Assessments – Failure and Success

Published Iyengar Yoga News UK Edition 2009

The first part of this article is for the 30% or so of candidates at all levels who every year fail their assessment – just remember you are not alone!

I am currently the Chair of the Assessment and Teacher Training Committee of IYA(UK) and our job is to deal with all matters to do with Iyengar Yoga assessment and teacher training in this country. This includes reviewing and updating procedures and syllabuses for the various levels of assessment which we do in line with the guidelines received from Pune. We have done a tremendous amount of work to formalise the whole process to make it as fair as we possibly can and to try to ensure candidates are well treated and have a positive experience of assessment.

At Introductory assessments there are three assessors and a moderator. Each assessor marks the candidates independently without communication with the other assessors and these marks are then recorded by the moderator. There is generally a good understanding of the required standard by the assessors and a high level of agreement in the marks but in the rare cases where there is disagreement, the moderator will lead a discussion and guide the assessors towards a decision. A similar process takes place when a candidate’s marks are borderline and a decision has to be taken as to whether to pass or fail. At Intermediate and Senior levels the system is very similar but there are only two assessors and a moderator.

Assessors are only human and so occasionally they will make mistakes, but all the assessors of the IYA are very experienced Iyengar yoga teachers who have, without exception, been assessed themselves at least five times and fully appreciate what it feels like to be on the other side of the clipboard. In my experience they are well meaning and sympathetic to the candidates and don’t fail anybody without good reason.

Every year there are always some candidates who, finding it hard to accept they have failed, lodge an appeal. Despite all our best efforts to ensure fairness in the system mistakes are made from time to time and appeals are sometimes allowed for procedural irregularities which cause the candidates not to receive the treatment they have a right to expect. The appeal process was set up so there would be an avenue of redress in such cases. We do not allow appeals just because the candidate disagrees with their result.

It is important that all candidates understand this because if such a thing was allowed there would be no respect for the system and it would quickly crumble. Therefore it is clearly stated on the assessment application form that the candidate agrees to abide by the assessors’ decision. Successful candidates feel pleased and proud to gain their certificate and never contest the sound judgement of the assessors, yet some failed candidates will take issue with that judgement and complain bitterly about the unfairness of their result. Would these same people have felt pride in their achievement if they had passed? If so then by the same token they should surely have the humility to accept the result if they fail.

Of course it is understandable that people feel upset when they fail an assessment and it is an experience many of us have been through and can empathise with: The disappointment, hurt and humiliation; the disbelief and indignation that so-and-so could have passed when we didn’t; the feelings of resentment and injustice.

I say ‘us’ because I have experienced all of this and so I know how difficult it is to come to terms with failing and understand the reasons for it. But I now see the assessment I failed as the one that taught me the most. As a teacher trainer myself I have one trainee who has just taken his level 1 assessment for the third time and finally succeeded. He has suffered all the agonies of disappointment and questioned more than once whether it was worth his while continuing, but he is now cheerfully embarking on level 2 with a pragmatic view of however long it takes: His argument is ‘you can’t lose’ because he sees the value to himself of all the extra personal attention he gets on teacher training and even if he is not yet ready to teach he is gaining immeasurably from the benefits of the yoga. It may be difficult to adopt such calm pragmatism when so much time and money has been spent on training and all hopes and desires directed for so long towards the goal of passing an assessment. But it is a good attitude and one that is wholly in keeping with the philosophy of yoga, which warns us to work diligently but not to be attached to the result.

For the second part of this article I would like to talk about those successful candidates who are now thinking of going on for higher levels of assessment. We are extremely fortunate that we have been given a system of eight levels of assessment based on an ingenious scheme of progressively more difficult work. The first two levels of the Introductory teaching syllabus give us the essential foundation of asanas in all the different categories and equip us with the knowledge to teach at a basic level of safety and competence. The continuing three levels of Intermediate Junior and three levels of Intermediate Senior provide us with a vehicle for continuing learning; to deepen our knowledge and bring more depth and maturity to our teaching.

The minimum requirement to progress to Junior Intermediate is to have held an Introductory certificate for 18 months. Because of the timing of our assessments this means in reality that an Introductory teacher needs to wait nearly two and a half years before going in for the first level of Junior Intermediate. After that the next two levels may be taken in subsequent years. Once Junior Intermediate level 3 has been gained the system then requires a further 18 months before embarking onto the Senior levels with the additional requirement that the candidate has visited the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in India at least once. The timing of our assessments mean that there will be a gap of at least 20 months between Junior Intermediate 3 and Senior level 1.

Mr. Iyengar has told us that these minimum periods between the assessments are for those with exceptional talent and for most of us it will take longer to gain the necessary flexibility, strength and intelligence in our bodies to be ready to progress to the next level. There is also the matter of teaching ability to consider because each level of assessment requires not only the skill to perform more difficult asanas but also a greater degree of maturity and understanding in teaching. Unfortunately there is often a tendency to try to race through the levels without fully consolidating the work of the preceding level and then the candidate runs the risk of failing their assessment or, much more worrying, hurting themselves – an all too common occurrence for those who race against the clock to achieve positions their bodies are not ready for.

It may be because the assessment programme has become linked to status in many people’s minds and either because of personal ambition or encouragement from their teachers that some are feeling pressured to enter when they are not properly prepared. It is a fine line and I don’t want to give the impression I am discouraging anybody from going for assessments, but I do feel it is important not to rush into them. I know from my own experience how long it takes to assimilate each level and, once gained, the new work has to be absorbed into one’s regular practice and incorporated into day to day teaching for some time to acquire the maturity that only experience gives – as in passing a driving test it is only after the qualification is gained that the real learning begins.

My simple point is that it is a pity to miss out on the marvellous opportunity for learning which has been presented to us by rushing the work or skimming too quickly over it in the desire to achieve the end result – or more sadly still, forcing our bodies and causing injuries which may set us back years. After twenty two years of teaching I now hold a Senior 2 certificate and I have been carefully working towards Senior 3 for a few years: It contains some very difficult asanas and I am still quite a way off some of them but am greatly enjoying the process of practising them and marking the gradual improvement that brings me closer to their eventual achievement. I am hoping to go in for it next year but I said that last year so we will see. In any case there is still plenty from the other levels that I am working to improve – to be perfectly honest with you I can’t yet complete every posture from Introductory level!

So in both success and failure, let us not forget that the assessment programme is there for yoga and not the other way round.

Comments 1

  1. sandra sinfield-hain

    Thank you for this article. Although a few years old, it has lost no relevence to those of us considering going for assessment (irrespective of level).

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