Guest Educator Column — Raymond J. Parks, St. Louis Public Schools

Ray Parks

Each child is a gift filled with zest, creativity and untapped resources awaiting discovery. All students are gifted and talented and can learn at high levels when presented with complex stimuli in small bites over time. Teaching is an art that is both rewarding and challenging. An outstanding teacher must be committed and also have a genuine love for children. He or she must develop lasting relationships and partner with his or her students to encourage them to take responsibility for their own learning. One must focus on the total growth and development of a child to help the child learn self-respect, determination and a true thirst for life-long achievement. New millennium students must be able to compete in an ever-changing world. My students are encouraged to be aware of themselves, their surroundings, and their determination to succeed, and to be the best that they can be as well as give back to the community.

I view my role in teaching as a mentor, facilitator, guide, coach, role model, counselor, and sometimes even a social worker. I am a teacher who provides a warm, friendly nurturing educational environment where students can express their inner talents and reach the highest level of learning available to them. Students are also taught to dig deep inside their whole being to discover themselves relative to the art of dance as well as life itself. I want my students to understand their level in dance and continue to push to the next level. The rewards that I find in teaching are in observing students learn how to become aware of their physical and expressive beings as well as become accomplished dancers dedicated to their craft. All students will learn how to dream and construct their own future.

As a dance teacher, my mission is to develop competent students able to compete in a global society both in the demanding field of dance as well as academics. Strategies and techniques that could be implemented by other teachers include some of the following:

  • Learn your students as individuals; know their learning style as well as their academic level.
  • Reinforce students’ strengths while building confidence in knowing they can achieve at high levels with maximum effort.
  • Teach to the challenges that develop the skills necessary for mastery.
  • Praise each step of improvement.
  • Give individual assistance when needed.
  • Provide opportunities for ongoing success for all students.
  • Assess and evaluate frequently and reteach as needed.

It is important that educators are both advocates and policy makers that balance the arts and academics. We must bring them to center stage; we must make both arts and academics equal priority. When this is accomplished, we must discontinue removing seasoned teachers from the classroom and enticing them to become administrators. Remember, great classroom teachers do not always make good administrators. Let’s leave them in the classroom where they do great, meaningful and appreciative jobs.

When I graduated from college, I knew I wanted to perform and develop my own dance studio.  On a scale from one to ten, I gave myself a nine as a performer. When it came to teaching, I gave myself a ten plus, and I’ve never had an experience as rewarding. I can truly say I was born to be a teacher.