Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Reflection: Yoga & Teaching

I took a workshop at my yoga studio today called "Precision Academy." I was excited to take a class that would focus on perfecting just a few poses, but when I arrived and spread out my mat, I realized that I might be in over my head: the room was filled with yoga teachers and the instructor of the class had Iyengar's Light On Yoga open to what looked like an impossible pose. Uh-oh.

I approached the teacher and asked her if it was a really advanced class. She reassured me that although I might not be able to do all the poses, we'd be working through easier poses leading up to one more difficult pose. I stayed, somewhat apprehensively, and the class turned out to be terrific, both for my yoga practice and for providing insight into teaching.

I think schools of education should encourage all their students - would-be teachers - to enroll in some sort of beginner class in something they are legitimately interested in but not naturally good at. Then they should keep a journal reflecting on what the experience of being a learner, especially an out-of-one's-depth-learner, is like for them. That's what yoga is like for me... it challenges me to think about why the classes are a comfortable place for me to learn, even as a not-initially-confident student (a point in favor of my classes: I have become much more confident since my first baby steps in the fall).

Adults come to yoga classes by choice; flexibility, strength, and inner calm are not things that our society has decided to make compulsory at this point. Nor are there arbitrary expectations about how quickly each student should progress, or about which asanas should be easy for which students at what point in their education.

Good yoga classes are the ultimate in differentiated instruction. Basics classes may include brand-new students, somewhat new students, and even some experienced yogis who are taking a basics class because it's a good way to check in with the fundamentals that underlie more difficult poses. The teacher leads everyone through a series of poses, suggesting variations for those who want a little more challenge, and other variations for those who are having a hard time with the pose. All this is done in a non-judgmental, "be where you are" manner. I have become more accepting of where I am on any given day; yesterday, I attended class feeling about average mentally, only to discover that my body was out-of-sorts and could not do the same poses that I'd done with no problem only a week before! At one time, I might have been extremely frustrated and disheartened by this - and I still would be in many other areas of life - but I just made note of it and did what I could. Once you've been to a few classes, you learn to make modifications for yourself - keeping a block or strap nearby, taking a break in child's pose, testing your balance, etc. The teachers don't explicitly say, Take responsibility for your own learning, but that message is communicated by everything about the class.

Middle school IS compulsory. Our society DOES expect students to progress at a more-or-less standard rate through given material and skills. And we do have checkpoints at various points in their education to ensure that they have mastered what we expect them to know by that point. Is it possible to bring the non-judgmental acceptance of yoga classes into the public school classroom, without sacrificing rigor? I feel a real need for urgency, yet I find it difficult, at times, to instill this sense of urgency in my students. I also feel a need to meet them where they are, not just when they first enter class, but when they enter class every day. Clearly, a teenager's thinking skills are not going to just march forwards, day after day. There will be setbacks, bad days, periods of percolation... and yet my curriculum marches onwards.

I was a little harsh on a student today - normally a very good student, conscientious and bright - who just didn't get the instructions for our activity. All the other groups were off & running, and he and his partner were doing something totally different from what the handout said. I asked them to start over and read the steps one at a time carefully, but when I came back a few minutes later, they were messing up in a different way! I got frustrated and wasn't very understanding. It's possible they were being lazy or careless about following instructions, but what if that student was just having a bad science day like I had a bad yoga day?

One of the reasons that yoga works is that the classes are repetitive without being boring. On my stiff, inflexible days I can take it a little easy, do the simpler versions of poses, and still make progress overall. In some ways, science classes do have that repetitive element. There's a reason why we do so many lab reports, always in a similar format: it allows students to try something, get feedback, and then do it again with new material. Some students struggle with one part of the lab report which comes easily to others, and vice versa. Over time, most get the hang of it. This happens at their own pace through repeated practice. It's easier to provide this kind of structure for skills than it is for content. Kids who are having trouble with Punnett Squares won't see them again for a year or two, and again it will be for a short period of time.

(1 hour later). Oops. I just got distracted by the 40 resumes that arrived in my inbox in response to a job posting. *sigh* Now I remember why I procrastinated about posting it: lots of work for me.

You'll just have to imagine all the other insights yoga might provide into teaching.


Blogger kimberly said...

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8:59 PM  

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