First year art teacher survival guide for secondary teachers.Everyone told you you'd never get a job teaching art. Maybe like me, they even told you to find another endorsement, just in case. Well, the only thing I ever wanted to teach was art, so why bother finding another endorsement? It's all I wanted to teach.
You see I had already worked as a set painter, a graphic designer and an advertising art director, then had my children and went back to school to get my teaching degree. Art was all I'd ever done. My high school counselors had also told me not to go into art, that I would never find a job, well they were wrong, maybe these professors were wrong too?
Flash forward to 2 years after receiving my teaching certificate. I landed my first job as a high school art teacher. So, yes I didn't get a job right off the bat, but patience and determination go a long way in any field you choose and if you are a first year art teacher you probably have these same character traits.
So let's get down to it. How do you survive your first year of teaching secondary art? Like you I've read all kinds of blogs with inspiring and general information on how to survive, but in this blog, I wanted to give you real, concrete examples on surviving your first year (and first day) of teaching art. Here are my top 5:
1. Find a mentor in your building. Ask, ask, ask. (and then listen).I was lucky. There was a seasoned art teacher next door to me that really knew her stuff and was willing to help me with lessons and classroom procedures. If you are working on a team of art teachers make sure to listen to them! I can't emphasize this enough! They are not the enemy, you are not in competition with them. Embrace their knowledge and use it in your own classroom. Steal like an artist people! Make it your own but utilize their knowledge. If you aren't lucky enough to have a team, hopefully you created a solid relationship with your mentor teacher during student teaching and have their number handy. Mine even came into my room with me and helped me set it up for the first time.
Call them whenever you need to. But also find a mentor in your building. Even if they don't teach art, they've taught most likely many years and will be a great help to you if you let them.
But I don't want this blog to just have general ideas and suggestions, I want it to have specifics. So specifically what did I learn from the teacher next door?
What did I learn from the experienced teacher next door?
How to collect student art work.We have carts in our rooms and she used large flat rubbermaid containers that were marked with period numbers. The students then turned their work into those bins, NOT to the teacher. The bins look something like this, but without the lid and a period number label on the side.
I learned how to evaluate student artwork.For every project she taught she had a student evaluation worksheet. So each of the assessment components had line on the worksheet and the students rated themselves on a scale of 0-10 on each of those components. The bigger the project, the more components and the more points available. She then had students turn in each of the steps or process pieces along with the evaluation and the final piece of art. No more mystery as to why you received a good or bad grade. Brilliant! Here's an example of one of mine:
(The more specific you make your goals or components the easier it is to grade artwork.)
2. Who cares about the first year, what about that first day!?My first year of teaching I went into my assistant principals office crying. Yes, crying. How embarrassing. But it was OK. She helped me. She said it will be OK. You don't have to have the entire year figured out you just have to be one day ahead of them. She even said, sometimes you might only be one hour ahead of them and that's OK too! And she was right. Please don't try to figure out your entire curricula for the whole year in your first week of teaching. What a waste of time. You might be able to pull off a general guideline of what you want to cover, but really things will change and you need to be able to swerve with those changes if you are going to survive.
So what did I do my first day?This was one where the experienced teacher next door led me astray. (It can happen.) She told me to just talk about my classroom rules and procedures, that they were only 20 minute periods and that it would go by fast. Wrong, wrong and wrongo!!!
That 20 minutes was the longest 20 minutes of my life.
Have them do artwork on the first day of school.Yes, artwork! It will take the pressure off of you and those students will be thrilled to do some hands-on work on that day because the rest of the teachers have already talked their ears off. They aren't listening to you anyway, so whatever you do, don't give them the rules and procedures on that day!
Find either and ice-breaker lesson or back-to-school lesson online and use it.
Teachers-pay-teachers didn't really exist when I started teaching. At least there wasn't a lot of stuff for secondary art teachers that's for sure. But if it had, I would have been on there finding a tried and true ice-breaker or back-to-school lesson for that important first day. I have an ice-breaker powerpoint and student interest survey on A Space to Create that I use on that first day. You can purchase it here if you'd like, but I'll give you the basics and you can just make your own too! So I start with the creative exercise:
I give everyone a square piece of drawing paper and ask them to create a design using these 2 rules only: Use 10 circles and 5 lines.
Once you put up that slide you should only read those two rules and say nothing else. That's when you'll start to learn all kinds of great things about your students. Which students raise their hands to clarify the instructions? Who just starts drawing away? Which students are frustrated by the lack of clear instruction?! This is good stuff, remember it, because it gives you an insight into the kind of students you will have in the coming semester!
Here is an example of a piece of art created by one of my students on that first day:
As an art teacher there are so many elements in this artwork that made it successful and this is the perfect time to talk about those things. Ask your class what makes this art interesting? Some kids might not be able to answer but will just say because it looks cool. This is a teachable moment and it's happening on your first day! You can talk about Variety, Balance, Overlapping (Space), Value (Shading), Repetition and Rhythm. Wow, that's a lot of information to get to those kids right off the bat! Good work teach!
You probably learned a lot about a students artistic ability from the designs that each student created, next it's time to learn a little more about them as people. I have students turn over their pages and answer questions. I make sure they number the answers. I love presenting this as a powerpoint, it saves so much time a the copy machine and lots of trees too!
