Tips for New Teachers: You Finished Your Teacher Training. Now What?

June 30, 2016    BY Karen Shelley

Long before I considered enrolling in yoga teacher training, I had lunch with two friends who had recently completed 200-hour programs. “What was it like to chant Om when you taught your first class?” I asked them. 

I was at what I thought to be the height of my career in the nonprofit sector and had no interest in becoming a yoga teacher, but I was fascinated by my friends’ decisions to shift gears. 

They admitted to being terrified that first time. And the second time, too, they told me. They explained that at some point (neither recalled when, exactly), designing classes, chanting Om, and stepping into the role of the teacher simply became part of the job. I understood from them that, as with any job, time was the greatest teacher.

In my then-career, I managed the entire fundraising team for a large nonprofit organization and regularly negotiated seven-figure deals. I was in charge. And at the end of the day, I loved changing out of business clothes and going to a yoga class so I could drop in and simply be told what to do, how to move, and when to chant Om. To me, in a packed, sweat-steamed studio in New York City, the teacher’s Om signified that my workday was over and someone else was there to guide me through the next 90 minutes of my life—so that I didn’t have to do it myself.

“What was it like to chant Om when you taught your first class?” I asked them.

Fast-forward a few years: I decided I wanted to teach yoga “on the side.” I carefully selected a teacher training program that I knew would prepare me to get out there and teach. My plan was to complete the training, maintain my booming nonprofit career, and teach a few yoga classes here and there. (Spoiler alert: This is not what happened.) By the time I was halfway through my teacher training, I’d decided to leave my full-time nonprofit career behind. Fortunately, I’d saved enough that I could allow myself the time and space to give a teaching career a fair shot. I was now available to teach. All the time. Whenever I had the opportunity. 

It was time to chant Om. But where does one begin?

What follows are some strategies that helped me as I dove into teaching my first classes. 

In Order to Find Your Voice as a Teacher, Use Your Voice

Your voice changes throughout your life. Think back to when you were a teenager and how your voice evolved along with your body. This evolution never really stops. Whether it is the tone or depth of your voice or the words you use, what you say or how you say it changes as a result of your experiences. This is also true of your teaching voice.

In conversations with recent teacher training (TT) grads, I’ve often heard something like, “Well, I finished my TT, but I don’t feel ready to teach yet. I need to find my voice.” 

We learn so much about yoga by observing our own practice, absorbing our teachers’ lessons, and committing to self-study. But I believe that the only way to develop your own teaching voice is to start using it, acknowledging that the classes you teach years from now will embody a different voice than your first class. Or even your hundredth class.

My friends were right—that first Om is terrifying! But the only way it starts to feel more natural is by actually chanting it. 

Create one solid yoga class and practice that same class over and over again. Know the class really well so that your primary focus can be on voice and delivery. You can record yourself talking through a sequence and then practice the sequence to your own voice to see how it feels to follow your instructions. If stage fright is an issue, then practice using your teaching voice on yourself or with friends. (I used to recite class sequences in the shower.) Offer to teach your friends, including both newbies and those who already have an existing yoga practice. (Your delivery will, of course, be different for beginners than it will be for seasoned practitioners, but each delivery will still be your voice.) If you envision yourself teaching group classes, try to practice on small groups of yogis, since the voice you’ll use with a group is quite different from the often stop-and-go nature of teaching one on one.

Create one solid yoga class and practice that same class over and over again.

See Yourself As a Teacher

If you want to be a yoga teacher, begin to see yourself as a yoga teacher, trusting that others will see in you what you see in yourself. Search for opportunities to teach, and when you accept those opportunities, you will be a teacher. 

The first yoga class I ever taught was a volunteer gig. It was a class for traditionally underserved teenage boys who were in a program to help them stay on the straight and narrow, so to speak. I had no specific training in teaching yoga to teens. Prior to the gig, I reached out to a local studio that offered a teen yoga class and asked if I could observe it. This experience was eye-opening for me, and it also helped me begin to build a relationship with that studio.

When it came time for me to teach the boys, I approached the class the same way that I continue to approach every class I teach. That is, I simply taught—with respect for my students and for the practice. The boys didn’t know that they were my first official students. It didn’t matter. I had information to share. Every class you teach is an opportunity for you to share what you are able to share and also accept whatever lessons come your way. And they never stop coming!

Be Professional

While yoga as a business is a topic of its own, it’s worth mentioning that if you plan to teach yoga, whether you do so for income or as an act of seva (service), it’s important to be professional. Maintain your calendar and keep clear records. 

Look into personal liability coverage that will protect you and your students anywhere you teach. If you’re teaching at a studio, it will most likely carry its own insurance, but if you’re teaching someone (whether for pay or not) at a personal residence, at an office, or in a public space, having insurance of your own is important. While you may be covered by a studio’s insurance, getting your own policy means that you will know where you stand. 

As a yoga teacher, you provide a service. Define what this means to you and hold true to that level of professionalism. Be clear about your rates and policies with private or corporate clients. Keep to your word. Show up on time. Be present. 

