The Biggest Challenges of Subbing for Other Yoga Teachers (and how to handle them!)

In my last post, I talked about why subbing classes is great as a yoga teacher. If you missed it, you can read it again right here. With that said, there are some valid challenges that teachers face when they’re subbing classes. So let’s dive in and talk about what those challenges are, and how to handle them when they show up.

My style isn’t like the other teacher’s!

Some teachers get really freaked if they’re asked to sub a class for a teacher who doesn’t teach just like them. The first thing to know is: that’s totally okay! It’s a great opportunity for students to be exposed to something different. Maybe you use a unique turn of phrase, or describe a pose in a new way, and suddenly something will click, and a student will gain an understanding they didn’t have before.

Here’s something else to keep in mind: if the studio owner/manager allowed you to pick up the class, they clearly aren’t worried about it! They trust you and the goodness that you bring to the practice, and you can rely on their confidence to subsequently trust in yourself.

With all of that said, it can ALSO be helpful to take class with the teacher you’re covering for in advance. This will give you an idea of what they teach and how they teach it. You don’t have to mimic their style, but you will have a better sense of what the students might be accustomed to in practice.

It might be appropriate to modify your teaching a little bit, but only within the realm of what’s comfortable for you. For example, if a teacher you’re subbing for has a very slow-paced class with lots of alignment cues, you don’t have to do the exact same thing. But you might consider slowing your pace down a little and taking time to dig into some of that juicy alignment because you know you have a group of students open and willing to take the information in.

I’m unfamiliar/uncomfortable in the space.

This scenario usually applies to teachers who are starting off at a brand new studio by jumping in and subbing classes. You can do so much to make yourself feel welcome!

  • Introduce yourself to any front desk staff right away and let them know you’re there to teach.
  • Take class at the studio in advance so that the room, lobby, etc. isn’t totally foreign to you.
  • Get information in advance on the technical stuff: lights, music, etc. (see the Yogi’s Guide to Teaching at a New Studio for a complete list of questions to ask before you start teaching somewhere new).

And make sure you’re prepared! You can’t control everything about a new environment, but you can control knowing what you want to teach and arriving in plenty of time. If you’re in a new place and especially in a big city or congested area, leave extra time for traffic, late trains or buses, and hunting for parking.

I’m afraid no students are going to show up.

It may be true at some studios that students come for a “celebrity” teacher and tend not to show up if the class has a sub. This is actually a good thing. Students are self-selecting out of your class because they have a certain expectation that is tied to a particular teacher (I wish all the students were always there for the yoga regardless of whose name is on the schedule, but it’s important to acknowledge and meet people where they are).

That means the students who DO show up when you’re subbing are there for the practice, and are willing participants in having a good experience in class that day. Most studios that really work to cultivate a strong student base will have decent turnout in any class, even if there’s a sub teaching.

With that said, take ownership of which classes you’re volunteering to pick up! If you notice a sharp drop-off in attendance when you’re subbing, and your rate is tied to the number of students you have, it’s definitely worth considering if those are the right opportunities for picking up extra classes.

I don’t want to be considered a sub forever.

Luckily, yoga isn’t the Met chorus: subbing doesn’t doom you to never getting a regular class on the studio’s schedule. (Sidebar: At the Metropolitan Opera, it’s widely known that if you are a chorus member, you’re essentially prohibited from having a solo career).

In fact, it’s actually possible to build up a following as a sub, and to leverage the good feedback you receive when teaching to get yourself on the regular schedule. When you teach class and people ask about other times you teach, say something like “I’m currently subbing here, but keep an eye out for me on the schedule.”

If a student really takes the time to say they enjoyed your class, and it feels appropriate to do so, you might respond with “Thank you so much. If you’re willing, I’d appreciate you letting (the studio owner/manager) know you enjoyed it.” Getting your positive feedback from students across the radar of studio management is an excellent way to move onto the regular schedule, if that’s what you’re after.

You’ll want to supplement these actions by being proactive yourself. Have you ever actually told the studio owner you’d like a regular teaching slot, or are you just assuming they can read your mind? Yogis are good, but not that good.

Try sending a simple email that says how much you’re enjoying working with the students and teaching at the studio, and that when opportunities arise, you’d love to be considered for a regular weekly class.

One final encouragement on subbing: It helps you support a community of teachers who stick up for and help one another. If you’re a never-subber, I encourage you to pick up a class for somebody! If your schedule is too full to accommodate subbing, there are other ways to show your support. Maybe you can stay 10 minutes late one day to help a teacher who needs an extra hand with sign-in, or refold all the blankets into a nice, neat pile before you take off. Finding ways to give back to your fellow teachers is an important part of creating a thriving tribe based on support and generosity.

Go forth yogis, and enjoy those sub classes!