Exhale

"Art Room Family Tree" photo by Melody Weintraub

"Art Room Family Tree" photo by Melody Weintraub

I recently heard a song by the recording artist, Plumb titled, “Exhale.” The first few lines say, It’s okay not to be okay. This is a safe place. I thought about how very much we need to communicate to our students and to ourselves that our art space is a “safe place.” Even if you never taught them anything else, let them feel that your art room is the place they can come to be themselves. If they feel that kind of security in the art room, you will probably begin to see it evidenced in their artwork. Create lessons that leave room for self-expression. Build time into your lesson for students to think about universal themes. Show them art that you didn’t learn about growing up from artists whose names are still not widely known. Maybe they’ll find a connection. Then watch them thinking and creating. Soak it in. Take a deep breath and exhale. Well done, art teacher.

Share the Love

photo by Melody Weintraub

photo by Melody Weintraub

I have never met an art teacher who said that they had adequate storage space in their art room. This is quite possibly because we like to “collect” things for lessons we might do…someday. We also like to “collect” supplies, books, posters, tchotchkes, freebies, cardboard, buckets and the list goes on. After all, the art teacher with the most toys..wins? Not! We need to support each other along this journey. Evaluate what you have, what you are actively using, and what you can actually part with by starting with duplicates. Then seek out other art teachers in your community who might need what you have due to a lack of funding or because of a new position. Check with your administration to be sure it’s okay for you to dispose of it. Post it on social media. Be willing to deliver it if possible. Or, set up a trade fair at your school or at your state conference and swap art stuff. Due to budget cuts in the arts that continue at an alarming rate, there is even more reason for us to share the love!

Art Friends

"Art Friends" photo by Melody Weintraub

"Art Friends" photo by Melody Weintraub

As a veteran teacher, I can think of no single factor that has inspired me more than my relationships with other art teachers. Not only do I glean ideas from them, but I find among them..among you..a group who understands my passion. I remember the first National Art Education Association Conference that I attended. I knew no one there, and yet it didn’t take long to find out that I actually knew them all too well. We lived hundreds of miles apart, but in some cases, it even looked like we shopped together. It was easy to strike up a conversation as we made art together or attended sessions. Even though I have a wonderful group of art teacher friends here in my region, I still try to expose myself to new art acquaintances whenever I visit the NAEA Conference. I suggest you do the same. Find a group. Join your state organization. Join an Art Teacher group on social media. Go to conferences. Meet for coffee. Mentor and Observe when you can. We need each other. I want to learn all I can from you and I’ve been doing this a really long time.

Teacher's Pet

Autograph Art Apron photo by Melody Weintraub

Autograph Art Apron photo by Melody Weintraub

We need to be cautious in the art classroom not to show favoritism to gifted students. We also need to be careful not to ignore them. Our lessons need to include modifications for the gifted students, “who finish early,” or “who would like to include…” However, we need to find positive things to say about the progress of each type of learner. A positive, truthful comment could become a key that unlocks a world of possibilities for that student. By differentiating not only our approaches to lessons, but also offering students a variety of ways to express themselves artistically, we give more students an opportunity to find “their” medium and thus make a connection to art. 

Don't Take it Personally

IMG_2690.jpg

It’s a little difficult to do what we do everyday and not be passionate about Art. Each of us can probably point to a particular artist or art movement and find our personal voice resonating with every brushstroke or found object. We have an experience with that particular work or artist that sometimes goes beyond or trivializes description. We need to realize, as art teachers, that although our passion and excitement for art may be inspiring to some students, others will either not have or refuse to have the ability to relate either because they haven’t found that art voice yet, or because they are a 12 year-old. So when you are introducing that particular art passion to your students and they don’t seem to connect or even snicker, don’t take it personally.  If you feel your blood pressure increasing because of a student comment or that all too familiar roll-of-the-eyes, back down. Move on. This also goes for the project that you were sure they would love. It may be a successful lesson plan and, at the same time, not be a success with all of your students. Don’t take it personally. This even relates to classroom conduct. Anger to anger solves nothing. You can discuss the issue with the student without taking the conduct as a personal threat. Try to imagine what horrible underlying conflict this student could be facing at home or at school that causes the negative behavior. Above all, when you are dealing with the issue, do not take it personally. Address it and move on. Let Art Class be the place the student can find solace and their own personal voice.

Look Around

Photo by Melody Weintraub

Photo by Melody Weintraub

Sometimes in our day to day drudgery of slopping buckets of water around the art room or down the hall for Art on a Cart or going through stacks of papers on an already cluttered desk, or trying to soak paint out of a school uniform, we fail to look around. Sometimes as we squeeze through an inadequately-sized annex to see if students are, “getting it,” or picking up fifteen pencils in the hallway that you need in the art room or “decorating” the school’s bulletin boards, or matting work for art contests, we fail to look around. Pause for a moment today even a brief moment, while students are working and look around. Look what is going on. Realize it for a moment. This is an amazing calling. Tell your students to stop working and to look at you. Repeat this to them and mean it, “I have the best job in the world.”

Positive Recall

Just for a moment, remember what caused you to want to be an art teacher. As we think back on it, most of us recall a positive experience in an art room somewhere. Some of us will even tribute our career choice to a person..maybe even an art teacher. What was it about that teacher that you remember most? Was it the swell way that she wrote the lesson objectives on the board? Was it the manner in which he delivered Bloom’s Taxonomy to the door of your creative brain in 30 minutes or less? Is it the strategies that your favorite art teacher used to teach you skills, techniques or processes? No? What was it then? Was it, just maybe, the way that your art teacher made you feel? You can’t exactly recall every detail of the bulletin boards in the art room, but there are certain memories that bring back a sense of belonging that you once felt entering that elementary, middle or high school art room. Remember what did it for you and remember how important it is that you show up for your students. Show up and show them you care. Give them a reason to want to come to school. Say that quiet student’s name when you greet them today. It might be the nicest way anybody has said their name in a really long time. It’s the simple things that count sometimes. Thirty years from now, they may not be able to recite the Elements of Art or identify all the art movements, but I’m fairly certain they will recall you and how you made them feel.

Keeping Up!

Young teachers, you have an advantage when teaching young students. You know their interests. Knowing their interests and implementing aspects of it into your lessons when possible, keeps them engaged. There's a real danger among veteran teachers if we tend to teach the same lessons using the same examples year after year. Sooner or later, the engagement will wane as student interest changes. Also, what might have been a rockstar lesson in one placement simply does not work within the culture of another placement. It all boils down to "Keeping Up!" We need to know our students' interests (material culture) and keep updating our pedagogical gray matter (teaching brains).