About this post…
This is one of those posts I have been brewing on for some time. It’s been in my Evernote for nearly a year and ever so often, the universe reminds me of Ahlam Academy’s mission, which is providing dancers with the best education in the most efficient, supportive way possible. I am continually looking for ways to advance that mission, and selecting the best teacher candidates is a big part of that.
So here are some of my thoughts…
Since creating the Ahlam Academy of Middle Eastern Dance certification programs, I have been contacted by many aspiring teachers from around the United States interested in our program. I have heard from dancers of all skill levels sharing their desire to become teachers and I am always thrilled that people are interested in our program. With that said, this is a serious dance program that involves a lot of time and effort from the student with me personally mentoring them along the way. This isn’t something that can be done in long distance sessions, because I am closely working with our teacher certification students, helping to guide and advise them every step of the way. This guarantees that whoever goes through our program conforms to a certain “standard,” a high level of skill and knowledge, not only about Middle Eastern dance but also about “the dance business.”
Besides the newbies and group exercise folks inquiring about a quick certification, there is another more subtle type of prospect that I purposefully steer away from our program. You might even say I’m crazy for doing this and that I’m losing money for denying these folks, but having taught hundreds and hundreds of students, there are definitely red flags that I have learned to watch for and heed. This is one red flag that sends me running the other way. This red flag completely turns me off when I hear this coming from potential students and especially to those interested in the teacher program.
“What is this red flag,” you ask?
Before I get into it, let me set the stage…
Let’s say I get an email from someone interested in our certification program. They are from out of state, but they have family here and come frequently. (Note: I state clearly on our website that our program is only available to local students. A partial red flag goes up here because they didn’t take the time to read the info provided to them, not a good teacher trait because I need them to read what I provide to them. so, not a good beginning…
The candidate goes on sharing about all their experience and the great teachers that they have studied with and how many choreographies they have created and performed. That’s great! Really it is! Passion and dedication is a great START to becoming a good teacher.
But then they say it!
And it’s not in so many words, but they drop the proverbial bomb on me and go on to tell me how they don’t want to take the beginner classes and sometimes they even add in, how they feel like they want to test out of our beginner and possibly intermediate content.
At this point I am cringing, not because I think this person is delusional or not capable of teaching a simple class, but because I feel like they don’t “get it.” There is way more to teaching than demonstrating your technique and passing some general knowledge exams. It’s about honing your own interpersonal and observational skills to accurately assess where students are and how to best and most efficiently get them to where they want to be.
There are several “potential problems” I see with candidates wanting to skip or test out of content.
1) This could indicate that the candidate doesn’t value the basics. And I can tell you from teaching hundreds and hundreds of classes over many years that being grounded in the basics and routinely revisiting the basics helps to keep your technique sharp and your body conditioned. Plus, you have the opportunity to gain some really great insights by watching other teachers, good and bad. It’s a learning experience not to be missed. You can frequently get some really great ideas on new ways to break down movements or creative ways to run a class, by attending beginner classes from good teachers. Especially those whose work you value enough to consider joining their certification program.
2) The candidate might not recognize the difference in styles or the innate uniqueness of every program. Every dancer/teacher has their own unique style, ways of teaching, and standards of movement based on their diverse experiences. Unless you take their beginners class and learn their methods and expectations, how are you possibly going to know what they will expect from you when you take their Level 1 assessment? That’s like saying, “I want to take your test, but I don’t need the study guide or book to make sure I know what you are testing on.” The beginner class is the study guide, and if the teacher candidate doesn’t see that, I’m not so sure they have what it takes to get through our program.
3) The candidate is making an uneducated assumption that their prior education equates with our program. First, I can tell you, many dancers that come through our door from somewhere else often share with me, how much more they learn in our program. All teachers, classes, and studios are not the same. Many programs teach far less than we do and frankly, some teach total BS belly dance. Yes, I said it – BS belly dance. Don’t get me wrong, there ARE some great programs out there, but they are rarer than one might think. So, I, as the director, cannot take that chance with students not going through our whole program, because I’ve seen it too often. My experience with dancers from other instructors has been spent filling in the gaps left by others.
4) Poorly administered dance programs are definitely not the only ones to blame here. Dancers that wish to teach also need to take responsibility for themselves and continuously seek the best educational and training resources available. Our certification program certainly facilitates the highest-level education experience that discerning teaching prospects desire.
Don’t get me wrong, I am glad that students seek us out and we welcome all serious students to sign up for our STUDENT certification program to enhance their journey with AAMED. Once the interested candidate demonstrates the talent, knowledge, aptitude, and ATTITUDE for teaching, our desire is to invest a great deal into that student to support the mission of AAMED, as well as the student’s educational goals.
In conclusion, what makes a great teacher is an insatiable love of learning and the ability to see the untapped educational value in the mundane. I’m definitely not saying that one needs to be in beginner level classes forever or that one must retake all types of classes continuously. It’s the attitude. It’s the mindset of humility that “I don’t know everything and I have more to learn.” This acts as a prerequisite while I’m evaluating whether or not a candidate is a good fit for our teacher program. Beginning with a demonstration that they acknowledge the unique value and teaching methods of our program evidenced by NOT wishing to skip the very foundation of our program.
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