Thursday, May 22, 2014

Day 290 of 365: People, We Need to Stop Using the C Word


“So, how is your teacher certification going?” I had a friend ask me recently.

“Well, my teacher training is going great,” I began. “But, technically, there’s no certification.”

“What? I thought, at the end of this, you’d be certified at the 200-hour level.”

“Well, I’ll be registered at the 200-hour level. With Yoga Alliance,” I tried to explain.

“So you won’t be certified to teach?” my friend downright yelped. She looked at me in a way that said: Poor thing, you are getting scammed.

I had a few friends recently go to a Yin Yoga Teacher Training. At the end, one of the friends asked, “So, does this mean we’re certified to teach Yin?”

“Well, you have now been trained in Yin Yoga teaching. Be careful saying you’re certified.”

My disdain for the word “certified” is not a new one. I’ve been learning tai chi for almost as long as I’ve been practicing yoga. I prided myself on training one-on-one with a teacher who was born, raised, and trained in China – a teacher whose own instructor has won multiple national championships in China with his forms of wushu. There is no “training” system in China: you learn your martial art with your instructor, and you are only ready to teach when your own instructor says you are ready to teacher. And this is (ideally) not something an instructor takes lightly; they won’t say, “oh, you should so teach what you’ve learned!” as a way of flattery.

This is true with most martial arts, and yoga as a whole: there is no “official” certification system.

By the time I started making my transition into the world of physical well-being, my own instructor had been advising me to teach for almost a year. Some places – namely martial art studios – accepted my, “I was trained by X, who was trained by Y, and I come upon the recommendation of X,” (as well as a free demo class) as my credentials. Yoga studios, if interested in tai chi, were also accepting.

And then I tried to expand where I applied.

By the time I started contacting community centers, I was very used to rejection. From studios that did not feel adding on tai chi would be in their best interest to classes that didn’t generate enough students to merit continuation, to business straight up going out of business while I was teaching there. So I was ready to be told they had no interest in me. What I didn’t expect a hyper-emphasis on “certification”. I would explain how there is no official certification system, and – while some are independently in place – the traditional view is on the lineage of tutelage, not a piece of paper.

(This did not impress them and I typically would never hear back.)

This culminated in an email from a center director who let me know that they “already had a tai chi instructor” who “actually was certified to teach tai chi.” This passive-aggressive dig let the wind out of my sails, putting me in a funk that, fittingly enough, only an intense yoga class could get me out of.

I bemoaned my frustration to a friend (I think I used the phrase, “Thirty-five different levels of ‘I cannot’ right now.”), who let me know that he has a friend going a similar situation: his friend is a wedding photographer, and apparently has been losing clients left and right because he is not, “Wedding Photog Certified”.

Yes, apparently that’s a “thing”.

I decided to look into this “tai chi certification”, which lead me to almost twenty different sites, half of which looked like that had updated their coding as recently as 2002. One site essentially told me that I can get certified if I write them a really nice letter, get my instructor to write them a really nice letter, and pay them a boatload of money. Another site boasted “online training”. Only a few even specified what family of tai chi they specialized in.

In those websites’ defense, some appeared genuinely concerned about a ensuring high quality of teaching. But what if I got certified through one of those more dubious sites? Would anyone care? Probably not. All they would care is that I am “certified”.

And we see this all the time with yoga as well: how many yoga instructors do you know say that are a “200/500 Hour-Level Certified Yoga Instructor”? How many trainings word themselves that way? How many are slow to admit that there is no certification system that is recognized by Yoga Alliance – or by the yoga community at large?

I see myself doing it when I start searching for yoga teacher positions (as my training wraps up in August): everyone wants a “certified yoga instructor”, and I could be costing myself a job if I point out to them that no one is technically “certified”. I see instructors boasting certification in various forms of yoga, and all I can do is recall that Yin Yoga instructor warning his students to not use that wording.

Listen, people: I am all about ensuring quality. It’s why I spent a year agonizing over teaching tai chi until I knew I could teach it in a way that was comprehensive and adaptable. It’s why I’m downright killing myself to get as much from my yoga teacher training as possible. But something horrible happens when we place a hyper-emphasis on certifications for the sake of certifications: we get organizations that boast quick and easy certification for lots and lots of money. And we get teachers and other individuals feeling backed in a corner, like all they can do is shell out that money or be somehow “lacking”, even if they actually hurt their ability to teach by listening to this for-profit websites.

There is a reason why any worthwhile company that requires CPR certification go that step further and say through the Red Cross or through the American Heart Association: because to say, “Get certified,” and nothing more leads a lot of people to go on “certification websites”, which are nothing more than a few YouTube videos and a demand for $45 or more before you are deemed “certified”.

As a culture, we love that word. A “certified pre-owned car” is better than “used” because it means it passed an inspection test by the manufacturing company and comes with a warrantee. “Certified organic” is better than “natural” because it means that particular food item has passed very specific rigors (whereas almost any company can call their food “natural”, but that’s for another time). We’ve become so ingrained with this evil C word that we sometimes look for it without understanding why.

The quality of how you learn is vital. It’s why yoga teacher trainings that are accredited by the Yoga Alliance are considered your best option. But this hyper-emphasis on “certified” can do way more harm than good. It creates a breeding ground of people looking to make a dollar off of very frustrated instructors – or wedding photographers. It’s time to take a step back and band together when people ask for a, “Yoga teacher certified at the 200-hour level.”

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