This last weekend, I had the privilege of teaching a group of yoga teachers and keen students in a workshop entitled “The Art of Adjusting.” In the lunch break I spoke to one of the participants about her concern that her classes seem to stay small, even though she’s been teaching them for some time.
What do we mean when we say a small class? These days classes can have fifty students in them, or more. In comparison, does one student equal a yoga class? If one student or just a few show up for a class, especially if this happens over time, should you as the teacher keep on going? And, for how long?
Maybe it’s a silly question, but it’s one that beginning teachers commonly face. If your income depends on how many show up for class, small numbers of students is a dilemma.
We yoga teachers are in a service profession. In some circles, it’s considered unethical to be in it for the money. But the teacher training program you underwent was involved a big monetary investment. Then, after the training, there are insurances to pay, association fees, and continual professional development.
One hurdle you face as a newbie teacher is where you find your students. If you begin your career in someone’s else’s yoga school, you probably won’t be given the best teaching times. You might be required to teach at six am or four pm, classes that are notoriously difficult times for attracting and keeping students.
Another problem occurs if you are a stand-in for a more popular teacher. As weeks go by, class sizes may dwindle. Small class attendances coupled with your own inexperience erode confidence. Then, this may contribute to a further a drop in numbers.
For a beginning teacher, there is a tried and true solution – have a mentor.
A mentor is the person you go to with all your niggling questions. For instance, how do you sequence classes, or create themes or handle remedial students? How do you make time for your own yoga routine? How many classes should you teach? And, how do you make a living out of teaching yoga?
How do you choose a mentor?
You might want to ask the person(s) with whom you trained to act as your mentor. Relationships forged in teacher trainings are special forever-bonds. Yoga teacher trainers are usually generous with their time and energy. They are often willing to have you call on them for advice as your new tires hit the teaching road. I still get phone calls or emails for teaching advice from trainees I taught a decade or more ago.
If this old relationship is not available, then you can find a different mentor. This might be the person with whom you first started yoga or someone you have done classes with recently.
It’s helpful to set up a regular private session with your mentor every 4-6 weeks. Besides giving teaching advice, you can ask your mentor to comment on the yoga practice you are doing. She can periodically tweak, upgrade or refine it. Anything you learn in these mentoring sessions will undoubtedly be downloaded for your students, so whatever the fee is will be worth your money and time.
When you get down to it, having small class numbers in the beginning days isn’t such a bad thing. Teaching to a few students gives time to get to know them. You can develop more depth with a handful of students than you can by spreading yourself too thinly with a large group.
Almost all senior teachers have started out teaching small classes. It takes time but you will develop a committed core group. These students will become the foundation on which to build whatever you want to create. Eventually there will be workshops, retreats, and maybe one day even a teacher training. How long does this take? Ah, well, that depends!
I’ve been through the process I’ve described three times. There was the Sydney Yoga Centre, then Simply Yoga, and now the Yoga Shed. The numbers in my general classes are small, and that has to do with the fact that I’m off the beaten track here on Mitchells Island, NSW. It also reflects the fact that I’ve preferred to make my classes drop-in. I would probably do better to have the students commit to a term of 10 classes. But hey, I like the flexibility of casual classes. I’m semi-retired and can take periodic breaks outside of the school holiday periods.
The process of building classes can be slow and arduous. It takes huge lashings of patience to temper one’s early enthusiasm, but hopefully not to dampen it.
The best advice I might give a beginning teacher is simply: be constant in your yoga practice. It gives us the tools we need – integrity, faith, and commitment – to transition from training wheels to expert travellers on the teaching path: .
By the way, there are many great books for teachers learning to master the art of teaching. Yoga texts can augment the help of a yoga mentor. Here’s an invaluable book: Teaching Yoga: Exploring the Teacher-Student Relationship by Donna Farhi. Keep it on your bookshelf for those times when you don’t have your mentor nearby.
And here’s another, an e-book with audio: The Art of Adjustment (manual for teachers) by Eve Grzybowski.