Why exactly Kafkateach decided to attend a Zumba instructor training this week in Miami is not entirely clear. Perhaps those nightly 3 am breast feedings where absolutely nothing is on TV but Zumba infomercials finally brainwashed me.  Maybe it’s because I might be moving to middle America where I fear there may be a critical shortage of decent Zumba instructors. Maybe it’s a desperate attempt to lose the baby weight. Or a desperate means of supplementing my ever-shrinking teacher salary (an extra $25 bucks a week is a jumbo pack of diapers!).  Heck, maybe after three months of maternity leave I’m just desperate for any excuse to get out of the house for eight hours straight.  Or desperate for anything to write about in this blog besides VAM.  Whatever the underlying cause of my desperation, the Zumba instructor training session shared many similarities to the painful professional development seminars endured by teachers nationwide and also illuminated the many fallacies behind corporate attempts to reform the teaching profession.

Like fancier teacher professional development seminars (think College Board), the Zumba instructor training took place at a swank hotel in downtown Miami. Not one to splurge on $40 valet parking, I decided to try my luck at one of the nearby Bayfront Park public lots.  I am ashamed to admit, after a decade of living in Miami I have never been to Bayfront Park and after my parking experience I will probably never return despite the beautiful views.  The first annoyance of the public lots is the size of the parking spaces. If you drive anything larger than a mini coop you’ll have to be a parking savant to fit between the lines. Then I naively went up to the parking meter and the damn machine had the nerve to ask for my license plate number as if I had the thing memorized! Luckily, being a teacher there is always a red pen somewhere on the floor of my car and I was able to write down the number and return to the meter. Next I struggled with five attempts just to get the machine to read my debit card and spent another five minutes trying to figure out how to add 8 hours when the only option to add time was in minutes. After 20 minutes and $24 dollars, the parking receipt finally printed only to fly across Biscayne Blvd in gale force winds before I could even get my hands on it.  To all Miamians or people who might one day visit Miami, do not run across a busy Miami street for any reason! Motorists will actually speed up to run you over like a dirty dog and not look back. Luckily, my parking receipt flew all the way across the street and into the grass of Bayfront Park.  I wasn’t going to let this hard earned and overpriced piece of paper escape my grasp. My childhood Easter egg hunting skills paid off as I quickly located the slip in the dewy grass.

After the parking drama the next thing to go wrong was the registration. Not giving away too much of my identity, it is always easy to locate my last name because it starts with the last letter of the alphabet.  A quick glance and I could tell my registration papers were missing. When I told the woman working the desk my last name she seemed rather clueless as to where to look for my registration even though all the papers were alphabetized.  It’s starts with a Z lady, why are you looking at the beginning of the stack?  After showing them my confirmation email (I have a habit of saving all emails) they let me into the carpeted room. Carpet for a dance workshop? You expect me to dance on carpet! I’ve been to many a dance workshop but never one on carpet. Like all Zumba classes worth attending, they packed us in the room like sardines. If you’ve never been to a Zumba class, losing an eyeball is always a risk with all the flailing arms with acrylic nails.  The room was filled with all ages, ethnicities and body types. I was happily not the oldest, fattest or worst dancer in the room (but I was the only one not wearing some shade of fluorescent).

Like leaders of teacher seminars, the Zumba instructors were part subject expert, part salesman, and part clown. Despite what they tell you about being the start of an amazing new career, the only one getting rich off of Zumba is Beto (the self proclaimed “creative genius” behind Zumba dance).  Maybe it’s just me, but I reserve the genius label for people like Einstein, not an aerobics instructor who forgot his music one day and decided to use the salsa tape in his car instead. I guess maybe he’s a genius for finding a way to make millions out of a relatively simple concept. But make no mistake, Beto is the one that’s going to be making the millions, not you. I know someone who is about as high up the Zumba dancer chain you can get. She appears in videos, billboards and was even flown to Spain to give Shakira lessons (yes, even Miss “hips don’t lie” needs Zumba help) and she still barely makes $40,000. Being a teacher, I was comfortable with the fact that the big cheese on top get’s the big bucks at the expense of the grunts doing all the work at the bottom.

Next we were given our Zumba handbook with exciting chapters like “The Physiology of Zumba”, the “Pyschology of Zumba” and “The Anatomy of a Song”. Geesh, and I thought education theory classes were bad!  There was even a chapter on “The purpose of a warm up” which was defined as “a way to increase the body temperature” and “warm up muscles”. Looks like I wouldn’t have to study too hard to pass a Zumba certification test.  Zumba instructors also must make lesson plans and there was even a graphic organizer designed by Beto himself!  It consisted of an empty box. Not quite sure how that is different from an empty sheet of paper.  Beto even created his own math formula for Zumba success Z=MC squared (Zumba=Music/Core Steps/Choreography). Dang it! Even Zumba instructors have to do math! As if this wonderful handbook wasn’t enough, we even had to sit through lectures on how to add moves like “the hairbrush” to our Salsa repertoire.

After about three hours of Zumba dancing, my boobs were about to burst and I raced to the restroom hoping to discretely pump some breastmilk. Trying to do a shoulder shimmy with full jugs is excruciating! Unfortunately, the designer of the Intercontinental bathrooms took chi-chi to a whole new level. Miami hotel bathrooms pride themselves on their interior design skills. There were orchids, effervescent tiles, mahogany counters and translucent bathroom stall doors. You could actually see the silhouette of the person in the stall.  Who wants people seeing their silhouette as they take care of nature? I was hoping for some privacy while I pumped but instead everybody could see my breastpumping silhouette!

