Most studio owners don’t like to think about firing a teacher, but unfortunately, sometimes it’s necessary. The longer you’re in business, the more likely you’ll encounter a teacher who doesn’t work out on your staff, and you’ll be faced with the tough task of letting that person go. How do you know when it’s time? And is there a best way?

“Terminating an employee can be difficult for the employer, embarrassing for the employee and uncomfortable for the rest of the staff,” says Lauren McCausland, studio director of Studio Bleu Dance Center in Ashburn, Virginia. “It’s even more complicated due to the family-oriented nature of most studios. Dance instructors often form close relationships with their students, acting as role models and mentors. This dynamic makes firing an instructor potentially disruptive to the fun, supportive studio environment.” Read on for some guidelines on how to handle this delicate situation.

Assess Performance
When you bring new teachers on board at your studio, it’s essential that you have them sign a written contract that lays out your ground rules. Also, be sure to give them an employee handbook that details what is and isn’t acceptable performance or behavior. “You want to make sure that as a manager, you’ve been clear with the employee regarding your expectations,” says Sharon Armstrong, co-author of The Essential HR Handbook. Once you’ve communicated your guidelines, it should be easier to determine when they aren’t being met.

When an instructor chooses not to behave respectfully to students, parents or other staff members, letting that person go is crucial, says McCausland. “Managers must always keep a pulse on guests’ expectations and their opinions on when an employee is interfering with students’ learning environment. An instructor forfeits the privilege of teaching when he or she jeopardizes the studio’s reputation or environment, or threatens a student’s confidence or safety. It only takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch.”

Dance teacher Raissa Simpson agrees that although an unpleasant task, releasing underperforming employees is absolutely necessary. As the one-time administrative director for Fitness in Transit in Oakland, California, Simpson was in charge of hiring and firing between nine and 15 contract teachers, who traveled to area schools teaching dance to children ages 2 to 11. One instructor had problems communicating and being prepared for class. “She was a great teacher,” Simpson says. “She just didn’t necessarily work well with children and didn’t adapt in the way that we needed her to.”

Communicate Dissatisfaction
It’s important to maintain open lines of communication with your staff—and know how and when to take action when needed. If you sense a problem, Armstrong recommends sitting down with the employee, being clear and honest about your concerns and expressing willingness to help him or her improve. “If the studio owner has given the teacher ample opportunity to correct the problem, but the employee continues to have a chronic problem, then the employee really ‘fires herself,’” she says.

Simpson says she first tried talking to a habitually late teacher about making improvements. “I said, ‘Let’s come up with a plan of how we can work together to improve things. What can I do to make sure your class goes well?’” After about a month, there was still no change, so Simpson fired the instructor.

“I felt good about my decision. I didn’t feel guilty,” Simpson says. “You need teachers who love working with children and are attentive to their needs. I know in most cases like this [where the level of commitment is the problem], it’s the person’s life or scheduling issues, and they’re having trouble focusing.” She phoned the teacher to inform her that it was best they go their separate ways.

“Dismissals should always be handled with the utmost professionalism, in order to respect the privacy and dignity of the employee that is being let go,” says Mario Barrett, a business management expert and author of Leading from the Inside-Out. “It should never be done in a public forum, no matter how small the company.” Since there is always the possibility that a dismissed employee will take legal action, Barrett stresses the importance of basing dismissals solely on performance or business needs–related reasons, and to keep careful records of any issues that do arise.

Ensure a Smooth Transition
Since most dance businesses are close-knit communities, you’ll want to have a plan in place for addressing an employee firing and minimizing the disruption such a change can cause. Obviously, students and their parents, as well as other staff members, will want to know what happened. “The message should always be delivered in a sensitive and humane way,” says Armstrong. “Few details should be shared with co-workers. Often managers just say that ‘worker X is no longer with our company.’”

In addition, make sure that you’re prepared for the employee’s departure—that their classes are covered, for example. “You want to know what access to the business the employee has and restrict it,” says McCausland. “Did the employee sign a noncompete? Is there a threat that they will take other students away if they go to another studio? Will you have a parents’ meeting?” Advance planning for the details will ensure a smooth change.

Simpson made sure that all of her students were familiar with multiple teachers, so that when their main teacher was no longer there, they could still take class with someone they know. “The kids know me very well, so I was able to be there with the new teacher, and I gave them someone who had already helped out in the past,” she says. Ideally, Simpson believes it’s best to wait until the end of the school year to fire someone, then start the next season fresh with a new teacher. But in this particular case, the termination was mid-season. “The main thing is to make sure that the students feel comfortable,” she says. “That should always be the top priority.”

