10 Things to Stop Doing Now as an Art Teacher

You are accustomed to people adding things to your plate. You probably feel obligated to do more because it’s ‘the right thing to do.’ Today it’s time to think differently. Instead of doing more, here are 10 things you can STOP doing as an art teacher to improve your practice.
1. Stop trying to cram so much content into your school year.
Rushing through too much content in your curriculum is a recipe for disaster. Your students will feel the pressure and so will you. Try doing less in a school year, but go deeper into the items that you choose to cover. My friend Cassie Stephens chooses one culture to really focus on each year because she only sees her students for 30 minutes a week.

2. Stop putting things off. 
Instead of waiting until the last minute to get the art show signs up, see how it feels to actually do them a week ahead of time. Chances are, the job will take less time than you think.

3. Stop feeling paranoid about your principal and administration.
This lesson is hard to learn, but it’s so important. No one is watching you as closely as you think. Everyone has their own agenda and list of TO DO’s that probably doesn’t involve you. In fact, you might feel like you made a mistake during an observation, but your principal saw a positive. Don’t assume the worst, just work to your fullest potential each day and good things will come back to you.

4. Stop buying cheap art supplies.
Each year I would purchase an “off brand” of construction paper, and each year I would get upset when the paint soaked in and the colors dulled. In the spring when you order, it might seem like a great idea to save a few bucks, but you will live with this regret every single day the following year when you put these supplies in the hands of your students. Don’t skimp on the basics like paper and paint. Save in other areas.

5. Stop waiting around for people to come to you.
Why hasn’t the 2nd grade teacher who does an amazing dinosaur unit reached out to collaborate with you? Why haven’t you been asked to present at the school board meeting about the art program? Why hasn’t your principal observed you or stopped by in weeks? One question: Have you asked?

6. Stop working through your lunch without taking a break.
A break in your school day can be the very best thing you do. Even 10 minutes of reading your favorite book or checking Pinterest can be the tiny indulgence you need to get through your overflowing afternoon classes. Get outside and breathe in some fresh air. Productivity loves leisure. We need one to have the other.

7. Stop talking politics in the teachers lounge.
Teaching is one of the only professions I know where individuals feel it’s ok to talk politics at work because ‘everyone is of the same political party anyway, right? – we’re teachers!’ This is not true and political conversations aren’t ok in any workplace. You can’t assume.

8. Stop trying to ‘be all’ to everyone.
There are times when you must say yes to a committee, or draw a poster for the school play, but true excellence is actually about your ability to say NO. This allows you to focus your energies on the true task at hand: Teaching Art. If you have a choice, and really don’t feel it’s a good opportunity, respectfully say NO.

9. Stop counting down the days until summer.
This is one of the most destructive habits of teachers everywhere, and so so hard not to participate in. The second you start counting the days until summer, the slower they will go. It puts a negative spin on your work. Instead, think, “How much fabulous art can we cram in until the very last day of school!?” This attitude will make things easier on yourself and your students will notice.

10. Stop letting yourself get overwhelmed.
On any given day of teaching, the feeling of being overwhelmed can rear its ugly head and try to take over your logical consciousness. The fact is, anything can easily become overwhelming. Take one task at a time, chip away at the tasks, and know there will always be something on your TO DO list, no matter how frantic you decide to get about it.

Which tip resonates the most with you? 

Do you disagree with any? 

What would you add to the list? 


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.


  • Shannon Salinas

    Thank you Jessica for these wonderful insights. You are so right!!!

  • 2Dv8

    Not sure I agree with 2 things but the other 8 are fantastic suggestions.
    1. We can not do less because our state standards require we teach certain things. I do suggest trying to cover more content in one lesson. It is possible to touch on several standards, principles and elements in one lesson. This way you are not trying to cram in so many lesson plans yet are still covering quality material and information.

    3. Telling teachers “no one is watching as closely as you think” may in well fact be true but not good advice. We as art teachers have to always “act” as if we are being held to the same standards as classroom teachers otherwise we will never be taken seriously by classroom teachers and admin.

    • Great points – I appreciate the insight! I agree we must hold ourselves to the highest standard, BUT often our emotional right brained selves get the best of us, and becoming alarmist about every little detail happening around us can also become a hinderance. It can go both ways for sure!

      • 2Dv8

        With that being said, I can not tell you how may times I winged it through a lesson first because I thought it looks cool and wrote the lesson plan later…much later in some cases!

  • Keri

    this is a great list and I agree with everything on it and I’ve been teaching 15 years. Having a good work/life balance is so important if you want to have a long teaching career. If you stress over everything, you’ll burn out quickly. Learn to prioritize what is important and let the rest go. Also, learning to say “no” is a key skill of any art teacher.

  • Kati Walsh

    I agree with them all except #7. I passionately disagree with you on this one. Public education is under attack from both Dems and Repubs. If teachers don’t have these conversations, if WE don’t stand up and fight for our students, then who will?

    I would encourage you all to have MORE political conversations, not less. We have a duty to fight for our children beyond the classroom.

    • Kati – I love your passion! I think everyone’s comfort level is different, therefore, most will always be divided on this issue, but neither is wrong. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  • Stephanie Sareyani

    I just love #9. I have exactly one more semester left and now I am determined to make it the best….thanks!

  • Patty Palmer

    Love this list, Jessica. The theme here is to practice gratitude and focus on the best parts of teaching. Too often our grievances, which seem so important at the time, usually end up working themselves out. And positive energy always gets positive results.

