It's teaching prep week at my house. Academic classes begin again a week from today, and I am teaching a new yoga class starting at the end of this week.
Prepping for the start of both teaching commitments, I've been thinking a lot about what my experience as an academic teacher might tell me about yoga teaching and vice versa.
One lesson that's been hard-earned has been the importance of not-cramming, not-rushing. Like most teachers, I love my material and have so much I want to share with my students. This can lead to a bad classroom translation of Wallace Stevens's poem "13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," as I try to exhaustively present 15 ways of looking at feminist theory or 30 ways to consider Chaplin's Modern Times.
When I teach this way, I feel breathless and frustrated, racing to keep up with my content. We end class with a frenzy, never wrapping up. I say things to my students like, "hold that thought!" "No, throw that thought away, there's no time!"
Needless to say, students don't particularly appreciate this teaching style either. In his fabulous book Advice for New Faculty Members, Robert Boice explains that teachers who cram less into their lesson plans receive better student evaluations. Just as too much material can make the instructor feel breathless, so too do the students feel rushed through, unattended to, and confused by such presentations.
This insight, which has been hard won in my academic teaching is something that I both know and don't know in a yoga context. On the one hand, as a new yoga teacher, I have that new teacher fear of silence and a gap in the class ("must fill space with more poses!"). But as a student, I know how much I appreciate those moments when the instructor pulls us out of difficult sequence into child's pose to return our attention to breath and to catch up with our minds, which are perhaps racing about, panicked by the thought of another Warrior III.
The insight that rest and pause and simply taking a breathing break are perhaps the most important moments in a class is one that I continue to have to learn.
But as I plan my syllabi and my yoga classes this week, I'm trying to build out such moments for integration--places to catch our breath, catch-up days to pause in the semester and integrate difficult theoretical concepts, moments for reflection and freewriting.
How else might we incorporate the old adage that less is more into our teaching practices?
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