Heard the one about the yoga teacher fired for enforcing a no-cell-phone rule in class?

According to her post on elephantjournal.com (and the prior San Francisco Chronicle story), Alice Van Ness taught yoga at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California. Before class one day, she requested that students turn off cell phones. When she enforced this rule, glaring at a student (in the middle of the front row) texting while she taught Ardha Chandrasana, she got fired. Wha—?

I was incredulous. What student would text during class? What teacher would allow it?

Actually, she was fired not directly by Facebook, but by the fitness contractor that employed her. “We are in the business of providing great customer service,” said her termination notice from Plus One Health Management. “Unless a client requires us to specifically say no to something, we prefer to say yes whenever possible.”

The whole situation—yoga teacher contracted out by fitness agency—was foreign to me. In Iyengar yoga, which I study and teach, teachers aren’t farmed out willy-nilly. But what really fascinated me were the divergent reactions.

Some commentators to elephantjournal.com emphasize the corporate context, in which Facebook sets the culture, not the lunch-break yoga teacher. Others focus on the disapproving look Alice shot at the student, arguing that singling someone out is unacceptable. Still others, including Michelle Myhre of Devil Wears Prana, state that the teacher must rise above such undesirable behavior and let students overcome distractions and habits by themselves, not by teacher pressure.

The consensus seems to run the other way, however, in support of Alice. A poll on VentureBeat, a business/technology website, showed approximately 91 percent of 2,480 voters (as of today) thought she should not have been fired. In a CTV news piece, a Toronto etiquette expert sided with Alice, stating simply that cell phone use in class is “rude.”

I guess the whole “controversy” baffles me because of Iyengar yoga’s clear, high expectations. Whether stated or unstated, students know what’s expected in class: Pay attention. Listen to instructions. Watch the demonstrations. Respect the teacher and fellow students. If you must drink water, use the bathroom, or make a phone call, quietly leave the room. Texting in class? Unheard of!

Can such basic rules (essentially common courtesy) really be too much to ask?

To me, texting in class is unacceptable. But here’s an interesting question: What if students ask to use cell phones to take pictures or videos in class? While such use would be relevant, might the onslaught of iPhones nevertheless distract students and disrupt class?

Image: Safetysign.com; lululemon advertisement