A little over two years ago I started teaching group classes as a ‘cover’ teacher. My teacher needed a sub and I was there, so I had the opportunity to get some teaching under my belt. It was one of the scariest and most exhilarating experiences I had ever had.

Fast forward to now. Holiday season is approaching, and some studios might need you to cover a class to two. Yes, YOU! By now I am well acquainted with subbing, and yet it is always a challenge. After all, you never know who your students are going to be and how they are going to react to what you are sharing with them. Still, substitute teaching is a great way to get both experience as a new teacher AND meet new potential students. Plus, when you cover for a teacher (and take great care of their students) you are doing that teacher a favor – one they might return in the future or maybe even offer you a class that they are ready to let go of. Substitute teaching builds good will and a good name for yourself. It is well worth putting effort into substitute teaching adeptly.

With time, I’ve learned how to sub gracefully and not break into a sweat wondering what I might have to deal with. Here is how to cover a class with confidence:

1. Have a class template ready.
This is especially important if you’re called to sub at the last minute. Here is what I typically do:

  • centering, chant at least one « Om », set an specific intention
  • short warm up on the floor (cat / cow for instance)
  • move into sun salutations, generally two variations
  • standing poses : one or two internally rotated sequence, then one or two externally rotated sequence
  • standing twists and / or arm balance
  • and neutralizing pose
  • forward folds and seated or supine hip openers
  • mild inversion if the energy calls for it, and last gentle pose (supta baddha konasana is a favorite)
  • savasana.

Tackle a bit of everything, offer stages and modifications, and adapt your template to the energy, time, and response from the students.

2. Introduce yourself.
That sounds obvious, but it isn’t always. Say hello to everyone, introduce yourself, ask them what kind of yoga they practice (in gyms they won’t always know so ask whether it is gentle or dynamic yoga), very simply. Then you can refer mentally to your class template and adapt it.

3. Set an intention.
Acknowledge that you are here to cover, and you understand that it can be disturbing to have a substitute teacher. Remind the students that it can be an opportunity to explore and learn new things that could feed their practice with their regular teacher, and they can recognize even more of what they like and dislike.

4. Be yourself.
Don’t try to copy their usual teacher. You’re not them! Don’t be afraid to show yourself as you are. Yes, some people will like it, some people won’t. Remember your students want you to show them you know what you’re doing, and if you’re copy-catting somebody they will feel it.  Treat the class as if it were one of yours. If you use humor in your classes for instance, try it here too. If you usually don’t, then don’t do it when you sub.

5. Don’t take things personally.
Some students will be thrilled to try something new, and some might be less thrilled and walk out, or simply not show up. Remember, it has nothing to do with you. After all, they don’t even know you. Students tend to be attached to their usual teacher and have trouble letting go, but ultimately they are the ones making the decision to stay or leave depending on THEIR perception.

6. See it as an opportunity to explore and learn too.
When you are a new yoga teacher, covering will give you great insights on teaching, especially outside of the « yoga bubble » that was your yoga teacher training. You will have exposure to people who are new to you and who may only be in front of you for one hour. This is a valuable opportunity, and teaching practice is always good to take!
If you’re not so new, it’s a great opportunity to step outside your teaching comfort zone and refresh your teaching.

What is your experience as a subbing teacher?
What extra tip can you share to cover a class with confidence?

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