Advice For Art Teachers Just Starting Out

When I first started teaching art eighteen years ago, I did not have a clue how to set up my classroom. I never took art in high school either, so I did not have any experience. Plus, I was the only art teacher at each place I taught, therefore there was no one else to conference with.

So why am I talking about this right now at the end of the school year? Because I am ending my career as an art teacher and moving on to other things. The nice thing is that I even know who is taking my position. So I have them in mind as I clean out and straighten the supplies in the room.

I am also trying to sort through years of art project folders with handouts. Those projects have worked well for me over the years. I have tweaked them, adjusted them to the particular groups I taught and also continued to add new project to keep things fresh and interesting.

This morning someone else approached me asking for advice for a person that will be teaching art for the first time. ¬†I had about five minutes to talk to them and give them my words of wisdom. I have so much advice to give but I don’t want to overwhelm. Can’t overwhelm in five minutes but it did get me to thinking….

So after some serious thought I came up with a few solid suggestions for art teachers just starting out on their career of teaching.

  • Be sure you have the art supplies you need. You will need to find out what kind of budget you have. I saved on paper costs by using copy paper for many drawing assignments.
  • Store the supplies in an organized way. That can be as simple as grouping supplies by projects like all yarn, needles, and looms in one box or shelf. So if you are coming to a new classroom, make sure you know where everything is. You may need to rearrange.
  • Don’t give written tests or notes. I give my students projects or assignments that take several days to complete as a test.
  • Occasionally give participation grades by walking around the room watching how much effort a student is giving.
  • Make an area in your classroom for student work and student personal supplies to be stored. Cabinets that lock with trays work really well.
  • If a student did not finish an assignment and wants to take the assignment home to work on, grade it before it is taken. Why? Because the art work may never return and the student will have some sort of grade rather than a zero.
  • Try to keep the class interesting by changing things up. Spend a month drawing, then two weeks painting, a week on clay, then back to drawing.
  • Have a project that is long term that students can work on when they have finished shorter assignments.
  • Learn from your mistakes. My art lessons have evolved over the years, but also be prepared to tweak and change the way you present a lesson throughout the day or depending on the audience.
  • Join an art teacher association such as TAEA.
  • Get to know other art teachers in the area. Their knowledge will be very beneficial.
  • Teach your passion. My passion is drawing and watercolor, so we spent more time doing projects I loved. The students could sense that passion and some of them actually got into the work as well.
  • Be flexible when you have that student that just can’t stand being in art. Try to give them alternate assignments or a few choices to make them more at ease.
  • Grade on effort, not talent.
  • Don’t try to talk over your students. I’m speaking about the volume of your voice. It will save you a lot of sore throats. Give them a signal to be quiet and then wait. They will notice. Sometimes it does take longer than others.
  • Try to develop a relationship with your students. Mention their birthdays, ask them how they are doing, pray for them, show concern when they are ill, etc.
  • Display the student art in the classroom or a nearby hallway. Change the display every few weeks or even once a month is enough. The kids love to see their work exhibited.
  • Try to stay out of the politics of the school. I did not go to the teacher’s lounge very often. I focused on doing my job and nothing else.
  • Keep a calendar on your desk, computer, or phone to help you see when you have things like hall duty, bus duty, advisory committee meetings, etc.
  • Smile and make each day a new day with a clean slate. Be positive. Your ¬†attitude can be contagious.

All you experienced teachers out there, do you have any additional suggestions for the new art teachers?

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