To Certify or Not?

To Certify or Not?

January 14, 2024

What does an aerial Teaching Certificate even mean?

There is a lot of chat popping up right now about the validity of Certification programs in aerial arts. In the US and the UK (where Paper Doll Militia is based), aerial arts currently lacks a governing body or regulatory organization for standardization. (For example; The International Gymnastics Federation or other similar agencies for sports) In the circus arts industry, literally anyone can offer a ‘Certificate’ program. So at the end of the day, what value does it even have?

Let’s talk about it! We’ve had many conversations about this topic amongst ourselves and with our community. In this blog, we’re looking at some of the most common questions and concerns that we see with the idea of “Aerial Certifications” and sharing our perspective.

Unfair Advantage and How to Navigate It

Basically, Aerial Certifications are the Wild West right now. The implications of this kind of free-for-all means that inconsistencies within the industry contribute to an inherent unfairness. Certificate programs vary widely when it comes to duration and content. Price points also show a similar lack of uniformity or standards. All of this raises concerns about the potential scenario where someone with a certificate from a weekend crash course might appear more attractive on paper to a studio than someone with years of valuable teaching experience but lacking a formal certificate.

Meanwhile, gathering the momentum and infrastructure required to create an overarching regulatory body feels like an insurmountable problem. In the meantime, let’s think about how to work with what we have, rather than being miffed about what doesn’t exist.

There are always ways to make yourself look better on paper, in ANY industry. What we do in aerials is hands-on. The quality of our instruction most directly impacts 2 very important categories of people; YOUR STUDENTS and THE STUDIO(S) you work for. That’s who actually matters, not any governing body with a stamp of approval.

But if that’s true, then is a certificate meaningless?

We believe that anytime you pay for education, the goal is the knowledge and experience, not the piece of paper you receive at the end of it. Whether you’re looking to enhance your teaching skills or seeking re-inspiration as a veteran teacher experiencing burnout, enrolling in a Teacher Training course—certification or not—can be a valuable endeavor. And anytime we commit to our craft the people who benefit would be ourselves, the studio we work for and again most importantly, our students.

Opting for a program solely for the sake of getting a certificate might fulfill that specific goal. However, if you don’t soak up the learning experience, you’re missing out on a truly enlightening journey and essentially spending money for a mere piece of paper. In such cases, we say, save your money and skip it!

I’m feeling pressured by the fact that the younger teachers are getting certified, but I have years of experience and don’t feel like I need it.

Experience speaks volumes! If you feel confident in your craft and don’t necessarily seek additional input but would like acknowledgement for your years of dedication, consider articulating it on paper. Detail your experience and emphasize your value as a teacher to both current and potential employers. Get specific! Share this information with prospective students as well. Incorporate it into your social media profiles, website, or CV for greater visibility.

Example for someone with 5 years experience:

  • Extensive Teaching Tenure: Accumulated 5 years of dedicated studio teaching experience.
  • Specialized in Adult Instruction: Successfully conducted 3 weekly classes tailored for beginner adults, fostering a supportive environment for their aerial arts journey.
  • Expertise in Youth Education: Facilitated 2 weekly classes specifically designed for children, demonstrating adaptability and skill in engaging with younger learners.
  • Advanced Instruction: Provided advanced aerial instruction through a weekly class, catering to the needs of more experienced practitioners with progressive skill acquisition techniques

I’m not teaching yet, and I’m not sure if I’m ready for a teacher training program or not. Should I have more experience before starting a program?

A reputable program will have clear parameters on joining the course. This can be with an audition video and/or or proof of experience. If you meet the requirements, then you are ready! Conversely, if the program doesn’t have any defined entry standards, we’d advise you look further into the program to ensure it provides quality training. Programs that accept participants without specific criteria may compromise their commitment to quality in their core values.

Remember, you don’t need to be an expert to begin the journey. Everyone’s journey and timeline looks different. Start by learning coaching skills (these are DIFFERENT than the skills of an aerialist) and begin to teach only when you’re ready. We believe that a Teacher Training course and/or Certificate can be a huge support for new teachers just starting to grow their wings.

