Subbing Hell

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Ok, maybe it’s not a layer of hell, but it can be really uncomfortable.

If you’ve ever subbed a class for someone else, particularly a very well-loved teacher, you know what I’m talking about. Two days ago I guest taught for a popular teacher for the first time. I felt honored and grateful and excited to share my teaching with her lovely students. But when I sat down in the spot that she normally sits in, I suddenly felt like a dazed deer. The thought, “this is her spot” went through my head, and I had a surreal moment when I felt like I was in a spotlight.

Not in the “Oooh, look at me! I’m in the spotlight!” kind of way. But the kind where I’m trying to quietly sneak out of somewhere and all of a sudden thwak, the spotlight goes on and I’m frozen in my tracks, exposed.

The truth is, a subbed class is an awkward and potentially triggering event for sub and students alike. As a teacher, you’re unfamiliar with the students and maybe it’s not a class time or style that you normally teach, so you’re completely out of your comfort zone.

As a student, it’s not the warm fuzzy blanket of what’s familiar, so you’re also out of your comfort zone. And when everyone in the room is out of their comfort zone, you get a whole room full of triggered people. And the only thing worse than a room full of triggered people is a room full of people who are triggered but don’t know that they’re triggered, or are triggered and are trying to pretend like they aren’t. In my experience, this is often the case in a yoga class with a sub.

Having been a student in a class where my teacher has a sub, I know that being triggered for me means being ornery or being inwardly judgmental of the new teacher, or (yes, I’ve done this, too) just deciding to leave when I see that it’s not my teacher who is teaching.

Given that I know that students must feel some of the same things that I’ve experienced as a student, when I’m a sub and I’m triggered because I’m uncomfortable, my tendency is to try to make the students feel comfortable.

In the past I’ve done this in different ways—I’ve tried to teach more aligned with how their usual teacher teaches than with how I teach, I’ve taught a very vanilla class so as not to offend anyone or I’ve tried to throw the kitchen sink of what I know about yoga at them so they see how smart I am as a teacher.

The common theme of all of those above techniques is of trying to please the students so they’ll like me, of trying to meet the expectations I imagine they must have for me, and doing it in a way that abandons who I am as a teacher. I know when I’m doing that because the general flavor of the class is either lifeless and robotic or kind of spastic and hasty. And during it I feel disconnected from myself and from the students. Most of all, I know when I’m teaching that way because it’s just not fun. In fact, it can actually kind of feel like hell.

Not to say that the class that I taught the other day felt like hell—hardly. But it definitely was not as fun as I normally have when I teach. So I came home and sat with why that was and with what I could have done differently. I discovered that it has to do with expectations—mine and the students’.

When a student shows up for a class and finds that her teacher isn’t there, one of her big expectations has already not been met. And if her tendency is to want to compare me to her teacher throughout the entire class, I will continue to fail to meet her expectations. Guaranteed. Even if I’m a great teacher, I can never be someone else.

I’ve recognized this before, and simply spoken to it at the beginning of class. Essentially saying “release your expectations and be open to what I have to offer.” I did this the other day, but it wasn’t enough.

It wasn’t enough because I realized that I also have expectations–I have expectations of how my students will engage with my teaching. There are ways that I’m accustomed to interacting with students that fits my style of teaching and that is different than the way others teach. I really want people to respond and to find a bit of dialogue to enhance the learning environment, not sit quietly waiting for class to end.

When those expectations weren’t met the other day—people thinking my questions were rhetorical or just not feeling confident enough to speak up—I felt more and more uncomfortable. I left feeling ornery, the way I do when I’m a student and had a sub who didn’t meet my expectations.

What I realized is: not only is it not my job to meet their expectations in relationship to me being like their teacher, it’s not their job to let go of their expectations of me. For better or worse, it’s human nature to have expectations. In fact, I shouldn’t let go of mine either. Instead, it’s my job as the teacher to set new expectations.

So that’s what I did today. I started class by briefly saying how my approach to teaching differs a bit from the regular teachers, and then I asked for what I needed from the students so that I could offer them my best teaching. Then I just dropped in and did what I do. The result: no dazed deer, no sense of being trapped by a spotlight or of enduring 75 minutes in hellish discomfort.

It doesn’t mean that everyone loved how I taught, but everyone did know what to expect. And with all of us having shared expectations, there was more comfort all around, and class flowed with ease. I had fun because I got to be me, and I left feeling good that I had given them the best class that I could. And that’s all I can ever do.

So though subbing a class for someone else might not actually be a layer of hell, expecting someone else to meet your expectations without having conveyed what your expectations are just might be. But that’s for a different post…

Courtesy of Jay at Grace & Grit Yoga: http://graceandgrityoga.com/one-of-the-layers-of-hell-subbing-a-yoga-class/

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