Reader Question:

April 29, 2013

My daughters 4 and 6 dance for a local school. The two sisters who run it treat the parents horribly. They have a “drop and go” rule, which they enforce very strictly. You are not even allowed to sit in the changing area !! (there is no viewing area). I do not feel comfortable even leaving my 6 year old there because they are so covert. To whom can I complain? They are the only school in my area. Does any licensing board oversea Irish dance teachers? I do not think in this day and age one should get yelled at for staying nearby a child’s lesson – not to mention watch for a little to see where they are in the learning curve. Advice??

Dear Reader:

Dear Suzy,

I’m sorry to hear that you have been struggling with your teacher’s methods. Parent Observation in classes is an issue that I struggle with as far as my opinion.

One side suggests that keeping parents out of the classroom is beneficial. Believe it or not, your child’s behaviour changes when you are there! Some kids are better behaved because they know a parent is there and the expectation is present. Some kids become more distractable- Mummy is there to hang out with, ask for sweets or complain to. Some parents are also very distracting- they may set up a regular chat-fest in the room, making it impossible to speak over. Some teachers feel they are not able to teach naturally when under a parental microscope.

The other side of the coin shows that there is a certain atmosphere of distrust and secrecy set up when a teacher teaches behind closed doors. While I am sure the governing bodies of most dance organizations would prefer that classes are safe for children, there are not any rules set forth regarding observation of classes. Therefore, complaining to governing boards might not do much good. I personally feel that if a child is small, say aged 4-8, there should be visual access to the child in their class. There should be an observation window or the door should be open. In our tradition there is enough history of mental and physical abuse that I feel this is paramount.

Please talk to your teachers. Explain that you would like to be able to help your child by taking notes, keeping them behaving, and helping them feel safe. It is common practice for most dance and gymnastics studios to have a “parent observation week” where the parent is welcomed into the classroom. Perhaps a combination of this and an open door would help you and other parents feel there is an atmosphere of trust.

I’m sorry that there are no other schools as transfer options. While I am generally against transfers as a whole, I believe emotional abuse such as yelling at children in a non-encouraging way is grounds for a change of school. It is far, far too prevalent in the Irish Dance world. And if they are yelling at you, you had better believe they are yelling at your child.

I welcome more thoughts on the subject, and would appreciate replies. Let’s get a discussion going!

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3 Responses to “Reader Question:”

  1. just another mom said

    How do you submit a question?

  2. treble77 said

    Tough one… as a TC myself, I understand the need for teachers to work with the students one on one. Younger dancers can become easily distracted and you don’t want to feel like someone is breathing down your neck when you’re trying to teach a hornpipe.

    That being said, new parents or parents of young dancers feel more comfortable if they get the chance to watch a class or two. I agree that it’s a good idea to schedule periodic parent viewing days throughout the year. That way parents don’t feel like they can stay during just any class, but they know that they’ll have an opportunity to observe at some point. Most of my parents don’t bother to attend these viewing days, but just knowing that they have the opportunity seems to make them feel better and more comfortable leaving their child in my care.

    One of the positive parts of parent viewing is that it gives an adult the chance to see exactly how their child is treated in class. Say your 10-year-old is routinely coming home complaining that the teacher “picks on” them and “yells” at them. Observing a class (especially if you can do this through a viewing window or from a discrete location), will allow you to determine exactly what is going on. Is the teacher yelling demeaning comments at your dancer or personally insulting them – or is she raising her voice to give corrections above 20 pairs of hardshoes? Is she singling out and picking on your dancer, or is your dancer being disruptive or failing to pay attention and is she justifiably being called up short for it?

    I’m not suggesting that teachers can’t ever be in the wrong – we definitely can! But I do wish that more parents would come and see exactly what happens at a class before jumping to conclusions or allowing a pre-teen viewpoint to shape their opinion of a fellow adult professional.

    I also think that observing a class will allow parents to become more familiar with what a dance class looks like. The BRILLIANT article in the post above is one of my favourites. I love what it has to say about corrections in class being public and not sugar-coated. This is part of the world of dance. Irish dance is primarily a competitive dance form, which means that the teachers must correct every technique error they see. This doesn’t mean your child is a terrible dancer; in fact, it’s quite the opposite! My best and most dedicated students are also the ones I correct and “nag” about technique the most. I see the potential and I know they want to work hard!

    Some of the junior sports teams in my area have adopted a policy where they no longer keep score in games. Coming from the highly competitive world of dance, this is mind-blowing to me. Irish dance can and will be tough on your daughter or son – there will be tears and disappointment and days when you come home from the feis with nothing. But there will also be days when goals are reached and accomplishments celebrated – whether that accomplishment is the World podium or third place in your Beginner Treble Jig.

    I’m veering off topic now and writing a novel here, so I’ll wrap it up.

    My advice – talk to your teachers, explain why the current set-up makes you nervous. Approach them as one mature adult to another. If they can respond in kind and work out a solution, you have nothing to worry about. If they respond with suspicion or are defensive, consider that another hobby or another school may be what’s best for your child.

    Good luck!

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