Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Do you really want to teach?

There's a standard track that polers and other aerialists tend to follow. Sign up for classes. Take beginner classes. Take intermediate classes. Take advanced classes. Take instructor training. Teach classes. Maybe open a studio.

The track seems so natural, so almost automatic, that I wonder how many students stop and ask themselves if teaching is something they REALLY want to do, or if it just seems like the next logical step in their hobby/career. I mean, I'm a teacher on purpose--I decided early on that I was more interested in teaching than performing or competing. And I have something of a pedagogical background--I've been a private music instructor on and off (and took classes in that direction in college), and my first jobs after graduation were teaching ESL (which I am certified to do). So I knew what I was getting into, and made the decision deliberately. And there are others like me, of course. But there are many people who seem to fall into the business almost accidentally, and are surprised when it turns out to be more pain and less gain than they expected.

So before you shell out for a training program, ask yourself: "Why do I want to teach?" Because here are a few wake-up calls.

Because I want to finally make money on my passion instead of spending it!
A lot of teachers go into the business hoping to finally profit, but find themselves struggling to break even on their hobby. Sure, the studio will pay you for a class or two instead of you paying them, but for most of us the math doesn't add up. Even if you never had to pay for another class at your place of employment again, you'd still have workshops, grip aids, workout clothes (now that you're at the studio more, you need more outfits!), and any other community events, such as competitions or conventions, you want to attend. And keep in mind that teaching doesn't pay that well. I've been offered as low as $25 a class (for OVER an hour of teaching) even for advanced classes. Add in travel time, money spent on gas, and time spent outside of class prepping, and you'll find that few people are even recouping their expenses.

Because I'll get so much better at my craft when I'm a teacher!
It's true that there are some skills that will improve as you start teaching--mostly, your teaching skills. You'll find that when you have to teach something to someone, it makes you understand it better yourself. This comes in handy for things like breaking down new moves you want to teach yourself. However, it does NOT make you a better poler/aerialist overall. Almost without exception, every teacher I talk to complains that they spend all their time teaching and preparing to teach, and no time on their own art. Sure, teaching beginners to fireman multiple times a week will make your firemans REALLY solid. But your goal moves, your routines, your polishing and perfecting will likely be neglected.

Because I got skills and I should put them to use!
What sort of skills do you got? You can do a fonji and a Marion Amber and even know how to break them down into step-by-step instructions? That's great, but it's not going to help you when facing a roomful of students who can't hold up their own bodyweight. If you are an advanced poler or aerialist, you may be disappointed at how little you get to teach your advanced skills. The majority of your students are just not going to have the ability to do what you can do, and they still might not after years of classes. And when you DO have truly advanced students, hang onto your hats! They're going to want to learn the "flavor of the month" moves before you have time to master them.

Because I want to share my passion with others!
There are many ways to spread the love besides dragging yourself to another bachelorette party after an exhausting week at the day job. Convert. Evangelize. Get your friends INTO the classroom, then let someone else worry about what to do with them when they get there.

Because I think I have what it takes to be a great teacher.
You probably do. You probably have SOME of what it takes to be a great teacher. Almost everyone exhibits at least a few of the following: empathy, enthusiasm, the ability to break things down, the ability to put things together, challenging the top of the class, lifting up the bottom of the class, inventing new moves and combos, mastering existing moves and combos, spotting students with your body, spotting problems with your eyes, approaching a problem from multiple angles, accentuating the positive, drawing out individual potential, drawing out individual muscles.

If this grocery list of skills makes you feel inspired rather than overwhelmed, then maybe you DO have what it takes to be a great teacher.

So maybe teaching's not right for me. Now what?
I'm a musician, and I always find it funny when people say apologetically, "I have no musical skill whatsoever. I mean, I LOVE MUSIC! But I can't make it." My response is: GOOD! We need people like you! Musicians couldn't survive if someone didn't love what we did and made up the base audience (see Pole, where is thy audience?). Likewise, there is plenty of room in this industry for those who want to be the BEST THEY CAN BE by putting their energy into getting training, and for those who want to FUCKING HAVE FUN.  Why do you have to interfere with those processes by throwing business into the mix?

