Are you thinking of becoming an Irish dance teacher someday? If the answer is YES, then there are several things you need to know beforehand.
As a teacher, you need to have a thorough knowledge of dances, steps and many ways of teaching and perfecting them – but you probably already know all that by now if you have passed or if you’re preparing for your TCRG exam. The other even more important thing that you should be very familiar with is your students. Remember that your students see you as a member of their extended family. They look up to you, they maybe even idolize you. If some day they decide to become dance teachers themselves, it will probably be because of you. So you see, there’s a lot of responsibility involved in this job. And there is nothing worse in the life of a young, dedicated dancer than the disappointment of an undedicated, uninterested teacher. Good teachers know their students. They are at all times aware of each and every student’s strengths and weaknesses. When putting together a dance routine for a student, you should not think about the steps that you like best, but the steps that will help your student show what he or she is excellent at, feels comfortable with and would dance with joy and pride.
Always find time to say a couple of words of praise to your students. If you think hard enough, you’ll find there’s something nice you can say to every student in your group. Praise is a powerful tool in boosting your students’ confidence, and they really need confidence if you want them to excel on stage, whether it’s in a show or at a feis. If you see any progress, no matter how small, acknowledge it, and surely you’ll see your students striving even more to dance better. Remind your students of where they were when they started, and how far they’ve come and assure them that, with enough practice and help from you, they can go where they never even dreamed they could. And most importantly: don’t let it be just empty words; make sure you see your promises through.
A student – teacher relationship isn’t a one way street. Teachers too can feel down, discouraged and unmotivated. You invest a lot of your time, energy, and whole self and sometimes it is hard to see the results and notice that there is any change and progress. This is the time you should sit back and let your students inspire you. Take a moment and just look at them while they’re practicing on their own. Listen to their conversations with others, pay attention to the questions they ask, and allow yourself to be motivated by their determination and passion for dance. If they ask you to stay after the practice and drill some steps – don’t be too tired or in a hurry. Remember that every medal, every trophy, and every sash is a result of both of your efforts, sweat, desire and love for dance.
At the same time, a teacher mustn’t be arrogant. Yes, it is your job to teach and inspire but sometimes you will come across a student who is very eager to learn and who might, some day, become a better dancer or even a better teacher than you. Learn from them! Teachers sometimes get too comfortable in their role and forget that there’s always something new to try, something new to teach or be taught and that they too need to constantly improve and work on themselves. Getting a student with all the characteristics of a dancing genius is an opportunity to wake up and get those teaching juices flowing again. Because if you cannot keep up with your students’ needs, they’ll eventually leave and you’ll see them some day on the podium lifting their trophy – but as members of another school!
Of course – there’s this part. Students are often very aware of their talent. This could lead to yet another form of arrogance that, I admit, can be intimidating. I’ve seen teachers literally too scared to correct their dancers. Eventually, this led to a state where dancers did not progress and even degraded but still thought themselves to be the best in class simply because no one ever told them that they’re not doing something right, out of fear that it might hurt their feelings. Believe me – hurting someone’s feelings in the dance studio is nothing compared to the feelings hurt by not seeing the results you were led to believe you would achieve. Besides, if your students are used to being challenged to work more, harder, better, stronger and if they are rebuked for being lazy, undisciplined, haughty or sluggish, you will eliminate any chance of them ever becoming arrogant or pretentious.
You’ve already proven yourself as a dancer and you have committed your work to helping others get where you used to be. Do it as if no one would praise you or compliment you. Do not expect anything in return. Teaching is a selfless occupation, and this is where you realize it actually isn’t a job – it’s a lifestyle. If you cannot be content by seeing your ‘kids’ in the spotlight, if you cannot accept the fact that it’s about them and not about you, if you are not just happy to see the results of your hard work and you are still looking for some sort of a reward – get yourself a nine-to-five job.
Students are only as good as their teachers. Everyone knows that. Your students know it, their parents know it, the Irish dance community knows it. You will get recognition and be rewarded for your hard work as a teacher in a completely new way now than as a dancer. You will, eventually, get out what you put in to it. The better your students are the more dancers will want to have YOU as their teacher.
And finally, if you want to become a teacher someday, learn not just the steps and routines from your teacher – learn how to teach! Treat them with respect and trust because one day you will be walking in their shoes and probably will understand them a little bit better when you’re on their side of the podium.
Photo credit: Jim McNulty
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