How to develop great teaching assistants

Joshua Brooksher teaching class

Using students as teaching assistants seems like a win-win: You have extra hands to help with younger dancers, and the assistants get a taste of what it's like to be at the head of the classroom. But how can you prepare these potential teachers for the chal- lenges and responsibilities they'll face? And if a student shows genuine interest in teaching, how can you help her learn more about pedagogy? Refer to the advice from these professionals before letting your students take the lead.

 

The Basics

Selecting the right students to begin teacher training is important. Sometimes teachers pick the most proficient students in terms of technique, but they aren't always the right choice; the danc- ers might excel without an understanding of what they are doing. "The student should have a critical eye, so she can aug- ment the teacher," says Tom Ralabate, chair of the department of theater and dance at SUNY Buffalo and national chair of education strategy for Dance Masters of America. "Somebody who is able to demonstrate but is also articulate can help with teaching effectiveness."

Begin by making sure your teaching assistants are familiar with your syllabus. Joshua Brooksher, artistic director of Southwest Classical Dance Institute, has his teaching assistants study the first five years of his syllabus at the start of the process. "Then they'll 'intern' for a year," he explains. "They'll observe and see how I relate to the kids." His interns also attend faculty meetings, where they discuss ways to better implement the

goals designed for each class.

And before young assistants step into the classroom, emphasize that teaching is not just showing the steps, as some dancers who enter the teaching world tend to do. "Assistants need to be aware of the creative process and the pedagogi- cal process," says Elsa Posey, president/ director of National Registry of Dance Educators and director of the Posey School of Dance on Long Island." Or else they're just showing the class that they can do it. They're not teaching anything."

 

Learning the Rules

Before students assist in class, they should know the studio's policies and procedures. What should they do if a student refuses to stop talking in class? How should they deal with disruptive students? If time allows, address these issues in a short seminar. Trainees can create mock scenarios, improvising problems and solutions. "If you videotape the seminar session," Ralabate explains, "it becomes a tool, allowing studio assistants to see themselves as other people see them in the situation."

 

In the Classroom

It can be tempting to leave a teaching assistant alone with a class. But these dancers are inexperienced and need professional guidance. "They can be giving the wrong information," says Ralabate, "making corrections and not going about it the right way, which will reinforce bad habits." The absence of an adult in the room also creates a liability issue. Teaching assistants need supervision until they are qualified to lead a class on their own.

It's a good idea to have students assist with younger levels first. If they work with students closer to their own age, it can be difficult for them to establish a sense of authority. Brooksher requires at least a six-year age difference between assistants and students. "It's much harder for a 15-year-old to take class from someone who’s 17," he says. "It's too easy for them to become buddies and breach the teacher/student barrier."

 

Educational Programs

If a talented student assistant expresses interest in learning more about pedagogy, suggest that she enroll in a university or college teacher training program. At these programs, students learn about special topics such as wellness, choreography and improvisation. Many offer courses in anatomy and kinesiology, so students can see how movement works in another body. Some even dip into areas of psychology and child behavior. Safety issues are also addressed. "How you work within the space you have, what the floor is like, what the lighting is like and how to work the heat and air-conditioning: All those things are the responsibility of the teacher," says Posey.

If your teaching assistants aren't able to enter a university or college program, they can also supplement their studio training with individual academic classes or intensives. The key is to have them gain as much information as possible before they step to the front of the class and assume more responsibility. "It's about fostering the creative process," Posey says, "and enabling students to understand teaching as an artistic field." DT

 

Julie Diana is a principal with Pennsylvania Ballet.

 

* Avoid using the phrase "student teacher," which isn't appropriate for a young dancer who is still learning. Instead, use the title "student assistant" or just "assistant."

* How should you compensate teaching assistants? That's up to you. Many are considered interns, so they are unpaid but benefit from hands-on experience. Other assistants are paid by the hour or receive free tuition for the classes they take themselves.

 

Teacher Training Programs

To learn more about pedagogy, consider these (and other) respected sources:

American Ballet Theatre's National Training Curriculum certification program: abt.org/education/teachercertification.asp

Chicago National Association of Dance Masters' Teacher Training School: cnadm.com/teacher-training.php

Dance Masters of America Teachers Training School: dma-national.org/pages/tts/805

Dance Teachers' Club of Boston Dance Education Training Course: danceteachersclubofboston.com/id7.html

 

Photo: Joshua Brooksher teaching class, courtesy of Joshua Brooksher

Dance Teachers Trending
Roshe (center) teaching at Steps on Broadway in New York City. Photo by Jacob Hiss, courtesy of Roshe

Although Debbie Roshe's class doesn't demand perfect technique or mastering complicated tricks, her intricate musicality is what really challenges students. "Holding weird counts to obscure music is harder," she says of her Fosse-influenced jazz style, "but it's more interesting."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Dean College
Amanda Donahue, ATC, working with a student in her clinic in the Palladino School of Dance at Dean College. Courtesy Dean College

The Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College is one of just 10 college programs in the U.S. with a full-time athletic trainer devoted solely to its dancers. But what makes the school even more unique is that certified athletic trainer Amanda Donahue isn't just available to the students for appointments and backstage coverage—she's in the studio with them and collaborating with dance faculty to prevent injuries and build stronger dancers.

