Friday, August 22, 2008

Not just a dance teacher: Addressing different personality types

Classes start next week and I find myself wondering what my students will be like this year. You never know what kind of dancers you will end up with. Most are great, positive attitudes, respectful, willing and eager to learn. While others are a bit challenging, they test you at times to say the least. I look at these cases as just that, a challenge. My goal is not only to teach dance class but to turn attitudes around. I know it would be very easy to get frustrated and ignore or dismiss a dancer who just seems as though he/she is not interested in being there with you in class. I however do the opposite and see these student as a project. I choose to take my job a step further and not only consider myself as a dance teacher, but a role model/mentor to my kids.

I do a lot of observing and really try to figure my students out. One thing is clear, they have all come to me for one reason... they love dance and want to learn. OK, so we have that in common. Lets discuss those challenging cases.

First, those who are unfamiliar with dance class etiquette. No matter what age some students think they are there in the studio to play, socialize, or just get out of their house. Rule 1- The studio is a learning environment. That's where I explain my role as a teacher, to provide leadership and structure to the class. I teach my kids that they should be respectful at all times to myself and their classmates. If we all understand that first and for most we are there to learn, then and only then will there be room for fun.

Second, those striving for attention. This is actually a very sad situation, unfortunately i see it a lot, more so with younger students. I witness lack of discipline and disruptive behavior all just to get noticed. I prefer not to go into detail about why i think some young ones act this way. Instead of wondering why or losing patience i choose a different route. I let students know they are all special in my studio and they can express themselves when its their turn to do so. We have fun time for the younger classes which really helps. Such things as freestyle circles and freeze dance. We encourage each other during this time and clap each other on when we are in the circle. It really brings spirits up and makes everyone feel good about themselves. I notice a change in attitude quite quickly and it really brings me joy. In my experience i find negative discipline never works. Explaining why we act a certain way and positive reinforcement is my choice for turning special cases around.

Third, lack of confidence. This is something I witness as my students get older and it really brings the energy of the class down. Another challenging attitude I'm ready to turn around. I usually notice bum faces, then as weeks go by they start to become vocal. "That's to hard," "I can't do that," "You make it look so easy Miss Leslea." Some of my responses, "of course it's hard, I'm here to challenge you to be a better dancer," "don't say you can't, say you haven't mastered it yet," "I make it look easy because its my job, I expect you all to be good at your chosen professions when you get older too." The most common is the dreaded CAN'T. Every time I hear it I turn the music off and ask, "what was that I heard?" The class knows whats coming. If the student is unfamiliar they quickly learn, others chime in with me, "I haven't mastered it yet." There is never a CAN'T that slips by in my classroom, NEVER. With teenagers and adults I often get "ugh yeah sure" or "u do that so good" or "u make it look easy." This one really gets me and makes me uncomfortable at times. If i know their profession (the adults) I'll usually become very specific and say for example, "well i bet you make accounting look easy." I just go over the fact that this is my job, I am their teacher and if I didn't do my job well they would not be in my company right now. I'm sure they would find another studio with an instructor who does perform his/her job well. Then I usually get giggles and it diffuses the situation.

Fourth, the unmotivated. This is usually a case where the dancer just loses interest or something is bringing them down outside of dance class. I will talk this situation out privately, usually after class in my office. I ask what wrong, you don't seem yourself, are you still enjoying dance class? Sometimes dancers bring their problems to class with them and are just looking for someone to talk to. I offer that ear to them. I also tell them to do their best to leave their troubles in their dance bag, sometimes when you are done with class they are gone. I let them know they can talk to me in confidence. Very rarely someone will confess that they are not enjoying themselves with dance anymore and I let them know that it's OK. To inform their parents and tell the student to maybe take a break, try something new, and that the studio will always welcome them back if they decide to return and i will not be upset with them.

Fifth, the competitive attitude. That talented student who knows they are the best in the class. I diffuse this situation by telling the class as a whole that we are a team. With dance there is always something to strive for. Their is no finish line or perfection in dance. If it comes down to it I will talk privately with the student and let them know that this kind of behavior is not welcomed in the classroom and makes me and the other students uncomfortable. I share with them something my mother always told me, "no matter how good you are, there will always be someone out there in the world who is a little better then you." For example, if you can do 10 fouett├ęs image someone that can do 15, and strive for that.

That sums up in my experience with some different personality types I find in my classroom year to year. Going in I hope for the best, but like i said before i don't mind a challenge, and I definitely don't mind changing a child's attitude around and being that positive force in their life. I hope this post was useful to new teachers or even experience ones who are looking for a new way to address special cases in their classroom.

Best wishes for a great season,
Miss Leslea

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