How to Deal: Substitute Teachers
We all have our favorite instructors – the ones whose classes we seek out and never miss if we can help it. I’m willing to bet most of us have had a moment where we look at the schedule and find out that our favorite teacher as a sub for their class…and we cancel. I’ve done it. I’ll admit it.
Sometimes, it’s simply that I was looking forward to a specific thing from a specific teacher, and I’m not in the mood to be open minded (terrible, I know). I want what I want. The sub may be great, and I may know that already, but I just…wanted that other thing. Other times, I know the sub and know that they are not my cup of tea. Maybe their style is not like mine, or they focus on moves that aren’t traditionally for me (i.e. anything overly bendy). Or…and this has happened…maybe I just don’t like them. As a person. That happens. And, I’m not about to drop money to spend 60 to 90 minutes with someone I don’t like.
Canceling class because of a sub is the right of any student. I would venture to bet that most studios expect some cancellations for subbed classes when there is a regular, much-beloved teacher who is out. But, I would also venture to say that a lot of the time, those students who do cancel because they want their favorite teacher are maybe missing out on the chance to learn something new, or even find some gem in the instruction that they didn’t think they’d find.
I recently went to a class, expecting a teacher that I really like to be there, and found a sub. I was a little let down, but happy to just be in a class and getting a chance to exercise. All of the students were polite, but a little reserved, as I think tends to happen with a sub. I think there’s a definite tendency to sit back a bit and take measure of the teacher, but also of what they intend to teach. And nobody wants to step on any toes at the outset (unless you’re a bratty student), so there’s also that tendency to hold back initially.
For students, I think dealing with a sub requires some measure of getting over yourself and being open. Maybe they aren’t teaching what you wanted to learn, but that does not mean that you won’t get something out of it. Maybe they’re a new teacher, or new to you, but either way, it doesn’t matter. What does matter? That you give them the same attention and respect that you would give to your regular teacher, and that you make an effort to follow their lesson plan, even if it’s different than what you are accustomed to. Because, truly, you never know what might click for you. Maybe that teacher will spot some bad habit you have that is keeping you from nailing something – a habit your regular teacher may accidentally overlook because they know you better. Maybe they’ll have another way of explaining something that makes more sense to you, for whatever reason. You never really know!
On the flip side, if you are subbing someone else’s class, you have to expect some amount of dissention or discomfort from the group, but there are some things you can do to prepare. One suggestion I like is to approach each of the students and ask them individually what level they are at – what are tricks they are working on, what are they comfortable with (giving them examples, like shoulder mount, invert, etc.) – most teachers ask the class as a whole, which can work, but in classes with mixed levels, that can be tricky. And some students may be too shy to be honest in front of the group. While this suggestion does take more time, it may also allow the sub a moment to connect with each student and personalize the experience – that is, to be less of a stranger.
Another technique is to ask what the regular instructor has been teaching them – this can give you a good idea as to what the class may be looking to learn and where they are in terms of level. This does not mean you have to teach the same curriculum, unless it is required by your individual studio. But, it may give you the advantages I listed above, as well as the chance to add on. What I mean is: perhaps the regular teacher taught an Extended Butterfly to Flatline recently, but you can rock an Extended Butterfly to Reverse Poisson – that means that you can review a trick they know or have been working on, and add something really cool to it that they may not know. It’s a little familiar, but has a fun twist.
I think it’s also good to see if you can chat with the studio manager or the teacher for whom you are subbing and get a measure on the class: are they shy? Are they unruly? Do they have a tendency to go off the reservation and try stuff they shouldn’t? Are some at a higher level than others? How long is the usual warm up? How long is the actual class? (Sounds funny, but I once had a sub end a class 30 minutes early by mistake.) It’s also good to ask the teacher what has been on the agenda, too.
Having been on both sides of this issue, it’s an interesting and delicate one to me. I am generally averse to subs as a student, as I find that I tend to have some needs as a student that not all instructors can handle well (i.e. I ask A LOT of questions about small things within the technique, as it helps me to break down tricks better and make adjustments based on my own body – and not every teacher knows how to deal with that). I’m not fluid, bendy, or strong enough to just roll with any teacher, either – if I come in and there’s some back bending trick, I effectively just lost a class. And, I tend to feel bad about working on my own stuff in someone else’s class, so it’s a double fail.
