About a month ago a friend and I decided to go to an adult ballet class for something fun to do for the summer. I have absolutely zero dance/ballet experience and she had only taken classes as a four year-old. As has been discussed recently in some online piano teaching forums, starting a new hobby as an adult can be an eye-opening experience and teach us a lot as piano teachers. I love teaching adult beginners and am always trying to attract adult students to our studio, so it was very interesting to experience this from the student perspective when beginning ballet classes. Here’s what I learned from my experience and hope to apply to the way I offer adult piano classes at my studio.
- Offer a short-term commitment class. Going into my first ballet class I had no idea if I was going to like it or not. I had a feeling I was going to be terrible. If I was required to pay for a full semester upfront there’s no way I would have gone – too much risk! The ballet studio allowed me to pay class by class, so on the first day I only paid for the first class. It turned out I liked it, and I returned, but if I had hated it I wouldn’t have lost much. I know as piano teachers we like to get a commitment from students (think steady income…) but as an adult beginner I wouldn’t have liked having to commit without trying. It’s probably a good idea to offer the first class for a small cost without commitment, or maybe as a free trial and then have students enroll for the rest of the class. It’s also a good idea to offer shorter terms, maybe an 8 week class instead of the typical 16 week semester we offer to kids. Most people will stick with it after they try it and decide they enjoy it, but having to make a huge commitment upfront is a big barrier for a lot of people.
- Provide clear and accurate information about the class online and by phone or email. My friend had called the dance studio about classes and was told that the Tuesday morning class was an adult beginner class. Imagine our surprise when we showed up and it was actually an intermediate class! The instructor was very kind and offered modifications for us, but we probably would have done much better in a beginner class. We stuck with the class because we like the instructor and the time, but it would have been better if we had gotten accurate information from the studio about the classes. Be clear about what classes you are offering and what experience level is expected in each class so this does happen in your studio!
- Don’t be afraid to allow a little bit of down time between activities in the class. Piano teachers who often teach children in a series of 30-minute lessons are used to not wasting any time. We also learn to keep children’s group classes fast-paced to keep their attention, but we may need to change our approach in adult group classes. The ballet instructor occasionally allowed a few moments down time between activities, which I really appreciated. I need a break to catch my breath, get a drink of water, and give my brain a rest. Learning a totally new activity is hard work and piano is the same way. Give your students a break. Offer time in the class for them to regroup mentally and catch their breath too.
- Pass on student information to new teachers or subs. Hopefully you will teach your adult students for a long time, but sometimes students need to move to a different teacher, or you may need a sub for your class one week. The last week of ballet class we had a sub. The original teacher was very good at offering modifications for my friend and I who were total beginners, but the sub did not have any information on our experience level. This made the class a lot more challenging for us, and it would have been better if she had known a little more about our backgrounds. If you have a sub for your adult classes make sure you give them a good amount of information on the students in the class so that they can continue instruction in a similar way.
Starting up a new hobby as an adult was a great experience for me. It turns out I do enjoy ballet, and I also got a whole new perspective on being an adult beginner. Have you picked up any hobbies as an adult? How did this help you be a better teacher to your adult students?
Spring Seals, NCTM, teaches 60 piano students ranging from age 3 to 70 in Fort Worth, Texas. She also serves as the Director of Certification for TMTA. She is passionate about helping teachers become more effective in their studios through professional development, new resources, and fresh ideas.