  • ArtCLassWithLMJ.wordpress.com

    I take a different look at the “counting down”. For instance, my fifth graders have a deadline that is the last day of class with me regarding their legacy project. If we don’t meet the deadline, it’s summer and we are out of time. So I have a countdown. It helps us stay on task and on track. The last day of school, we are also presenting a gift to the school from fourth grade art – my students want to countdown to the big reveal. My countdowns to the “end” all serve a greater purpose – they are not a countdown to the summer. I don’t think a “countdown” to the end of the year is negative unless it is used in a negative or non-beneficial manner.

    As for the politics – I agree that some politics should stay home. Abortion, gay rights, etc are all very hard topics that are better left for table talk elsewhere. But politics that effect the culture of a school? The laws that guide the Department of Education? Those should be conversations we have because believe it or not, many teachers and staff in school are completely oblivious to what might be going on in politics that will truly effect them! It is essential, however, that you present the conversations in a informative and professional manner.

    All 10 are very good points, though. Even the ones I have responded about. I just feel as though it’s not that we shouldn’t do those things, it’s how we approach them that matters.

    • Mary Gallagher

      I agree with you on #9, LMJ! Counting down is essential if you want to get the most out of your plans. You certainly can’t start and finish a project if the time’s not there. Add into the mix: field trips, field days, school picnic, carnival day, yearbook business, etc., etc. I feel sooo bad when I send home artwork that we didn’t have time to finish because I needed just one more art time with my sweeties.

    • I love this quote below from your comment, Lisa! You are correct: it’s the intention that matters. The overall idea here is to stay positive, which you are most definitely doing!

      My countdowns to the “end” all serve a greater purpose – they are not a countdown to the summer. I don’t think a “countdown” to the end of the year is negative unless it is used in a negative or non-beneficial manner.

  • Gabby Art

    Sit back and enjoy some of the simple lessons you teach. A paper puppet, paper strips twisted, folded , swirled, bent into an imaginary amusement park! Simple cut and glue. Oil pastel flowers with watercolor skies or even tissue paper flowers with glue wash. Let the kids choose the next lesson plan. And you can sit back and enjoy!

  • HipWaldorf

    The lunch room is a peaceful place to relax after a hectic morning, and honestly we avoid discussing national politics around the lunch table in NH (and probably in Iowa too?) because we get overloaded. But we do love to peacefully debate matters of importance such as Common Core (best practice?) art integration in the regular classroom (which projects when?) and how to support the students and schools when Town Meeting time comes up. Thank you for a great list. :)

  • Mr. Post

    Stop worrying about hanging stuff up and worry about creating a great art experience for the kids in your classes. If art is fun, the kids will talk about it at the dinner table. If kids love your class the parents will know it because they will hear about it at home. A beautiful art display isn’t nearly as important as a quality art experience for the kids. …and say something funny in every class – kids love to laugh.

    • Erica

      that’s so true!

  • Michele Gorham

    another great post! this is the one year I am NOT counting down to summer! We had 7 snow days, 5 two hour delays and I am feeling it this year we are working until the bitter end-no sidewalk chalk and free art this year! I guess this goes with the cramming too much too-its the first year I missed some of my usual projects with my kiddos =( I did take the time to enjoy passing back portrait/portfolio work to my 6th graders-I have been secretly collecting portraits from them since I started elementary (when they were first graders!). We revealed a new project on thursdays for #tbt

  • Erica

    I LOVE THIS! I STOPPED TRYING TO REINVENT THE WHEEL. Using tried and true projects with an attitude of creativity, I am learning so much more from my students. None of these old stand by projects ever turn out like the cookie cutter art that I see on pinterest (even if that is the inspiration sometimes) because I approach each lesson with an open heart and mind. The kids always come up with solutions that are so much better then what I could have ever planned. I learned the tried and true projects are just the springboards for their imagination and the foundation for my sanity! When I do a project that is a little more wildly creative we NEVER expect a product and i make that clear. Failures are learned from just as much as successes and I don’t stress if there is no finished product to take home. We do have those conversations though!

  • Chloe D

    I am a brand new art teacher, and these tips already resonate with me. It is so easy to say yes to everything in order to seem approachable but you end up stretched thin and stressed. I also can relate to the worry about observations, where you feel like the school is waiting to see masterpieces come out of every student. I am trying to remember that the process of art-making is often the real gold in the classroom and not the product. I was surprised about the politics though… Is this true that you cannot discuss politics at work? Shouldn’t constructive and mature conversation be encouraged in a place of learning rather?

  • DJ Fitch

    I enjoyed reading the list. Some were very humorous, while others are alarming. As teachers, especially art teachers, we need to watch how we are being viewed by administrators. Following twenty + years of teaching I have never witnessed one administration containing a right brain. In fact, one of my wonderful principals is ex-military, but it took over three years to understand each other. I was even accused of illegal behavior and a lie detector test and witnesses coming forward. SOOOOO….do watch what you say and do. Teachers lounges, no way, stay away. Danger zone.

    Every year I teach right up to the end while others play games. My kids enjoy the work and my administrators praise my classes. I want every second with my classes. Cleaning up and finishing the year usually brings my students back in after the last day of school to lend a hand. You have to enjoy teaching enough to loose yourself in what is going on in your class.