What does it take to be a great teacher?
The single most important characteristic of any teacher of any discipline is dedication. If you are not so passionate about your art that you cannot persevere through the hard times of growing your classes, slow seasons, dealing with difficult people, nor allocate time to study and practice your art yourself with a “show must go on” attitude, you will not make it as a really successful, well respected teacher. You must have an endless supply of passionate dedication to drive you forward.
HIGH TECHNICAL ABILITY
There is no requirement that all teachers must be the best performance dancers ever. With that said, it is important when teaching beginners that you provide them the very best example of the movements possible, so they are able to see what is expected. It is paramount that your technical ability remains at a high level and is a shining example for them. There are instances, however, of master teachers who are able to communicate precisely what they want to more advanced dancers, who are able to understand and follow the instruction, but it is not the ideal situation for new dancers. New dancers have no context, so they must be shown what to do, first. So, show them WELL!
GOOD COMMUNICATION SKILLS
There are three aspects of good communication skills for teachers:
1) Ability to speak authoritatively with confidence to build trust with students. They must feel you know what you are talking about and that begins with speaking confidently on your subject matter.
2) Ability to explain subject matter clearly, so your students know what you are asking of them or trying to teach them
3) Ability to positively inspire and motivate your students to move forward, especially when challenges arise.
Two words: Murphy’s Law! Things may not go as expected. Plans may change last minute, dancers show up late or not at all, or something didn’t get done on time. Anything can cause you to change your plans and you must be ready to adapt to unexpected circumstances. A great teacher can “turn on a dime,” respond appropriately and quickly with grace, dealing with the unexpected in a calm manner to move things forward, even if something beyond their control is happening. A great teacher strives to make the best of every situation and sees the opportunity to improve and grow beyond the initial inconvenience of things going wrong.
INSATIABLE THIRST FOR KNOWLEDGE AND GROWTH
Good instructors are perpetual students, who are always seeking new knowledge, practicing, and applying what they learn. Education should never end, because there is always something new to learn or opportunities to dig deeper into related subjects. Practice and academic pursuits are only the beginning for a dancer. However, a teacher must also grow in their teaching abilities, as well as their business skills. Again, there is no shortage of subjects to explore.
Growing a solid student base takes time – lots of time. Teachers must endure this slow growth. Even once they’ve built a solid base, they will have seasonal fluctuations in their membership. Be ready to wait in all aspects of your teaching business. Advertising takes time, getting students takes time, developing students takes time, and mentoring the handful of dedicated advanced dancers you’ll get takes time. To expect otherwise, is futile.
Reputation is one of the most important aspects of teaching. Your students, other teachers and gig clients should have high regard for you and your skill, for you to go far in this business. How you treat others in business and even personal situations will reflect positively or negatively on your brand. (And YES you are a brand, like Coke or Kleenex. If you have a name, you have a brand. When you come into someone’s mind, they think “something” about you. What they think, is your brand.) Being courteous, fair, and humble while maintaining the highest quality standards in all that you do, will help attract and retain great students and clients rather than suffer the consequences of poor customer relationships and substandard service.