When I began my teaching career, there were many people who wanted to help me get started. I was given tons of information, but most of it, including classroom management tips, was intended for a regular classroom teacher. Needless to say, art teachers, with their messy activities and short blocks of time, require different teaching strategies. I found myself trying to reinvent the wheel, spending enormous amounts of time brainstorming ideas to run a good program.
Every art teacher has a different set of circumstances and limitations with which to work. Some teachers have their own artrooms, large budgets, supportive community and administrations, and middle level students. Others may have art a la carte, a tough community environment, or be an itinerant teacher. The list goes on and on. Some ideas that have worked for me for support, classroom set-up and management, discipline, organization, and lesson, unit, and curriculum ideas, may not work for you. Keep that in mind while reading over the following:
1. Find a person that you trust and respect to go to when you need help. Most districts have a mentoring program for first-year teachers. If you don't have one or have trouble getting along with your mentor, try to find an unofficial one. I was lucky to have a great mentor, and the help that she provided has been invaluable.
2. Send a letter home at the beginning of the year asking for art smocks and any items you may need such as buttons. Be sure to include a deadline or a follow-up letter so that you don't wind up with more than you bargained for.
3. Color code students' worktables. When you need to call on them, you can do so by color, or color schemes, as a review. Use a specific table or area for demonstrations, and set some zero tolerance rules for that area, such as silence, no touching, etc.
4. If you have a room of your own, keep a small bulletin board near it in the hall. Use it to post which classes will need art smocks for the day or for the week.
5. Consider labeling cabinets and drawers so that students and substitutes can find materials easily.
6. Flat, under-the-bed storage boxes work well to help keep clay projects moist until students can work on them again. Projects will still need to be draped in plastic bags or damp paper towels.
7. Trustworthy classroom helpers can provide assistance at the end of the day while they are waiting for the bus. My helpers do chores, such as sweeping the floor, cleaning the chalkboard, cutting out patterns, and getting projects ready for display, among other things.
8. When students are using dangerous or expensive materials, such as X-acto knives, label each item with numbers that correspond to the numbers in your grade book. Make students responsible for any supplies with their number on them. Check quickly at the end of each class to be sure that you have all of the items.
9. Start the year with more cleanup time than you think you need. With any extra time, try playing hangman using an art term from the lesson, or other quick games. This can reinforce the subject and be used as a wrap-up activity. You will become a better judge of how much time your students need to clean up from various activities over time, and you can plan accordingly. Inform students that their table must be clean before their hands are cleaned. This will help insure that you do less classroom cleanup after class.
10. Discuss rules and expectations with each class and post them in an easy-to-read location. Create a contract of the expectations (please be aware of your school's policy on contracts with students).
11. Do not expect the regular classroom teacher to handle your discipline problems. It's okay to discuss them with the teacher, as long as you are the person who implements your limitations and consequences for your classroom.
12. When dealing with an individual discipline problem, quietly pull the student aside and speak frankly about the issue at hand. Maintain direct eye contact and state clear consequences for the student's actions.
13. Consider having a student call home herself and explain her behavior to parents or guardians in your presence.
14. Do projects and activities that interest you with your class. The more excited you are about the subject, the more motivated students will be, and the more likely they are to stay focused.
15. Keep a folder for any art advocacy quotes, statements, and articles that you may come across. You never know when you may need it! Take any prints, handouts, or lesson ideas offered to you, and file them in a system that you'll understand and use. For example, some of my files are: architecture, sculpture, fibers/weaving, multicultural, folk arts, community-based art, and art elements and principles.
16. If you are working with art a la carte, organization will be very important to you. Keep one area on your cart for everyday supplies and another for other materials.
17. Emergency lesson plans should be kept in a visible place on your desk. Keep them practical and simple, and list materials and locations. Avoid jargon, as many substitutes lack an art background.
18. Try using children's books in some of your lessons as a springboard for illustrating or as attention grabbers. Consider creating written expectations or requirements for various projects. This can be especially important to older students.
19. Create travel passports for students studying multicultural arts. They can get it stamped when they complete the activities for one area and move on to a new destination.
20. Set up your lessons with a complete, easy-to-read list of materials to check everyday so that you know what needs to be on the cart.
When it comes down to curriculum, I find myself often overwhelmed with the ideas and choices that the vast world of art has to offer. There are so many wonderful things that art has to offer. So many ideas excite me that I want to teach it all. Keep in mind, when you make your own decisions about what to teach, that the more broad based you go, the less depth you can accomplish. I made the decision to delve deeper for mastery of a concept, but with a more narrow scope.
Look to National Art Education Association's (NAEA) standards and those for your state. Get a copy of your district's art curriculum. These sources should be your base for what you teach.
Send a simple survey to inquire what major lessons and units other teachers may be doing during the school year. This will offer you a starting place for integrating art lessons with other subject areas.
Consider using annual themes across the grade levels that you teach. You can mold your units around what aspects of the art elements and principles you want to teach in which grades. Discipline Based Art Education (DBAE) is a good, solid foundation for organizing your units and lessons. Another organization scheme is the use of various themes at different grade levels. For example, I have focused around DBAE during my first two years teaching. Now I want to expand, keeping my program grounded in DBAE across grade levels, but focusing on community and art in one grade, art around the world in another, self-expression and exploration in a third grade, and a timeline of art in the last grade. All of these approaches will be able to overlap in many ways, but applying them to various grade levels will provide me with a focus.
Take from these ideas and use what works for you. Remember though, you will make mistakes, so be realistic. I am still new at this myself and still learning. Try not to become too frustrated when projects flop, when they don't work up to your expectations, or when students don't retain what you want them to. You will be constantly learning and adapting how and what you teach. It can all be overwhelming and intimidating, so remember to forgive yourself.
Holly Weitknecht is an elementary art and gifted teacher at Towamensing Elementary School in Palmerton, Pennsylvania.…