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which is more crucial- teacher or school?


CeliB
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Dear all,

We have a fairly major dilemma - went to pick up DS and see his end of year performance, and were told by his teacher (the boys only have one who teaches all of them exclusively) that he expects to be fired in the next few days. I won't go into the reasons except to say they seem to me to be more about differences of approach than teaching quality. All the boys have improved immeasurably since last time we saw them and DS exceptionally so... Apparently the replacement teacher is not Russian or Russian trained and has no track record in teaching (though this could be hearsay- we won't know until all this goes official).

 

This teacher has a really strong mentor relationship with DS- he understands his character, keeps him on track, has encouraged and supported him and DS has thrived under his care. The teacher says to us that placing DS (and one or 2 others) somewhere where they can continue their training with him or with an equivalent level teacher is his highest priority. He is talking about other ballet schools where he has contacts (very early days but he includes going to Russia as one of those possibilities).

 

DS is about to turn 16 and is a bit behind in his training having started vocational school late (14). This feels like a crucial time for him. It's too late now to audition for 6th form places elsewhere through the normal routes, and anyway DS is really wedded to Russian training.

 

So, clearly there are lots of things to consider (not least of which is that if he now leaves the US his academics go seriously down the toilet) and I don't expect anyone on this forum to have the answer (if only!) but I wondered if anyone has experience of following a teacher rather than sticking with a certain school. Personally I trust the teacher far more than the school principle (despite having only 15 or so boys and only one english student he always gets DS's name wrong, compared with DS's teacher who after 2 years describes his character so accurately he could have known him since he was 2!). But there are issues of disruption, loss of his peer group, academics, cost and so on.

 

Any advice or experience would be helpful....

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I can only cite Melissa Hamilton's story. If I remember rightly, she was effectively assessed out of school and was told that she'd never have a career in classical ballet. It seems she had such a good relationship with Masha Mukhamedov that she followed Masha abroad to have private, one-to-one training.

 

Very difficult decision though, especially if you are also concerned about academics. Could you leave your ds at school until you find out what the new teacher is like? And also whether you know for sure whether the current teacher can carry on teaching your son?

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DS has finished for the summer but has summer school in a few weeks, assume the new person will be there (certainly the current one thinks he won't be) so DS can get a feel of what he's like. So yes we have until Sept to carry out a fact finding mission. I was wondering if it is worth doing a DVD audition tape and canvassing potential schools- I know we have missed the normal auditon route but given the circumstamces could perhaps make a case for an out of schedule audition?

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What an awful situation, CeliB. Assuming that your DS's teacher is indeed fired, the summer school should be a good way for your DS at least to get an idea of his replacement.

 

As your DS's teacher has contacts in other schools, including Russian schools, has he given you a list of those schools and indicated to which he feels your DS would be best suited? I think if it were me, I would ask for that information now and also ask whether an application should be made at this stage. It is already past the usual audition time (except for Elmhurst, oddly enough!) and it may well be best to apply now; even if the new teacher works out, a different school may be the best option especially given your misgiving aout the director. I am sure the teacher would assist and advise about producing a DVD audition, including to whom it should be sent at each school.

 

In terms of academics, I understand that there are online education programmes available (am I right that your DS is at school in the USA?) and I am sure his ballet work ethic will carry him through completing his education that way if necessary. If all else fails, his academic education can be completed at any time of life, whereas his balletic education can't!

 

Wishing you both the best of luck at this difficult time x

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Well its definitely worth doing a dvd and getting photos ready just in case. It will help you feel in control if you have plans b,c and d in place.

 

Then I'd wait to see how he gets on at summer school.  And it may be that his teacher stays after all.

 

 

And if your ds stayed one more year would that complete his current academic studies? If so he could keep in touch with this teacher (if indeed he does leave) and look at more training with him once current academic pressures ease. That way you would be sure that he has given other teachers fair consideration, you can learn so much from so many...

 

Like Spanner, I too thought of Melissa Hamilton who left Elmhurst to train with Masha Mukhamedov when that teacher left the school.

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Though I would never limit training to one teacher - when I found a good teacher I followed him/her to where they were going if at all possible.

 

Staying with that special teacher didn't stop me from also taking from others. 

 

A school is only as good as the teacher in the classroom.

 

I know you have other considerations as well. 

