Sharing Expertise; AKA, How I Got Out of Teaching Dance

First, a brief introduction: I am a Grade 4 Middle French Immersion teacher in Ottawa. This is my fourth year as a homeroom teacher, third year as a permanent teacher. My entire (short) career has been spent at one lovely school in the heart of Westboro. I’ve never actually taught the same assignment two years in a row, but one thing has been constant since my first year at my school: I have never taught dance.

I started at this school in November of 2011. At the time, I was covering for another teacher who had taken parental leave. That year, dance had already been taught before I arrived, which suited me fine. I am not, you see, what one would call coordinated. At school dances, I was the type to stand around at the wall and pretend I was too “goth” for the dance and was only there to be snippy in the dark corner. At my wedding, I danced twice: once with my husband, then once again with family and friends.

Twice in my life, I’ve shown what I would consider minor, and I stress minor, proficiency in dance: Irish hard-shoe step dance (AKA have some rhythm and stomp your feet, no grace required) and Dance Dance Revolution (AKA understand video games and timing).

At the end of my first year of teaching, my principal revealed to the teachers at my school that she had purchased a class set of ukuleles for use in our (admittedly lacking) music program. None of us had the slightest clue how to play ukulele, but we were all pretty excited about the prospect of listening to a class full of miniature guitars (note: ukuleles are not, in fact, miniature guitars in any way) instead of a class full of recorders.

I took one home for the summer, watched a bunch of Youtube videos, more or less figured out how to play the ukulele, and was determined to have a successful second year.

Going into my second year of teaching, I was just so excited to have a contract, my own classroom, and a bunch of new kids that I didn’t stop to think about how I would, at some point, have to figure out how to teach dance to 27 Grade 5 students. It didn’t hit me, in fact, until I was sitting in the staff room one day at lunch listening to someone else talk about starting dance with their class that I realized (aloud, because that’s my style): “Oh god, I have to teach dance.”

Fortunately for me, I have a Grade 5 colleague who LOVES teaching dance. He has a knack for getting kids to buy into dancing – boys and girls, coordinated and uncoordinated, trained and untrained. It’s amazing! He happened to be in the staff room. He happened to hear the dread in my voice as I came to my realization only moments before. Without hesitation, he said, “I could teach your class dance.”

Wait, what? Can– can we DO that? Are we allowed? How does it work? All of these thoughts ran through my head, but the one that actually came out was, “YES, PLEASE.”

He explained, politely ignoring my desperation in favour of professionalism, that he had noticed my students playing ukulele in the hallways and would be interested in doing a class exchange so that I could teach his students how to play the ukulele.

Thus began our yearly autumn tradition of swapping classes one hour a week so that we could fill the hallways with awkward dancing and fumbling ukulele strumming without stressing either of ourselves out. He teaches my class dance, I teach his class ukulele, we report on these subjects for one another on the first report card, and the world continues turning. As an added bonus, I sleep better at night knowing that a bunch of ten year olds aren’t laughing at my remarkable lack of coordination.

I have since explored many other opportunities to trade classes with other colleagues so that we can benefit from one another’s expertise. It doesn’t always amount to reporting on another class full of students; sometimes we trade places just for a 40 minute block so that we can run an activity with a fresh group of faces and share some of our passion with them. What I’ve found, over four years, is that my students benefit from being exposed not only to other teachers and their unique teaching styles, but also from being taught a new skill by someone who really, honestly enjoys it.

I would strongly urge you to reach out to your colleagues and find opportunities to co-teach, trade places, or even swap classes regularly so that you can share some of your passions with them. There is room in the curriculum to connect your hobbies – and your life – with the students in your school, even if they aren’t “your” students. Their lives are richer for it, and so is yours!

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The Author

Shawna Rothgeb-Bird

Grade 4 Middle French Immersion teacher from Ottawa. Passionate about teaching (naturally!), board games, video games, music, and roller derby. Instilling a sense of wonder, curiosity, and critical thought in students since 2011 (or 2008 if we want to include Teacher's College).

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