Above all else, keep a positive outlook. “When an instructor leaves the studio, students often feel as though they’ve lost a family member,” says McCausland. “But although it seems devastating for students to deal with losing an instructor with whom they’ve developed a close relationship, new instructors are almost always warmly accepted and often provide a new sense of excitement and motivation among students. Your business will certainly survive!”

Debbie Strong is a freelance writer in New York City.

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Jerome Capasso, courtesy of Man in Motion

Finding a male dance instructor who isn't booked solid can be a challenge, which is why a New York City dance educator was inspired to start a network of male dance professionals in 2012. Since then, he's tripled his roster of teachers and is actively hiring.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Courtesy of Shawl-Anderson Dance Center

For seven decades, Frank Shawl's bright and kind spirit touched thousands of dancers in the studio and in the audience.

After dancing professionally in New York City and with the May O'Donnell Dance Company, Shawl moved with Victor Anderson to the San Francisco Bay Area and founded Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in 1958. It is the longest running arts organization in Berkeley.

The two ran their own company for 15 years and Shawl-Anderson Dance Center became a home for dance for students and artists alike. It currently runs 120 classes and workshops every week for children and adults, plus artist residencies, rehearsal space and intimate performances. (If you have never visited, the Center is actually a large house converted into four studio spaces.)

Shawl taught modern classes at the studio until 1990, performed into his late 70s and took classes at the Center into his mid 80s.

As I simultaneously mourn and honor Frank—my dear friend, fellow dancer, mentor and boss—I reflect on a few lessons that I learned from him. These five ideas relate to our various roles in dance as students, performers, teachers and administrators.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Getty Images

Halloween is just a few weeks away, which means it's officially time to start prepping your fabulously spooky costumes! Skip the classic witch, unicorn and superhero outfits, and trade them in for some ghosts of dance legends past. Wear your costumes to class, and use them as a way to teach a dance history lesson, or ask your students to dress up as their favorite dancer from history, and perform a few eight counts of their most famous repertoire during class. Your students will absolutely love it, and you'll be able to get in some real educating despite the distraction of the holiday!

Check out some ideas we had for who might be a good fit. We can't wait to see who you all dress up as!

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Alicia Alonso with Igor Youskevitch. Photo by Sedge Leblang, courtesy of Dance Magazine Archives

Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"

At 8, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle at with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.

Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

You've got the teaching talent, the years of experience, the space and the passion—now all you need are some students!

Here are six ideas for getting the word out about your fabulous, up-and-coming program! We simply can't wait to see all the talent you produce with it!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Todd Rosenberg, courtesy of HSDC

This fall Hubbard Street Dance Chicago initiates an innovative choreographic-study project to pair local Chicago teens with company member Rena Butler, who in 2018 was named the Hubbard Street Choreographic Fellow. The Dance Lab Choreographic Fellowship is the vision of Kathryn Humphreys, director of HSDC's education, youth and community programs. "I am really excited to see young people realize possibilities, and realize what they are capable of," she says. "I think that high school is such an interesting, transformative time. They are right on the edge of figuring themselves out."

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: What policies do you put in place to encourage parents of competition dancers to pay their bills in a timely manner?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of Kim Black

For some children, the first day of dance is a magic time filled with make-believe, music, smiles and movement. For others, all the excitement can be a bit intimidating, resulting in tears and hesitation. This is perfectly natural, and after 32 years of experience, I've got a pretty good system for getting those timid tiny dancers to open up. It usually takes a few classes before some students are completely comfortable. But before you know it, those hesitant students will begin enjoying the magic of creative movement and dance.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Photo via @igor.pastor on Instagram

Listen up, dance teachers! October 7 is National Frappe Day (the drink), but as dance enthusiasts, we obviously like to celebrate a little differently. We've compiled four fun frappé combinations on Instagram for your perusal!

You're welcome! Now, you can thank us by sharing some of your own frappé favs on social media with the hashtag #nationalfrappeday.

We can't wait to see what you come up with!

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Original photos: Getty Images

We've been dying to hear more about "On Pointe," a docuseries following students at the School of American Ballet, since we first got wind of the project this spring. Now—finally!—we know where this can't-miss show is going to live: It was just announced that Disney+, the new streaming service set to launch November 12, has ordered the series.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Tony Nguyen, courtesy of Jill Randall

Recently I got to reflect on my 22-year-old self and the first modern technique classes I subbed for at Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley, California. (Thank you to Dana Lawton for giving me the chance and opportunity to dive in.)

Today I wanted to share 10 ideas to consider as you embark upon subbing and teaching modern technique classes for the first time. These ideas can be helpful with adult classes and youth classes alike.

As I like to say, "Teaching takes teaching." I mean, teaching takes practice, trial and error and more practice. I myself am in my 23rd year of teaching now and am still learning and growing each and every class.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox