Catherine L. Tully is the Outside Europe Representative for the National Dance Teachers Association in the UK.
Hiring instructors to teach at your studio is one of the most important things you will ever do as an owner. Finding the right people, however, can be a challenge: How do you track down qualified candidates? What qualities do you want in someone representing you to students and their parents? What are warning signs to watch out for? Here are some ideas to help you find the perfect match for your studio.
Where to Look
Placing an ad in the newspaper or announcing job openings on your studio’s website are both good options, but a more proactive and directed approach can help you narrow the field. Check in with the faculty at local college or university dance programs and see if they have someone to recommend or somewhere to refer you. You may also inquire about posting a job description on the department bulletin board. Area dance companies are another good resource—many professional dancers or advanced students teach on the side for extra money. In addition, consider attending dance workshops to network and find someone who has the experience you need.
Grooming an instructor from within your own school is often an excellent bet, as she will already be familiar with your studio’s clientele, style and standards. Sandra Vaughan, owner of Vaughan Dance Academy in Plainfield, Illinois, says that it has always been her policy to hire internally—starting with her two daughters. “As the years have gone by and the studio has grown, I have hired former students trained in our methods,” Vaughan says. “Some added to their dance expertise at other Chicago-land studios or went on to college and received their degrees in dance. All kept in contact with us and eventually came back to teach. The newest member of our staff of seven is my granddaughter.”
What to Look For
Once you have an applicant in mind, how can you tell if she will be a good match for your studio? One of the most important things you can do is spend time mapping out exactly what you are looking for in an instructor. Write a job description that lists in detail the expectations, rules and structure of the available positions. Decide if you want to hire individuals as employees or independent contractors. (For more on the pros and cons of each, including tax and insurance issues, visit www.irs.gov/businesses/small/topic/html and look for “Independent Contractor” in the “A-Z Index for Business.”
Prior to the interview, ask candidates to submit their resumés, with references—and check them ahead of time. Write down some thoughts regarding your teaching and studio philosophy that you’d like to share, and make a list of questions to ask, such as how long they have been teaching, what age groups they have experience with and any other points that you feel are important. (See page 84 for a list of sample questions.) When interviewees arrive, take note of their punctuality, demeanor, appearance and poise. In addition, be sure to ask them how they would handle difficult situations—such as an angry parent or a shy student—so you can get a feel for their personality and problem-solving skills, as well as their capacity to work with little or no supervision.
Consider an Audition
Assessing applicants’ knowledge of proper technique and teaching ability can be challenging, if not impossible, in a sit-down interview. Consider having them come in to teach a sample class as part of the process. As Lisa Wasserman, artistic director for Pennsylvania’s Delaware Valley Dance Academy, says, “If we are interested in a potential teacher after reviewing her resumé and conducting an interview, I always have her teach an audition class. A resumé can only tell you so much.”
Wasserman takes that opportunity to observe how the teacher interacts with students, manages the classroom and gives corrections, in addition to how well she can keep dancers motivated. “I have found the audition class to be very beneficial,” she says. “Not only do I get to see the potential instructor’s teaching style and ability, but the teacher gets a chance to learn more about our studio as well.”
What to Watch Out For
When considering candidates, keep an eye out for warning signs such as a string of short-lived teaching positions or a negative attitude about past jobs or co-workers. First, give potential teachers a chance to explain the situation; from there you can decide if it sounds problematic.
Above all, make sure you feel totally comfortable with a teacher before hiring her. Great qualifications don’t necessarily mean that a person is right for your studio, especially if her personality doesn’t mesh with others on your staff. Better to keep interviewing until you come across the right person for the job.
Making Sure It’s a Match
If all goes well and you find a suitable candidate, consider having a trial period to give both you and the teacher a chance to find out if you are a good match for each other. “I like to hire teachers as substitutes first,” says Diane Fotino, owner and director of Impact Dance Studios in LaGrange and Countryside, IL. “It’s a good way to get a feel for them and to see if they will work out well.” Another possibility is having periodic contracts, which allow each party to reevaluate before continuing the relationship. If you hire a teacher as an employee, include class observations and reviews as part of the agreement—that way you can continually touch base with her and establish that things are moving in the direction you want.
Making sure an instructor is the right one can be a difficult process, but finding a perfect fit is well worth the trouble. Knowing where to look, what you want and how to assess applicants are all key steps toward beginning a successful new relationship. DT