Becoming an Instructor
In the past few years, a lot of pole studios have opened up—meaning that more and more, qualified and experienced instructors are in pretty high demand. Quite a few established pole dance studios have their own instructor training program. Some include pole move instruction. Some focus on showing you how to teach and assume that you have basic knowledge of pole dance already. Some include information on opening and managing your own studio. The cost can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars and the in-class time can range from a week to a weekend. Some have been reviewed by larger fitness organizations, like ACE or AFAA, and by taking the instructor training program you will earn continuing education credits to apply towards renewing your AFAA/ACE group fitness certification.
I think that for anyone navigating the plethora of choice out there, it can definitely be overwhelming. There isn’t yet a program that has emerged nation-wide as a clear and accepted standard across the industry, and it can be a significant investment of time, energy, and money to take any of these certifications, especially if you need to include traveling expenses. Think carefully about what you are hoping to gain. What skills will you be strengthening? Who is the lead trainer for the program, and what are their philosophies on teaching? Do you know anyone who has taken this program, and can give you feedback?
Of course, the secondary question is: If you don’t already teach somewhere, and are hoping to begin, why do you want to teach? Is this truly your passion or a way to pay the bills?
I don’t have as much experience in instruction as some people, but I will say that I have been a student for a long while, and I think that was really critical in my own development. It enabled me to come up with pretty specific ideas on what kind of teacher I wanted to be.
When I was planning out my transition to teaching, I decided that the first thing I should do was to take as many classes as possible, in as many studios and types of movement as possible, to learn more about how others teach. I took class in every pole studio in NYC with as many different people as I could, went to all the major dance studios and circus schools, and took pilates and yoga classes up the wazoo. I learned a ton about different verbal and nonverbal cues, warmup exercises, and different ways to apply and explain a correction. It was also invaluable to see the ways that the teacher controlled the class, kept up the energy level, and encouraged camaraderie and friendship within a group… or failed to do so. I quickly realized that half of being a good teacher is actual instruction, but the other half is managing people.
Instructing well is relatively straight forward. Being a good student or amazing pole dancer does not mean that you have the skills to be a good teacher. Learning how to break down a trick or troubleshoot exactly what a student is doing wrong takes experience and a different mindset than being a student– and is something that you get better at with time. It took me years before I felt comfortable with that ability with my own pole classmates, nevermind a paying student! You need to be able to completely step into someone else’s brain to understand how they learn and figure out how to translate your teaching into their language. Some people need to know exactly what muscle is engaging, some need to watch you do it a few times, some need to just try it over and over again and have you correct them until they get it right. When you teach, you have to completely let go of your ego and assume: “if this student does not understand, it’s because I’ve done something wrong in teaching. I may not be explaining well enough, or pacing the class incorrectly, or introducing skills that my students aren’t ready for yet.”
Learning to manage the personalities and energy in a class is really difficult, and just as I’m learning more about the technical side of instructing every day, I’m still learning this aspect of teaching as well. I think that students can clearly see passion, joy, and enthusiasm, and they will reflect it back to you if that’s what you’re putting out. If you are happy to be there, then students will feel it and appreciate your energy. If you hear a student being self-defeatist, or negative and down on themselves, and you nip it in the bud with honesty, empathy, and encouragement that comes from a genuine place, then you will help plant seeds of self-confidence. You have a lot of power as a teacher, and if you don’t have pure intentions, or are motivated by any kind of selfishness, you are doing a disservice to the students who pay money to spend time with you. If you foster a respectful relationship with each student in your class, and give of your time to everyone equally without favoritism, then students will see that they don’t have to be “good,” or put pressure themselves, to have fun and feel worthwhile. And that kind of positivity spreads.
I think that to be a good teacher, you have to actually like and enjoy teaching others. I think you should think carefully about why you want to teach, because if you’re not excited about it for the right reasons, then you are putting your students in harm’s way by not being as conscientious and serious about teaching as possible. Some people see teaching as the “next step” in a typical pole journey– once you get “good enough”, you teach. It’s not. Teaching isn’t for everyone, and you lose time to work on your own progression as a student. It’s a sacrifice, and the inherent reward of teaching needs to be enough.
I started teaching without any certification. I work for a studio that did not require it, but as time went by, I knew I wanted to learn more about the body. I took the group fitness instruction course from AFAA, which forced me to really memorize more about the physiology of the body, reinforced my informal learning, and gave me a stronger framework on which to build all the new knowledge I have picked up. And strangely enough, the turning point for me—when I really and truly felt like a teacher—was after I got my CPR/AED certification.
There was a moment at the end of the CPR/AED class, when the instructor told us something along the lines of: “you may or may not pass your written test. If you do, and you get the certification card, and you carry it in your wallet, you know you have the choice to help when you see someone who needs it. But taking this course gives you responsibility: if you pass that person by, who else may be able to really help them?”
That little speech made a huge impact on me. Being a good instructor and a responsible human being is a choice you make every day. You are in a position to help people as much as you are mentally and physically able: how seriously will you take that?
Tomorrow’s post: Thursday Tunes…