So I hit a teaching milestone last week. I had my first complaint filed against me by a student.
Well, maybe that’s the wrong phrasing. It wasn’t filed against me, as such. The student in question wrote a very long, detailed email to the general studio email address that was addressed directly to me. And it didn’t exactly say complimentary things. He evidently has issues with almost every aspect of my class and my teaching style, and felt that I needed to know he was unhappy with me. And not only that, but that some aspects of my teaching are, to him, just plain wrong.
To clarify, the student has been coming to the studio where I teach for a very long time and has, himself, been to Bikram Teacher Training (although he has never taught), and he feels he knows a great deal about the practice. Evidently, he also felt he needed to take it upon himself to right my teaching wrongs, by essentially writing me an essay on everything I’m doing incorrectly.
Now don’t get me wrong. I do not consider myself a perfect teacher, by any means. I am far from it. I still stumble over the occasional line, I make lots of awkward jokes, and I’m still not totally comfortable in my skin whilst standing on that podium. And I am always looking for constructive criticism from my fellow teachers. I have learnt that teaching is as much of a lifetime practice as a yoga practice. Every class I teach teaches me something new, and I don’t think I will ever stop learning. So had this student’s email been a few points on how to make my classes better (or had he spoken to me directly instead of emailing the studio), I might have been a little less thrown off.
But that’s not what the email was. What it was was a direct assault on everything I do and everything I say whilst teaching. From my occasional jokes, to the fact that I like to offer a few personal stories of how the practice helped me… He wasn’t down with any of it.
And at first, I was insulted. Then I was angry. I ended up sobbing at home later that night, fuming to my other half. “How DARE this pompous ass who’s never even had the balls to teach try to tell me how to do my job?!” It felt like my worst teaching nightmare had actually come true. Because when you get up on the podium to teach, you’re totally putting yourself out there for your students to see, warts and all. There’s no act to hide behind. It’s just you, in a sports bra and leggings, trying to help a room full of people achieve their best in their practice whilst simultaneously wearing your heart on your sleeve. And I already second-guess every damn move I make and word I say when I’m teaching, so having someone confirm those criticisms completely tipped me over the edge.
I wish I were about to tell you that I had a sudden yogic epiphany at that point that made me see the light about the situation and calm down, but I totally didn’t. I’m still kind of mad. I guess I have a ways to go to reach my enlightenment. Hey, I never said I was perfect.
BUT what I have realised (and the reason I’m writing this blog post) is that his whole email is actually not my damn problem.
So, my teaching isn’t perfect. I know it isn’t. I’m still a baby in the teaching world, it shouldn’t be! But I do know that I have students who really like my classes and who turn up to the studio especially to be taught by me. I have students who laugh at my stupid jokes and thank me for class on their way out of the studio. I also have a lot of students who are totally ambivalent to me, and that’s great too! As long as they’re turning up to practice for themselves and for the love of yoga, I am more than happy to teach them. I’m not there for them to love me, or even like me, I’m there to facilitate their practice and help them improve. And as for my teaching? I’m fine with the way it is right now, but I always look to get better, which is something I will do with time and experience.
I was also reminded by the freesia tattoo on my arm (long story) of something my favourite teacher once said to me when I was an emo 13 year-old getting bullied at school. “If you ever change yourself to please somebody else, I will be severely disappointed in you.” I am not about to change my teaching style to suit this student. Plenty of people like it, and if he doesn’t, then that’s too bad. You can’t please all of the people all of the time. The fact that he feels the need to assert superiority over me and try to make me feel belittled or lesser-than is about his own insecurities and issues. It has nothing to do with me. So I’ll keep teaching my classes the way I have since I left training; by being myself, and learning from my mistakes.