In my teaching career, I started out as a Science teacher. Later, I found my passion, took the Excet test and started teaching Art. When I taught my first art class I was also teaching Physics, Chemistry, and Physical Science. That was a tough schedule.
Eventually, I talked my way into only teaching art. In my small school, I was the only Art teacher. I joked that I was the “Art Department”. I loved departmental meetings! I was excited to finally get to teach the subject I loved the most.
I applied my science teaching style to my art classroom. I gave tests, taught out of the book, and gave written homework. My art class wasn’t any different than all the other courses my students took. I was teaching art in a very left-brained manner.
I became a frustrated art teacher. Many of my students were discouraged. I kept thinking there had to be a better way. I wanted to create a safe environment where my students could be successful. I wanted to reach the students that did not do well in other classes. I wanted to lighten up and make art fun. I wanted to inspire my students, to make them look forward to art class. I wanted to teach my students to look at the world in a different way.
That was a big order.
Obviously, I needed to change my teaching style. But how? How could I do everything I wanted to in my classroom and still follow all school grading policies? Being a conscientious teacher, I wanted to make sure all school policies were followed and that the administration was happy.
It took creativity and letting go of old ideas. It took changing my attitude. It took really caring for my students and letting them know it. It took greeting my students with a smile, giving them a hug when they needed it and listening to them if they had a problem. It took showing respect for my student’s space, privacy, and work. It took learning new methods. It took a sense of humor and not being afraid of looking silly.
I began my new teaching method at the beginning of a new school year. I stopped teaching out of the book. I stopped asking for written work. I assigned projects which were done in class. We did pottery projects, weaving projects, drawing projects, painting projects, colored pencil projects, etc.
I made the Six Weeks Test a grouping of 5 sketches. Each sketch was worth 20 points. I assigned a list of required sketches. Occasionally I assigned “free sketches”, which meant the drawings could be of anything. But I soon found that most of the students preferred assigned subject matter. Some students couldn’t handle the freedom of choice.
Here are some examples of sketches I assigned:
1. Draw a pile of dirty clothes or an overflowing trash can.
2. Draw an imaginary pizza with toppings of all your favorite foods.
3. Draw your favorite cartoon character.
4. Draw an imaginary creature.
5. Draw your bare feet.
The sketchbook was the only thing that had to be completed away from class. Although, a few times a year I did give “free sketch” days where the students could bring their sketchbooks to class and work on them.
The Semester Exam was usually a still life drawn in class. I gave the students instructions. I wanted the drawing shaded with at least three values. I wanted the students to use the whole page, to draw large, and to use all the testing time. I did not care if the drawing was realistic or abstract.
I tried to be flexible. I graded on effort not talent. If something didn’t work, I went on to the next idea. I really tried to be as creative as I could. I began seeing a change in my classes. I was relaxed, the students were enjoying the class and creating incredible art work. I gave my students a daily dose of my passion for art and it became contagious.
I saw students become more confident in their abilities. Students started doing projects on their own at home and bringing them to me to critique. I had students that asked to come to my class to work on projects when they were done with their other class work. Art reached some of the special education students. Those students found something they could succeed in.
But, like every classroom there are those students that just don’t connect. They feel lost, they don’t want to do the work, they refuse to try, and they fail the class.
One year, I had a student that did not want to do any assignments in my class. He was a discipline problem and he was failing badly. In fact, I think he was failing all of his other classes also. I met with his parents, the counselor, the principal. This student struggled each day until we started a weaving project.
Weaving opened up something magical in this kid. His personality changed. He showed up first in my classroom each day. He helped the other students that were having a hard time with the concept. He found his passion. He was a weaving machine.
I was so excited that this student was working in my class and loving it. I gave him alternative assignments from then on. He and I sat down with the school counselor and made a special art agreement for the rest of the school year. We determined what he would have to do to pass Art. He agreed. We shook hands on it. He kept his word, did all he promised and passed.
I feel privileged to have been able to teach art those twelve years. I am fortunate to have stumbled onto a new and improved teaching style. I’m sure my teaching technique is not for everyone, but it worked well for me. My message to all you teachers out there; don’t be afraid to try new things!!! When you find something that works, the rewards are incredible!
* NOTE: Art, Music, Band, Choir, Dance, and Theatre Arts are disappearing from many schools. Schools don’t have the funds. What a shame! Art reaches students that might never be reached any other way.