20 Tips For Your 1st (or 10th!) School Year

Going into my second year of teaching, I’m still finding the beginning of the year a tiny bit intimidating:  the room prep and organizing, the planning, the supply ordering, the school meetings, and the first day jitters.  Last summer, I prepared by setting up and sorting through my entire art room.  It was a really great process that allowed me to take inventory of what I had, what I would need, meet other staff members, and settle into the space to make it mine. It also allowed me a little more time to enjoy THIS summer!

Reflections of a First Year Art Teacher-1

While gearing up for this school year, I started to reflect on last school year…my very first year. To help me prepare for this one, I started to compile anecdotes, realizations, suggestions, and hints that I found to be extremely helpful in becoming a more effective (and less stressed) teacher, which I’d love to share.

Here are my Top 20 Tips

1. Smile and stay positive (even when it’s really hard)

2. Realize everyone is learning and can make mistakes, even you, the teacher

3. Prioritize your tasks; make lists

4. Know it’s okay to joke around and have fun – let go and allow your personality to shine

5. Stop being your own worst critic: read Share Your Advice for the First Day of School

6. Be flexible

7. Understand it’s okay to say no sometimes – especially to time-consuming requests

8. Ask for help when you need it

9. Connect with other art educators (AOE, Twitter, Conferences, Districts, etc.)

10. Connect with parents, families, and the community

11. Keep in mind those extra night and weekend hours may go unnoticed – have a life outside of school

12. Establish clear boundaries so that students may experience freedom and creativity within those boundaries (You may want to check out Michael Linsin’s website, his book Dream Class, and the AOE Class Managing the Art Room)

13. Know it’s okay to not follow-up immediately with consequences

14. Let go of some of the prep and clean-up responsibilities. Have the students do it. After all, it’s their room, their supplies, and their learning (AND they love helping!)  It also allows them a greater sense of ownership and helps them develop responsibility!

15. Have a solid sub plan for when you’re gone (going in to do sub prep while you are mid-stomach flu is no fun)

16. Realize it’s okay to scrap an unsuccessful project, even in the middle of it

17. Organization and preparation are key.  I know every art teacher is different, but if I hadn’t spent all that time last summer organizing, I would have felt extremely overwhelmed.

18. With that said, organizing your closets or cupboards doesn’t have to be done before the first day of school, though it may help you feel more organized and less pressed for time during the school year, it can be done after the school year starts.

19. Art should be a fun experience (within reason). If you aren’t having fun, or your students aren’t having fun, it may be time for a little reflection

20. Keep your perspective. Remind yourself why you’re there in the first place!  The ultimate goal is to facilitate the best arts education you can for your students.

We’d love to know: What is the best tip you learned your first year? 

What do you wish someone would have told you before you started teaching? 




Alecia Eggers Kaczmarek

Alecia is an elementary art teacher in central Iowa who is passionate about teaching and reaching her students with an innovative and meaningful arts education.


  • Morgan Miller

    Great article, Alecia! You’re an excellent art teacher and you have great insight. :)

    • Alecia Eggers

      Thank Miss Morgan!

  • Laura

    Great! Love it!
    Regarding scrapping projects, last winter I did a project with second grade. It was a disaster and I wanted to give up. Halfway through the project I stopped and changed gears, did something else, but kept my “horrible” projects. In the late spring it came to me how to fix them! We did another whole project with that halfway finished peice. I agree on scrapping projects, but save them JUST in case.

    • Alecia Eggers

      Thank you for the tip Laura! It’s amazing what time away from something can do for perspective!

    • Jenette Noe

      Something I picked up in college that may be just as applicable in other grades is to save those “scrapped projects.” Put them in a “re-imagine” box where others can take them and change them into something else. Taking someone else’s “mistake” and turning it into something else can be an excellent creative exercise.

      • Alecia Eggers

        Transforming the work into a “beautiful oops” and get students to think outside the box – great tip!

  • Welcome, Alecia! We are thrilled to have your exciting and refreshing perspective here on AOE!

    • Alecia Eggers

      Thank you – I am so excited to be a part of this amazing team!

  • Mom

    Alecia – I think you are the best art teacher I know!
    Just work a bit more on your tip 11…

    • Mom usually knows best! :)

    • Deb

      I keep telling her that too! Haha!