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I'm not sure the Melissa Hamilton comparison is helpful in this case. In Melissa's case, she followed the one teacher in the school who believed in her talent while others did not - she didn't have a great deal to lose by trying it for a year or so. (And she had finished school. ) CeliB's son is rated highly by all staff, I believe, and has a scholarship at one of the world's top schools. If he was to stay in the US and home-school, for example, where would he live? And what about the costs? Can he even stay in these circumstances - I'm thinking of immigration issues? The new teacher may or may not be Russian, but the school is still a Vaganova-method school, and surely they will appoint someone appropriate. He might be just as good, or even better. I'm not sure what the US school-leaving age is. Does he have a lot more to do before he can get his high-school certificate? Moving to one of the big Russian schools, especially if he could get a place in the Russian class, would be a huge thing, but not impossible. However, people do leave the big prestigious schools and have private teaching, and make it - I'm thinking of someone (name escapes me) who was at the Royal Ballet School, hated it and left early on, found a private teacher and then re-auditioned years later for upper school and was accepted, and then into the company.

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I believe it was BRB's Natasha Oughtred, Rowan.

 

I cited Melissa Hamilton because she clearly felt that learning from Masha was more important than the opinion of "the school" as an entity. I believe she did 2 of 3 years at school so I'm not sure she had already finished training.

 

CeliB, is your DS coming home at all over the summer? I was just wondering about the logistics of taking him to see the staff at Bristol's Russian Ballet School to have a chat with them, if they'd be able to see you?

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Also if you are based in Lewes and your son is home it would be easy to get up to London Russian in Clapham....all teachers there are Russian and teaching is Russian style. They are usually very accommodating about trying classes etc. Also as it is not such a big school I would think you would get a lot more individual attention at vocational level. Daily classes there are running until nearly the end of August. Again if you are based in Lewes do you know Judy Breen who teaches Vaganova style in Brighton and does individual private tuition etc. Having said that she is off to do a Summer school in Portugal for part of summer. But I can PM with details if you would like

 

I could be wrong but is the school your son is at The Vaganova school in Washington? As I thought this school could be attended only via scholarship from UK and if he were to leave the school where would he stand with this? It would be horrendously expensive to fund privately I believe. I also always thought that the US system is a bit like the French where you have to keep going to 18 to get the main qualification as its slightly more generalised than UK system. In UK you could feasibly make an academic break at 16 and then later take the modern equiv. of A levels......I'm sure it's harder to make this break at 16 if its like the French system. But you will have some idea about this no doubt!! If your son is adamant about a ballet career though then NOW is the time to go for it. If it doesn't work out in next few years he will still be young enough to take up academic qualifications later......though having said this I know how difficult this particular dilemma is from personal experience!! And it's NOT easy. The level of talent becomes crucial at this point I think.....do the staff there think he has a good chance of a career inspite of his latish start?

 

With regards to teachers or schools by senior level would say teacher comes first obviously depending on the level and standing of the school generally I personally have always been a "teacher follower" but individual circumstances are so different and of course if money is an issue(which it usually is) it may be much more difficult to fund. I'm not sure but I believe Beatrix Stix-Brunell in the Royal followed a particular teacher too and although we are seeing little of her at mo I really rate her as a dancer so I think paid of for her. Sorry this goes on a bit.....do you know why your sons the teacher is being "fired" as such?

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Thanks for advice so far.

Answers to some questions:

School is apparently firing DS teacher because he only pays attention to a small number of boys (DS being one). DS refutes this- believes partly it is the americans not 'getting' the russian style of correction. He and a few of the other non US students have no problem. I dont trust the schools director- he seems ego driven, slightly hysterical and willing to cut his nose off to spite his face.

 

DS would have to stay til 18 to graduate with high school diploma- he could arguably come to the uk and start an A level syllabus but hard to switch systems at this stage, he has no formal GCSEs and is quite dyslexic so my hopes are not high that this would work.

 

He can only stay in the US on an immigration basis if he is at a formal school. I wouldn't consider him living out and having only the one private teacher as feasible at 16. But his teacher seems confident he can place DS into another school (eg San Fran). On the other hand that wouldnt be as vaganova...

 

We don't know at this stage anything about the replacement teacher except what DS teacher has said (that he is an american with no russian or teaching track record).

 

He is currently on 100% scholarship; DS teacher thinks he can get him a similar deal elsewhere on his say so- I don't know the ballet world well enough to know whether this is in any way true...

