Goat Yoga & The Joys of Teaching

Mark C. Marino
5 min readOct 24, 2022

As a long-time writing instructor, of the dreaded and despised mandatory composition course, I thought I had already reached the most humiliating moment in my teaching career, but I was wrong. Here I am in table top. There is a goat on my back. And I’m starting to wonder whether my pedagogy is on track.

This little moment started when my students were choosing their community engagement project for our writing class. (Such a project is something I picked up when I was teaching at Loyola Marymount University but was inspired to return to it by my USC colleagues.) Every semester, I have the students choose a problem and an intervention. This year, the problem they chose was “student mental health.” And their solution: Goat Yoga.

If you haven’t heard of goat yoga, google it or watch this video, and hopefully you’ll feel the pressure lift off you just by watching (because the reverse is true when you try it).

What does goat yoga have to do with writing? Hmm, not sure, but the community engagement assignment is one of my favorite ways to challenge students to think critically about a pressing problem and then to invest themselves in an intervention. So, if they said “Goat Yoga,” my job was just to support (a goat on my back).

Now, we didn’t have any special funding, so that meant we had to resort to a bake sale, which was basically an epic fail. Why? Two words: Spring Break. If USC is a bastion of unhealthy relationships with food during the rest of the semester, the week before Spring Break, the virus — the body-image anxiety virus, not that other one — spreads like stds at Spring Break.

Lemon bars, high-end vegan chocolate chunk cookies, Krispy Kreme donuts. We had it all, and, of course, an enthusiastic crew of salespeople. And what was the response we got from just about every passing student? “Sorry, Cabo.” As in, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, a popular destination for USC students who aren’t going somewhere more exotic.

But we did have one customer. Jim Burklo, our recently retired Senior Associate Dean of Religious Life. He bought a donut (for someone else) and then invited us to come talk to him about securing the rest of our funding.

Which led to the day that Gizmo and Doc came to campus.

Taking them on leashes, students walked Gizmo and Doc (from Party Goats LA) around campus to the delight of many students and really themselves.

And they even let the goats climb on their backs.

I went first to show them that it was okay to try. It seemed only right. So I got into table top and….

Gizmo showered poop on my back. Yep, just like that.

Now, before you get too grossed out, you should know that goat poop is more like rabbit poop. In other words, rather than steaming slime chunks, the poop was more like a shower of black pellets. But still, I was humiliated.

But then I had a memory.

As an undergraduate at Brown, I took a seminar on The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser. Each week, our distinguished professor, Walter Davis, would ask a different student to lead a session on one of the epic poem’s books. (Maybe not completely distinguished. I remember a time when he played Absolon in Chaucer’s “Miller’s Tale.”) One week, a student decided we should play act an episode that was a bit pastoral. Rural, if you will. The scene had a shepherd and, of course, sheep.

My friend and I volunteered for parts and were soon cast as sheep. (No comment.) And our third sheep was Professor Walter Davis himself, the eminent Elizabethan scholar. And soon we found ourselves crawling around on our hands and knees, baaaing. Truly dignified.

And what did I take away from this moment almost 25 years ago, from this intensive literary class? I think if there was one lesson it was that this is what it meant to be a teacher, a professor even. To be ready to mortify oneself in the name of a good lesson. To be just as comfortable crawling around portraying a sheep — or getting pooped on by a goat — as sitting in a chair leading a discussion.

To always remember that teaching works best when the teacher can foster some joy and, as the Indigo Girls sang in that theme song of my college years, to help our students take their lives less seriously. (“It’s only life, after all.”)

Of course, in that song, when they go to see the Doctor of Philosophy with that poster of Rasputin (where does one acquire such a poster?) and a beard down to his knee (hmm, time to trim), he grades their performance and says he can see through them.

Grades, ah, the bane of my teaching. But, then again, we were at Brown, so I was probably taking my class pass-fail.

That feels like such a different moment in the world, such a different moment in college life. A much less anxious moment. A moment when students might try to sit down and read a book under a tree the way they did on the college brochure. (But it was Providence, so the window was rather narrow for that sort of thing, unless you wanted frostbite.)

But maybe this moment needs a lesson from those days, something Jim Burklo reminded me of during his “Entirement” talk, What Matters to Me and Why, a series of talks at USC he started years ago. During his talk he spoke of his treasured moments just sitting with students in their struggles and then experiencing awe (and awww.) Awe at who they were as people. Awww as an expression of sympathy and care.

Right now, students are experiencing and expressing mental and emotional struggles at a rate I have not seen before in 25 years of college teaching. They definitely need some Awww and Awe. I think they need us to be beside them, with them.

My students left that day of goat yoga with great smiles on their faces and some hoof prints on their shirts. I left with the striking memory of being pooped on and a sense that I had finally done the kind of teaching my mentors showed me, offering the kind of lesson my students might actually remember 25 years from now, and maybe those who are teaching will enjoy a little humiliation for the sake of a lesson that’s hard to forget.



Mark C. Marino

writer/researcher of emerging digital writing forms. Prof of Writing @ USC, Dir. of Com. for ELO, Dir. of HaCCS Lab