For any and all teachers out there, especially elementary school teachers, hats off to you! Bravo! It takes a great deal of patience, love, and understanding to work with children, especially the younger munchkins. Let me tell you, working with kids ain't a walk in the park.
I signed on to take this job teaching dance for a kids day camp at a local college here in the DFW area. From 8:00 a.m to 5:00 p.m., eight classes a day, about twenty kids a class, four times a week for three weeks. This camp has a pretty big age range, eight to thirteen year olds, and most of them have never had a dance class in their life. I knew it was going to be a good challenge and I knew I was going to learn a lot from this experience. And I learned more on the first day than I ever thought possible.
I've learned that kids are so very creative and will tell you anything that pops into their head. I mean anything. I've learned that being first in line is the ultimate place to stand. I've learned that it is madness to put a children in a giant open cafeteria room, it's the equivalent of releasing them onto a playground. Don't even think of including a stage in there either because all they see is a new jungle gym that's more interesting than you, the teacher.
What else did I learn? That a compliment can go far, that kids need to feel like they have a special job, and that they want to please the teacher. I learned that they show out for attention, that a time out has major power, and that ultimately, they just want to belong with the rest of their classmates. Budding teenagers test the waters, especially with younger teachers, and the right music can make all the difference.
None of these concepts are exactly new, I'm just seeing it all in a new light. This job is opening my eyes to a new understanding of being a teacher, just like my thesis did. I happened upon a great deal of situations that I never had before and I feel all the better for having them. Every new challenge, every new opportunity, I glean a little more and I'm that much more prepared for the next one. Still, I caught myself wondering, why is this particular challenge such a whopper?
First of all, my teaching experience has mostly been with older students, high school to adult and mostly I've taught little girls (Little boys, they are a whole different species all of their very own. Heaven help me if I ever end up with one. I'd love him, but I'd have to educate myself on little boys. I don't even understand half the stuff Pyro Man does--If he's reading this, he's probably be thinking the same thing about me.). Though in class I've thought many a time, "why can't you just act like an adult," I know it's not possible with these kids because, well, they're kids. I simply work with them differently than with my adults. Okay, but how?
Because I've had a good amount of experience with older students, I really had to go back and think like a kid. Sure I know what a basic dance class should be, except now I need to put these classes in kid terms. What's more is that I need to put it all in pedestrian terms for kids whose only dance exposure comes from So You Think You Can Dance, Dance Dance Revolution, and music videos. I'm much more experienced with kids from a dance studio setting where they are exposed to music, movement, and choreography on a weekly if not daily basis.
In preparing for these classes, I had to find ways to relate to these kids. Find music they listened to, games they liked to play, moves they would be able to do, and combos that weren't too hard or too easy for them. They're attention span is short so I planned everything down the line, I couldn't afford to lose focus or I'd lose the class.
All this preparation brought me to a second realization, I never was in a class like this before, at least not at that age. By the time I was seven, I was competing, dancing with older girls, and working on tougher skills. No wonder planning was so difficult; I was having a hard time remembering what it was like to be a normal kid because I never was. I have always taken my training seriously.
All these realizations are good though. It helps me see the background I've come from, take what I know, and find out the rest to put together a stellar class. I need to be a jack of all trades and know as much I can so I can be the best educator. I won't always have older kids or college classes or dance studio jobs. Sometimes it might be a summer day camp with a bunch of kids in a class they're parents signed them up for. Please understand, I'm enjoying it. I've got some great classes that I adore and I've had some proud moments just in this first week with them.
There's nothing like an eight year old bringing you a special bracelet she made for you in the colors that match your shoes. Nothing as cheerful as kids popping into your classroom just to say "hi" or hugging you they before they leave on the second day of class. It warms my heart when parents come in and say, "Oh, we love Miss Julie!" I feel like I'm doing something right. Those are the feel good moments that make it so worth it and make me want to go back and do it again.
So no, I haven't been eaten by munchkins or run over by a bunch of pre-teens. I'm practicing my chases and jazz squares while listening to lots of pop songs. My ears are still adjusting to the massive amounts of Selena Gomez songs. Oddly enough, Beiber is pretty much a bomb with them. I'm still alive, just been too dog tired at the end of the day to do anything but shower, eat, and sleep.
This job is pushing me and teaching me a great deal. It's also reminding me that not every class I teach will be to students who are passionate and serious about dance. Ultimately I just want these kiddos to have a good time. After all, sometimes these classes can be the brightest spot in a kid's day.