Road to Teaching

image of author in yoga pose

Throughout my time in high school, I always thought academics wasn’t my thing. My teachers never missed an opportunity to remind me how my poor performance would prevent me from succeeding in the future. The emphasis on performance made me perceive learning merely as a means to an end. The end was good grades, and being someone who wasn’t able to easily achieve them, I inevitably felt discouraged.

When I was 13, I traveled to Oxford for a summer school and experienced completely different style of learning as well as living. From then on, my biggest motivation became to move out of Russia and pursue my education in England. Yet learning still was a means to an end. Once I got into college the motivation was to get into university, once I got into university the motivation was to get out of the university.

This belief followed me throughout my years of schooling. It was only during the last year of my Marketing degree at Royal Holloway University of London, when I discovered my passion for learning. In the UK, in most universities, once you enter a program you cannot freely move between departments and the program focus is usually very narrow, similar to what U of T classifies as a specialist.

While I was happy with what I was studying, all the curriculum and courses were chosen for me. It was only during my last year at university that I had some freedom to explore my passions and chose my own courses, including an option to do a dissertation on the topic of my choice. It felt amazing first time ever I could actually go out and conduct research. I wrote on the topic of consumption, identity and social media – something that I have always been interested in but never fully had a chance to explore. Yet my final year soon came to an end.

I graduated not with a sense of having all the knowledge I need to set me off into the world, where I can meaningfully contribute, but rather with an incredible thirst for learning.

The decision to pursue another degree was not an easy one. First it was met with everyone’s raised eyebrows: “How are you just going to waste another 4 years of my life?”. That was the dominant mindset of the people around me. Not that education is the waste of time but that it is a means to an end, which is a job with a steady salary. Another bachelor’s degree would hardly provide you with a better or a higher paid job, especially if it is with the major in Philosophy, which is what I’ve applied to study at the U of T.

I was 22 years old, entering university unlike many first-year students with a degree in my backpack and few years of soul searching, yet I still had no idea what I wanted to do and be in life. All I had was passion.

Although I am now in my final year and graduating within the 4-year bracket, I, too, have switched my majors few times. I loved philosophy as a method but I’ve realized the content wasn’t my main interest. After taking different courses across various departments, I came across Anthropology and fell in love. I took ANT100 out of curiosity, until then I didn’t even know what ‘anthropology’ meant. I fell in love so hard that I know I want to commit my life to it, to research but also to teaching – something that I could never imagine myself doing before.

Over the last 3 years I have encountered a number of wonderful professors, who fostered my interest in the subject but also in the craft of teaching. Until this summer however, I was interested in teaching only from a perspective of an anthropologist. In my head, I was comparing my experiences between Russia, UK and Canada in an attempt to understand the impact of cultural, social and economic factors on creating such diverse classroom environments.

This summer some unforeseen events made me stay in Toronto instead of traveling back home to see my family. Having more time to spare, I decided to take a 200-hour Summer Intensive Yoga Teacher Training course. Yoga was something I did for myself for the last 4 years. More recently as school became more demanding, I started practicing at home watching online videos.

In academia, South Asia is my primary area of interest, hence I am interested in yoga not only as a physical practice but also its historical roots, philosophy and connection to spirituality and religion. Taking a training course was a no-brainer. I didn’t want to become a teacher but I wanted to deepen my practice and knowledge. Yet during my training and consequential teaching of weekly community classes I really got to appreciate teaching as a craft, as a skill but also as a platform for giving a piece of yourself to others.

While all these years I had no idea who I wanted to be in this world, I always knew I wanted to contribute in some meaningful way. I think I just found that way. Being an educator, whether as a yoga instructor or hopefully a professor in the future, responds to two of my biggest passions – ability to give to others and to never stop learning.

by Anna Aksenovich