I am guilty as charged for calling my students these and I’m sure a variety of other pet names in class. I, like most dance teachers, have a deep and genuine care for my students. I feel involved in their growth and development as dancers and as individuals and I feel their achievements and defeats both in class and onstage.
So why, if I have such a strong affection and concern for my students, is it a problem to use affectionate and personal names with them when I teach?
- First, it can be read by students, and parents, as favoritism. “Why does the teacher call her sweetheart but not me?”
- Second, it can belittle a mature student. I distinctly remember my class at the ABT Summer Intensive in NYC when the teacher addressed us as “dancers”. In her eyes, we weren’t “students”, “sweethearts” or “girls”, but real bona fide “dancers.” I immediately felt I had to prove that title and it empowered me to try harder and achieve more.
Terms of endearment did not seem like a big of a deal to me until I experienced it from a parent’s perspective. I was observing my 4 year old son in one of his classes when I overheard a male coach address another 4 year old female student as “babe.” I was absolutely floored. How could a male teacher in his late 20’s feel comfortable enough to call a 4 year old girl “babe” and it be considered okay?
But then it had me thinking. Is me calling my students “sweetheart” or “darling” any different? I knew then and there things had to change.
As teachers, our words are so powerful. Though hard to believe, our students remember and retain almost every word we speak. We need to equip them with titles of encouragement and accomplishment.
Right now, I have had success calling my students “dancers” ,”ballerinas” (if there is not a boy in the class), “ladies”, and “gentlemen”. Occasionally, I still slip up and “my dear” or “sweetheart” works it way out of my mouth, but I am getting better.
What vocabulary do you use when addressing your classes? Does it empower and inspire your students or leave them feeling belittled?
Until next time, teach, inspire, and grow!