Below is the first installment of a three part series devoted to helping new teachers. If you want to see something in the series, let me know in the comments.
When I began teaching in January of 2006 it was a different world. There were not as many teachers vying for jobs, but the practice was not as prevalent as it is today. While it may seem at times saturated and overwhelming, there are still lots of opportunities to teach if you have the drive, passion, and willingness to do so. It is a crazy world to navigate as a new teacher, and the unfortunate truth is that a lot of 200 trainings are running to sustain the business of the studio rather than nurture budding teachers.
As a long time teacher and teacher trainer, I hope to help new teachers gain insights into the path they have chosen, whether it's teaching as a side hustle or a more full-time pursuit. In this installment, I'll explore some basic common sense approaches to making your schedule work for you and how to show up to teach your classes when you get the opportunity to do so. The first year or so can be thrilling, exhausting, and terrifying. Some classes will leave you floating on cloud nine, while others will have you questioning your decision to teach. Hang in there! It can be a wonderful and rewarding adventure,
1. Teach whenever and wherever you can and then streamline
When you start teaching you have to hone your chops, pay your dues, and figure out who you and your students are in the context of the classroom. This is important. Be a yes person. Teach your friends, beginners, at your office, in the park, and look everywhere for jobs.
And after a while…
You can start to be selective and build a schedule that is more sustainable for a long and fruitful career. It is important to be mindful with your time, because 8 hours of class time can equate to a 40 hour work week, once you factor in commuting and prep time. Your earnings will be spread thin and energetically you’ll be spent.
If your schedule is too taxing, figure out where you are spending your time and then see where you can cut back. Are you teaching on opposites ends of your town or city? Maybe it’s time to look for a class that is more local, or condense your classes into fewer neighborhoods. Is it class prep? Know that it’s ok to teach the same class for one week. (and even keep the same playlist!) In my experience, keeping themes for a week or more has given them depth and allowed for the evolution of new ideas. Also, no one really cares that much. I have heard from so many people that they like repeating things.
2. Quality vs. Quantity
I spent many years with an over-packed schedule; often teaching morning, noon, and night on the same day. I was beyond exhausted, and my evening classes lacked in quality. My pocket book suffered too. Not having enough time to prepare for long days out, I was always grabbing food on the go and rewarding my hard work with wasteful impulse purchases. In my mind I justified all of this by telling myself I was making “extra” money. But for years, I could barely pay my bills; and only had a wallet full of whole foods receipts and a closet full of fast fashion to show for it. If you are in a similar situation or feel that a class you have been offered will take you there, know that saying no is always an option. Something more suited to you work/life needs will come up.
Learn when you are at your best…
My prime teaching time is mid-morning to early evening, and it’s best for me not to teach before 9a or after 7p. This will be different for everyone, so allow yourself to experiment with what works best. And while it might not be possible to be too picky, take a realistic look at your schedule to see if you can make some adjustments where needed. if your teaching till 8:30p only to wake up at the crack of dawn to teach at 6:45a the next day, pick one to let go of. Again, something else will come up, and in the meantime focus on how you can utilize your extra time well.
3. If someone leaves your class early, don’t sweat it
More than a few times, I’ve encountered a teacher who (humble?) brags about how no one ever leaves their class early. Try not to measure your success on markers like these. Because if you teach for a while and at a few places, people are going to leave your class early. Most of the time it has NOTHING to do with you! So let it go, kindly remind them to take their mat and props with them, and focus on the people who are still in the room.
If it does have something to do with you…
You are not going to be everyone’s teacher and that’s a good thing. We spend too much time trying to please everyone. I am not advocating arrogant dissonance when it comes to your students; but do know that some people are not going to like your class even when you are at your prime. There is literally nothing on this planet that everyone likes. Not even avocados, french fries, or the Beatles.
Ok, maybe french fries, but….
It's a big bad yelp world out there! Learn how to take both positive and negative feedback with a healthy attitude. It’s easy for us to focus a lot (or only) on the negative, and it can leave us discouraged. However, some of the best feedback I have gotten I resisted at first. (I also know more than a few seasoned teachers who use a healthy dose of some.) If you get a bad review, read it, acknowledge it, and consider it's validity honestly. If there is some truth there, learn from it, apply it, and move forward!
4. Make sure you have enough time to practice
It is so important to carve out time for a home practice that is independent of what you will be teaching. It is a deeper experience of self-inquiry and will keep your curiosity piqued. It doesn’t have to be long if the time commitment is your biggest obstacle. Just throw some Moby on, get on your mat, and explore.
Take class, but not too much. I’ve known a few teachers who take 1-2 classes a day and then rush to teach there own. Their classes end up sounding like a re-mixed mashup of other teacher’s cues and expressions. Take time to let what you have learned sink in and become embodied. Sit and practice with what inspired you and it will speak through you on a much deeper leveI. I love when other teachers share what I have taught them. Not because of the credit, but because something I taught resonated with them enough to want to share it. So keep seeking knowledge and let it enrich your own.
5. Be on time. End on time. Period.
10 minutes early is on time, and if you have never been to a place before, it’s 15 minutes.
If you aim to be there at the start time, there's more than a small chance that you’ll be late- especially if you are going to a new studio. Also, getting there early gives you time to meet students and inquire about injuries. Asking people to tell you about their injuries in front of the whole class is fine; but know that many will not feel comfortable sharing in this way and may stay silent. Injuries are very personal. It’s nice to allow time for one on one interactions to garner the information you need to make the best choices for your students.
And you over there….
You’ll also have a chance to meet new students and get their names. Try to refer to them in class to remember them more easily. I know that when I get names after class, its usually in one ear and out the other.
End on time...
People have families, obligations, and places to go that are important. I know it’s hard and I used to be terrible at it! It is challenging to fit all the elements of a good yoga class in an hour, which is the length of most classes these days. But it will make a world of difference to someone if they know they can pick up their kids on time and take a wonderful yoga class with you.
6. Be patient with yourself and others
Allow yourself to be new at teaching yoga, it’s going to take sometime to become really good at it. Sometimes, you are going to mess up your sequencing and mince your words.
This doesn’t mean you do not have good and great things to offer people…
Try to stay present and open to all you are learning. So much of the process is like anything else in life: learning how to deal with mistakes and setbacks. If we pretend they do not exist, we’re missing out on enormous growth potential. So take risks and put yourself out there. If you wait until you feel completely ready, you’ll wait forever. Acknowledge that you are new and soak it all in! Exploring the work with a curious and humble mindset will nurture a satisfying and rewarding career.