Advice for dance teachers
I am a ballet school owner who has been in business for 21 years. Recently a student’s mother told me that her daughter would not be returning in the fall because they feel that I am old-fashioned. (I am 44 years old.) The mom said that requiring my students to wear a black leotard and pink tights to ballet class was “out of style” and that her daughter wanted to wear colors that would look better with her complexion. She also told me that it was ridiculous to require my students to wear their hair pulled back.
Students sometimes quit because ballet isn’t right for them or because they want to try something else, but I’ve never lost a student because I was “old-fashioned.” My dress code has been in place since I opened my school and I have never had a complaint about it.
What really concerns me is that this student is very popular at school and among my other students. She and her mother are badmouthing me, and I am afraid I will lose other students because of the dress code. I am so upset that someone would leave my school because of something that has nothing to do with the quality of my training. Should I eliminate my dress code? Please help! —Mariah
Please don’t give in to this ridiculous mom and student. There are parents and kids who don’t understand or appreciate dance like those who have the passion do. It’s OK; we will not win everyone over all the time. But we are the spark that lights the fire for those who choose to discover the dance in their soul! It’s sad, and hard to understand, but some students look in the mirror and notice their complexion and not the dance spirit that is looking them in the face.
If you don’t already do it, I suggest that you include a statement about why you have a dress code in your literature or handbooks. When students and parents understand that there’s a reason for the dress code, they are more likely to accept it without question.
If you are “old-fashioned,” so am I and so are thousands of other dance educators who read Dance Studio Life. I will wear that badge proudly, and I’m sure others would too. You are to be applauded and appreciated! —Rhee
My dance studio is in its tenth year of business. It is fairly small, but I keep trying new things to attract more students since two other studios are nearby. Since I am older than most studio owners just starting out, I have younger teachers working for me. All of them were my students.
One of them, whom I have known since she was a baby, is in her early 20s, and her mother is my receptionist. Occasionally I get complaints that she is too strict with the students, and I have to defuse the situation with the parents so as not to lose a student. Then there are students whom this teacher gets really close to—she babysits them, drives them to and from the dance studio and competitions, and takes them on outings.
At a competition this teacher told one of my students that she was getting too close to one of the team members and needed to be friends with all of the members. The girl was devastated and her mother complained to me. We have had some clique-type trouble at the studio, but I felt that a competition was not the place to take care of this. When I told the teacher that she should have let me deal with this situation, she went crying to her mother. Every time I try to discuss problems with her, this is what happens, and then her mother becomes angry with me.
I can sit down and discuss problems with my other teachers like adults. Is it a problem that this teacher and her mother get so close to the students? I feel it compromises the student–teacher relationship and that other students might see the behavior as favoritism. How should I handle this? —Ashlee
The first thing that comes to mind is that this teacher is not mature enough to be teaching. If she were, she would understand that a proper teacher–student (or teacher–parent) relationship should be professional at all times. That means that teachers don’t hang out with their students. This teacher should baby-sit only children who are not her students, and she should not be taking her students on outings.
There is another conflict here: the teacher’s mom works for you and gets mad at you for telling her daughter (one of your employees) what you expect as boss and owner. This teacher and her mom don’t understand the professional side of the relationship.
The fact that you have to deal with one ounce of stress when speaking your mind to an employee is a situation that you need to change. Employees who cry when they are told how they can improve or what is expected of them are not emotionally ready to be teaching.
Yes, you are the one who should be handling the clique issues you described and a competition is not the place to do it. Have one last talk with this teacher and her mom, and if things don’t change, then it’s time for you to initiate the change that has to happen. I wish you luck. —Rhee
We are having a big problem at the school where I teach. It is early registration time for next year, and suddenly people don’t want their children to be in the same class as some other students. The owner of the school is very good at letting the students know that that they belong in the class she has put them in. I know parents want their children to be in a more advanced level, but that isn’t so much the problem. It seems like people think they are better than one another and don’t want to be in class with them.
This idea is so far from the studio culture the owner has created. Our students are diverse—all ages, races, religions, and sizes. It is truly a melting pot and everyone is accepted for who they are. The philosophy of the school is making sure that every student who walks through the door feels loved and accepted. The owner is always on her game and nips any gossip or negativity in the bud, so we can’t figure out where this is coming from.
Any advice you have would be greatly appreciated. If I learn nothing else from this experience, I am learning how, if I ever become a parent myself, not to behave. —Annabelle
Although the behavior of these parents goes against your school’s philosophy, it’s obvious that they feel comfortable enough to express their opinions. So in order to solve this problem, you and the school owner need to figure out why this has happened. Has one mom spread her opinion to other parents, causing them to jump on the bandwagon? Could it be that the parents have been allowed to express their opinions on similar things in the past and so they feel perfectly comfortable telling you who should or should not be in their child’s class?
The parents need to be told that the school owner is the only decision maker regarding class placement and that their input will not be considered. She is the person who knows which students need a challenge and which are not ready for it, and she is a professional when it comes to those decisions.
It’s time for her to make changes so that parents don’t feel comfortable enough to tell her how to run her school. My first instinct is to say something along the lines of, “I appreciate your opinions, but decisions on class placement are based on my professional knowledge. I’m sure you wouldn’t want me to listen to an inexperienced parent who thinks your child isn’t capable of being in a particular class.”
Talk to your boss about how you can keep fighting for what you believe is the right culture for the school, and tell her I said not to let anyone tell her how to do things. All the best to you. —Rhee