Continue Your Education

If there’s something that’s holding you back from teaching after you’ve completed TT, zoom in on your concern. Explore ways to address those areas in which you feel there’s room for growth. You may be able to find workshops (in person or online) that focus specifically on these areas of teaching. (Note that I’m not suggesting going straight into an additional formal teacher training.) For instance, you might explore one-day anatomy workshops, intensive courses on sequencing or hands-on assists, or classes that you know will focus heavily on areas or techniques that you want to enhance in your teaching. And choose wisely: If you consider yourself to be an arm-balance expert, will going to another arm-balancing workshop be the best use of your time and money? It may be! But if the choice is between that and an applied-anatomy workshop, and anatomy is where you feel your knowledge is lacking, opt for the latter.

If a workshop on a topic you’re looking for isn’t available, reach out to one of your teachers who is well versed on that particular topic and see if they’re open to mentoring you. (And offer to pay! Teaching yoga is how your teachers make their living.) If your teachers have certain qualities or methods you admire, ask them how they refined those techniques. They may have suggestions of books or podcasts or other teachers outside your existing network.

Get Out There

If your yoga studio has become an extreme comfort zone, consider branching out to other studios, teachers, and lineages. Exploration could introduce you to styles of yoga or teaching that may resonate with you and begin to influence your approach to teaching. It will also begin to introduce you to other communities (and introduce other communities to you). Once you get to know a studio, if it feels right, ask the owner or studio manager about the audition process for new teachers or how to get on the sub list. (I say “if it feels right” because if the studio or the classes you’ve taken there haven’t struck a chord, consider whether you’d be happy teaching there.)

If your yoga studio has become an extreme comfort zone, consider branching out to other studios, teachers, and lineages.

Introducing yourself to the studio owner and managers (once you’ve taken the time to explore and practice at the studio) may have played a role in securing your audition or your spot on the sub list, but keep spending time at the studio. Take classes there—and not only with the senior teachers or your favorites. If there are teachers there you already know, let them know that you’re available to cover for them. And introduce yourself to the other teachers! Let them know you’re on the sub list, and if a teacher seems responsive to this information, offer them your email address. (When I need a sub, I sometimes approach other teachers I know before I send an email to the full teacher or sub list.) On a related note, approaching teachers whose classes you’ve never attended and handing them your business card so they can reach out to you if they need a sub could be a turnoff for them. I would gladly invite a fellow teacher to take one of my classes as my guest if they exhibited an interest in doing so, and showing an interest in practicing with me, rather than just an interest in subbing for me, would leave a better impression. 

Make Yourself Available

Regardless of whether you’re transitioning to teaching yoga from another full-time career, starting your working life by teaching yoga, or just teaching a class here and there, you’ve probably got other responsibilities. They may include another job (or multiple jobs), family obligations, studies, or even fun stuff like travel plans, dinner parties, or a monthly book club. So, use your judgment to determine your availability. Honor the responsibilities and plans you have and prioritize. (This could mean keeping your plans even if teaching opportunities arise, or it could mean shifting your plans to create time for teaching.)

If you are on a sub list, take advantage of the opportunity to teach when it arises: your willingness to step in will be tremendously appreciated, and you’ll earn karma points for it. (Remember that one solid yoga class you practiced teaching over and over again to find your voice? It’s right there in your pocket for a last-minute emergency sub gig.)

Explore Your Teaching Options

Whether you see yourself primarily teaching private classes or group classes in a studio or gym, when you’re starting out, consider seeking a variety of opportunities so you can discover what really suits you. Teach a variety of styles, too, as long as you’re comfortable with them. My initial training was at a vinyasa studio that’s deeply influenced by the Iyengar and Ashtanga traditions, but I soon fell in love with teaching restorative yoga, as well as corporate classes in office settings. (I also discovered that I do not love teaching power yoga, so I stopped accepting those job opportunities.) 

Something that surprised me was how much I enjoy teaching in the morning. When I first accepted a 7:00 a.m. class, the studio owner (who recognized that this time slot might be seen as less than ideal) asked that I stick with it for a full year so that the students would have consistency. A year later, I realized that I loved that time slot so much that I requested a second 7:00 a.m. class!

Keep and Let Go

Finally, it’s likely that some of your teaching opportunities will feel like the perfect fit while others will feel like the perfect storm. Consider how you feel after you teach. If you notice a pattern of experiencing exaltation and joy when you teach certain types of classes or at certain studios, hold on to those classes and studios. Seek out more opportunities like those. On the other hand, if you notice feelings of anxiety or resentment after you teach, assess where those feelings are coming from and what the healthiest next steps are. Build a teaching practice that embodies why you wanted to teach in the first place.

Karen Shelley
Karen Shelley is a Brooklyn-based yoga instructor who leads group classes throughout New York City and creates epic, global yoga retreats. She weaves energy, fluidity, play, and tons of hands-on assists into her teaching. Prior to teaching yoga, she earned a master’s degree in English and worked in advertising, publishing, and nonprofit management. Today, with business in the background and yoga in the foreground, Karen delivers breath-centered instruction to her students, but she continues... Read more>>

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