The best time to get control of your class is right in the beginning of the year, by setting the tone with a list of rules, regulations, guidelines…or any other name you want to give it. If you present the guidelines in a positive way, your students will more than likely be happy to follow the ground rules you set forth. Have your students sit down in each class, preferably the first one they take, and go over each important matter you would like to have in place.
It is also important to give your students a print out of the rules to bring home to help their parents understand that it is not a “free for all” and that you are not just a babysitting service. Some of the topics we like to talk about are: proper grooming and class attire, no gum chewing in class, no talking (this is a big one to get across), the importance of being on time and paying attention, how to respond to corrections and not to take offense when one is given, and, respecting teachers and fellow dancers. Come up with your own list of pet peeves and make sure you address them when you do this. This is the first step in gaining control of your class and letting them know that there are boundaries. When students try to push beyond them, revert back to the guidelines and remind them that everyone is expected to follow the rules.
Dealing with that one problem child is always a tricky situation and must be dealt with carefully. If a student is reprimanded I always like to follow it up with a smile shortly afterwards so they understand it is not personal. Once they start to see that you mean business and that the guidelines are to be followed they will start to get with the program! How you reprimand the student is very important. If a parent comes in and says, “You yelled at my child!” and you cannot remember doing so, you probably didn’t. However, there most likely was a time where their student perceived your reprimand as yelling, or a personal attack. Keeping the potential for this in mind, try to focus on the behavior and not the person. Let the student know before the class is over that you do not hold any grudges; you can convey this by saying something good about something that they did well during the class, even if it is a stretch!
A business consultant once told me that before you can give someone a correction at work you must first give them 3 good things to hear! It’s the 3 to 1 theory. This is pretty hard to do all the time but I have found that when students like you and feel that you think they have something special, they are eager to please you. If you don’t have the benefit of starting at the beginning of the year then I would recommend that you teach the first class and make mental notes throughout of things that you don’t like or feel that are not conducive to the learning process. After, approach the studio owner and ask if you can set some guidelines to help the students learn faster and have a more pleasurable experience. Then, sit the class down and set the new rules in a fun and upbeat manner. I never like to make it sound like they are “going to jail”!
I have been to studios where things are so out of control I don’t know how the teachers can stand it! If you are spending too much class time reprimanding it could be a sign that you are losing them and it would be a wise idea to stop the class and calmly go over the guidelines again…and again, if necessary. Sometimes the only thing left is to dismiss a child from the class. This is always dramatic and will pull the whole class into focus. I would recommend talking to the one that was asked to leave the class before they leave the building and let them know that their behavior will not be tolerated and that if it happens again they may not be allowed to take your class anymore.
We all know that some classes are great and they always do the right thing. We also know that there are some classes that make you want to pull your hair out, or theirs! But, you can get your class in order just by setting guidelines and keeping them in place. And throughout the season, keep using them to refocus the group as-needed!