There may have been a lot more dancing at the Zumba training than a teacher worskhop, but student behaviors remained the same. The bad kids sat in the back texting and skipped out early for lunch. And like teacher professional development you are never allowed to get your certificate of attendance until the very end of the seminar and if you try to sneak past the teacher Gestapo lady by the door you’ll get a scowl and the “no, no” finger waved in your face . I tried to leave at 4:59 instead of 5:00 and they refused to give me my certification a minute early because it might disrupt the Q & A. Teachers, and Zumba dancers, please don’t ever ask any questions at the end of training. People just want to go home. Hands down please!

On the drive home stuck in Miami Heat game night traffic, I had time to reflect on how Zumba instructors can help dispel the many myths of the terrible teacher and the silly corporate efforts to transform the teaching profession.

  1. Certification.  The fact that you actually need to get certified to become a Zumba instructor at your local LA Fitness should make people pause before they question the value of decent teacher training programs.  We demand that our local Latin aerobics instructors be properly trained in booty gyrations (yes, half of the day was spent in hip thrusting theory classes) but corporate reformers poo-poo the need for professional preparation for the people entrusted with teaching our five year olds how to read.  The fact is that I received more training to be a Zumba fitness instructor than a high school English teacher. In an earlier blog post “The Myth of the New Energetic Teacher” https://kafkateach.wordpress.com/2012/06/11/the-myth-of-the-new-energetic-teacher-2/

I confessed to having absolutely zero training before being handed the keys to a classroom. Well, that’s not exactly true. I wasn’t handed any keys to a classroom. I was handed an overhead projector cart to push up and down the hallways because I was forced to “float” around the school from class to class.  I’m not proud of my abrupt and disastrous entry into the teaching profession but it did teach me that it takes more than a one day eight hour training session to become a great teacher.

  1. Tenure.  One of the reasons I felt compelled to become certified to teach Zumba classes is because of some of the horrible Zumba classes I have attended at my local gym. It seems to me, that in the same way a math teacher should be able to do math, a Zumba instructor should be able to dance and keep a beat.  Having some dance aptitude and training myself, nothing irks me more than a Zumba instructor that walks through a salsa routine and does so with such inertia that I don’t even break a sweat.  People like Michelle Rhee frequently blame tenure and LIFO policies for crappy teachers. Well then what explains the abundance of bad Zumba instructors plaguing gyms across the country?  As far as I am aware they are not unionized and there is no such thing as Zumba teacher tenure. Perhaps the reason that bad public school teachers remain in the classroom is the same reason that bad Zumba fitness instructors remain in the gym-poor management.  A good Principal, like a good gym manager, would frequently drop into classes and be aware of which instructors were performing poorly.  In Zumba classes a quick glance would do. Some Zumba instructors pack people in like sardines while other Zumba instructors are lucky to get a steady class of ten. A good gym manager would make sure to find a new instructor to replace the instructor who’s class makes people flee to the treadmill machines out of boredom.  Maybe gym managers, like many Principals, are simply too overwhelmed with other job priorities to properly administer what goes on in their classrooms. Or maybe the fitness world, like the public school system, refuses to pay people what they are worth and gym managers know there aren’t tons of Zumba fitness instructors with J-Lo moves lined up at their doors to work for $15 an hour just like there aren’t many math PhDs with the teaching skills of Jaime Escalante waiting to work in the worst school in central Miami. Whatever the case, tenure, unions, and last in first out policies cannot be blamed for the existence of terrible Zumba instructors.
  2. Teacher evaluation. Blaming teachers for the crisis in education is a lot like blaming Zumba fitness instructors for the nation’s obesity epidemic.  I’ve been going to Zumba classes at my gym for over two years now and I see the same people. Some people have lost weight and others are just as fat as the first day they stepped into the studio.  Is it the Zumba teacher’s fault that big Bertha hasn’t lost a pound since attending her classes? Instead of a value added formula, maybe they should rate Zumba instructors with a pounds subtracted formula? If a magical algorithm can predict growth in student test scores, surely another assortment of variables could predict how much weight a person should lose by attending a Zumba instructor’s class? The same reason some people don’t lose weight while attending even the best Zumba instructor’s class is the same reason that some students will never show any growth in their test scores.  Some people put 110 percent into their Zumba moves while others walk through them like tree sloths.  Some people eagerly attempt to master every move while others are texting or giggling with their girlfriends in the back of the room. Some people go home and drink kale smoothies while other people head straight to Burger King for a whopper topped off with a bacon sundae.  And dare I say that some people are just genetically predisposed to be chunky. Give me the best math teacher on the planet and my math SAT scores would still suck. In high school it never occurred to me to blame my math teachers for an SAT score that barely broke 500.

For all my griping about my Zumba instructor training, I do have to give the Zumba crew a big kudos for managing to bring the many cultures of Miami into one room for a dance jam. Colombians, Brazilians, Argentinians, blonde soccer moms, Haitians, Dominicans, Cubans, and Phillipino nurses all boogied in the same room. For all of Miami’s claim at being a cosmopolitan city, the majority of the time people remain in their Latin clans with neighborhoods organized around what island people are from or which soccer team they root for. There was even a Hasidic Jewish woman and a Muslim woman both wearing full garb dancing shoulder to shoulder, booty to booty. If these women who didn’t have to worry about looking good in a bikini and who under normal circumstances might be enemies, could come together to share in the positive Latin vibes maybe Zumba was capable of taking over the world. After eight hours of Zumba instructor training, I don’t know if I’ll ever teach a Zumba class but I did lose about five pounds of water weight.  Now off to get a  whopper and a bacon sundae!