How to Get Started as a Teacher
An Essential Checklist for Beginning Instructors
If you’re like many new instructors, you decided to teach yoga because you love the practice and want to share it with others. However, you may finish a teacher-training program having an in-depth knowledge of teaching but very little knowledge about where to begin to build your business. Even the best teacher-training program can’t give you one of the most important elements—students. So here’s a checklist of ideas to help you plan, start, and build your yoga classes.
Create a resume or brochure. Include all relevant experience, such as past teaching (even in unrelated fields), how long you’ve practiced yoga, with whom you’ve studied, and any teacher-training courses completed. You can bring it to life by adding your approach to yoga, a description of your classes, and student testimonials.
To lay the groundwork:
Get CPR and first-aid training. Some yoga studios and fitness facilities require certification. But even if it’s not required, it’s important to know what to do if someone faints or has chest pains in your class. The American Red Cross (www.redcross.org) and the American Heart Association (www.americanheart.org) both offer inexpensive courses.
Purchase insurance. Low-cost insurance for yoga instructors is available through the Fitness and Wellness Insurance Program in Solana Beach, California(www.fitnessandwellness.com). Members of the California Yoga Teachers Association, the Yoga Alliance, and the Kundalini Yoga Teachers Association can get special rates.
Prepare a student information form. If you find a job teaching in a studio, it will likely keep student information forms and waivers on file. If you’re teaching independently, it’s a good idea to create your own file. The form should include relevant information about each student, such as whether he’s practiced yoga before, what other physical activities or sports she pursues, and any medical or physical conditions, including chronic or previous injuries. The waiver for students to sign should say, in essence, “I agree to take full responsibility for not exceeding my limits in the practice of yoga and for any injury or discomfort I might experience.” Names, phone numbers, and email addresses are helpful in case you need to reach students in an emergency. You can also ask permission to add students to your mailing list for future classes and workshops.
FIND A LOCATION
Teaching opportunities will vary, depending on where you live. So brainstorm with friends and other teachers about potential spaces and places for yoga in your community. Here are some common—and uncommon—places to teach yoga. You may want to drop a resume off and introduce yourself at:
Yoga studios. Generally considered the hardest place for a novice teacher to break in, yoga studios may be more apt to hire you if you’re willing to teach at off-hours—such as 6 a.m. or 8 p.m.—or if you’ve carved out a specialty area of expertise, such as yoga for teens or yoga for stiff white guys.
Also, never underestimate the value of substitute teaching. Becoming a dependable substitute is very often the best way to break into a studio. Call around to studios and ask if you can be added to their “sub list,” or ask a friend who’s already teaching if you can sub for him.
Health clubs and spas. You may have a preconceived notion that all gyms are mirror-and-chrome environments, but in fact many have begun to create special rooms for their yoga classes. One advantage to teaching in either a spa or health club setting is that you will be given the opportunity to gain a good-sized following. Once you build a strong base of students, you have better leverage for moving to more "yogic" surroundings. Typically you will also get paid an hourly rate, rather than a per-student fee. This means that whether you have one student or 30, you can depend on a steady paycheck.
Corporations and businesses. More businesses are offering lunchtime yoga to counter work-related stress and to boost productivity and morale. Target companies that emphasize healthy living—for example, Patagonia and Clif Bar both offer yoga to their employees—or find corporations that are large and profitable enough to offer many employee benefits. Ask your network of friends and colleagues if they know anyone who works at a likely site. If you can’t find an “in,” consider a cold call to the human resources department. Even if they aren’t interested in subsidizing lunchtime classes, you may be able to drum up enough interest to teach group or private sessions in one of their meeting spaces before and after work.
Bodywork studios, complementary medicine offices (such as acupuncture, chiropractic). It is not uncommon for complementary medical practitioners to include yoga classes as part of their patient prescriptions. Many hybrid centers now offer treatment, bodywork, and yoga all in one spot.
Religious institutions. Many churches, synagogues, and temples have suitable, low-cost spaces to rent for your own classes.
Community and recreation centers. Contact your local park and recreation department and ask for the program director or the person who organizes classes.
Private homes. Your own home or backyard could be a nice place to start. Consider renting space in a home with good-sized rooms, such as historic houses used for weddings and meetings.
Yoga in the library/park. Attract potential students by offering a free class at the local library or park. In some areas, yoga in the park is an ongoing event in good weather, and local teachers take turns instructing, to offer a community service and build interest in yoga.
TARGET SPECIFIC POPULATIONS
Senior centers, nursing homes. Consider teaching to specific populations. For instance, seniors are increasingly interested in traditional as well as "gentle" or "chair yoga" classes.
Hospitals. Many have wellness facilities, community outreach classes, and integrative medicine centers that may be interested in yoga. If you want to teach a specific population—such as breast cancer patients or people with HIV/AIDS—seek suggestions from the patient representative in the appropriate department.
Schools. Public, private, and charter schools—as well as preschools—may have great spaces. Consider teaching students, teachers and/or parents, or just renting a room for public classes.
To attract potential students, consider these ideas:
Flyer/business card distribution. Post on bulletin boards, car windshields, and in mailboxes. Drop flyers off with the concierge at area hotels. Include handouts with your schedule of drop-in classes. Place some in the waiting rooms of bodyworkers, chiropractors, and other complementary medicine practitioners.
Web site. There are many sites (Yahoo, Earthlink, and Geocities to name a few) that offer easy Webhosting at reasonable rates of $20 or less per month. If you would prefer your own domain name, you’ll need to go to Register.com to see what’s available. If you’ve never built a Web site before and don’t know where to begin, consider bartering—you teach yoga to a designer who helps build your site in return.
Yoga parties. Essentially small-group classes, yoga parties are popular with people who would like to try yoga but are reluctant to set foot in a studio. You can build these increasingly popular events around a theme—for example, a Kids’ Yoga Party or a Ladies’ Night Out Yoga Party.
Contact local media. Send information to reporters at your local newspaper and radio and TV stations, and follow up with a phone call to let journalists know you’d be happy to speak with them for stories about yoga and health.
Free yoga workshops. If you are a beginning teacher and feel reluctant to charge, you may be more comfortable gaining experience by teaching for free. Offer to give a free workshop to organizations, such as women’s groups, PTAs, or teachers’ or nurses’ groups.
Referral incentives and free classes for first-timers. Offer free or discounted classes to new students and those who refer others.
Maintain contact with the other people who were in your program. Later you’ll be able to share stories, lend support, and possibly even find jobs and substitute teaching opportunities for each other.
Perhaps most important, give yourself the opportunity to grow and develop as a teacher. Remember that building a career as an independent contractor takes time. If you find yourself distressed or frustrated, call on the yogic action of tapas (intense effort, austerity) and persevere through the difficult moments with the knowledge that you have chosen a path that offers enormous benefits to yourself and to others.
A frequent contributor to Yoga Journal, Carol Krucoff is a journalist, registered yoga therapist, and yoga instructor in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She is coauthor of Healing Moves (Crown, 2000).
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