Q: From N Jones: Could you give us some tips on how to be an inspiring teacher? How to keep students focused. How to instill discipline among kids in the studio, particularly with older kids who don’t behave properly, who keep chatting in class. Also how to deal with kids who seem shy and unmotivated. Related to this, can you give some tips on teaching very young kids, keeping them engaged and creating an enjoyable environment for them.
A: By Claudia Alfieri-Wallace:
One of the most difficult things we do when teaching ballet to children is maintaining “Class Control”. In the world of ballet, EVERYTHING we do is about self-control, physically as well as mentally. But with the little ones, we must learn to step away from that. Walking into a class of children where some seem too shy or even unmotivated can send even the most experienced teacher into a funk!
My advice: Let It Go!
Don’t set expectations for your students that may be unattainable (for one reason or another – maybe they have something going on at home we don’t know about or maybe they’re just tired or hungry – who knows?) You may have the most perfect class planned in your head only to find that one little one wants to sit in a corner and won’t come out to join the class; another one wants to stay in the bathroom for an half an hour; whatever! Just remember, it’s NO reflection on you as a teacher. Continue on with your lesson plan with the group and let the other ones initiate joining back in. Keep it a positive, fun, creative class and keep encouraging them to join if you see them eyeing your steps. But don’t spend too much time coddling them; pay attention to the ones who are enjoying being there. Also, children take in way more than we think. And some of those “shy” ones go home and repeat your class from beginning to end for their parents and siblings or talk about it constantly. Everyone learns differently; visually, physically and emotionally. Give those shy and unmotivated kids TIME, and more importantly give yourself a break! You’re obviously a great teacher for taking this seriously and inquiring about it.
On the other hand, I’m a little harder on my older kids who should know better. For ones who are chatting, disruptive, or defiant in class, here’s a tip that works!!! During an episode, single them out and have them sit in front of the class and watch the remainder. Make it known that if they have to sit out three times in your class, then they will be asked to leave the class permanently. I’ve only had to do that to one student so far and I don’t regret it. If they’re that disruptive, then obviously they don’t want to be there. And they only set a bad example for the rest of the kids. Make sure to explain the situation to their parents immediately after the class. In my experience, the parents are usually very apologetic, so I know the child gets a talking to from them on the ride home. It’s just a good idea, in general, to set certain behavioral guidelines for all to follow, with rules and consequences for not adhering to them. (If you are the owner of your own studio, you can have a studio ‘code of conduct’ printed out and given to each family when they first register for classes.) And make sure you follow through. When the rest of the class sees that one got expelled for bad behavior – next week, you’ll have a completely different class. One with all attentive smiles!!!
And remember to be inspiring and supportive and always reward good hard work with positive and encouraging words. Let each student know how greatly they’re improving, and how you really appreciate their individual talents and gifts – each and every one! These kids will grow up with your training… personally as well as technically! Make it count!
Claudia Alfieri-Wallace, a former soloist with American Ballet Theatre, Boston Ballet, San Francisco Ballet and Smuin Ballet, started her professional career at the age of 16 and has performed in the works of many renowned choreographers including Twyla Tharp, Agnes DeMille, Mark Morris, Sir Kenneth MacMillan, Michael Smuin and Mikhail Baryshnikov. A Fairfax resident for the past 8 years and the mother of three young children, Claudia recently opened a ballet training studio for young children in Fairfax, CA. She is thrilled to be able to share her talents and experience with the young dancers in her community, and with Ballet to the People‘s readers.