I’ve been teaching for YEARS and I am interested in professional development, but I’m worried the course will be too remedial and I’ll be bored and broke from having taken it.

Totally fair! Ask the providers a little about the course content, requesting samples or details about the curriculum. A provider willing to share insights demonstrates a genuine concern for their clients. Assessing the information they provide can also give you an idea of the course’s depth. Additionally, connect with individuals who have a similar level of experience and have taken the course; they can offer valuable insights to help you determine if the program is a suitable match for your needs.

How do I choose a reputable program?

We believe that one of the best ways to identify quality in an unregulated industry is through word of mouth. There are exceptional teachers and programs available, offering both in-person coaching and a multitude of online options for skill enhancement or certification. The choices can be overwhelming, so we encourage you to reach out and ask your peers about their favorite programs and the reasons behind their recommendations. If you know someone who has completed a program, connect with them and ask about their experiences. What aspects were beneficial, and were there any elements of the program that didn’t meet their needs? Gather information from the people, not the marketing.

Make sure you’ve considered all the details; the duration of the program, the topics covered, the assignments, the availability of personalized feedback, and whether there is a pass/fail system or if everyone automatically passes. This thorough examination will empower you to make an informed decision based on the specific attributes of each program.

Are Certificate Programs just taking advantage of people financially?

Another concern some people have is that some of the Certificate Programs are taking advantage of an unchecked situation, by offering a certificate that doesn’t have much meaning or quality content, but just offer a basic course for high prices that win you a bit of paper.Do your research on the program you are interested in taking to avoid sinking your money into a program that doesn’t deliver.

What’s the difference between a Teacher Training and a Certificate?

Every program is different. We can only speak to our own program about this one. Our Teacher Training Program is a 50 hour course; per level / per apparatus. This is the educational component of what we offer. The course is packed full of information and hands-on training, to equip you with an arsenal of information and tools. If you complete the program, you receive a letter of completion. (Not a “Certificate”)

The Certificate Program is an additional 25 hours.This is the practicum component, where you practice and apply everything that you learned in the training, under guidance. As part of this, you submit a video of you teaching a full class, receive feedback and repeat the process.

We do not require you to complete the Certificate Program in order to take our Level 2 Teacher Training, as not everyone wants to do this extra step.

If you advocate for certification, why is it presented as an optional add-on? In other words, why offer it as a choice?

Some individuals and studios value the piece of paper stating the word “Certificate” It took us several years to decide to offer this option, because in order to give out a Certificate we felt strongly that this needed to include a real assessment.

The Teacher Training has four stages of assessment

  1. Gaining admission to the program, which requires an audition video and a minimum of one year of experience.
  2. Demonstrating proficiency of all the skills without any advisories.
  3. Participating in all the Zoom calls that cover teaching practices
  4. Successfully completing all quizzes on the written materials with a passing grade

However, these steps alone are insufficient to thoroughly evaluate someone’s teaching ability. In real-life scenarios, we encounter diverse situations, and students can exhibit unpredictable behavior. As teachers, we have to be prepared to respond with care and genuine interest in our students while delivering high-quality content with creative, technical, and practical advice.

The 25 hours of the Certificate program consist of observation hours—watching others teach and providing reflections —mentorship hours, and practice in both assistant and lead teaching roles. The culmination involves teaching 2 one-hour-long classes, with written and video feedback provided by us.

Only after a comprehensive assessment can we confidently issue a certificate.

As a studio owner, how can I verify that someone’s Aerial Certificate holds its weight?

ANY aerial certificate should have an easy way to reference a breakdown of the completed training and requirements of its Certificate Holders. This may be found on the provider’s website, info packet, or even social media. If the certificate provider does not have this readily available, that’s a sign that it may not be a comprehensive or reputable program.

Here is a recap and our opinions in short

• The industry is currently unregulated.

• A Teacher Training and/or Certificate program can be a huge support for new instructors

• We advocate for continuing education, even for instructors with lots of experience, if the goal is to learn more, delve deeper, or find re-inspiration.

• Not everyone necessarily requires a Certificate.

• Exceptional teachers exist without formal Certificates.

• While possessing a Certificate doesn’t automatically make someone a great teacher, the type of course taken can reflect a commitment to the craft.