 

As to potential, everyone who has seen him dance says international principal. By this I mean people qualifieds to know (not just his fond parents!) lots of ex principal dancers (from NYCB, Stuttgart, Elmhurst) as well as London Russian school (taught him for 6 months before he went to Kirov and felt he could easily get a place at the Bolshoi and were prepared to teach him for free). So I guess to that extent we are willing to forgoe the academics at this stage... However financially we can't really afford to pay full fees for him anywhere and it is rather late in the day to audition for a scholarship...

 

Btw Judy Breen IS his original teacher (!) and he will be going to her class whilst she is teaching and he is home... Could consider Bristol and London again but not sure DS would be keen (he has always felt Bolshoi style quite different to vaganova...). But will certainly think about them if DS doesn't go to the summer school (depends who is going to teach it).

 

Will keep you posted. Am grateful for all the advice... x

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Gosh, I don't envy you CeliB. What a tricky situation. To act as devil's advocate slightly, I would add that even with the potential to be an international principal, nobody's dance career can last forever - and of course anyone can get injured at any time - so I would would want my child to have *some* formal qualifications as a back up.

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I go to Judy Breen once a week in Brighton and love her classes.....as an oldie have never had private tuition with her but I'm sure she's good!! How interesting perhaps our paths will or have already crossed!! I may PM you CeliB in case I know who your son is and if it is him I would say he has a brilliant chance of a career!! But it may be another boy who went to Washington after studying with Judy and who also had a latish start. The boy I saw in her class and have now been in class with was extremely talented in my humble opinion!!

 

Reading between the lines I guess your son actually feels very keen on the Vaganova style so perhaps the new teacher may not be his cup of tea.....in that case lets hope the current teacher can get him into somewhere with more Russian style but its the scholarship aspect that worries me......does this come from UK or US? Can he manoeuvre that situation?

 

Typical of London Russian to offer to teach your son for free they are a generous lot but will go out of business if offer to do this for too many people I fear!!!

 

Well lets hope that in the end your sons teacher is allowed to stay.....but perhaps this teacher is a bit unhappy there too? And I agree about being out on a limb at 16....I think some dancers are already at an establishment but take extra lessons with a particular teacher they like......would this be possible for your son? He stays where he is and still takes some extra lessons with this teacher Or is the teacher moving away to another city if he is fired?

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Personally the idea that his teacher can get him in somewhere would worry me greatly regardless of any other concerns in the equation.  Surely all schools are audition entry or at least decisions made by a panel.  The teacher may well be able to use his contacts to get him seen but how can he actually get him in somewhere for sure and that is before you start looking at finances.  Worldwide it seems there are more applicants for places than places in the schools and schools only take the best.  Your son may well be 'the best' but this late in the year surely places and funding are allocated already.

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I do mostly agree with above.....this idea that teacher can somehow get him a place!! Especially a funded full scholarship place. I would be wary myself....but anyway CeliB have just PM 'd you in case it is your very talented son that I have seen in class! I'm not a professional but feel Ive some degree of knowledge and have expressed all this in the PM....I definitely feel he is "stand out "quality and quite remarkable as a latish start though I know this is more common in boys. Anyway hope a couple of suggestions were helpful but I feel sure you've got the situation covered mostly!!

 

This school has a reputation to keep up but a couple of things you said do worry me and I hope the School itself is not in financial difficulties when standards could start to drop no matter how good to start with.....sincerely hoping this is not the case though and that he can finish schooling and training where he is but sometimes difficult decisions do have to be made if you start to feel the School is not serving you anymore.

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yes I agree with all the above- I suspect the 'get him in' to another school is more about getting him seen, and equally I am not exactly thrilled with the idea of a move no matter how good the alternative school is (and assuming there is the slightest chance of getting him in anywhere at this late stage). And of course I realise all funding is already allocated- which is why I am so panicked- and think the move to fire the teacher has been deliberately left until the end of the year so that students have few options but to return to the school. I agree a school ought to be able to stand the loss of one teacher.... except if it is the only male teacher (it's only a small school) and the replacement is not from the same pedagogy! To clarify- DSs scholarship is from the school so tied to that school only. Any other option would have to financially viable....

And I agree re the academics - I am not truly happy about him not having any fall back. But it doesn't feels like the biggest worry at the moment...

