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Teacher Loyalty – a dying virtue?

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I have written in the past of teacher loyalty, both in the “Teacher Loyalty Redux” as well as expressed my own homage to my dance Mommas in the lengthily named post “Sharon has two mommies…no, wait…four…no” The former is an expression of the business/consumer aspect of teaching–students pay for classes, we teach them, and that is all that can really be expected of anyone; that is, a good faith fulfillment of your “product” to the customer.  The latter being a loving, grateful homage to the teachers who have molded me into the dancer I am today.

Love Your TeachersThis is a complex issue–entire dissertations have been written about the student/teacher relationship, what it is, how it develops, what are the boundaries, etc.  But aside from a scholarly discussion, there is an undeniable emotional aspect which is important to look within ourselves to work out… As you can see from my caveat in the first blog post, and the subsequent bloggy homage to my Mommies, I have personally always felt that my teachers are my mentors, my inspirations, my family tree.  I feel deeply rooted to their influences and energies (my chosen dance company name being an outward reflection of that conviction).  And now being a teacher on the other end of the equation, I can attest that there are unique and powerful emotions we teachers experience which we have to deal with on our own, particularly at times when we feel more invested in a student than they may feel in us…

I recently came across this article from Gilded Serpent in 2010, which I thought touched on those very real emotions that we teachers go through–the good and the bad–when it comes to student loyalty:

“As a dance teacher one is used to the fact that students come and go, often without warning or with some less than sincere excuse for why they cannot continue with their lessons.  Countless times throughout the years we have tried to convince ourselves that we are not emotionally affected by a pupil who discontinues her or his lessons, often times leaving without so much as a thank you or a goodbye.

It is necessary, and surely most teachers out there will agree, to grow a callus. Yet, under this emotional epidermis lies a heart, which hurts again and again. It is easier to accept this knowing that most pupils have no ill intend (sic) as they exit your life; that perhaps they are less emotionally attached to the teacher than the other way around…
They just go and move on to their aerobics classes, horseback riding sessions, judo drills, or other, while the teacher is left behind wondering if any aspect of their lesson caused the pupil to go.”

Read the full article HERE

In the end, I can see both sides of this.  I understand that for some, this is strictly a supply-demand relationship, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that approach.  And on the other side of the coin is the fairly intimate relationship that can grow between a nurturing teacher and a loyal student, and how deep those emotions can take root.  I have personally felt the latter in my dance life, but the former is a completely legitimate approach as well.

If you are a student, do you consider the teacher/student relationship strictly a business/consumer relationship where you paid for and received the goods and that is the end of it?  Or do you feel that the relationship between a teacher and student goes beyond a supply and demand framework?  If the latter, have you expressed gratitude to your current or past teachers for what they have provided you?  How do you express your  gratitude and/or “loyalty” to your dance family?

Teachers, same question! Is your relationship with your students that of consumers or proteges? How does that affect the way you perceive students moving away from your classes without communicating with you? Is this par for the course, or is this a concerning issue in the dance community?

Post script: This post has generated quite a bit of discussion here, on Facebook, and in private messages from both teachers and students alike.  As I stated from the outset, this is a very complex issue, and one where everyone will find their own emotions which will bubble up on both sides.  I want to make it very clear–because maybe the post did not manage to do so–that I do not believe this issue is merely black and white. That is, it is not just “I love my class/teacher and therefore I stay forever”, nor is it “I don’t like my class/teacher so I left”. There are many shades of grey in between. Students of course choose to study with a given teacher or set of teachers for many reasons, and those reasons change all the time as they learn more about the dance, the community, and themselves. It is natural that students should stay or go from a given classroom as suits their changing needs. But it is precisely because there are so many reasons why a student may choose to move on from a teacher that sh/he may be left with so many questions and emotions left hanging in the air.  That is what I felt this article was trying to explore.

Being left with unanswered questions and unresolved emotions can be a very difficult challenge to any human heart, and it is no different for a teacher (or a parent, or a mentor…). This was never meant to be a finger pointed at any students (past, present, mine, yours), but instead a platform to discuss the complex relationship that is the teacher/student relationship, and aspects of it that I think many of us don’t consider. I am sure that I myself have left other teachers wondering as to my reason for leaving–ones who meant and mean the world to me to this day, and I am regretful that I wasn’t more forthcoming with them. But you see, I had other motivations at the time, as do all students…so trust me when I say that I see both sides very clearly.

I also wanted to mention that the title of the article was not mine.  As you can see, it is an article written by another author who simply happened to address some very valid and familiar thoughts and feelings I have experienced as a teacher.  I think the term “loyalty” is a very loaded word for many people (and I suppose if it brought people to read the article it did its job for the author), but I am not sure it is the right word for what the article was truly about. I feel that a better title would address the root of the issue: how difficult it can be for teachers to be left wondering if they have let down their students in some capacity when students leave without any clear reason as to why.  And how much it means to teachers to hear a kind word from their students, past and present, once in a while.  They’re only human, after all! I think one of the comments on the discussion sums this up very well:

“Are we speaking of loyalty here or rather respecting those who molded our creative path in any art form. There are teachers who make it very clear that you are NOT to study with other teachers. This is not a creative path — it is important for students to experience the pedagogy of other instructors as well as continue with their core teacher(s) of choice..

To demand “loyalty” seems to lack vision. However, to pay homage to those instructors who have shaped your success is a natural response and is absolutely required.”

I am glad that the article has sparked so much discussion, and I welcome your further thoughts. Thanks for visiting, as always!

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Shay Moore is the director and primary instructor at Deep Roots Dance in Seattle, WA. She loves writing, movies, costuming, knitting, cooking, and bellydance to the moon and back again; and loves her amazing husband and doggies even more than that.

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