I’ve taught theater and dance classes for…ahem…over twenty years. It’s a real privilege. I mean that. And in all that time, I’ve never had a parent that I didn’t like. No, seriously. I’ve been frustrated on occasion by minor parent behavior but I have never met a "bad" parent.
I’ve been a parent for over three years. I’ve taken parent and me classes with my kids and now my daughter takes classes on her own. And guess what? Other parents drive me crazy!
Other parents in my kids’ classes are like the people sitting next to me at the movie theater who chat and eat Chipotle like they’re sitting in their living room at home. Only they aren’t in their living room, they are sitting next to me crunching their tortilla chips and answering the phone to tell the caller that they can’t talk right now because they are in the middle of a movie.
I’m paying $20 to take this 45 minute parent and me music class with my daughter. Could you please get off your phone and stop your child from bouncing maracas off the teacher’s face as she demonstrates "Head Shoulders Knees and Toes"?
Why do parents bother me as a fellow parent and not as a teacher? Because I know how hard it is to teach and I see parents making it even harder. Because I want my kid to have the best experience possible and I see other parents taking that away from her. Because when I’m a teacher I’m paid to look out for everyone and when I’m a mom I’m paying to look out for my child.
When I’m on the parenting side of the classroom, I see where parents are wasting time and money on kid’s classes. And, frankly, they’re wasting my time and money.
So as a mom and a teacher, here are my tips for getting the most out of kids’ classes. The teacher me will be constructive. The parent me will not.
Teacher me: Parent and me classes are designed to be a special interaction with you and your child. Your child is learning how to participate in a classroom structure by your example. They are learning how to learn by your example. Plus kids LOVE to have their parents participate.
Parent me: If I need a break or social time, I’ll pay a babysitter $15 instead of spending that on a parent and me music class. I’d love to talk to you about potty training before or after but not during the drum circle. It’s my favorite part of class! Also, your daughter is drumming on a baby in the corner if, you know, you’re looking for her.
Teacher me: In independent classes (non parent participation), 99% of kids participate better when the parent is not watching. Truly, in my twenty years of teaching, I have only met a handful of students who actually participated better when a parent was present. I know your child is hesitant and nervous, I deal with that ALL the time. Let me do my job. Leave the room quickly and there is an excellent chance I’ll have your child participating within five minutes.
Parent me: I know what you’re thinking but you are wrong. Your child is NOT the exception! Your child is in the 99% like my kid and like every other kid whose parent is out here in the lobby watching the class on the monitor. We are watching as all our kids stare at you and your kid instead of the teacher. Leave the classroom!
Teacher me: If you and I decide that it IS best for you to stay in the room, please sit off to the side and watch attentively and silently. If your child comes over to you, suggest (quietly) that she sit with you and you both watch class attentively and silently. This way she can see how much fun we are having and she can learn from you to respect me and fellow classmates. If your child won’t participate or sit still and watch, please take her out of the room – no explanation to me needed.
Parent me: If you insist on staying in the class, PLEASE do not yell across my child to your child, "Zen, jump! Look at the teacher! Jump!" Your child is never going to look at the teacher while you are holding her attention. My child is never going to look at the teacher while you are holding her attention. You jump – out of the classroom.
Teacher me: Make sure your child is prepared for class. After a trial class (to make sure the class is a good fit), get the right equipment for your child and make sure your child brings that equipment to every class. Your child is not going to learn to tap in tennis shoes. Similarly, if I send a script home with your child one week, please be sure he brings it back the next.
Make it easier for me to teach. Double tie shoes, make sure your child has gone to the bathroom and had something to eat, remove distractions (toys, jewelry, etc). Remember that there is one of me and many of them. I could spend a quarter of the class tying tiny ballet slippers. Now that’s a real waste of your money.
Parent me: Okay, yes. I’ve brought my daughter to tap class with no tap shoes. Learn from my mistakes.
Teacher me: You won’t see immediate results, but I promise you, we are progressing. Yes, it may very well look like chaos for the first few months (or years for toddlers) but suddenly, something will click, your child will get it and it’s truly like magic. It’ll make you cry. It makes me cry. Remember, too, that when parents are invited to watch class, kids get excited, nervous and distracted. You aren’t necessarily seeing an accurate reflection of what your child has learned.
Parent me: Even I cried when your kid sang today. Did you hear that sweet voice?!
Teacher me: Please treat my class with respect. Interrupt my class as little as possible. Don’t ask me questions while I am teaching. Don’t talk to your child during my class – let me do all the instruction. And please don’t take a phone call while you are in my classroom. It’s distracting and sends the wrong message to your child.
Parent me: Doesn’t this go without saying?! Who takes a phone call in the middle of their child’s class?!
Teacher me: Be a great audience member. It’s one of the things I try to teach all my students. It’s a lost art. When you are invited into our classroom (mine and your child’s) come in quietly, sit and watch with all your attention, and PLEASE clap and support all kids in the class. If we are doing a comedy in theater class, PLEASE laugh! Don’t worry about getting the best video or picture angle. Just be present and enjoy watching your child. Not only are you showing them respect but you are teaching them how to be a respectful and appreciative audience member.
Parent me: And please take these good audience skills with you to the movie theater.
Teacher me: Be consistent with attendance and time. Any time your child misses a class, I have to figure out how to catch your child up while keeping the rest of the class moving forward. If your child misses classes frequently, it creates a problem for the whole class. Little ones really need consistency. They can’t get into a class groove if they are only attending a class once every two weeks.
Please try to be on time. How do you feel when you are late for a meeting at work? Stressed? Anxious? How does it feel when you walk into that meeting and everyone turns to look at you? No kid enjoys being late and coming into a class that’s already in progress. And, of course, it’s not only hard on the child who’s late. It’s hard on me because I lose the attention of all my students when that classroom door swings open.
If you ARE late to class (I get it, it happens sometimes), get your child ready outside of the classroom and send your child in alone.
Parent me: I’m working on the late arrival thing myself. I never said I was a perfect parent. I just expect more from you.
Teacher me: Tell me important information I won’t know from looking at your child - like any special behavioral needs, physical limitations or unexpected age. If your child looks seven and is only five, please point that out to me so I don’t expect him to behave like a seven year old. Give me the tools I need to teach your unique child.
Parent me: No, how advanced you think your child is is not important information. Unless, you know, I’m talking about my kid (who’s very advanced by the way).
Teacher me: Your child learns all kinds of life skills in my classroom. I’m not teaching ballerinas and actors, I’m teaching people. And so many of those life skills are a direct reflection of you. The way you respect me, is the way your child will respect me and all teachers to follow. The way you respect your child as he performs for you, is the way your child will respect his performance. The way you support and encourage your child’s classmates will be how she supports and encourages her classmates.
The way you build confidence in your child is to have confidence in your child.
Parent me: If you’re a kind, respectful and a good student, you are raising a kind, respectful and good student.
Now that I live both sides of the class equation, I tell you with certainty that classes of any kind are not worth it if you treat them like they’re not worth it. If you want to get the most out of classes for your children, you have to behave in a way that sets your child up for success. The teacher will be very appreciative and the other parents won’t be writing blog posts about you.