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I am sure that you know that there are many students who have left the school your son is currently attending to join the Bolshoi Academy in Moscow. All boys join the Russian boys classes. Fantastic training infact outstanding training. Drawback is there are no scholarships available to foreign students no matter how good they are. All academics are taught in Russian, including physics and so on. You could make a dvd and send it out to other schools without telling your current school you are doing this, of course you would not be able to reveal which school he is attending. I know its unethical, but one thing I have learnt and that is to do what is best for your child.  At the end of the day the teacher is far more important than the school, however the name of a school does open doors as I found out when my dd was offered some of the best summer intensives without having to send a dvd, the mention of the Bolshoi was enough.

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Thanks for advice so far.

Answers to some questions:

School is apparently firing DS teacher because he only pays attention to a small number of boys (DS being one). DS refutes this- believes partly it is the americans not 'getting' the russian style of correction. He and a few of the other non US students have no problem. I dont trust the schools director- he seems ego driven, slightly hysterical and willing to cut his nose off to spite his face.

 

This to me smacks of something else.  There is a syndrome - I call it "The successful teacher is a threat" syndrome.  I have seen it so many times.  It occurs at a school in which there is a teacher who is sucessful in drawing students, producing good dancers, and because of that sucess becomes a perceived "threat" to the school's owner and/or director.  Instead of celebrating this successful teacher (even if only for money this teacher generates) ego takes over - and some reason is found to either dismiss this teacher or to so curtail the teacher's scheldule of classes - or begin other campaigns against the teacher that a separation - firing - resignation - takes place.

 

It seems to come out of the blue -- the reasons given for letting this teacher go or otherwise undermining the teacher - don't quite add up.  I'm not sure the perpetrator is even fully aware of why he/she is so incensed against the suceesfull teacher.  There is no cure for this - jealousy is an overwhelming emotion. 

 

Of the several times I saw this happen - in two of the situations getting rid of the successful teacher resulted in the eventual closing of the school.  But when emotions - like jealousy of another's success - are concerned, logic plays no part even to the extent of financial disaster.

 

I don't know if this is happeing in your situation and it doesn't help you resolve your problem - but I thought I'd just mention it.

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Primrose did your daughter win a scholarship to the Bolshoi.....or are you having to privately fund this? Again I thought students could win scholarships to some foreign schools.....or are you saying the Bolshoi only funds Russian students? There seem to be a few American students studying in Russian now.....don't these big schools offer ANY scholarships to talented from abroad! Seems a bit unfair as the Royal do I believe....or have I got that wrong?

 

Are there any private scholarships one can apply to who will agree to fund talented students to study abroad(or UK for that matter) otherwise I suppose DD's and DS's just have to train as hard as they can until they can audition for a company at 18. In the end if there is an exceptional talent a Company will not turn down someone who didn't train at Elmhurst or the Royal etc. and especially probably in America.....and there are some pretty good companies there to choose from and where the Russian style can fit well with.

 

But I do really feel for parents of exceptionally talented students who cannot afford to fund places they have won....or cannot afford to continue etc.....the little ray of hope though is you do find exceptional talent tends to win through in the end against the odds even!!!

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Anjuli missed your comment but as it turns out I do know CeliB's DS....from class not personally I hasten to add.....(same teacher in Brighton) I dont want to say too much more now about this......except I can't resist saying he's one of the most striking YOUNG dancers Ive seen...with so few years under his belt too....but in my PM I did hint this can be one of the problems with smaller schools .....the Ego thing.....such a shame and I agree with your post above. The Ballet world can be a strange world sometimes!

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LinMM my dd is British so she is sponsored privately to attend the school. As I said no foreign students recieve any funding from the school, even Joy Womack who trained there and is now in the Bolshoi company had to fund her own place there. I believe that the Vagonava school in St Petersburgh is the same.

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Thanks Primrose. I can't help feeling that perhaps there should be more reciprocal exchanges so to speak so that some uk students who choose to study abroad can be sponsored by those schools eg:Bolshoi with some Russian students being able to gain sponsorship to study at our schools and so on. It may not appeal to many but at least there would be that option.

 

Is there any EU type funding available for ballet that you (or others ) know about?

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I can see this is a complex decision with several issues to consider. I'm throwing in a little of our experience. My dd has had some wonderful teachers, one in particular (ex RB) who brought out the best in her and believed in her. We moved location and had to leave that teacher. It is one of my deep regrets in life. The next 4 years my dd struggled along with an initially indifferent and then destructive teacher. She has been at a lovely school for the past 15 months and has slowly come back to almost her former self.