And if you're still convinced that you want to teach, some final pearls of wisdom:

Teaching is EXHAUSTING.
Even if you're teaching moves that you mastered years ago, you'll find yourself wiped after that last schoolbell rings. Don't overextend yourself. Teaching a few classes in a row is normal, but don't assume you're going to be up for an intensive training session afterwards. I mean, if you are, god bless ya, but I feel like naptime after a single private.

Studios like to hire from their own flock.
Even small studios offer instructor training courses, so they basically groom their own students to take the reigns. That means self-teachers and other non-studio students, as well as newcomers from out of town, are on their own. Unless you have already made a big name for yourself, or you teach something different than what is locally offered (for example, if you're a poler who also teaches lyra, the local studios will probably eat that up), you might be too far outside of the clique to get a gig.

Your boss might be batshit crazy.
I don't know what it is about the pole/aerial arts that draws such personalities, but it's amazing how many pieces of work are out there running businesses. I mean, of course there are highly professional, sane people who own studios. But there are as many horror stories as there are instructors. No matter how OK a situation seems at a distance, decide ahead of time what kind of antics you will and will not put up with.

Teaching is awesome.
Despite all of the above, there are plenty of us. Why? Because we love it. We, the teachers, have sacrificed our weekends, our evenings, at times our day jobs, our own aerial ambitions--because the students make it worthwhile. If this sounds like you, by golly get in there and teach! And just as you want your students to be the best performers they can be, make yourself the best teacher you can be.

Image from everydaycareer.com.


  1. Great article. With over 350 studios currently operating in the UK and more springing up like mushrooms daily, it clearly won't be long before EVERYONE is teaching and there aren't enough students to go around. We're headed down the road of TOO MANY CHIEFS and not enough Indians and the fact that some of those chiefs have no knowledge of physiology and poor teaching skills worries me. Opening your own pole school is not a quick route to riches by packing on 5 to a pole in a class of 30 students, it's a labour of love and a responsibility to teach your skills SAFELY to the people coming through the door which should not be undertaken lightly.

  2. I love this post! I have been to multiple workshops with world-class pole champions, only to find out that they may be great performers but that doesn't necessarily mean they're great teachers. I've been embarrassed rather than encouraged by teachers who didn't know how to break down a move properly, put in danger by instructors who weren't capable of spotting correctly, and left adrift in classes by teachers who couldn't handle a room full of strong, curious dancers all trying to teach each other when there was no real teaching coming from the "instructor". It's so disappointing!
    When it comes down to it, I would continue teaching if I broke my legs and had to sit on the floor, talk the class through it and draw them stick figures. Teaching is so so so rewarding - but incredibly challenging for EXACTLY the reasons you listed! I love the challenge. It's not for everyone, and I wish that people didn't assume that they MUST BOOK the latest regional, national or world champion for a workshop. It's tough to both compete/perform and teach, while doing both well.
    Thank you for posting this!

    1. Sparrowhawk, I'm really intrigued by your post. I'm a teacher and while I haven't taken many workshops with pros, we regularly get asked to host pros. would you mind emailing me your experiences in more detail? It would be so helpful for me to hear who you've been in workshops with and what happened (or didn't happen that should have).
      Thank you!!

  3. Still want to teach after everything I read. Just waiting for an opportunity to start. But loved this post, really. Is there an instructor training you can suggest? I'm a little lost because I don't think it's usual to take instructor trainings in my country yet, so I have no one to ask for an opinion. Thank you!

    1. Thanks Cat! Instructor training is a whole topic in itself. There are a lot of different programs and they have different focuses and I don't know a lot about the options. If you can't find a pole instructor program at a studio near you, maybe you could get a more general certification, such as the ACE Group Fitness Certification. That won't cover anything specific to pole, but it will cover more general fitness knowledge and instruction skills.