Advice for dance teachers
I recently discovered that one of my students, Joanne (not her real name), who is 15 and has been with me since she was 3, is having issues with drug addiction. This young lady is talented, sweet, and focused when she is at my school. I have taken her under my wing because her parents have had their own problems with drugs and alcohol. Sometimes I see her sitting outside, waiting for her ride home, and it never comes. Her parents forget to pick her up, so I give her a ride. A couple of times she has cried all the way home because she’s embarrassed. I assure her that I don’t judge her by her parents’ actions and that I will be there for her if she needs anything.
I had no idea, but Joanne was also taking drugs, which she was stealing from her parents, and she went into a drug rehabilitation center for 30 days. I visited her right away and I would have been there every day, but the center limited her visitors at first.
Joanne’s predicament threw a monkey wrench into several pieces of competition choreography. We fixed the choreography and, in some cases, replaced Joanne with another dancer. Joanne’s classmates at the school have been very supportive and have sent her cards. I am moved by their kindness and sensitivity. They amaze me with their nonjudgmental attitude toward Joanne, but I know it is because she is such a good kid; you can’t help but love her despite her problems.
Then I received an email from a parent who told me that she would not bring her daughter back to my school next year if I accepted Joanne back in the fall. She says she thinks Joanne is a bad influence on the other children and doesn’t want her daughter in the same room with her. Throughout her email she degrades Joanne, calling her a loser, and I cannot write what she wrote about Joanne’s parents. I felt hatred in her correspondence.
I don’t think Joanne is a loser; she is a victim of her circumstances, and I feel that she needs the support and normalcy that dance gives her. Her studio family is much more supportive of her than her parents are. She needs dance in her life.
I feel an obligation to do what I can to help her, but the mom who sent me the email tells me she is not alone in her belief that Joanne should not return to my school. There is no way I am going to give up on Joanne. Can you help me with some advice on how to respond to this mom and the other parents who feel the same way? —Anonymous
You are to be commended for being what I think is a true teacher—one who does not judge her students and who is there when a student needs help and support. Some teachers, out of fear of losing students, would give up on the child because of the risk involved. I admire your determination to do what is best for Joanne.
I always tell dance teachers that they have much more responsibility than teaching steps or enlisting new students. The most important gifts they can offer to their students are self-esteem and a sense of belonging. If Joanne develops a passion for dance, I believe it will have more influence on her future than all the negative stuff that her parents are throwing her way. Every child is in your classroom for a reason, and regardless of what happens in Joanne’s future, I am sure that she will never forget the dance teacher who believed in her.
So what to do about the email? Call the parents together for a meeting to discuss how you feel. Explain that you wouldn’t give up on their children if they found themselves in the same circumstance. I have a feeling that the mom who sent you the email will realize that her attitude is wrong and that the majority of the other parents will stand behind you. If she does pull her child from your school, then it will be her loss—and her child’s. It sounds to me like your school is the perfect place for young people to grow up in and that you are a special teacher.
Another thought: Look through your roster of students to see if one of them has a parent who is a counselor or psychologist who might offer you some advice on dealing with the parents. Better yet, maybe you could ask that person to come to your meeting to support you and offer input.
Bravo to you for setting an example for all of us. —Rhee
I am wondering what your opinion is on newspaper advertising for registration. I have done very little print advertising in the past, but some of my competitors are taking full-page ads in the local newspaper and I am not sure if I should be doing the same thing. Do you think they are gaining students whom I will never get because I don’t advertise in the newspaper? —Laura
Good question! Recently I did a survey of dance school owners to determine their advertising strategies. It turns out that more than 67 percent of respondents are advertising in local newspapers. The only form of marketing that came in higher is a website, at a little more than 71 percent, but many of those with websites are also doing newspaper advertising.
In my research I have discovered that it takes 13 views of a logo for it to sink into a reader’s mind. So my strategy would not be to run full-page ads, because the majority of school owners could not afford 13 or more ads of that size. Instead, I would go with a series of smaller ads, run more often. I think ads that are one-sixth or one-quarter page, running over a series of weeks, would be more effective than a couple of full-page ads.
A few more statistics from our survey: Almost 53 percent of school owners are marketing with direct mail and postcards, but Internet marketing is on the rise. Email blasts are up 15 percent from our last survey at almost 26 percent, and social networking sites (which didn’t even show up in past surveys) are at almost 13 percent.
The bottom line for all school owners is to experiment to determine what works best for their business. Always ask those who inquire about your school how they heard about you to determine which marketing strategies are working best for you.
By the way, my brother’s school is still doing newspaper advertising, but his ads are much smaller than they were several years ago and he has gradually incorporated more Internet marketing to cover all the bases. If you can afford it, I think diversity in marketing is the key. Good luck! —Rhee
I am currently employed at the school I grew up at. Three years ago, I was offered $12 per hour for my classes and I was thrilled to be paid for doing something that I love. Now I am headed into my fourth year of teaching and I am taking on more classes and some of the office work (which I am not paid for). After four years, I feel that I should receive a raise, but the subject never comes up from the school owner.
When I started, the owner taught about 30 hours a week and I did about 5 hours myself. Now I am doing the 30 and she is doing about 5 hours. Frankly, I feel like I am being taken advantage of, but I don’t have the guts to speak up. This school has become my entire life, but I can’t afford to move out of my parents’ house, nor do I have time to take on another job. What are your thoughts? —Michelle
I’m not sure why the owner of the school has not taken it upon herself to discuss your compensation, especially after you have been working at the same rate for three years. She may believe that the increased hours she has given you are compensation enough, but that is just a guess on my part.
Obviously, you have the confidence and the passion to be a good teacher, otherwise you would not be handed more classes each year. It is time for you to grab on to that confidence and speak up to the school owner (in a kind way). Let her know how much you love what you do and that you are willing to take on whatever she needs from you, but also explain that you would like to be able to afford your own place and make a living by teaching for her.
Hopefully she will understand your position and appreciate that you are standing up for yourself. If not, you may have to do some thinking about whether this is the right place for you to be employed. I wish you good luck. —Rhee