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The Gift of Assisting

Even if you are already teaching your own classes, learning to assist a senior teacher can be one of the most valuable learning opportunities you will ever have.

By Tony Briggs

You will notice, as you continue to adjust, that you will have a tendency to gravitate toward certain types of students. Try to avoid this habit. Adjust both men and women, and adjust students you don't like. You will, of course, need to give beginners more help. This works both ways: it helps the students who need help the most, and it keeps more experienced students, who generally receive more adjustments, from being overadjusted.

When touching a student, be sensitive to his emotional boundaries. Do not caress the student. If you feel that a student doesn't want to be touched, don't touch him. Generally, when in doubt, don't touch. Sometimes it's better not to give an adjustment, even when you see something you might "fix." And sometimes it's better to have the teacher adjust the student, even when you know what to do. Be patient—you have years to develop this skill.

As an assistant, you begin with no authority in class, but as your work deepens, you will begin to develop your own authority. This can be a double-edged sword. You should always be modest: Never undermine the teacher. Never teach. You are there to learn, and your authority should come from your position as an apprentice.

At the same time, do not make yourself into a servant. Let students get their own props unless they're already in the pose and suddenly need something. And always let them put their own props away—don't pick up after them. It's demeaning to both you and the students when you treat them as if they can't take care of themselves.

Sometimes students will ask you questions. If the question is simple, answer it simply. If you don't know the answer, say so, and suggest that the student ask the teacher. If the student asks a complex question, suggest that they ask the teacher, even if you know the answer. If the student has a problem you can't handle, say so, and turn the matter over to your teacher. Remember that you are not alone. Your teacher is there to handle to complicated issues and questions.

When class is over, thank your teacher, and thank your students. Remember that your teacher's first responsibility is to her students, and only secondarily to you. If time permits and your teacher has already met with any student who has questions or comments, then spend a few minutes with your teacher reviewing the class. You can discuss any specific problems or questions that may have arisen.

Since my early days as a teacher, I've trained many assistants. I've discovered how valuable a good assistant can be, not only because the teacher can always use the help, but because the teacher also benefits and grows. In my work with assistants, I've often had to stretch my own abilities in order to clarify a subtle or obscure point, to challenge my assistants, to let them ripen in their own way, or, finally, to let them go. Every step of the way, I've been amply rewarded. My thinking has been clarified, my level of patience has increased, I've become more nimble in class, and I've made some lasting friendships.

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Reader Comments

Helen Antignani

Thank you Tony, that's really helped to guide and reassure me as I embark on assisting classes in my teacher-training course. I'm clearer now about the role I'll be playing. Thanks again, I will share with my fellow trainees.

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