6 Ways to Be a Superb Sub

Written by Alexis Marbach

For a new yoga teacher, subbing can be a great way to gain experience, meet new students, and establish a relationship with a studio. But let’s face it. The word “substitute” doesn’t conjure up images of greatness. The prefix 'sub' literally means under, beneath, nearly, secondary, or subordinate. It’s no wonder that students don’t always share the enthusiasm of the substitute teacher.

For a student, there can be a lot wrapped up in taking a class. Maybe the regular teacher has established a strong bond with the class, understands a student’s injuries or limitations, and has a certain balance of speaking and silence. Maybe the predictability of the class and the regular teacher is soothing.

Subbing can also be hard for the teacher. Recently I was substituting and as I sat down in front of the room, I all of the sudden felt overwrought with nerves. What would they think of me? Would they wish they hadn’t come? Would my sequence be too hard or too easy? Would they think that my admittedly bad jokes and sarcasm were too much? EEK! Panic!!

Luckily, I was able to calm myself by knowing that I had done my homework, and considered this checklist. Here are some ways to have a successful class as a substitute teacher:

1. Contact the regular teacher. Get to know more about how he or she approaches the class. Does the regular teacher typically chant, or read, or incorporate philosophy into the opening of the class? What is the pace of the class (especially if it is a class for all levels!)? Are there any regular students who have special needs and require extra help or adjustments?

2. Contact the studio and figure out when the room will be open for your class and when the next class will be coming in. Will you need to do anything to set up or to close down? If there was a heated class in the room before and you are about to teach a beginners level or restorative class, you might want to think about temperature or wiping down the floors. I also like to know when the room is open to students so I can get there early and…

3. Meet and greet every student. Even in large classes, make an attempt to meet each student. Try, try, try to remember their names but most importantly, find out if they have any injuries or things about their body you should know. You can also ask if they feel comfortable being adjusted. Side note – do your homework to figure this out. When I’m not teaching yoga I work with survivors of trauma. Some people do not want to be touched, even thought you are the “yoga teacher”. Or maybe they have had bad experiences with adjustments before. Do your best to give verbal encouragement and clear instructions throughout the class.

4. Welcome the entire class together. As my friend Michi says, 'Humble Up'! Thank them for coming and letting you into their class and their practice. Express your enthusiasm and let them know that class is a partnership between you and them. If they want to make modifications throughout the class, you don’t have a strict agenda. You want the class to meet their needs, and you are offering poses as a way to assist them in achieving their intention for the class.

5. Be yourself and smile. Even though I want the students to feel continuity between their regular teacher and me as a substitute, I think it is important to bring my personality into the class. I laugh at myself, a lot, and encourage the students to laugh too. I love talking about the 8 limbs of yoga and the Yoga Sutras, and try to weave a small excerpt throughout the class. And the smile part? It’ll put you at ease and will encourage others to do the same. Don’t believe me? Try it when in line at a coffee shop on a Monday morning. I can’t think of a tougher crowd.

6. Follow up. After class is over, invite students to offer feedback and ask questions about the practice, certain poses, or you as a teacher. Let them know if they think of something later, they are always welcome to contact the studio, too (gives them an out if they don’t want to bring something up with you directly).

Subbing can be a last minute request but if you take the time to take as many of these steps as possible, your students will appreciate it. You as the teacher may also save yourself from going down a rabbit hole of self-doubt both before and after class. Better yet, you will probably get invited back!

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