That being said, I HAVE totally gotten stuff out of classes with subs. And, I always think it’s an excellent lesson to shut up and be open. In a recent class with a sub, the instructor had planned curriculum for a class that was far less advanced than the level of the students present (it was mixed level). As such, it was a lot of review on conditioning, which was a really good workout, although a little dull. Still, there were one or two things I hadn’t done before, so I got a chance to at least try those things, even if they weren’t really what I was hoping to do that day.
And, as someone who has subbed classes, I know it’s tough to do, especially if the teacher you are subbing for teaches in a completely different way than you do (which was the case for me). As much as I might pout about not getting to see my favorite teacher, I do have empathy for the person subbing – it’s not easy! As a sub, you’re generally trying their best to do right by the class. Ultimately, while it’s good to know and understand someone else’s way of teaching, you must be comfortable in order to be effective. If someone’s style is completely different than yours, don’t sweat it! Just let the class know ahead of time what to expect: how the warm up will run and how you teach. It won’t guarantee that they’ll be totally into it, but at least they won’t be surprised.
So, the next time you have a sub, consider attending class and being open to what they have to offer – you’ll probably get something out of it! And, if you’ve got a class to sub coming up, do your research and remember to have fun!
Update: A friend of mine mentioned that she’s seen students go as far as to arrive to class, change into their clothes, then leave as soon as they see there is a sub…or leave right after warm up…or even ask if there is another class going on they can take instead while IN FRONT of the sub. All of those things are rude. Just flat out rude. If you arrive and find a sub you weren’t expecting, it can be a disappointment, but you’re there already. Commit and make the best of it, especially since you’re going to lose the class credit if you don’t. If you haven’t gone into the class yet and want to inquire about switching, do so in a discreet manner and only involve the front desk. But once you are in that door, honor the instructor and be present. Don’t be a douche.
My Night with Marlo
As much of a pole fan as I am, you’d think I’d have taken a workshop by now, but no! I’ve taken a class from Natasha Wang at a local LA studio, but never an actual workshop taught by a pole star (by the way, Natasha is great, and you should always take classes or workshops from her).
Thanks to the generosity of a pole friend, I was able to attend my very first pole workshop last night…with Marlo Fisken.
Pause for extreme fan-girl reaction.
I was in shock. It was such a nice gesture, and I can’t even think of how to say thank you properly!
In preparation for the big day, I squee’d a lot and made my boyfriend watch multiple Marlo videos, like this one:
Marlo’s workshop was at Smoke and Mirrors Fitness in Orange County, which is about 20-30 minutes from my house depending on traffic. I had never been there, although I know some of the students – it’s a nice place! Super tall poles, very atmospheric. I hope to get to take one of their classes sometime! A few of my pole friends from LA came down for the workshop, too, and it was nice to have friendly faces.
Marlo herself is art in motion. She moves like liquid. Really hot liquid. The workshop was focused on her flow movement, so we worked on the principles of creating seamless motion and continuous movement in transitions. It was tough in different areas, for all of us, but some people got the tricks faster/easier than others. I was not one of those people. 🙂 I struggled.
Our warm up was movement based, and while it was tough, it wasn’t impossible. I kept up for most of it, and my asthma kept itself in check for most of it, which was excellent. The movement was so foreign to me, so it was like learning choreography while trying to stretch and get warm. It was interesting while being challenging, which I appreciated. Marlo also had us do some conditioning and floor moves that were also interesting – cartwheel presses across the floor were tough, but the floorwork (shoulder stand/roll) was very cool.
She followed up the warm up/conditioning with spin instruction, and wow. She’s so pretty in her technique. She just floats. Her instruction was meant to teach us how to achieve that kind of flow, but I had a really hard time with the timing of the hand switch – I got it once, I think, out of all of the attempts I made. I ended up working on the three segments of the spin separately, in hopes I could tie them all together once I had the basics. It was tough to not get something I felt like was fairly simple, but it definitely spoke to my weakness at pirouettes – a simple transition that has always tripped me up. She taught a cool move out of a spin that landed on the floor, but it was tough for most of us – I hope to work on it some more in my normal classes.