 

It depends just how special your ds's teacher is. If you feel incredibly strongly to follow him then follow your heart.

 

Wishing you all the best with your decision.

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Guest Autumn days

 At the end of the day the teacher is far more important than the school, however the name of a school does open doors as I found out when my dd was offered some of the best summer intensives without having to send a dvd, the mention of the Bolshoi was enough.

 

Oh dear, I am afraid that I don't agree that this should happen! In the same way that people have said that a teacher shouldn't be able to open the door to a school, however talented the dancer, I believe that everyone should win their place at summer school on individual merit. This isn't personal, Primrose, as I don't know your daughter, but we all know that ballet can be subjective and it also means that a student that is not thriving at a school like the Bolshoi could get a place above someone who is exceptional that hasn't even auditioned for such a school.

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I don't think a student who was "not thriving" at the Bolshoi Academy would keep their place there for long, muminaspin. :-) It's no different a situation than being an Associate in the UK meaning you don't have to audition for a summer school, for example.

 

I remember when Legat used to hold their Easter course, you didn't have to audition if you were an associate at RBS, Central or Legat. It's just an indicator that you are working at a particular level. Doesn't mean those Associates didn't get their place on merit!

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Celi B - have you considered Harid school in USA.  They are Vaganova based, and have a summer intensive where perhaps your ds could be seen.

 

In answer to your queries LinMM with regard to scholarships - these are usually given through the school, who decides which dancers merit them.  This is certainly the way it is done in UK with schools own scholarships as well as MDS & DADA.  So if a dancer wishes to change school, they cannot take the funding with them, it will stay with the school and be allocated to someone else.  RBS accepts foreign students who have scholarships from competitions such as Prix de Lausanne.  Also there are private donors/charities who will fund places at their own discretion, but this is not part of the official system. 

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Unfortunately the ballet world isnt fair at all. It is true to say that if a student wasnt working at the required level they would be asked to leave. I summer intensives were aware that my dd was on the 3 year diploma course and the name of her teacher.

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Guest Autumn days

As I said, Primrose, my comment wasn't personal!! I just think that it is more equitable all round if everyone is offered their place at a summer school or full time school in the same way!!

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I do understand the above as it must save some time/money not to have to audition EVERYBODY however presumably there will be some children who dont live near enough to any of the associate classes to attend on regular basis but might want to do a summer school......where quite a few places are already automatically given out then!! But you wouldnt think that from reading all the summer school threads recently it certainly seemed as if EVERYONE had to audition for places....associates or not.

 

I do agree however that any dancer not thriving at any of the really big schools where everyone dreams of going would keep their place for long. I don't have so much problem with this as schools cannot predict over time(7-8yrs of time in some cases) who will stay the course....my problem is where a child is still very good, wants to stay and parents have to withdraw child for lack of funding.

 

However to get back to thread teachers are important....a school gains its reputation from having CONSISTENTLY good teachers and not so good ones are probably asked to leave....just like the pupils are. In a big concern this keeps the situation healthy but I do fear in smaller concerns certain individuals can get away with a lot especially if they run the show!! Hence the dilemma of CeliB. Especially as the scholarship is for that particular school and they haven't had time to reorganise....yet!

And as Pastel has shown some pupils don't thrive well without a really dedicated teacher......adolescents are already struggling with lots of things.....changes in the body etc.....at least us adults don't have to put up with growing 2-3 inches in a year......and academic work ...so having a teacher believe in your talent can be important for a few years at least.....especially 12-17 I feel and even more so if NOT at a vocational school already. In my opinion teachers are more important than the schools in the end as many people will have experienced looking around for another ballet school where the teaching was not so good I think.....and there are destructive teachers out there(luckily not many I feel) which even some adults would have problems surviving with let alone a developing child!

And what does one do when hubby's job suddenly takes one 500 miles away and your child is with the best teacher ever!! If your child is NOT at a vocational school already you are not going to split the family up you just have to hope for the best you will find another good teacher.

I seem to remember in the film First Position where both the children at that point had a good teacher the father moved his whole company so as not to disturb their routine which meant all his workers had further to travel instead!! But not many are in this somewhat "fortunate" position.

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Sorry took so long to write last post...."above" refers to spannerandponys post. Since then I see Pas De Quatre has left an extremely helpful post too so thanks for that info....the funding situation will sink in eventually.

 

The private donars/charities may be worth investigating then for some people.

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