attended a class with their regular teacher or even visited the community hall where I would be teaching.  All I knew was that I could expect up to 30 people of varying levels of experience.   Fantastic… a challenge!

There were a few startled looks of surprise from the students as they filtered into the hall but as I explained that I was covering for their usual teacher while she was on holiday, no one seemed to be upset or disappointed (or if they were they covered it well!).  I started the class by asking how many of the students were relatively new to yoga.  Approximately a third of the class put up a hand.  Yikes.  The class plan I had written went out the window pretty quickly.  Fortunately I’m good at thinking on my feet and it was only a 55 minute class but I really slowed it down and threw out a lot of poses as I realised that most of the students had never even learned the Sun Salute series.  All the way through the class, I worried that I was making it too hard for my students, so imagine my surprise when a handful of the girls came up to me afterwards and said how nice it was to have an easier class as the usual teacher had been offering a much more advanced practice that a number of students found hard to follow.  It was definitely a bit of a boost for my ego to have students asking where else I was teaching so they could attend more classes with me.
 
So, if you’re a yoga teacher and you’ve never subbed before, here are a few things you might like to remember;
  • Most students aren’t really concerned about having a sub, so don’t fret about those who will miss their regular teacher.
  • Be prepared to alter your class plan to suit your students’ level of experience, particularly if they’re all completely new to you.
  • Even if they’re nice to you, your students are unlikely to trust you straight away.  It doesn’t matter if you ask them if they have an injury or if they’re pregnant; chances are they won’t tell you until halfway through the class, or even afterwards.  It’s just because they don’t know you and most of us aren’t used to divulging personal information to a random stranger.
  • Take business cards with you.  I’m not suggesting you blatantly try to steal students from another teacher, but if you’re not teaching in a studio environment, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with sharing your information as students may be looking for additional opportunities to attend classes.  Offering your contact details is also a good way for students to ask you any questions or raise any concerns they may have but did not have the time to share with you at the class.
  • Do not set off the alarm at the community centre hosting your class.  A big, burly security guard will knock on the door in the middle of the class and demand to see your ID while your students are hanging out in Warrior 2, waiting for further instructions.  I’m not saying this happened to me, but if it did, I’d be pretty careful to make sure it didn’t happen again…

And for all you yogis out there, when encountered with a sub at your next class, please remember;
  • Your substitute teacher is human too; be patient and kind to them.  They want to do a good job for you. 
  • Don’t be afraid to tell them if you have an injury, or if you’re pregnant.  They’re not going to tell anyone else and it’s better for you if they are aware of any physical limitations you may have. 
  • Shout of if you’re a beginner!  Your substitute yoga teacher is not psychic and will most likely just assume that you know a number of basic poses unless you let him/her know that you’re new to the practice.  

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