Questions to Ask Yourself Now if You Have a Problem Student

We have all had instances where a student is not participating, possibly upset and wanting a parent, clinging to your side, or acting out in class.

What do you do during those challenging times?

First, you have to try and determine the root of problem.  

These are the typical, standard basic things to evaluate:

  • Are they being forced to dance despite being completely uninterested?  
  • Are they too advanced for the skills and feeling bored?  
  • Are they possibly not socially mature or old enough for the skills being asked of the class?
  • Do they have the proper attire and shoes?  Is their hairstyle a distraction?

After assessing, take into consideration deeper environmental, physical, and emotional factors.

  • Do they feel accepted and supported by the teacher and other students?
  • Do they feel accepted and supported by their family members?
  • Are they hungry/ tired/ sad/ stressed/ lonely/ frustrated/ overwhelmed?
  • Are they injured or ill?
  • Are there any sensory triggers in their environment that could be causing distraction and/or overwhelm? This isn’t limited but could be things like: physical contact with other students or teacher, loud music or voices, loud instruments, rough flooring or wall surfaces, tight dance wear or shoes, clutter or visual chaos.
  • Is there a student with a very dominant personality in the class that is commanding too much attention from the teacher?
  • Is there a ‘bully’ or mean girl in the class that is hurting or intimidating the student?
  • Are you, the teacher, playing favorites or not being fair?
  • Are you, the teacher, being overly harsh or critical?
  • Is the child a perfectionist?

Next, you have to turn the tables to look at your own behaviors that could be contributing.  YOU show the world what you want to attract.  If you are in a chaotic, unprepared, and disorganized state, that same chaos is reflected in your students’ behavior.  If you are in a rotten mood and not being fair to all, your students will get frustrated and shut down, or reflect that harshness on each other.  We desire a positive, supportive, fair classroom that is brings happiness and fulfillment, so it is important to find a routine to get you in a great state of mind before you go into teach.  Some great mood boosters are a great uplifting playlist, essential oils (I use ‘Stress-Fix™’ from Aveda, but whatever scent you prefer is just fine), and a quiet studio for 15-30 minutes before starting your shift.

Once you have assessed the possible root cause or causes of the issue you can better know how to address it.  Sometimes it is as simple as a conversation with the parents to see if there are any recent changes to the child’s schedule or environment, such as starting a new school, a new baby, or moving to a new house.  A simple snack in the dance bag to eat on the way to class can work wonders.  Or maybe a class on another day when the child is less busy is the answer.  

If you think you may be unknowingly contributing, don’t be too set in your ways to make some small changes to your own mindset, attitude, teaching method or the activities if it will help.  Teaching is about adapting and making it work for all.  Skilled teachers know this.

What you should NEVER do:

  • Force a child to dance.  This does not accomplish anything and causes more harm than good.
  • Bribe them to dance with candy, stickers, or other rewards.  YOU and the experience are the reward.  Bribes are not necessary.  If you want to transition away from this and but still make the students feel they are receiving something, give a stamp early in the class to help them learn, such as their right hand from their left, or where their knee is located.
  • Punish a child for not dancing or behaving poorly by withholding stickers, stamps, rewards, or hugs.  This really just humiliates the child and further harms their relationship with you as an adult they should trust and with dance as a fun activity and art form.  Just don’t do it.
  • Verbally demean the child.  This is so old school.  Unkind words or threats are not becoming of a successful and desirable dance teacher in today’s studios.  No one wants their child in a classroom where the teacher demonstrates this type of behavior, and no studio owner wants a teacher like this, either.

What you SHOULD do:

  • You can give them 2 choices, to a) dance and participate with the class, or b) sit down quietly and return to class when they’re ready.  This is not called a 'time out'.  That is for home.  This is more about re-focusing and holding them to your standards.  They don’t have the option to run around the room for free play or play with props or whatever else may be available.  
  • If they are upset, you can bring in their parent to try to see what the problem may be.  
  • Rather than reprimanding the child, try praising them the instant you see them rejoin the class, having fun, trying hard, staying focused, waiting their turn, etc.  Notice this praise doesn’t have to be based on how well they execute a skill, but on their overall behavior.
  • Throughout all of this you must remain encouraging and supportive.  Set the standard.  Have a consistent and level personality from week to week.  The child needs to know you will support and love them unconditionally, even during less-than-stellar weeks.

If the child continues to act out or want to sit out during class after extensive attempts to get her to rejoin, it may be time for them to withdraw from class and try again in a few months.  While we never want to lose a student, we also want to act in the student’s best interest at all times.  If the family realizes that their child is our priority, they are more likely to return in the future and recommend the studio to their friends.