My role as a teacher

stone zigzag

At the end of Pranayama and Meditation class the other day students were filing out into the hall and one woman said, “Oh, I never want to leave your class.  I always feel so relaxed and peaceful here.” She had invited her mom to class that day and she had such a nice smile on her face as she left.  I smiled and thanked her.   I was feeling pretty good after that.  I thought to myself, “it’s so nice when students have such a good experience.”  A little more quietly I also felt, “Whoo-wee, I must be a good teacher.  She really likes me, I can tell.”  I leaned down to grab my bag and another student who has been coming to class regularly asked about other classes I offer.  I let that complement soak in, my smile got a little brighter and I threw my bag over my shoulder as I answered her question.

I’m feeling pretty good at this point because people showed up this week, they like my class and I’m a good teacher.  So, after this student rolled up her mat and put away her blocks, I mentioned that I’ve been thinking about offering a pranayama and meditation workshop.  I described it a little bit and then asked if she would like to give me her email so I can let her know about it as it comes together.  This is kind of a big deal because I want to offer workshops but I haven’t quite mustered the confidence to just put one together, get it on the schedule and teach it.  On this day full of complements and high spirits, it seemed possible. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t think of why I hadn’t done it already.  So here’s a student who likes me, comes to class regularly and we had just had this really nice personal exchange about stuff so I’ll ask her and I’m pretty sure she’s going to get really excited.  I do, and she hesitates. I start to get worried. Then in a kind and truthful way she says something like, “I really like the breathing and the movement stuff that we do, but I’m not sure how involved I want to be with the meditation part of it.”  Something about it makes her uncomfortable.  I could see that and I wanted to ask her more, but I couldn’t formulate any question because I was being flooded with the debilitating feeling of rejection.  How could I have misread this situation? I thought she loved the meditation.  That’s what the class is all about.   I thought I was such a good teacher.  Maybe I’m not.  Waah, waaah. I felt like I just got dumped for prom.  It’s crazy how strong the feelings were– I felt dumb for even asking.  My chest started to tighten up.  It was difficult to speak.  It was bad.  All I managed to do was give a weak smile and say, “okay” and then turn back to my bag and looked for my keys while she left the classroom.

I think we can agree that this wasn’t an ideal response.  As it was happening, I could see what was going down and I knew I was missing a beautiful opportunity to ask her more.   Had I asked and she been willing to share, maybe I’d know what it was that made her uncertain.  Maybe she has some questions about the practice.  Perhaps her response would have helped guide my teaching in a way that makes it more accessible to her and to others that have similar uncertainties.  But I couldn’t because I was so freakin’ upset and dejected.

I knew these feelings would eventually pass, but since I was still feeling whiny and I had a little time between classes, I decided to call my friend, Katherine, who is really smart.   Katherine listened as I told the story and she encouraged me to get over it and think about the other lady who really loved the class that day.  When I kept whining about this other conversation, she changed tactics.  “You probably felt like you were getting turned down,” she said.  “You have this thing that is important to you and sharing it makes you vulnerable.  You put yourself out there and asked her to come to a workshop and she didn’t get all excited and sign right up.  I can see why you are upset.”  She was right.  I was starting to feel better. Katherine continued, “She likes the class, and she said so in several ways.  It’s just this one part she isn’t excited about yet.  Plus, this isn’t about you, Amanda.  Who knows what she has going on.”  See, I told you that Katherine is smart.  I try to remind myself all the time that very little that other people do is actually about me, but it helped to hear it from Katherine.  I eventually got on board, only whined a tiny bit more and after hearing Katherine talk about her incredibly adorable and advanced baby, I felt much better.

Teaching is so awesome partly because it requires that I stay very clear about my role and what it is I’m offering.  Like this thing, here—I felt vulnerable and nervous and so everything I heard seemed to be all about Me Me Me.  And then when what I heard didn’t sound like I wanted it to, it was a huge blow to my ego.  This was great.  Painful, but great, because it helped me to see how important it is to know how I’m feeling and the mode I’m in and to stay clear about what my role is and how this yoga teacher stuff really works.  When I talk about breath or meditation or the way to move in and out of an asana it comes from my very personal experience.  The most effective teaching days are the days that I can be very open and honest about my less than glamorous process.  The relationships that develop with my students are personal.   And I know that as a student, my teachers have said and guided me through experiences that touched me at a deeply personal level.  But here’s the thing.  Even though I am all in, I’m invested, I care very deeply about the practice and the people who come to learn and share, what they get or don’t get out of it isn’t about me.  That part is the yoga and the experience of the student. I can neither predict nor control how that happens for her or him.   I show up, teach the thing I’m there to teach and remember both the connection and the boundaries between me, yoga, and student.  And when I fall back into feeling like the reason one student loves yoga or the other one is uncertain is all me me me, then I get these gentle reminders that it actually isn’t.  I whine a little, find some clarity, and then I go out there to teach another class and try again.

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9 thoughts on “My role as a teacher

  1. I know, I know. It just doesn’t end, does it? We’re standing there pointing to the traps so that our students don’t step into them, all the while standing in one ourselves. At least with our practice we can sometimes see that we are trapped. So we bend down, pull the jaws apart, step out and carry on. Until the next time. Oy.

    1. Again and again. It keeps happening. But I can laugh at it a little more easily now and I have more patience with myself as I nurture this Self inside. I think that’s something. Thanks for your comment, Bharat– beautifully said.

  2. I love your story …so real …the emotions and behaviors you describe are all about life happening. I can’t help but think how lucky you are to have had this experience. This just validates how no matter what, we are always the student 🙂 I love the saying in this lineage, “The teacher is the student and the student is the teacher”. I am glad you found the “jewel” and are giving yourself a break. Thank you for you share, it is valuable. Laurie

    1. Oh Laurie, I like the way you talk about real life happening. It’s kind of like getting a big hug through the computer. Thanks for sharing your thoughts in such a compassionate and understanding tone. We are learning all the time, aren’t we? 🙂

  3. dear Amanda, as I read your piece, a situation in my own teaching immediately popped into my head. 3 weeks ago a student asked a question, and i gave a slightly funny, very self-revealing, totally non-yogic answer. i have been beating myself up about off and on ever since. i spent a couple of days really spinning out over it, then had a chat with Angela about yoga teacher angst, thought i had processed and forgiven myself. but that student hasn’t come back for 2 weeks…….so i keep offering myself forgiveness, for being fallible and human. i keep reminding myself that it is a misapprehension to believe i can be all things to all students, or responsible for their happiness, even in my class. Perhaps the lesson in your scenario is that you can only teach the meditation as you know it today, on your path, and if she doesn’t connect with it, she’s not ready today. miss you. hope summer with be a time we can see more of each other. R

    1. Oh Rebecca. I hear you, lady. I was opening a class one day and was talking about caring for children and how so many of us as women are caregivers and I had a student start to cry.. a lot, run out of the classroom and never come back. Of course I hated to be the one who brought up all of that difficulty and discomfort for this student, but there it was. I couldn’t have known and didn’t have the opportunity to talk to her again. Eventually, I had to let it go. I was doing my best, being real and I reflected on my words and as a result, I speak with more sensitivity around motherhood topics. It sounds like you were being your very real, authentic and wonderful self and who knows what is going on in that student’s life or why she didn’t come back. The forgiveness, or perhaps just acceptance of yourself sounds like just the right work and focus.

      summer fun ahead, fo’ sho’
      xo

  4. Love this post. As a teacher and one who deals with lots of rejection (writer), it just resonated. And this is a beautiful reminder: “Teaching is so awesome partly because it requires that I stay very clear about my role and what it is I’m offering.” Thanks for that.

  5. I believe the best teachers are always willing to learn from their students, and their mistakes…your posts are wonderful examples of how to incorporate lessons from everyday life into our everyday lives.

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