27 October, 2014

I love pole - but should I teach?


I get asked a lot about teaching and how I became an instructor. Honestly; I fell in to it. It was never my goal, it was never something I even considered because, quite frankly, before I started teaching I was nervous and shy and quiet. If you would have told me 4 years ago that my life would look like this today I would have laughed in your fucking face.

A lot of people see becoming an instructor as some kind of dream job - being paid to do what they love. But teaching lessons, or running a studio, is so very different from taking classes. Oh so very different. And the reality is that the vast majority of pole instructors do not make a living from teaching. It's a hard life - go to your day job, do a days work, then go and teach pole in the evening. 

So what are the different things you need to consider?

Are you needed?

It's all well and good wanting to be an instructor but are you actually even needed? Do your local studios need more instructors? Do you have the ability to set up by yourself if not. Is there a gap in the market locally that you can fill? I was asked to be an instructor and I took that and ran with it. I then made sure they continued to need me by making sure my classes were as busy as I could make them. Luckily for me the area in which I lived had NOTHING, we're very rural. No classes whatsoever. I had to undertake a 40 (50 on scooter) minute drive to get to my original studio. And today there are no other pole classes within a 30 minute radius. Clearly there was a gap, and we filled it. But what if there are loads of pole studios near you? That doesn't mean you can't set up by yourself and make it successful - if you are business savvy - but it's going to be a lot harder. 

The cost.

Now, if you're taken on by a studio they will likely cover a lot of your costs. They'll provide you with poles, the studio space, maybe if you're lucky insurance and training costs. All you'll have to do is turn up and teach, but you won't likely be given enough hours teaching to quit the day job. If you don't mind it being your second job then it can be a good and safe way in which to begin teaching. 

Now we get to setting up by yourself. Here are just some of the costs you have to consider: rent (either renting space from someone else or renting your own space), poles, qualifications, insurance, first aid courses, pole workshops (training is important, you dont want to run out of things to teach), sports wear (you'll be living in it, it won't last long!), music licences (ppl), upgrades for poles/replacement pole extensions/joints, crash mats, stretching mats, grip aids if you choose to provide them, pole cleaning products. If you have your own studio then; mirrors, cleaning products, toilet paper, plasters/first aid supplies, paint/decorating supplies, bills - electricity, water, gas, replacing broken things, advertising - flyers, posters, time spent at local events. It all adds up. Now if you can fill your classes and you have the setting up costs to hand - it's totally possible to make money here. Of course. Like any business. But do you have that ability? Can you not only teach the classes but also become a businesswoman (or man)? Are you good with money? This leads on to the next section: you're not just a pole instructor.

You're not just an instructor.

Nope, if you own your own studio, and some of these apply to instructors also, then you also have to be: a therapist, a receptionist, a cleaner, a marketing genius, a social media professional, a website designer, a graphic designer, a friend, a ROLE MODEL, a business woman, a first aider, likely a performer too (great for promotion), a choreographer, an events organiser, on and on and on. Unless of course you can afford to outsource some of these jobs (you likely won't). You have to be able to step in to a number of roles to run a successful business. If you think you can just turn up and teach then you'd be very very wrong. It's a daily 24/7 struggle. You will get messages or texts at 1am, you will get students who message you 10 times because they feel it is so important that you know they won't be in class next week. You'll get students who come to class in tears, or maybe even leave in tears - who need a hug and an ear to listen. You'll have to clean up after your adult students like they're children - bottles, clothing, rubbish. You'll need to spend hours outside of teaching doing admin, keeping track of payments and attendance. You have to do what you can to ensure safety in your class and if someone does hurt themselves you have to know what to do to help them. And you have to make every single student feel like they're your best friend and the most important person. Quite honestly I feel that way about my students any ways but it can be hard work keeping track of everyone. When out in the community you always have to be a role model; any person you bump in to could be a potential student. You can't easily segment working and non-working hours. 

The qualifications:

Honestly, pole specific qualifications are a bit of a joke to me - sorry everyone!! They're useful if you're setting out entirely by yourself but they don't mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things and if you're at a studio you can learn everything you need to know from your instructor. I'm in the process of getting my Gym Instructors qualification at the moment - either this or Exercise to Music are great options. The're comprehensive, are recognised across the fitness industry and most definitely by insurance companies. You don't in theory need a qualification but remember anyone can buy insurance - it doesn't mean you're actually covered. Check the small print as it will likely say you must be qualified in your chosen area. Getting a pole specific qualification will most likely be enough for your insurer but if you choose to broaden your classes and introduce stretching or strength training classes then you really should have a Level 2 qualification. All of this information is specific to the UK so check out what nationwide qualifications are offered where you live. 

Why do you want to be an instructor?

Do you see it as a fun way of making money? Do you see it as a way of getting rich? Do you think, "oh I'm good at pole so I must be good at teaching"? Do you think it's the natural progression of a good pole student? You need to figure out why you want to do it, Because the above reasons aren't good enough. You can be an amazing pole dancer but a damn terrible pole instructor. And the world doesn't need any more of those. Do you really have the skills, traits and abilities needed to be an instructor?

I wanted to be an instructor so, yes, I could make money from doing what I loved, but that wasn't the driving force. For me it was all about helping others the same way my instructor had helped me. My life was a mess before I started pole. A complete mess. I suffered from anxiety, depression, rarely left the house, was angry and fed up and had no idea what to do with my life. Pole completely changed EVERYTHING around. It saved my life. It gave me a life. And I wanted more than anything to give that to others. Coincidentally it seems that I have. With some students it's all about fun, or getting in shape, and you have to provide that, but others genuinely need help, need a confident boost, need that community and support. Your reasons might be different but they have to be more than just fun or money or a feeling that it's something you should do. You can in theory learn all the skills, traits and abilities you need to be an instructor but you won't have the drive or desire to do so if you simply want to make money or have fun - mainly because you likely won't make much money or have much fun.

Teaching is hard and not for everyone. You have to like people, you have to be able to handle difficult situations, you have to be in charge and you have to not get bored teaching the same moves over and over again. 90% of your students will be beginner or intermediate level. If you're good at what you do and can get students to stick with you then you may start to accrue some more advanced students but they will still be in the minority. People will come and go and you can't be offended if someone doesn't want to continue classes. There are so many reasons why they might not. 

And finally, as an instructor you will likely find less time to train, or, after having taught hours of classes, just not feel like it. Your beginner and intermediate moves will become very polished but outside of that you probably won't progress as fast as when you were a student. Particularly if you were a very dedicated student. Your priority must be your students progression, their confident, their ability - not your own.

So, of course it's possible for any single person out there to become a pole instructor and make a living, but only if you have everything in place; if you're needed, if you have the money or support to set up, if you have the qualifications, the insurance, if you can get people in to your classes and keep them there and if you have the right attitude and right reasons for wanting to be an instructor.

Not everyone does. 

And me? It is the most rewarding thing I have ever done. It makes me so happy to see my students progress week in, week out. It is hard work and I will likely never earn a stable safe living this way but it is worth it. Completely.

- Bex