There are plenty of sources out there, so find one you love and use it on that first day!
3. Have tried and true lessons in your back pocket.
I don't want to make this blog an ad for teachers pay teachers, but how cool is it to have all of those resources in your back pocket? My store is A Space to Create and I have all kinds of lessons that are packaged and ready to go. Take advantage of that! You should have a couple of great lessons from your mentor teacher and also a few lessons that you created as a student teacher, those are great.
But if you are like me, you maybe ended up with a class you didn't expect, like Calligraphy?! Really? Yes, I had to teach calligraphy my first year of teaching and had never done it and really didn't grasp why it was still taught. So I had to dig deep. There were no real lessons out there online to use so I went to the local book store and found about 10 books on how to do calligraphy. First things first, I had to learn it myself. If you find yourself in this position, go back to what my assistant principal told me, you only have to be one hour ahead of those kiddos!
Play to your strengths.
If you find yourself teaching a style of art you aren't familiar with, figure out a way to make it your own. Not only did I learn how to write calligraphy I shifted the class and made it more about art journaling and hand-drawn letterforms to play to my strengths and students loved it.
Here is a tried an true lesson that works great for a variety of mediums and class types.
I began this lesson in my calligraphy class and although it isn't traditional calligraphy all of my students loved creating it and I could easily also teach it in my beginning art classes or painting classes. My principal loves it because it has an ELA tie-in as well, that doesn't hurt does it?
So the big idea is for students to create a found poem by circling poetic words or phrases on a book page and then to create piece of art based on a core idea or central theme.
The above image is the sample artwork that I created. I highly recommend creating your own piece of art before attempting to teach any lesson. It will give you an understanding of where kids might get stuck and make you a better teacher. So, if you want to teach this lesson grab a piece of watercolor paper and an old book. Find an interesting page with lots of great words and phrases and rip it out. Brush glue onto the back of the book page and seal it to the watercolor paper. Next use a pencil to circle words and phrases to create a poem. Find a word that identifies the central idea or theme of your poem. (It doesn't have to be in the poem.) And then draw the word somewhere on your page. Use a font as reference if you can, it'll make the word look a lot better! Finally create artwork around the words and phrases that you circles. The artwork you create should tie-in to the central idea or theme word you chose. Here are some more examples of my students work:
4. Remember why you became a teacher in the first place. To change lives.So one of the most important things to remember your first year of teaching, and even more importantly as you move through your teaching career, is that you may not know it but you are making a difference to these kids and their lives. Sometimes the difference between a kid who makes it and who doesn't is a teacher who believed in them. As art teachers we get a lot of the disenfranchised students, the kids on the edge. We have an amazing opportunity to make their lives better, if not forever, at least for the day. We wield great power. Use that superpower for good!
I just received an email from a student who graduated 2 years ago yesterday. She sent it to 10 teachers that she had in high school. I was lucky enough to be included in that 10. She was one of those kids you never worry about. She did great work, always seemed to wear a smile, had wonderful parents and just was an all around a great kid. In this email she shared that she was depressed for many of those high school years and had even considered suicide. (I and the rest of her teachers I'm sure, had no idea.) She also shared that it was the love and encouragement of her teachers that gave here the flicker of hope she needed to realize that she was worth something. The amazing thing is she sent that email to encourage us as teachers to never lose that caring. In her email she says that she knows teaching can't be easy, that we as teachers never know what a student is going through, but that our caring still makes a difference. Going into my 5th year of teaching, boy did I need that reminder! I absolutely love this saying from venspired.com and want to share it with you:
This lady has an amazing perspective on teaching. Reading her blog inspires the rest of us to stay strong and remember who we are as teachers. I highly recommend finding it and reading and re-reading it!!! She also has some great posters for free on her site to decorate your classroom. And here are some free posters from me too!
5. Treat everyone with the respect they deserve.After the highfalutin number 4, lets get down to the nitty-gritty. You better think about how you treat your school's secretaries, janitors and students.
My first year of teaching I had one go-to person who could answer 99% of my questions and help me with everything from how to change my voicemail to how to handle an angry student and it's not who you might think. The head secretary at my school is the principal's secretary and she has worked at my school for over 20 years! What a wealth of information! Not only that she is kind, helpful and just a wonderful resource for any questions I might have she is also extremely busy, but always made time for me. I'm not sure if that is true for every new teacher, but I do know that I've always tried to treat her with respect, as an equal and as the true friend that she is and I don't know what I'd have done without her.
Your first year of teaching you might be like me and fill out a work order. Whatever it is that you need done might get accomplished in the next year or so, but there's no guarantee. Well guess what? Janitors can often get things done for you that you can't get done through the traditional method. (Duh) If you grab a janitor to help they can help you get stuff done that very day. But only if you are a kind and respectful person.
Think about this, do you speak to your principal in the same tone that you speak to your janitor or school secretary? If you don't, then you might want to think about changing that. This also goes for the students in your class. That student you know is a teachers kid and the kid from the wrong side of the tracks. Do you treat them the same? I certainly hope so.
The valedictorian of my high school class gave a speech on the definition of 'class.' He said that the definition of class is treating everyone with kindness and respect regardless of their position in life.
Are you a classy teacher? Make it so that you are and your first year of teaching and the many years to come will go so much better!
Good luck, you can do it! Go out there and make a difference!!