Part of Marlo’s trick instruction was based off of aerial inverts, which are my nemesis. I would rather try a fonji (which I do not have the skills to do) than do an aerial invert. All of my pole friends and instructors tell me I can do one, and I am sure that I can, but I have failed at them for so long that it’s become a mental block. So, when Marlo included it in the instruction, I was immediately put in the position of having to suck it up. Which is good, because I NEED to suck it up, but it was a tough thing to do when I had just felt like rather a failure at the spin instruction.
How did I do? Meh. I ended up just feeling bad about the fact that I was sharing the pole with one of the instructors from Pole Garage, who ended up having to help me quite a bit (I felt like I was infringing on her learning experience, which is really just my brain being mean). She did an incredible job keeping up with Marlo, though – it was so fun to watch her do well.
Regarding my own work, I will say this: I did a few aerial inverts better than I ever have before. I usually struggle a huge amount, and I did okay – especially since they were on my non-dominant side. So, I consider those to be wins – the fact that I even got into the invert is a big deal. (It may not sound like much, but consider the fact that I was so under-conditioned on my non-dominant side that I couldn’t even invert from the floor a few months ago – and the fact that I can barely aerial invert on my dominant side.) In fact, I was so unaccustomed to aerial inverting, especially on my non-dominant side, that once I had gotten up, I was totally confused on what to do. I couldn’t sit up over it to continue the climb – it was like my brain shut down. It’s entirely possible that I have never climbed up on that side!
To end the class, Marlo gave us the challenge of stringing randomly chosen tricks together, with the aim of having there be the least amount of steps in between. It was really challenging, but in a fun way – we had to really think about it, and some of the success depended on our level of expertise.
Marlo is ridiculous to watch. She’s the most graceful person I have ever seen – she floats in slow motion, but still moves quickly. I don’t know how to explain it, but watching her was incredible. It was like taking an acting class from Meryl Streep. A really sexy, buff Meryl Streep.
I left the workshop and realized very quickly that I was up in my head. I was thinking, a lot, but was not immediately able to pinpoint what it was that had me so introspective, if not upset. I kept thinking that I should have been super elated and excited, but I wasn’t. I did not walk away inspired and energized, and it took me a while to figure out why, until I realized what the overall lesson was that I took away from the night:
My lesson learned was that of commitment. That to be excellent at this thing that I love takes a commitment that I have yet to show. A commitment that I’m not even sure that I have in me. It was a real wake up call. To even be a little better than I am – not even like Marlo or Natasha or any of the greats – but to just invert in a pretty way, to get my aerial invert, to not struggle so much to make things smooth…that all takes commitment. It was really daunting to realize. I was a little despondent to have that reality check, even though it seems SUPER obvious – OF COURSE it takes commitment and hard work! Um, duh? As of late, I had been feeling stronger in my pole work – like I was physically stronger than I had been (and I know it’s true), that I was getting things I hadn’t gotten before, that small things were getting better. So, I think I was just really surprised to feel so far behind, even though I know I’m not some great poler – I’m never the most advanced in any of my classes, by far. The simple feeling of being rewarded by doing a little better than I did a few months ago was kind of squashed when I saw the long road ahead. It seems so far away, to be so good. Or, to even be the kind of good I feel like might be attainable to me.
It didn’t make me want to give up. It just left me distressed. If you haven’t read Sparrowhawk’s wonderful new post about comparing yourself to others, do yourself a favor and read it – it totally applied last night. I left that workshop upset with myself, and while I was able to see the small victories in what I did, I was also afflicted with a heavy dose of “NOT ENOUGH”-itis. And, really, that’s a mindset. It’s an opportunity to recognize it for what it is (a cognitive distortion) and to be forgiving and gentle with myself as I lead my poor, bruised self out of the dark alleyways of my mind.
As for what to do next: I want to work in more classes, to fix the things that are not pretty, to master those things. I would say that I don’t know how, but the HOW is to just do it. How is a road block for most people, myself included. The how is to go to class whenever I can, to work on those little things in between the lessons of class, to work on the conditioning at home. To allow myself to recognize the small wins along the way, and to look at the next step in front of me, not the entire staircase to the penthouse.
I might never be Marlo, but I can be a better version of me.