So, if you’ve been reading, you know that I love ballet, which is why three of the goals on my list are ballet-related. You also know that I am a classroom teacher highly frustrated with the state and direction of American education. In today’s post, I ponder the connections between these two loves of mine.
First, I truly believe that ballet makes me a better teacher. There are several reasons for this, the first one being simply that it keeps me sane. When I leave work and get to the barre, my worries and frustrations have to be left at the door, as ballet requires complete mental and physical concentration; it simply is not safe to think about test scores and Violin-Armed Monkeys (aka the value-added model), while trying to do grand battements in relevé. In other words, the barre keeps me from needing to visit the bar in order to cope with the emotional demands of teaching.
Aside from keeping me sane, ballet makes me a better teacher by giving me a student’s perspective. I get to feel lost when I take class with more far advanced students (to make up for missed classes) and struggle to keep up as the teacher continues to teach at their level (as she should; why else have leveled classes). Despite what many say is the advantage of placing struggling students with high performing peers, I do not suddenly and magically become a pro dance, but rather feel the entire time like I am a complete failure. In other words, I am reminded that rigor alone does not increase learning. In ballet class, as a student, I am also reminded of the power of genuine praise. I have had substitute ballet teachers, usually the younger ones, who praised us for everything, no matter how it looked; I quickly began to feel that their praise had no value. My regular instructor however, offers precise corrections and little, but honest praise. So this week when she said, “Elle, those splits are really coming along,” I was beaming (might cross off item number 14 this yea!). Likewise, as a teacher, I try to teach in a way that reflects my belief that every child deserves to be valued for existing, but rewarded for accomplishments (big and small).
Beside making me a better teacher, ballet is my source for many analogies, including some about education. I was recently off on such a tangent, wondering what would happen to ballet if we treated it like education, when I saw this video, which sent my mind spinning further. If didn’t have time to watch the whole video, you just need to know that it basically shows the idea of a dance objective test. That video perfectly mirrors my thoughts. What if we did reduce ballet to a standardized test? To be honest, I have no natural talent for ballet, not to mention that years of mistreating my body in various ways have left me overweight and stiff in some of my joints. On the other hand, some of the girls in my ballet class have true talent in addition to having youth on their side. Yet, if ballet was a bubble-in test, I guarantee that I would score above proficient, while some of them would barely make proficient, and others, despite their obvious gifts, would score below basic. Just like kids who grow up in a house full of books with educated parents have a massive head start on reading, I have a massive advantage in learning ballet vocabulary because I speak French fluently. This means that while the other girls are trying to associates meaningless (to them) sounds to specific movements, I simply have to hear the name of most steps to know their basic requirements. So while these girls could execute a dance that would bring tears to your eyes, I would be the one reaping bubble test glory, even though I am a very average ballet dancer. I know what you’re thinking: wouldn’t such an approach to ballet suck the art out of it? The answer is obviously yes, just like it’s sucking the art out of education.