"Gone are the days when people would say, 'Don't go to the gym, you'll bulk up,'" says Kristina Berger, who teaches Horton and Hawkins technique as an assistant professor of dance. "We understand now that cross-training is actually vital, and how we've embraced that at Dean is extremely rare. For one thing, we're not sharing an athletic trainer with the football players, who require a totally different skillset." For another, she says, the faculty and Donahue are focused on giving students tools to prolong their careers.

After six years of this approach, here are the benefits they've seen:

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Photo via Claudia Dean World on YouTube

Most parents start off pretty clueless when it comes to doing their dancer's hair. If you don't want your students coming in with elastic-wrapped bird's nests on their heads, you may want to give them some guidance. But who has time to teach each individual parent how to do their child's hair? Not you! So, we have a solution: YouTube hair tutorials.

These three classical hairdo vids are exactly what your dancers need to look fabulous and ready to work every time they step in your studio.

Enjoy!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Alternative Balance
Courtesy Alternative Balance

As a dance teacher, you know more than anyone that things can go wrong—students blank on choreography onstage, costumes don't fit and dancers quit the competition team unexpectedly. Why not apply that same mindset to your status as an independent contractor at a studio or as a studio owner?

Insurance is there to give you peace of mind, even when the unexpected happens. (Especially since attorney fees can be expensive, even when you've done nothing wrong as a teacher.) Taking a preemptive approach to your career—insuring yourself—can save you money, time and stress in the long run.

We talked to expert Miriam Ball of Alternative Balance Professional Group about five scenarios in which having insurance would be key.

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Via @madisongoodman_ on Instagram

Nationals season is behind us, but we just aren't quite over it yet. We've been thinking a lot about the freakishly talented winners of these competitions, and want to know a bit more about the people who got them to where they are. So, we asked three current national title holders to tell us the most powerful piece of advice their dance teacher ever gave them. What they have to say will melt your heart.

Way to go, dance teachers! Your'e doing amazing things for the rising generation!

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

Enrollment is an issue that plagues brand-new and veteran studio owners alike. Without a steady stream of revenue from new students coming through your doors, your studio won't survive—no matter how crisp your dancers' technique is or how well-produced your recitals are.

Enrollment—in biz speak, customer acquisition and retention—depends on your business' investment in marketing. How effectively you get the word out about your studio will directly influence the number of people who register. Successful businesses typically use certain tried-and-true marketing strategies to recruit and retain clients or customers. These four studio owners' tricks for kicking enrollment into high gear are modeled after classic marketing techniques.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Turn It Up Dance Challenge
Courtesy Turn It Up

With back-to-back classes, early-morning stage calls and remembering to pack countless costume accessories, competition and convention weekends can feel like a whirlwind for even the most seasoned of studios. Take the advice of Turn It Up Dance Challenge master teachers Alex Wong and Maud Arnold and president Melissa Burns on how to make the experience feel meaningful and successful for your dancers:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

Dance teachers are just as apt to fall into the trap of perfectionism and self-criticism as the students they teach. The high-pressure environment that is the dance world today makes it difficult to endure while keeping a healthy perspective on who we truly are.

To help you quiet your inner critic, and by extension set an example of self-love for your students, we caught up with sports psychologist Caroline Silby. Here she shares strategies for managing what she calls "neurotic perfectionism." "Self-attacking puts teachers and athletes in a constant state of stress, often making them rigid, inflexible and ultimately fueling high anxiety rather than high levels of performance," Silby says. "Perfectionistic teachers, dancers and athletes can learn to set emotional boundaries. They can use doubt, frustration and worry about missing expectations as cues to take actions that align with what they do when teaching/performing well and feeling in-control. Being relentless about applying a solution-oriented approach can help the perfectionist move through intense emotional states more efficiently."

Check out those strategies below!

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by The Studio Director

As a studio owner, you're probably pretty used to juggling. Running a business is demanding, with new questions and challenges pulling your attention in a million different directions each day.

But there's a solution that could be saving you time and money (and sanity!). Studio management systems are easy-to-use software programs designed for the particular needs of studio owners, offering tools like billing, enrollment, inventory and emails, all in one place. The right studio management system can help you handle the day-to-day tasks that bog you down as a business owner, leaving you more time for the most important work—like connecting with students and planning creative curriculums for them. Plus, these systems can keep you from spending extra money on hiring multiple specialists or using multiple platforms to meet your administrative needs.

So how do you make sure you're choosing a studio management system that offers the same quality that your studio does? We talked to The Studio Director—whose studio management system provides a whole host of streamlined features—about the must-haves for any system, and the bonuses that make an excellent product stand out:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

Since the dawn of time, performers have had to deal with annoying, constant blisters. As every dance teacher knows (and every student is sure to find out), blisters are a fact of life, and we all need to figure out a plan of action for how to deal with them.

Instead of bleeding through pointe shoes and begging you to let them sit out, your students should know these tricks for how to prevent/deal with their skin when it starts to sting.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Brian Guilliaux, courtesy of Coudron

Eric Coudron understands firsthand the hurdles competition dancers face when falling in love with ballet. Now the director of ballet at Prodigy Dance and Performing Arts Centre in Frisco, Texas, Coudron trained as a competition dancer when he was growing up. "It's such a structured form of dance that when they come back to it after all of the other styles they are training in, they don't feel at home at the barre," he says.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox