So I’m teaching middle-schoolers. I’m not sure how I found myself agreeing to teaching seventh and eight graders, but here we are. I’m working part time for a charter school program, and split time between two different campuses. The school has structured this social dance program so that every student takes social dance starting in seventh grade and continues through eighth and ninth. The classes only take place once a week in place of their regular health or PE classes. There is an established curriculum, which is helpful, however we’ll get into some of my thoughts about the actual content later.
The first day of my instruction began Monday. Monday was ROUGH. So rough in fact, that this post is going up a day later than anticipated. My first day I had four classes, two eighth grade and two seventh grade classes. Going into the first day, I was expecting the seventh graders to be a challenge, since this would be their first dance experience, however I was hopeful that the eighth graders (having taken a social dance class last year) would already know the drill. That is not what happened, at all. Across the board the students were rowdy, uncooperative, unfocused, and in a lot of cases, unparticipative. I was met with a TON of resistance when I instructed the students to connect with their partner in a simple two hand hold. The girls would hover over the boys hands, not wanting to actually touch their partner (I can’t wait to see the reactions when we get to waltz and they have to actually hold a true dance frame). Before I talk about WHY I think I was met with so much resistance, I want to discuss my experience on Tuesday.
Tuesday I went to the second campus and taught three eighth grade classes. I am so glad that I waited to post this blog until after day two, because my experiences at the second campus gave me a fair amount of insight as to what went wrong with day one. My classes on day two were polite, respectful, eager to learn and participate. It was a teacher’s dream. The students were quiet without too much prompting when I was instructing. They all easily took dance position with their partner when asked. They rotated dance partners without arguing or complaining. It was so easy to get through the material for the day, and I felt relaxed and accomplished when I left campus for the day. Why was it so easy to teach this group of students?
Teachers helping teachers
At the second campus, the regular health/PE teachers were active and engaged in the learning process. They took attendance, added or subtracted participation points, learned the dance, assisted students, and in general were part of the class. This does two things; first, it tells the students in the room “I’m listening and participating, so should you”, and second, it allows me to focus on teaching rather than disciplining. This concept of teachers helping teachers is so crucial to making a class like social dance successful, especially if I only have 45 minutes with the students once a week. Needless to say, I did not have the same support at the first campus. Hopefully that situation will improve over time, but we will see.
So the last topic I will briefly discuss, and then share updates on further into the year, is the curriculum itself. Its….aggressive. When I say aggressive, what I mean to say is that there is a massive amount of patterns to cover in an extremely limited amount of time, without the ability to really delve into technique. Looking at the jump from eighth to ninth grade, in ballroom syllabus terms, we’re moving from intermediate bronze to pre-silver, without a focus on technique. As someone who regularly teaches students, this was shocking to me. The idea of ending the year with Twinkles, and starting the next year with Open Outside Right Turns would be…..unconventional in a traditional studio setting, and in a class on 30, 40 or in the case of my Friday class, 55 students, is nerve-wracking. I’m not going to completely dismiss the curriculum just yet, but I have a feeling that I will be recommending changes at the end of the year.
Final Takeaways after Week 1
This year will be a major challenge for me. I am sure that my patience and sanity will be tested, and I would be foolish to think that there won’t be a fair share of complete meltdowns along the way. I will hopefully continue to share updates of both successes and failures as they come. I am sure that I will learn more about myself and my teaching style this year than ever before. For any of my regular studio students that may come across this post, I ask for your patience and understanding. This will be an interesting journey!