Milwaukee –based nail artist and instructor Tracy Conley Balistreri is a driven and devoted teacher who has inspired and mentored countless nail techs to realize their career goals and dreams. We recently caught up with her for a quick Q&A.
Q: What is your background as a nail tech?
A: Since high school I have had a passion for natural nails and nail art. I went to nail school in 2002 and began my career in an Aveda concept salon. I love Aveda’s mission and it helped establish me as a natural nail artist. I opened Nails by Tracy in the summer of 2008 on Milwaukee’s East Side and have expanded my services into CND Shellac and Minx Nails.
Q: How long were you a nail tech before you became an instructor/educator?
A: I was a nail artist for nine years before I became an Instructor. I was contacted by the Institute of Beauty and Wellness, an Aveda beauty school, to come in and be a guest educator for CND Shellac. When the team lead of manicuring at the time and I spoke, she mentioned needing more Instructors. I told her I was interested, and she set up an interview with the director of the school the same day as the class I was teaching. She hired me on the spot.
Q: Why did you decide to become an instructor?
A: I was lucky enough to be taught by one of the best Instructors when I was going through school. I always thought teaching was my calling. It was always in the back of my head, but until IBW contacted me, I hadn’t pursued anything. Timing is everything!
Q: Where are you teaching now?
A: I just recently resigned from teaching at IBW, but I have done some one-on-one sessions with former students. I also plan to do some Periscope trainings (@traycmke)
Q: What’s unique about your teaching style?
A: I incorporate humor in my teaching style. I am also very involved on social media and I think students have an easy time relating to me.
Q: What’s your favorite lesson to teach and why?
A: State Board and state laws! There is nothing more important to me than proper safety and sanitation practices. I was promoted to team lead of the manicuring department in my last year at the school, and I dedicated my time to making sure the State Board prep was as detailed as possible. During my time at the school, our department had a 100% licensure rate.
Q: What is your least favorite aspect of teaching?
A: I think the hardest part for me was having a student who didn’t have a passion for nails or the industry. I was always curious why they decided to take the program if it wasn’t something they planned on making their career.
Q: How much time do you spend outside of the classroom preparing lessons?
A: Teaching is a lot like being a business owner: It’s very hard to turn it off in your head. I spent many hours outside of the classroom planning activities and ways to improve the curriculum. When you care about the success of your students, there is no time clock. They call, text, Facebook message, tweet, and email me at all hours of the day. I have students from the first class I taught who still contact me asking for advice. I think that’s what sets apart a good educator from a great one.
Q: What are some of your specific teaching tips for other instructors?
A: Educate yourself first. Your students will respect you and follow you if you are right there with them learning at the same time. I went back for my esthetics license while I was teaching, and my students thought I was Superwoman. They were cheering me on while I was doing the same for them. Patience is also huge in our industry. Teaching is a lot of repetition; you have to remember everything is brand new and fresh to these students.
Q: How do you keep students’ attention if you feel they are tiring or losing focus?
A: One of the great aspects of working at IBW is that we encouraged wellness activities. If I could tell my class was having a sleepy moment, I would have them get up and do a dance, or we would walk around the neighborhood, or even sing songs. Just taking a few minutes to get moving or doing something fun wakes everyone back up.
Q: What do you find most rewarding about being an instructor?
A: That moment when a students is screaming “I passed!” There is no better feeling than knowing you helped someone reach their goals and follow their dreams.
Q: What advice do you have for other beauty school instructors on improving the student experience?
A: Make it fun and keep it fresh. There are so many new and exciting techniques for nails; bring in guest educators to show your students the trends.
Q: Please include anything else you think our readers would like to know.
A: Social Media is HUGE! The reason IBW contacted me in the first place was because an instructor followed my business page on Facebook for over a year and she was impressed with my work. Network with other techs and learn from instructors in other departments.
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For more information about your career in nails, check out NAILS Career Handbook