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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Besotted Instructor

Unnamed Querent: Ok, so my yoga teacher here is awesome. He's kicked my ass three days a week for the last two years, is inspiring and full of all sorts of sound life advice, and I generally adore him and love taking his class. His wife teaches in the studio next door, they've been married for 25 years or so, and they are both high up on the list of Oklahoma's redeeming qualities. 

Recently a gorgeous exchange student and some of her friends started taking our class. I think everyone of any gender in a ten mile radius is magnetically attracted to her, myself definitely included. Unfortunately my teacher wasn't spared, has totally succumbed to her hotness, and now spends most of class giving her various assists as an excuse to touch her - which she seems way less into than he is. I'm sure this is one of the perks and hazards of any yoga instructor's life, and I don't really begrudge him the occasional crush on a student, but it's getting a little out of hand - he forgets cues, ignores everyone else in class, and generally makes the normally very restful and centering yoga experience kind of awkward and uncomfortable. A bunch of other people in class have complained about it, including this student's friends, but I don't think anyone has mentioned it to our instructor. 

I feel very loyal to my teacher, and it would take a lot more than this to make me stop going to his class. It's also a temporary situation, since she is, like I said, an exchange student, and won't be here for that long. So... do I sit tight and ignore it, try to breathe through my irritation, and wait for her to go away? Do I lovingly tell my teacher "hey! You're making me uncomfortable, and your teaching is suffering." ? He hasn't done this with anyone else since I started class, so I don't think it's a habit for him, but I'd hate for it to become one, and I really would like to be able to pay attention in class again. What would you do?

Good question! This really depends on your comfort level with intervening and your relationship with your teacher. Given that the situation is inherently temporary, it is not at all a bad idea to use this as an excuse to practice deepening your focus in the face of irritation. The stakes are low, and things will go back to normal eventually, and it is neither your responsibility nor your business, really. Breathe deep and wait.

But if you, like me, relish awkward, head-on, over-honest communication and the growth that it inspires, you should totally clue your teacher in. Here’re my thoughts about that.

Chances are good that he’s unaware of the obvious and distracting nature of his crush. By alerting him to the effects on his class, you’re doing him a favor, and, if he’s as good a teacher as you say he is, you’re doing your whole class a favor, because any teacher who cares will course-correct when confronted with a mistake. And if you can alert him in a compassionate and understanding way, you might just have a chance at alleviating a serious emotional pressure on him.

/Wild speculation interlude: The fact that this is interfering with class to the extent you describe may indicate that his feelings are intense and perhaps a little out of his control. Since most adults, particularly those who have made it into marriage, have experienced intense crushes before, there may be something else at play that’s causing him to react so overtly. What if he’s feeling guilty for his reaction to this woman? The forbidden nature of his feelings and his refusal to accept them may be the reason that he’s spiraling into uncomfortable levels of attentiveness to her—nothing seduces us into losing control like the idea that something’s off limits. If that’s true, a casual, normalizing approach (“hey, dude, everybody’s got a crush on this woman, yours is impinging on class time, no big deal, totally understandable, just thought I’d mention that it’s noticeable”) could help him recognize that his feelings are acceptable and normal, if humility-inspiring, and that his reactions to them are controllable. /speculation

Regardless of whether he’s guiltily burning with desire or just being clueless around the pretty girl, it will be useful for him to receive the message. If you have the opportunity to wait after class and speak with him alone, you can address him about it then—if there are too many people lingering after class, send him an email.

Let him know that you think he’s awesome and you’ve loved his class for two years. Let him know that you need to communicate with him because you have the perception that he’s spending an abnormal amount of time working with this woman since she joined the class. Tell him that the imbalance in time spent, and the fact that other people have noticed it and mentioned it too, makes you uncomfortable during class. Ask him to redistribute his attention to the rest of the students. Tell him, as you wrote me, that this isn’t something that would make you stop coming, just something you have noticed often enough in class that it is prompting this feedback. Thank him for listening, let him know it’s not that big a deal, react to any defensiveness with understanding.

Beware: by doing this, you will risk making classtime doubly uncomfortable for you for a little while. He’ll be more self-conscious around you next class, and maybe for the rest of the classes that contain the exchange student. However, you stand to gain a much stronger friendship with him via straightforward communication, and you have a very good chance of having a more balanced class.  Your classmates will be grateful for the change.

If he continues this behavior even after such a direct confrontation, then he’s not as good a teacher as you say he is. If he’s simply the dirty-old-man type who’s completely unrepentant of his preference for the supermodels, you may just be out of luck, but at least you will have made yourself heard.

Confronting him won’t be socially easy or risk-free, but it’s one of those juicy encounters that carry the potential energy for real change for both participants. It’s not the only way to handle the situation, but it would be a brave, cool move and I’d salute you for it.

Good luck! If you do it, leave a comment and let us know how it went!
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