Since I started teaching swing dancing in 2006, I’ve really only had a couple of classes where I taught anyone under the age of 18. The first time was at a private school in town, which, word on the street is that it’s the richest private school in the country (seriously, it looks like it should be a university on the east coast). There were about 150 6th and 7th graders in the class, and even though we spent half the time just getting them to shut up (we didn’t have microphones of any kind, so there was lots of yelling), they learned how to do a 6-count basic, a send out and a minnie dip. And out of all the chaos, noise and confusion, it was somehow really fun.
Last Monday I taught my second swing dance class to kids, and it was by far, the worst class I’ve ever taught in my life. Let me preface that a teacher hired Brett and me to teach once a week for an hour to her 8th grade American History class for 6 weeks as they were learning about the first half of the 20th century (go teacher!). The school is in a not-so-great part of town and is one of the worst performing schools in the city. The art program had been taken out of the school entirely because instead of making pots with their clay, the students threw it at other students and teachers in the hallways, and instead of putting their clay pots into the kiln, they put a dead mouse in there. All students must wear uniforms, cannot use the lockers in the school, and are not allowed to wear hoodies. She even told me that she swears half of the students there are illegal immigrants or are children of illegal immigrants.
After sending several emails back and forth with the teacher, we’d decided it would be best to start them off with the Shim Sham and gradually work into partner dancing so we could get them used to dancing before having to touch other cootie-infected humans. She also quickly glossed over the fact that several of the kids have learning disorders of some sort, which I wasn’t really sure what that meant, though she didn’t make it sound like it would be a serious issue.
It’s been a long time since I’ve really taught kids. I taught Taekwondo to kids for 6 years up until I was about 20 or 21 and was used to interacting with them, teaching them and disciplining them. I also taught swimming to kids one summer and was a teacher at a daycare for a little while. So even though it’s been several years since I’ve really interacted with kids, I’ve had plenty of experience doing it and have a good grasp on knowing how to control kids. But quite frankly, I was really nervous about teaching this swing dance class. I knew the school was low performing, with poverty-stricken families and high violence rates, not to mention that the Albquerque Public School system is notorious for being a god-awful education. (I would know, I’m a product of it!) (If you haven’t seen the documentary “Waiting For Superman”, I highly suggest it. It’s very eye opening to the US public school system.)
We get to the school where the teacher has reserved a special classroom for us to teach in (I believe what used to be the art room). There were about 12-15 kids there, and no one looked ready to dance. They were roudy, out of control and full of excuses as to why they shouldn’t be dancing. And to be fair, it was pretty typical behavior of most middle school kids. There just wasn’t any cohesive discipline to keep them under control.
We probably spent about 10 minutes teaching them before the teacher came up to us and told us that teaching them the Shim sham wasn’t working, and half an hour into the class suggested that we move on to something else, as she didn’t feel they were learning anything and were getting antsy. They seemed to be picking it up, sort of, so deciding that we needed to move on just felt defeating, especially when a few of the kids were clearly wanting to learn. By this point, however, any cohesion or attention that Brett and I had from the kids had completely disintegrated between all of the stopping we had to do for side conversations with the teacher, trying to get the kids’ attention, fighting with them on resisting us, and having to contiunously move tables and change directions that we were facing in the room due to the strange shape it was and the lack of space we had.
Half of the kids in there wouldn’t even move or listen to us when we tried teaching them a step or even when we tried to get them to stand in two lines. I told one kid to stand in line with everyone else and he replied, “I’m not doing nothing you say.” and just stood there. He clearly thought he was super cool, with his hoodie on over his head (which apparently is against school regulations). If someone had said that to me while I was teaching a Taekwondo class, I would’ve just yelled at them and made them do push ups or a tripod in the corner for 5 minutes (A tripod is when you spread your legs with your hands behind your back and put your forehead on the ground, thus making a tripod with your body). But not only did I not feel like I had the authority to discipline this kid being only a guest instructor, but I don’t want to discipline people while teaching swing dancing. It just seemed against everything that swing dancing stands for, so I just abandoned ship and walked away.
The worst part about this kid was that he totally looked like the kind of kid who’s going to end up being in trouble his whole life because of gang or drug related activity, who’s having family trouble at home and who clearly doesn’t get the kind of attention or guidance that he really needs. And him saying that one thing to me was the breaking point of the class for me, because I knew that this class needed so much more than a guest swing dance instructor.
We only had a few minutes left in class, so we showed them what the Shim sham looked like in its entirety to music, which they actually seemed really impressed by, and then got them walking in a circle to music, and then eventually kick stepping. Of course, the boys were all trying to kick each other, so much so that I had to separate them because the teacher wasn’t even paying attention. The kid that told me off was picking on one of the girls who was actually trying to learn, and as soon as the bell rang they all literally ran out of the room. It was a little sad.
The teacher decided we wouldn’t come to this class again and that the next week we’d come to her 7th grade class an hour later. Her class was coming in as we were leaving, and as she announced that we’d be there next week to teach them to dance, they all groaned and said they didn’t want to learn how to dance. What a perfect way to start off the next class.
It doesn’t bother me that the kids were roudy; I can handle roudiness just fine. It’s when the kids are outright defiant and are ungrateful that makes it so hard. The worst part of it was that not only did I feel like the teacher didn’t do anything to control them, but she even encouraged their behavior by constantly interrupting us while we were teaching to say something about what we were saying, or by constantly telling us that they weren’t learning. I felt completely inadequate for teaching such an unsuccessful class. Only 6 more weeks to go.