Being invited to assist your dance teacher in classes is a great honor. It usually means that he/she has observed characteristics like your dedication to dance, your willingness and cooperation in class, and perhaps your caring or compassionate nature. Perhaps, in you, your instructor may see the spirit of a future teacher and would like to cultivate and nurture these qualities. As does “great power,” great honor comes with “great responsibilities.”
What kinds of responsibilities can you expect? And how can you make the experience a good one for you and the teacher you are helping?
The Responsibilities and Expectations for an Assistant
The responsibilities and tasks left to assistants may differ from teacher to teacher. However, the following are some general duties that you might expect or that may fall to you should you take on the role of an assistant in a dance class.
- Help with attendance/roll-taking
- Walk among the students as your teacher leads the class:
- Making corrections,
- Assisting a struggling dancer
- Correcting students who are misbehaving or not following instructions.
- Lead certain warm-ups or exercises while your teacher:
- Handles the above tasks
- Steps out for a moment
- Handles a more severe discipline issue
- Observes you in order to give some tips
- Help children during shoe changes, bathroom or water breaks
- Hand out props or set up items to be used in class
- Keep an eye out for potential hazards like untied shoelaces or poor spacing/awareness while children are dancing
- Be a source of positive and enthusiastic energy in the class
- Keep students on task and focused
- Offer encouragement to dance students during the class
- Help to line up students and to keep them in line
- Lead or participate in choreography/recital dances
- Answer basic questions that parents may have
- Work seamlessly with your teacher by anticipating his/her needs so that together you can provide a fun and supportive learning environment for younger dancers
As you can see being a teacher’s assistant involves a lot more than just showing up for classes. Your role as an extra pair of eyes, ears, arms, and legs for your teacher is an important one!
How to be Effective as a Teacher’s Assistant
- Don’t wait to be asked especially when you’ve been assigned small tasks that are done for each lesson (like taking roll or handing out stickers at the end of class). This is what it means to anticipate. Developing this awareness is important if you want to be a great assistant.
- Be unobtrusive. When you see a student that needs your help or correction, address or pull them aside quietly so that you don’t distract other class members.
- Don’t be a distraction. Follow the lead of your teacher. If he/she is trying to get the class to pay attention, that is your job too. Unless you are leading or teaching, you are there to help keep the students’ attention on your teacher or on what they are doing (not to pull focus to yourself).
- “Sandwich” your corrections between two good things. For instance, say something like “Anna, you are pointing your toes nicely, try to keep your knee straight when you tendu. You are being a great listener today!”
- Offer positive reinforcement instead of yelling or complaining about bad behavior. In fact, some of the techniques in this post about teaching tots can help you interact with the kids (tots or not).
- Be prepared and on time. Being prepared can be anything from having the proper clothes or shoes with you to knowing the exercises or dances that you are supposed to lead.
- Ask questions, give suggestions, and save the silliness until after class whenever possible. Your teacher is counting on being able to focus on her class of students without worrying about you (or your behavior) at the same time. You will be the focus when it’s your turn in class.
- Show your enthusiasm without being silly. Use a bright tone of voice (think of making your voice slightly higher) when you talk to the children, use a lot of energy when you demonstrate, and smile a lot. This will show your enthusiasm and still keep the kids focused and paying attention. You can have fun as long as you are not distracting the students from what they are doing.
- Be ready for the unexpected and try to handle things maturely when they do. If you work with very young children you must be prepared for the occasional “accident” and its aftermath. You can also expect that sometimes kids will say some pretty funny or strange things. Again, watch your teacher for how to respond in an appropriate, kind, and respectful manner.
- Know when to refer a parent to your teacher. If you are approached by a parent with a question and are not sure how to answer, don’t make it up. If it seems the parent is upset it is not your job to deal with the problem. If a parent wants you to know why or why not things are being done the way they are, it is best to let your teacher address this. If you are uncomfortable in any way with the question, it is okay to pass it on to the teacher!
- Give corrections and discipline with confidence. Admittedly, it can be kind of strange to suddenly be “in charge” when you are normally a pupil yourself. But even though the children in your class probably look up to you, they are not likely to listen to you if you don’t speak clearly and firmly. Sandwiching corrections and being positive may help you to feel like you are not being mean or yelling. Try to avoid making requests in the form of a question (For ex: “Are you ready to put the props away?”). This gives the impression that they have an option to say no. (Instead try “Alright, it’s time to put the props away!” in a way that sounds as if you are excited to be moving on to the next activity as well).
- Communicate clearly with your teacher. If you have a question, ask at an appropriate time. If you are not sure what is expected of you, don’t be afraid to ask or find out how you can improve.
- Get some sleep. You are probably a busy teen or pre-teen with homework, dance classes, and other activities in which you are involved. If you are well rested you will be more useful to your teacher and be more energetic in your classes (all of them). If you are missing sleep to fit everything in, maybe you should discuss this with your parents and teacher. Adding an apprenticeship to your activities may not be in your best interest right now.
I hope you’ve found these useful. If you have a question or need some advice about working as an assistant, dealing with situations in the classroom, or approaching your teacher, I’d be glad to help if I can.
Nichelle Suzanne is a writer specializing in dance and online content. She is also a dance instructor with over 20 years experience teaching in dance studios, community programs, and colleges. She began Dance Advantage in 2008, equipped with a passion for movement education and an intuitive sense that a blog could bring dancers together. As a Houston-based dance writer, Nichelle covers dance performance for Dance Source Houston, Arts+Culture Texas, and other publications. She is a leader in social media within the dance community and has presented on blogging for dance organizations, including Dance/USA. Nichelle provides web consulting and writing services for dancers, dance schools and studios, and those beyond the dance world. Read Nichelle’s posts.