Monday, July 25, 2011

Teaching Your Peers

Whether or not you realize it, you've probably taught someone something before. Maybe your best friend missed a dance class and you're catching her up on the combination (this post isn't really about this kind of teaching), or maybe you're like me and have choreographed for groups of people before (I was unpaid and it was unprofessional. I'll talk about it sometime). Either of these situations will deal with you teaching people who are roughly the same age as you, some of whom may even be in your friend group.

Let me just first get this out of the way: yeah, it's really awkward. And it probably will feel awkward for at least a few sessions. I actually was teaching a few people who were two years older than me, and that was extremely delicate. Just how do you draw the line between friendship and teaching?

It's hard to keep your personal life separate from teaching. I did say in my previous post about taking criticism that it will really help if you leave your personal life at the door, but it's hard when your friends are following you in. How to walk the line? I'll try to help!

Make it clear that you have authority.
Sound like a teacher. Come in with a lesson plan, treat your students like students, don't let them get away with talking behind your back. If you respect them, they'll respect you.

On the other hand, don't get power-hungry.
Unless you've started your own company (doubtful if you're a young dancer like me), you've got a boss. You probably don't have the authority to 'fire' someone, so don't act like you do. Don't treat your students like dirt, treat them the way you would want to be treated.

Whoever you're teaching is in just as awkward of a position as you are.
Think about it. Your students might feel like you're better than they are, and they may resent or hate you for it. Even if you don't act stuck up, they may take it that way. If your teaching starts to come in between you and your peers even outside the classroom, talk to them and make sure they understand that you are only their "teacher" when in the dance studio, not outside of it.

Be professional.
You can't expect your students to treat you like a teacher if you don't act like one. If you don't know what you're doing, of course they won't respect you. Even if you feel uncomfortable, don't show it. Several times I've gotten nervous and felt uncomfortable teaching are the times when I was able to teach the least material. The more I put personal feelings aside, the easier it got to get into "teaching mode." Come in with your lesson plan and stick to it. It's a good idea to set rough time limits for each section of your lesson. But even if you have a ton of material to get through, don't forget a warm up!

Do a warm up!
I taught my class a set warm up so that I could come in and start and my students wouldn't question anything (it became routine for them to just jump in and do it). This became especially handy when I suffered my foot injury because I didn't even have to lead them for them to know exactly what the warm up would be.

Don't pretend like you know everything.
If one of your students catches you unaware with a question (happened to me all the time with choreography clarifications) and you don't have an answer, include your students in the decision. Ask them what's easier for them or what they like better and take the majority decision. Never tell them "do whatever you want" unless improvisation is in the choreography (and even then, give them examples) because they'll come up with something that you didn't anticipate and then you'll have to correct it yet again.

If you came in unprepared or you run out of material, give a water break.
Your students will be just as happy to have a 5 minute break as you will be to have a little time to get yourself together again.

I really hope this all helped! I've been in this position three times before. I choreographed two pieces for my school's annual dance concert (one in my sophomore year of high school, and one in my senior year), and a third for my senior project (also in high school). I'll talk about those experiences sometime, but this is how I learned to deal with teaching my peers, maintaining their respect in the classroom and their friendship in daily life. Feel free to ask questions :)

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