Straight Talk for New Art Teachers

By Weitknecht, Holly | School Arts, September 2001 | Go to article overview

Straight Talk for New Art Teachers

Weitknecht, Holly, School Arts

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. …

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