How to Teach Like a Lazy Person

So.. first of all, for those of you who know me well, I am NOT a lazy person- I teach at two schools, facilitate the art department, write this blog and started AOE Classes.. the list goes on.  I pride myself on overachieving.  But lately I’ve had to pull in the reins on some of the PHYSICAl stuff that we all know is a part of teaching art.  This post is all about making ADAPTIONS to your work day when you are feeling, well, lazy. (I hate that word).  Maybe you are feeling a little under the weather, but not sick enough to stay home. You have low energy. You are 8  months pregnant (ahem…that’s me).  I’ve had to make some accommodations this school year in order to survive.

Remember when we talked about dread and I shared my fear of standing? There was a reason. It turns out I have low blood pressure and because of this I can pass out and get dizzy with a moments notice from standing too long.  (grocery store almost fainting episode, NOT FUN!) It gets even better when you throw into the mix a new year with a busy schedule and  back to back classes, right!  So I’ve had to make some health accommodations with my doctor’s note in tow.

Don’t have a bun in the oven? This list can work for anyone who just doesn’t have a lot of energy but needs to get through a busy art day. Sound lazy? Maybe. But these strategies do work without sacrificing quality teaching, which is the most important thing.

How to Teach Like a Lazy Person

1. Sit as Often as you can: Obtain a tall wheeled chair and a short one.  Use the chair to zoom around the art room to help kids.  Sit while you demonstrate and talk with students.  Sit whenever you can.

2. Let the Students Come to You: “If you teach it, they will come”….Instead of having students raise their hands when they have a question, just set your self up at one of the work tables or a place in the front of the room. (not something that is off on the corner and probably not your desk)  Let students know if they have a question they can come up to you. It’s important to position yourself so you can see what is going on in the art room at all times! I put my tables in an arrangement that would better help me do this.

3.  Use Disposable Painting Supplies:  Usually I wash out my plastic cups and paint palettes when I dispense paint at the end of each day. They are high quality and work great for students and save a tree, but sometimes it’s just easier and quicker to use something disposable. This year, I’ll be using paper plates, old catalogs (dispense paint on the top and rip off the sheet when you are done) and dixie art cups to hold paint and supplies.  This way, the only washing you must do is the brushes, and I plan to help train the kids to do this.

4. Let the Kids Help! I have a great system for table helpers in place. This year I plan on utilizing the table helpers even more to do things I usually would have done myself. Kids are happy to help and they are learning character skills by being helpful to a teacher in need.  When I started teaching, someone told me to never do a job yourself a kid can do for you. I really disagree with this because I like to be the one to empty and organize my drying rack and I like to wash out the brushes and make sure they are super clean deep within the bristles. This year, I may give some of that up. And it’s ok!

5.  Do not Compromise on your Management Plan! Show the students you are getting lax following through with your classroom management plan will never help anything.  Stick to your plan like glue, and even on your worst days, don’t just “let it go”.. Kids are smart. They see right through you. If you let it go once, you have just set a new standard for future classes and they’ll try even more the next time.

Looking back on all these changes I am making, I can see that perhaps I was doing TO MUCH for the kids before, and they can handle a lot more if I just give them a little freedom (while keeping structure) with some of our routines. Only time will tell- Until then….You’ll find me parked at the bench during recess duty…..

What other tricks do you have to work smarter, not harder, in the busy art room? 

Jessica Balsley

Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.


  • Hi Jessica, I have just discovered your blog and lessons/website.
    Thank you for generously sharing all your wisdom. You have filled my bucket today! I have been reading for about an hour here, learning all sorts of great classroom management tips.
    Here is my question; Although Mondrian, Kadinsky, and Escher are wonderful, why don’t you teach anything about artists before DaVinci? Why don’t the students get to learn about Byzantine mosaics,stained glass in French Cathedrals, frescos by Giotto, Fra Angellico, Jan Van Eyck, Durer, Raphael, and so on? Is there not enough time? Are modern artists more important now? Is it because there are “naked people” in some of those old paintings? Is it because to teach about Giotto and so on would involve some religious education(these guys painted a lot of Bible stories) and that is not appropriate in our public schools? Mondrian made some great art with lines and primary colors but he began with a classical art education and most certainly had copied those old masters which is why his very original ideas stood out-they were built on the backs of artists from centuries before. Aboriginal art, ancient Chinese art, Japanese art, these also were influences on the moderns, but why not mention the old masters? That is my question for you, maybe it will inspire a blog post? I am looking forward to an answer.
    I am just beginning my 3rd year as an art teacher in a private classical school so I can teach all the art history I wish but would love to find more input from you more experienced teachers out there on the web. I began this job from an extremely inexperienced position and could not have gone on confidently without all the help from art blogs on the web.

    • Hi Janice!

      Great questions! I think about this often because I do LOVE art history! With all the lessons I do teach, it’s impossible to post them all to the blog, but I am slowly working at it. Plus, as Marie mentioned, this is not a blog focused strictly on lessons, but more on professional development, but lessons do play an important role in that whole grand scheme!
      I do a lesson on cathedrals, castles and stained glass. I also have done cave paintings and we do talk about DaVinci when I do one point perspective with my 5th grade, all of which have just not made it on the blog yet! :)
      Personally I do find it more difficult to teach the old masters, because sometimes the content and colors just don’t always appeal to the younger audience, but I do think their lessons are valuable. I used to do a Michelangelo lesson where I would let the students draw under the tables like he did on the chapel ceiling, but the management of that got a little crazy!
      I did review a product from Meet the Masters where I learned more about Rembrant and tried out one of their kits right here:

      Hope this helps a little- I think we all strive to find that balance, there is so much to teach and so little time!

  • One more question. I am following your website/blog from my blogspot reader and it seems that from your site here, I can’t automatically comment unless I log in from wordpress? Janice Skivington

    • I don’t think the reader allows for any commenting, you have to go to the original site. I use Google Reader and the same applies!

  • I bet she does teach lots of those other things, but this isn’t really a lesson-focused blog! There are so many possibilities from art history and contemporary art and from art around the world, it can be hard to choose what to teach- but we should also keep in mind what’s relevant to the children we teach and how they will relate to the art and artists we share for making meaning in their lives. I’ve heard from lots of novice teachers in my acquaintance lately questioning about how DO you decide what to teach when art curriculum can be so open-ended?
    But anyway- Kudos to your classroom management from a chair! take care of yourself.

    • Thank you, Marie! All of these topics would make great posts/discussions – There is no easy answer!

  • Hi Jessica,
    Thanks for all your work on this. I’ve been teaching K-12 for 24 yrs. and still learning. I have one question. What is the little gizmo on your desk, looks like a white microscope? Do you use it with an ipad to project on the wall? I’m trying to get rid of my slide projector and start using technology but don’t have a laptop in my room so end up having kids sit around my large desk top mac.

  • janice skivington

    Thank you for your reply Jessica. I do understand that this blog is about the whole picture, how to organize, how to plan, how to make lessons, and how to teach and I am enjoying all the information as I read through your past posts. Great job-keep up the good information stream.

  • Lisa

    I also use egg cartoons for paint, and throw them away when I’m done. And if you have teachers that eat frozen meals, those plastic trays work great, and a lot of my teachers take them home and wash them up for me.

    • All great idea! Today I just thought of muffin liners, too. They might work better then the expensive disposable paint cups you can get from the art catalogs.

    • I use egg cartons, also! I cut them in half so they hold six colors. They work perfectly for those super busy days!