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We’ve all had difficult students. They are the ones who show up late, refuse to follow directions, perform their own random sequence, and disrupt savasana. These are the folks that need yoga the most. And while we must build inclusive communities, we still need to protect those communities and provide safe and secure environments for our other students.

Unfortunately, some students are a liability. Either by selfishness or ignorance, they create hostile and unsafe environments and will poison a healthy community.

It’s ok to fire a student. I have not had to do this often, but when I did it was for the benefit and safety of the other students, as well as an invitation for that student to grow.

Yoga classes and studios are communities. We as teachers are responsible for maintaining the health and safety of that community, as well as setting the tone of what behavior is allowed and tolerated.

Difficult students need yoga the most, and people often come to yoga because they want to change their life. Teachers must be clear about the rules of the class, what is acceptable and unacceptable, so no misunderstandings occur. I always give those difficult students a second chance, and when they cannot adhere to the standards of the class I offer them affordable private instruction.

Teachers are the custodians of yoga communities. We can protect and allow our communities to flourish and grow through the careful pruning of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. That means we sometimes have to fire students, and here are three types of students that can often create the most conflict in your communities:

The Disruptors

Disruptive students always find creative ways to disrupt class. They will dramatically and loudly fall out of poses, fuss in savasana, and treat a group class as though it were a private lesson. They have learned that negative attention is better than no attention at all, or that by exasperating those around them they will get their way. The only way to respond is by denying this difficult student the attention or outcome they desire. You can ignore the behavior, but sometimes that will only make the bad behavior escalate.

I had one student many years ago that matched this description. He would often disrupt classes by loudly shouting “Maya! Am I doing this right?” This would only happen when I was assisting other students. He would keep shouting until he got a response from me, usually by me saying: “If you weren’t I’d have already let you know!” His constant disruptions annoyed other students, and created an environment of anxiety and irritation rather than self-reflection and relaxation.

I had repeatedly informed him this behavior was unwelcome, but the behavior only escalated until he was fired from my studio for theft.

I truly believe that this student needed yoga. However, his need for yoga was not greater than that of the other students, their peace of mind, or their security.

The Show-Offs

Show-offs have a fantastic asana practice and they really want everyone to know it. They always set up in the front row, and perform their own sequence of advanced asanas – regardless of what the teacher is instructing.

Sadly, some new yoga teachers fall into this category, and they will often hand out their business cards and class schedules to other students while in someone else’s class. Yes, attempting to poach students in another teachers class is considered rude and unprofessional, but it is not the only issue that makes them worth firing.

The problem of the show-off is that by setting up in the front row and not following directions they create an incredibly dangerous environment. New students will usually set up in the back of the class, and rather than following verbal cues will rely on watching other students. Those new students will try to copy what they see, even if they cannot do it, and will often get hurt. It is especially shocking to see a student who is also a teacher risking the safety of students in exchange for a little attention and a bump in their own class attendance. They should know better.

Either way, these ego driven participants make themselves the center of attention, demoralize other students, and perhaps even injure new students. Sometimes these students are unaware of their actions, and a brief private conversation is all that is needed to stop the behavior from continuing. But if repeated requests to follow directions are ignored, the risk to other students is not worth their presence.

The Contrarians

Contrarians come to class looking for a fight. They may appear to be know-it-alls, treating instructions as nothing more than mere suggestions they are under no obligation to follow. They will go out of their way to not follow instructions, not only risking their own injury, but also risking the safety of others in the room, all while arguing with the teacher.

Of course we have to trust our students to know their own bodies. Teachers must ask students (privately) about existing injuries, and always be ready to offer safe alternatives and modifications to poses. However, when a student insists on performing asanas in a way that risks injury we, as teachers who will be held responsible should an injury occur, must intervene.

One student I had to recently fire would giggle as she said “I’m a bad student” as though her refusal to follow directions was adorable. She had never done yoga before, but refused to perform poses safely and would argue with me when I tried to correct or adjust her.

At her first yoga class I told her about class etiquette and explained the concept of class safety; after her in class behavior I made several warnings about her participation. But her refusal to follow directions, as well as her eristic tendencies, continued until she literally fell onto students on either side of her own mat (and this was in sparsely populated classes!) At that point I let her know she was unwelcome in my classes and her refusal to follow directions, as well as risking her own safety as well as the safety of others, was the reason why.

Any refusal to follow directions creates an unsafe environment for that student and others. Students with these characteristics will let themselves be known when they show up for their first class, usually as they fill out their intake form. (The self professed “bad student” demanded a discount at her first yoga class because she felt she deserved one.) Sometimes, people may be having a bad day, but first impressions are rarely wrong.

Teachers must be clear about class and studio rules and etiquette, as well as being respectful in other teacher’s classes. Students must follow directions in class for their own safety and the safety of others. Clear communication can prevent many problems, but when that fails it’s ok to fire a student.