Letting Go

By Strong, Debbie | Dance Teacher, January 2009 | Go to article overview

Letting Go


Strong, Debbie, Dance Teacher


Dismissing a staff member is never pleasant-or easy. Here is some advice on when and how to do it.

Most studio owners don't like to think about firing a teacher, but unfortunately, sometimes it's necessary. The longer you're in business, the more likely you'll encounter a teacher who doesn't work out on your staff, and you'll be faced with the tough task of letting that person go. How do you know when it's time? And is there a best way?

"Terminating an employee can be difficult for the employer, embarrassing for the employee and uncomfortable for the rest of the staff," says Lauren McCausland, studio director of Studio Bleu Dance Center in Ashburn, Virginia. "It's even more complicated due to the family-oriented nature of most studios. Dance instructors often form close relationships with their students, acting as role models and mentors. This dynamic makes firing an instructor potentially disruptive to the fun, supportive studio environment." Read on for some guidelines on how to handle this delicate situation.

Assess Performance

When you bring new teachers on board at your studio, it's essential that you have them sign a written contract that lays out your ground rules. Also, be sure to give them an employee handbook that details what is and isn't acceptable performance or behavior. "You want to make sure that as a manager, you've been clear with the employee regarding your expectations," says Sharon Armstrong, co-author of The Essential HR Handbook. Once you've communicated your guidelines, it should be easier to determine when they aren't being met.

When an instructor chooses not to behave respectfully to students, parents or other staff members, letting that person go is crucial, says McCausland. "Managers must always keep a pulse on guests' expectations and their opinions on when an employee is interfering with students' learning environment. An instructor forfeits the privilege of teaching when he or she jeopardizes the studio's reputation or environment, or threatens a student's confidence or safety. It only takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch."

Dance teacher Raissa Simpson agrees that although an unpleasant task, releasing underperforming employees is absolutely necessary. As the one-time administrative director for Fitness in Transit in Oakland, California, Simpson was in charge of hiring and firing between nine and 15 contract teachers, who traveled to area schools teaching dance to children ages 2 to 11. One instructor had problems communicating and being prepared for class. "She was a great teacher," Simpson says. "She just didn't necessarily work well with children and didn't adapt in the way that we needed her to."

Communicate Dissatisfaction

It's important to maintain open lines of communication with your staff-and know how and when to take action when needed. If you sense a problem, Armstrong recommends sitting down with the employee, being clear and honest about your concerns and expressing willingness to help him or her improve. "If the studio owner has given the teacher ample opportunity to correct the problem, but the employee continues to have a chronic problem, then the employee really 'fires herself,'" she says.

Simpson says she first tried talking to a habitually late teacher about making improvements. "I said, 'Let's come up with a plan of how we can work together to improve things. What can I do to make sure your class goes well? …

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