by Ezra LeBank
-Expanding practice with increasing number of excellent teachers and styles.
-No current agreement or community standards for teacher training.
-Short certification programs have advantages and challenges.
-Open dialogue and commonly agreed standards are important for community growth.
I believe our practice is a beautiful one, and I am deeply appreciative for every teacher and student who dedicates themselves to supporting it. With that in mind, as our community expands, the risks inherent in acrobatic practice expand too.
Teacher trainings have become a lucrative business, and the allure of being stamped as an “acro teacher” continues to be a primary goal of many students. Because of this skewed value, we are in a situation in acroyoga (i.e. partner acrobatics, acrobalance, sports acro, contact acro, or whichever name you prefer to use), where students complete teacher training certification programs in 200 hours or less.
Teacher training programs in acroyoga have value. But the value of these programs is placed on an unrealistic pedestal. Current acroyoga (partner acrobatics, acro, etc) certification programs operate as intensive or immersive trainings that include insight into the teaching process. These mostly two-week courses are similar to the kind many teachers attend annually, after certification and exam, to continue refining their skills over time as part of the practice of being a skillful and safe teacher. It is unreasonable to expect or claim that a person who completes a two-week course (even with some pre-requisite training) is prepared to safely teach in this field even at a beginning level.
If not for restraints of time and money, many students would attend teacher training programs for months or years, as they do in more formalized movement disciplines, to acquire the aptitude to walk out as a confidently-prepared beginning teacher. How can our community prepare teachers with rigor while acknowledging these restraints? Some programs supply a certificate upon completion, others request further materials or continued practice before granting a certificate, and every month new developments grow in the community as we collectively pursue higher standards and stronger mutual support.
In a global community, is it possible to assess qualification without certification? Perhaps it isn’t. Not to suggest that a certified instructor cannot potentially be more qualified to teach than an uncertified one, the question is, what value does the certificate actually hold? A certificate can sometimes hinder the process of developing effective teachers (and creating safe classroom environments) by creating an assumption of aptitude that rests outside of a substantial process of training and assessment. If there is a danger that is worse than creating a circumstance in which a student trusts a “certified” teacher who is a risk to the well-being of that student, it is in the belief of the “certified teacher,” that when their two-week training program concludes, that upon receipt of a certificate, they become a safe, professional instructor. While many developing teachers are wise enough to view their training with appropriate perspective, this potentially inaccurate self-assessment is supported by the certificate itself.
I support mutually agreed upon standards for recognition as a teacher in our community, provided that these standards are rigorous and communally derived. Current teacher trainings are self-appointed to offer certification. Many of these are run by outstanding acrobats and teachers, with years or decades of experience, and it is a great benefit to the broad community that they offer intensive programs of study. But is the market pressure to call these intensives “teacher training certifications” in the best interest of our community? I believe we are at a point in the acroyoga community when we have the opportunity to collectively examine best practices and potential guidelines as we move forward to build strong foundations for the expanding community that practices this work.
If I may humbly offer a few suggestions:
As a student, I suggest that you read about teachers before you study with them. Learn about their experience and history in acroyoga and related practices. Ask other students which teachers they recommend. When you are in a class, never perform an exercise, pose, or sequence that you feel is unsafe, whether because of the material, your partner, the instruction, the spotter (or lack thereof), or any other factor. While a good teacher can make challenging material approachable, and much of what many of us love in acroyoga is the ability to transcend what we previously believed possible, it is vital to understand that, whether a teacher is “certified” or not, you are solely responsible for your well-being, and it is advisable that the risky practice of partner acrobatics be approached with caution. Practice accurate self-assessment, and know that it is reasonable to expect (and ask for) safe conditions.
As a teacher, or aspiring teacher, I suggest that you pay attention to the qualities and experiences that make the teachers you admire so effective in their work. Whether or not you complete a teacher training certification program, pay more attention to the slow process of gaining, integrating, and safely transmitting information than in any course, period of time, or certificate. Honestly self-assess your teaching practice, seek the advice of those teachers you find effective, and develop your teaching practice in or out of a formal setting. Pursue opportunities to apprentice, assist, or observe experienced teachers. And have patience; developing a strong teaching practice takes time, and requires patience even in the face of opportunity.
As a community, our common love for this practice, and our mutual desire to share it responsibly, has built a broad community. I suggest that we invite the community of teachers to participate in supportive dialogue. While many of us have years, or decades, of experience, there is no single organization in our community that holds authority over our common practice, whatever we choose to call it. I suggest that we have discussions about what we mutually agree are vital factors in the development of safe, effective teachers of acroyoga, and that we develop publicly accessible guidelines, and encourage students and aspiring teachers to learn about them whether we create a collective endorsing agency, join an existing one, or not. Organizations including the American Circus Educators Association and the Yoga Alliance are examining these challenges in related disciplines. Other related practices like Contact Improvisation have avoided certification altogether, by the belief that it fosters a false notion of status, or that it falsely suggests an agreed upon material that defines what a teacher in this discipline knows or teaches. However we proceed, I believe that our collective growth and well-being will be served by our mutual support and dialogue, and that our community will be stronger, safer, and more connected because of it.
In the spirit of trust, strength, and balance, I appreciate your time, care, and thoughts, and look forward to listening to, fostering, and supporting this continued dialogue.
Be well and stay bossy.