Last year Susan Allen, Roberta Tewes and I were in Victoria Austin’s Advanced Studies/Teachers Training Teaching III class. We each had different levels of yoga teaching experience, but suffice it to say that we were all green—Kermit the Frog green—that is very, very green.
Victoria inspired us to do volunteer teaching in the community, and also introduced us to the idea of how fun it is to co-teach classes with others. Everyone in our class was attracted to the idea, but it also seemed a bit scary. Where would we teach? Who would we teach? How could we teach without all the props?
Victoria asked who lived in San Francisco and the three of us raised our hands. She then christened us with the name “The Brave Three” because we were the first group she scheduled to do volunteer teaching. We looked at one another. Hmmmm . . . we didn’t look very brave. We looked tentative, “game” perhaps, but tentative. She told us that she had a job for us and within a week she sent us more details about our upcoming gig at the Zen Center. She said that the employees of the Larkin Street Youth Center were having a retreat at the Zen Center and that they wished to have a yoga class to begin their day. “Gulp! Okay, here we go.” I thought.
Though green we were well-supported in this first joint teaching adventure. Our theme for our class was “Uplifting”. We wanted our yoga students from the Larkin Street Youth Center to feel energetic and optimistic as they began their work retreat. Each of our AS/TT classmates provided us with suggested asanas to include that would support this theme, and also provided us with phrases and words to use in our teaching that would reinforce this theme. We felt the support of our whole class who “signed-off” on our class plan. Once we had our draft teaching plan we worked with Victoria to sculpt all the suggestions into a cohesive class sequence.
As I recall Susan, Roberta and I met three times to practice our teaching of the class. We taught each other and then critiqued each other’s teaching. We each practiced at home speaking out loud to our invisible students. In preparation a couple of weeks before the class we went to see the room where we would be teaching. Augghghghg! There were no usable “Iyengar suitable walls”—there were only windows, glass doors, big bells, and an awesomely big Buddha statue. It was challenging enough to teach without belts, blocks and chairs, but no walls too? Really?
Well, our big day came. Did I mention that there were 24 people in the class? 24 seemed like a huge number of students. How could we possibly look at them all? We divided the sequence into three parts. I started with asanas that warmed and opened the chest and shoulders and introduced Tadasana; Roberta came next with a series of standing poses; and Susan concluded the class with Prasarita Paddottanasana; Jatara Parivartanasana (The students loved rolling around on the floor!); Setubhandha; and Savasana. I like to look back with the hazy fuzzy kindness one creates over past events that one has survived. I also like to sum it up by saying, “We did fine.” From the vantage point of one year’s more experience I can say that we faithfully made all the mistakes that new teachers make. Number one being that we couldn’t “see” the students. I was certainly aware that there were 24 pairs of eyes looking at me, and an equal number of ears listening, but my words and actions were being recited from memory more than being triggered by what I was seeing in the room.
After class Victoria, Susan, Roberta and I had tea together to debrief. Victoria asked us each to say something that we would like to improve in our teaching. I remember thinking, “I only get to choose one?” My mind was a riot of what I wanted to do differently next time. Luckily, over the past year I have had many opportunities to actually do things differently, and better. And still, after virtually every class I teach I have a list of things I would like to do differently. And although I can “see” my students better now, I still long to “see” my students more clearly—like my teachers see me.
A few weeks ago, Victoria contacted us again and asked if we would like to again provide a yoga class for the Larkin Street Youth Center employee retreat at the Zen Center. This time we all responded with confidence. “Yes! We want to do it again.” We felt very, very honored to be asked back. Over the past year the three of us have been regularly teaching in different venues and with different groups of students. We decided to do the same sequence but to exchange who would teach each section. This year we did not practice together, in part because we no longer all live in San Francisco, but also because in one way or another, we are practicing our teaching between one and four times per week with regular students. And this year we were not at all fazed by having minimal props. No wall—no problem! We did have one very valuable prop for each student this year—yoga mats—thanks to the Zen Center. When we met the morning before class, there was a joy of being a team again, and a confidence of how to teach. Each of us followed the agreed upon sequence, but each of us had a little bit extra we added. Also, although there is always a certain excitement of teaching an unknown group of students, there was little fear.
Somehow, we had at least partially transformed into the name that Victoria gave us a year ago. We are growing into the name, “The Brave 3”. I hope we are able to do a reunion class again next year with the Larkin Street Youth Center employees, and with hard work and luck, by then we will have passed the Introductory I assessment, and will be studying for full certification at the Introductory II level.