July 2011 | Send in the Subs

Need a teacher in a hurry? It’s time for a temp.

By Debbie Werbrouck

If you’re a school owner, you’re familiar with this scenario: it’s been a tough week or two and you are looking forward to a day off. Then you get the dreaded call that one of your instructors is ill, and there goes your day off.

Michael Schulster, here teaching at a convention in 2010, runs Dance Temp LLC. (Photo courtesy Michael Schulster)

Your first move is probably to call one of your own instructors to cover the class. No one’s available? How about someone on your list of teaching subs? A teaching assistant? Still no? Then maybe 12-year-old Susie, whose class hasn’t started yet, or (panic setting in) one of the mothers in the waiting room who studied dance as a child could do it. No, no, get a grip! You can teach the class yourself—you are a classically trained ballet educator with years of experience, so how difficult could it be to teach a class of preteen hip-hop students? Dance is about being creative, after all, and you’re sure the kids will love dancing to Chopin and Tchaikovsky.

Instead, wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could just make one call and have a qualified teacher step in? Well, don’t even think about canceling that class, because help is on the way in the form of teacher referral services.

The setup
Referral services such as Dance Temp LLC and Kiner Enterprises Inc. connect substitute and full-time teachers and professional guest performers with private studio owners. While these companies serve the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, Kiner Enterprises now offers a wider reach via the Internet.

Michael Schulster discovered the need for this kind of service while teaching extensively in the United States and abroad. As a guest teacher, he began getting requests to bring additional teachers with him. Then the owners started telling him they were looking for substitutes for vacationing or ill teachers, and Schulster began to search for teachers beyond his circle of friends. And Dance Temp LLC was born.

Schulster interviews potential substitute teachers first by phone and then in person, and he checks references. If hired, the teachers—many of whom are performing or teaching professionals with some flexibility in their schedules—work for him as independent contractors.

According to Schulster, his roster of instructors numbers in the hundreds. He looks for experienced professionals who can provide quality service to studio owners. He says, “We provide dance studio owners with exactly what they need with no subscription fee.” The number of requests he receives each week varies greatly, so teachers can’t rely on consistent work through the service.

Schulster matches the needs of school owners (mainly in the tri-state area) with available instructors. While teachers set their desired fees, there’s room for negotiation based on the number of classes or the frequency of the substitutions. Fees vary according to experience, but timing isn’t a factor; the fee remain the same whether a booking is weeks away or on the same day. Travel reimbursements may be included in the negotiated fee or considered as a factor in the availability of substitute teachers.

Requests for subs range from ballet, modern, jazz, and tap to ballroom and ethnic dance styles. All payments are made to Dance Temp, which then pays the instructors.

What they offer
Temp companies can provide more than last-minute fill-in teachers; long- or short-term placement is also an option. Marissa Salemi of Breaking Ground Dance Center in Pleasantville, New York, has 13 teachers for her 400 students. She began using Dance Temp to find both guest teachers and substitutes, and she was so pleased with the service that she used it when she wanted to hire a permanent teacher.

Salemi, who uses the service once per month on average, lists its benefits as the assurance of getting qualified substitute teachers and never having to cancel a class. She says all of the substitute teachers she has used have been reliable and worked well with her students. “They’ve been wonderful,” she adds.

Marissa Salemi began using Dance Temp to find both guest teachers and substitutes, and she was so pleased with the service that she used it when she wanted to hire a permanent teacher.

Having established relationships with subs is an advantage when school owners are hiring full-time positions. Alternately, candidates for those positions are selected to meet each school’s criteria and then sent out to teach a trial class. Schulster says teachers who sign on with Dance Temp as subs and then gain full-time employment via a referral from him are still considered his contractors, so their payments still go through his company.

More options
Ashani Mfuko of Kiner Enterprises began her company in much the same way as Schulster, when she was on the teaching staff at Taps-N-Toes, Inc. in Brewster, New York. She too hires teachers as independent contractors and has approximately 200 teachers on her roster.

But, she says, she has a more global vision. She says she wants to “provide the opportunity for teachers to be hired and for studio owners to be more successful and have less stress.” Her new service will provide a network of teachers seeking employment with studio owners looking for full-time, part-time, and substitute teachers. Employers will make their own selection from among the available teachers. Projected fees will be $10 per month for teachers and $25 for studio owners. Studio owners will also have access to business and marketing advice, including social media marketing.

Kristine Smith of InSpira Performing Arts & Cultural Center in New Brunswick, New Jersey, has used Kiner Enterprises for several years. With more than 300 students to provide for, Smith has used Kiner primarily for emergencies and to fill in for teachers on vacation. She says she was “very pleased that all of the substitute teachers have related well to the mostly 9- to 13-year-old students.”

Mfuko’s former employer, Anne Cleary, who owns Taps-N-Toes, has gone to Kiner for substitutes, sometimes asking for return visits by teachers who prove to be a good fit. She hired two substitutes as full-time teachers because of their good connection with the students. She likes Kiner, she says, because it provides qualified teachers who work well with kids.

Salemi, Smith, and Cleary say that referral services provide substitutes at rates comparable to those of regular faculty members in their area, which range from $40 to $70 per class. It’s as simple as presenting their price range and receiving a qualified referral.

It seems as though, if studio owners are paying regular rates and the agency takes a cut, the teachers must be getting the short end of the stick, but the studio owners interviewed said that the fees were in line with the norm.

Make your own connections
As valuable as referral services can be, they’re not everywhere. But school owners who don’t have access to them can create their own networks of available teachers who might be new to the area, are in town only temporarily, or can’t commit to a full-time position. Talking to other school owners and posting notices on community or online bulletin boards are some of the ways to network. Having a list of available teachers could mean having one fewer crisis to handle—and that much-needed day off.

1 Comment

  1. Juliette Clark on July 25, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    Another resource for finding teachers is the Dance Informa teacher directory, which just got started a few months ago: