This post is another installment in the DWT Q&A Column.
It’s so exciting to be a new teacher! But, ARGH, it can be difficult too, right? Hanna from Iowa, USA asks:
Congratulations! You’ve just taken on a really hard job. Not only are you teaching, you’re teaching dance, to adults, at a college. And then these people are your peers, too! All of these can present challenges.
Instead of addressing all of them, let’s just talk about teaching dance to adults.
People sometimes think of teaching and learning as polar opposites, and this really shows in their teaching. This is a mistake. Here’s what I mean.
There’s a line of thinking that says teachers are the experts. They know all the stuff, and you go to their classes to get the information. To be a teacher, you have to be at the top—or least “above” everyone else. So long as the teacher has superior knowledge and ability, any mistakes or learning deficiencies are the fault of the student. Therefore students need to get “fixed” by the teacher.
I sense this perspective comes from a place of ego and a need for validation. This may work somewhat in teaching children (or maybe not), but it definitely does not work well when teaching other adults. Adults don’t take well to other adults using them to sooth their ego.
I take the opposite perspective. Teaching and learning are two sides of the same coin.
Teacher and student are equally important in the relationship. Rather than the teacher being the “top dog” in the hierarchy called a “class,” I approach my students as equals who play a different role than me. We work together for to benefit both of us.
You don’t need to know everything about dance, or even be better than your students at every skill you share with them. But you do need to play your role as well as you can.
Of course, you do happen to have information they don’t have. But as a teacher, you can’t simply give out information and consider your job done. It’s much, much harder than that, as you will soon find out (if you have not already)!
Your role as teacher is first and foremost to facilitate the learning process. Every student is a natural learner. You’re not giving them skills they don’t have; you’re encouraging them to find and improve those skills.
Let’s assume you take the same perspective as me. I have four main tips for creating an enjoyable, successful teaching habit, whether you teach one hour or 20 hours per week:
Above all else, continue to work on your learning skills, especially as they relate to dance. What are these skills? A few important ones are analysis, humility, acceptance of mistakes, focus, persistence, visual learning, etc. As a teacher, you need to encourage your students to improve these skills, because that is what will help them the most.
When you present a well-organized curriculum to a group of motivated adults with good dance learning skills, they absorb, digest, and assimilate that information much more quickly. Hell, sometimes you don’t even need to be that organized if your class is filled with excellent learners—they’ll mentally sort and prioritize information on their own.
But that’s not most people. In many classes, the hardest part about teaching is when you can’t figure out how to help your students improve their learning skills. You’ll see them hit the same walls again and again, and you won’t know what to do.
It’s really hard to help people develop skills you haven’t developed well. Do not fall into the trap of thinking you’ve got everything figured out.
Learn about learning. Avoid the dense, jargon-heavy literature. You don’t have 4 years to complete an education degree. Instead, look for research-supported, easily digestible information you can immediately apply to yourself and your students.
Brain Rules helped me understand the learning process more than any other book. It clearly explains the latest neuroscience and corrected a lot of my wrong ideas about how brains learn and retain information.
Test your teaching ideas, evaluate the results, make changes, test again.
When you begin to figure out how brains learn (and remember, the brain directs the body), you will come up with loads of ideas on how to apply it.
There are many right ways to run a dance class. Sometimes you will apply your ideas in a way that does not work in a particular context. The only way to find out is trial and error.
Get feedback from your students. Feedback helps you improve. I do written surveys after every class series ends. You could also do online surveys, probe for verbal feedback, or ask another respected teacher to sit in and give you tips.
Teaching is itself a learning process; you make mistakes and correct them. You find things to improve; you progress slowly over time. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you are superior to your students. They have a lot to teach you, if you’re open to learning.
What tips do you have for teaching dance? How do you like to learn dance? Share your ideas in the comments below!
Got a dance question? Submit it the DWT Q&A column.