Friday, October 17, 2014

I'm too busy to be a better teacher: What I learned about college teaching from the Iyengar yoga teacher assessment

"Teaching is a difficult art, but is the best service you can do to humanity."
— B.K.S. Iyengar

In the last 3 weeks I defended my dissertation, taught my 4 courses and took the first level Iyengar certification exam.  Although, I would not recommend this combination to anyone I am writing today to reflect on my experience.  

Throughout the grueling process of preparing for the certified teacher exam I met so many amazing people.  I experienced wonderful hospitality from host studio Yoga Tree in the Seattle area.  But this blog is not a play by play of my trip and test.  Instead, I would like to share how my preparation affected my day job as an adjunct Communications professor. 


Unlike K-12 teachers, professors often have no formal teacher training.  The first time I taught as an adjunct I was given a book and a roster and sent on my merry way.  Similarly, the nearest teacher training for Iyengar yoga is more than 100 miles away in Los Angeles or Ventura which seems like a million miles for a mother with a full-time job and 2 kids.

I am so lucky that a locally certified teacher agreed to take me on as an apprentice.  This means that before I started teaching I attended and assisted all the classes she taught before I was permitted to teach.  I first shadowed my mentor more than 4 years ago.  Though continued practice is mandatory and a major part of my life, I have to be honest and admit that at first it seemed the more I taught the less I studied.  

Preparing for certification helped me refine every part of my yoga instruction.  Svādhyāya is the practice of self-study.  It is and one of the Niyamas or self-disciplines we study and apply in the Iyengar tradition.  I didn't change everything about the way I teach but instead I studied other teachers and guidelines to learn how to be better.

My two take away lessons from this process can be summarized in 5 words: 

talk less and keep training.

The hardest part of these words is that my best approach to teaching is to talk less.  For those of you who know me IRL you know that brevity is not my strong suit.  As I grow in my teaching I am learning to be clear by giving concise and simple instruction and to look for the effect in my students.

I have been told a lot lately that "research, professional development, and service" are not part of my "job" as an adjunct professor.  When I think of the 100 outlines waiting to be graded I am almost ready to accept that.  But my Iyengar training reminds me that preparation and self-study are a never ending process of discovery.  My students will fail to learn when I halt my process of discovery or Svādhyāya and become a grading drone.

As a college professor I have the freedom to apply any strategies in my classes that I think will fulfill student-learning outcomes.  What I learned from my study of Iyengar yoga is that I need to humble myself to learn from others instead of always thinking I can figure it out.  Also studying helped empathize with students because taking tests and getting feedback is hard.  But I am happy to report that I passed the first step to certification via the intro 1 Iyengar assessment and have already started studying for my second exam scheduled for next year.

Hope you will come join me for a class in Bakersfield at our local Iyengar studio Yoga Space

A few more photos from my trip.  On the top left is the hallways of the Yoga Tree with healthy snacks and a fellow yogi warming up.  In the middle is my study prep on the way home.  The last photo was my view of Seattle from Pike place.