Progressive teaching: Patience with the Student

tootsierollSri K. Pattabhi Jois, the late founder of Ashtanga Yoga, is famous for his quote that teachers must have “Knowledge of the method and patience with the student.”  I was exposed to this quote in my early 20s when I was just getting into teaching Yoga.  Now, in my mid-40s, I realize just how profound this quote really is.  I have had some wonderful teachers and I have also met teachers who possess an abundance of knowledge but have never been able to communicate it effectively to any student.  Of course I am in the business of teaching teachers and health professionals.  Sharing my knowledge and group discussions are always enjoyable for me, but my favorite part is watching my students practice teaching what they are learning in front of the room in their own words.  They all have the realization of just what a huge responsibility this is.  I so enjoy watching them learn to speak with conviction, clarity, and enthusiasm as they quickly realize the intricacies of teaching.

I remember in college having the experience of taking organic chemistry.  My professor stood with his back to us for most of the class writing equations on his huge chalkboard, while we stared at the giant periodic table and tried to make sense of various compounds.  In order for me to even grasp the material, I would go to two different lectures plus meet with a tutor for the whole semester.  I felt like I was the least intelligent person on the planet, as many of my teachers were unable to explain to me how in the world they were able to define how a specific organic molecule was formed.   To this day, I still have an aversion to this topic and I don’t feel like I ever truly grasped the material.  I don’t even remember the name of my teachers then.  I just know that they were totally ineffective for me.

Then there was my high school physics teacher, Professor Horace Krizan.  Boy do I remember him!  He spoke five languages and looked just like Einstein.  If you sat in the front row, you might get spit on accidentally from his passionate lectures.  I had a horrible car accident in my senior year that made me miss three months of school.  With the help of my dad, he helped me build an LED flasher electrical circuit, pass advanced algebra with an “A” and get caught up in Physics II.  I will never forget how much he helped me after school.  He was so smart and he just sat there and worked with me in such a slow, progressive manner.  It was so hard for me since I am not a “science” person by nature.  I told my teacher that I wanted to study drawing and painting in college and he said “Art?  You are smart enough to do anything!  You have the mind of an engineer!”  It brings tears to my eyes to this day to think of how much that teacher inspired me and gave me confidence.

In the Yoga Integrated Science™ 200 hour course, students learn about how to be an effective teacher.  Not only do instructors need to be qualified to teach the subjects they are teaching, they also need to be on the path to be an expert in their field.  There is a need to constantly learn and improve.  Teachers must put themselves in a position to be challenged, exposing themselves to new information and skill refinement.  My friend Dr. Mueller, DC, once told me “If you are not spending an hour a day studying or reading up in your field, you are behind.”  He is so right!  We can’t know everything, but they say that it takes 10,000 hours to Master something.

Once knowledge of the method is being honed, how do we have “patience with the student” by conveying what we know effectively?  In group fitness, we used to call it “milking”.  We learn to teach one task at a time while repeating former tasks over and over to increase overall confidence and skill of the student.  We health professionals often-times come to our clients with a specific goal in mind.  Maybe this goal is related to some specific physical achievement such as improving health, weight loss, being able to move into a specific position, or be able to perform an activity with greater strength, stamina, or precision.   Whatever the goal may be, it all boils down to progression.  What is our client’s state of health today? From this place, how many steps / length of time will it taken to ever reach the goal? Is the goal even possible at all?

Remember the line from the commercial back in the seventies:  “How many “licks” does it take to get the center of the tootsie roll pop?”  In case you missed it, the commercial starred an owl cartoon character who attempts to conduct the experiment by counting his licks, as he tastes his candy-filled tootsie roll pop.  As he begins, he looks at his candy and says “one” and gently licks his pop with a big “slurp”.  Then he patiently says ”two” and does it again.  Then he looks at his candy with impatience and you hear a “crunch” as he bites it to immediately get to the center!  Of course we realize that by rushing this, the candy is so dense and hard that he likely damaged his teeth!  Also, he missed all the hours of enjoyment tasting the candy shell while he patiently waited to achieve the delicious chocolate center 🙂 The conclusion to the commercial implies that we may never know just how many “licks” it will take to the center of the tootsie roll pop!  The reason?  We were in too much of a hurry!

Can we use this analogy as teachers?  How do we “savor the flavor” for our students to get them to arrive to the answers in their own time?  We know when a child’s bones are growing at such a rapid rate, their tissues commonly cant “catch-up” and are stressed to the point of what we call “growing pains.” We know that bone, muscle, and motor learning take time!  Even reprogramming attitudes and thoughts takes time.  The greatest teachers not only see the road ahead of where someone may need to go, but they are able to devise a plan as to how to get there that is appropriate for the student.  On top of that, great teachers know that it may be necessary to revise the plan as the student progresses at their own unique rate.  We must remember that yoga is a practice.  Enjoy the journey.

Lauren Eirk, MS, E-RYT 500, MATm/RX
Founder | Developer, Yoga Integrated Science™ Programs