    • Alecia Eggers

      Hahaha thanks guys…

  • Deb

    Alecia, great article! You were a superstar first year teacher & your second year is going to be great! We are lucky to have you in this district : )

    • Alecia Eggers

      Thanks Deb! Lucky to have you as a friend and colleague :)

  • Deb

    Alecia, great advice not only for first year teachers, but for everyone! Your smile is contagious and I love having you as a Fine Arts neighbor.

    • Alecia Eggers

      Aww thanks neighbor! :)

  • Jenette Noe

    I’m student teaching right now, and one great lesson my teacher has taught me is to befriend the janitor and the athletic director! Art is very messy, and if your janitor doesn’t like you early on in the year, you may notice that the room never gets a good cleaning. Also being friends with the athletic director means access to a washer and dryer by the locker rooms, so you can clean your classroom washrags. Also being friends with the coaches means you can have friendly football players help carry heavy boxes of clay to the classroom.

    Also, I have 200 Projects to Strengthen Your Art Skills and I love it! It’s a wonderful resource to keep in my art libraryl

    • Alecia Eggers

      Oh yes! Excellent tip about befriending colleagues in helpful departments! It definitely comes in handy. And yes, you can never have too many idea books! I like that it is very skill-oriented.

  • Ariel

    I also have 200 Projects to strengthen your Art Skills! Could you list your books please. It looks like you have a nice selection. Thanks.

    • Alecia Eggers

      Sure! Would you mind if I emailed you a list? You can reach me by email at aleciaeggers@theartofed.com. Just email me and I’ll compile some of the books I reference most!

  • Gabrielle Slow

    I need some kind of rhyme or song to get my students to set down materials and look up and listen when I have something important to say during class. I find it really hard to get everyones attention while materials are out and about!

    • Alecia Eggers

      You can always try clapping, and then they respond with the same pattern you clapped in. This year, I have been using “3…2…1…Show Me the Mona Lisa,” and the students imitate how the Mona Lisa is sitting (eyes on speaker, mouth closed, hands in lap). I got this idea from another art teacher while I was taking The Art of Ed’s Managing the Art Room course. I’ve also heard “Give me 3” (eyes, ears, still), “Give me 5” (eyes, ears, mouths quiet, hands still, facing the speaker?), “1, 2, 3, eyes on me” – you can tailor these however you want. I’ve also heard of the teacher saying a statement, and the students responding like “1, 2, 3 Everybody freeze”, and the students respond “Macaroni and cheese” to show they’re ready for your directions. Of course, there is plenty of teaching, practicing, modeling, and reteaching involved. But if you take the time to do this in the beginning the benefits are very much worth it. I’ll be anxious to hear about what you picked and how it worked for you! :)

    • Alecia Eggers

      I found this pin I had pinned to Pinterest forever ago – it may be helpful! http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/d4/34/b3/d434b3de537d0964c8649497d996f3c4.jpg

      • Gabrielle Slow

        Thank you so much! Love it! I just started using a call and repeat “sh, Sh, Shhh” and then asking them to put their “art binoculars” on (since that makes them let go of the art supplies) … but I might try to come up with a 10 finger rule (important things to think about) and ask them to show me “10” to get hands up in the air.

    • Katherine Svoboda

      I have been teaching a long time. A few years ago I bought a “No Yell Bell.” I wish I had it 20 years ago. It has 7 sounds. I only use two: one for clean up and one because I have something important to say. It doesn’t take long for students to learn the sounds and they do respond. If my bell breaks, I will get another. I don’t have to raise my voice and I can stay calm! I teach middle school kids, 6-8th grades.

  • Mrs.D

    Many times students have fun in art but I do not. It’s hard work serving the children, prepping, cleaning up. It’s no fun ! It’s also so repetitious. K-3 want to be helpers but I can only give them limited duties. It’s my 21st year teaching Iand I thought it would be easier by now! I’m open to suggestions.

    • Sonja Overvoorde Timmer

      You might want to investigate “Teaching for Artistic Behavior”. It takes away alot of the prep of teacher directed projects and opens the door to the students creativity.

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  • Theresa Ornoff

    One of my Art Ed professors told me that the children come in each week with a fresh perspective…a clean slate as it were. Kids don’t hold grudges and they don’t stay mad. They are very forgiving. So…even if a child has a bad day in art class one week, when they enter the art room the next week it is a fresh start, for them and me. I keep that in mind every time I start a new class and give each student the opportunity to make it a better day. It keeps me from “dreading” one particular class or one particular student and has kept me loving what I do for 33 years.

    • Alecia Eggers

      Thank you for this Theresa! Such an important piece to keep in mind, and put into practice! :)

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