Why I Pick My Battles in the Art Room Wisely

With the extremely cold and long winter we had this year, it seemed like the beginning of 4th quarter would never arrive. Before I knew it, it was the last day of 3rd quarter and I couldn’t have been more excited to get a new group of students.

A new group of students means a fresh start. One of my favorite things to do at the beginning of the quarter is an interest survey . With the implementation of TAB, an interest survey is even more valuable than in the past. The interest survey is an important resource used to guide students as they make choices in the art room.

I started 4th quarter like other quarters, with students filling out interest surveys during one of their first art classes. After reading and explaining the questions on the survey to my students, it was time for them to answer the questions. As I walked around the room, I noticed many students were feverishly filling out their answers. Others, were carefully reflecting and taking their time to provide honest and personal answers. A few weren’t filling out the surveys at all.

I approached one of these students who wasn’t filling out the survey, and I asked him if he wanted me to read the questions out loud to help him fill out the survey. (Sometimes I have a small group sit with me at the back table and read the questions out loud to them.) He responded, “I can’t fill it out because I don’t like any classes at school.” (The first question of the survey is “What is your favorite class in school.”)

At this moment I decided to pick my battle wisely and accommodate. I told this particular student to move onto the next section, “hobbies.” Ultimately, the purpose of the assignment was to get to know my students’ likes and dislikes. The survey is used to help them brainstorm ideas for projects. Did it really matter to me if he didn’t answer the first four questions? No, not really.

Had I pushed this particular boy into answering the first question, I would have added to the reason why he doesn’t have an answer to what classes he likes. This boy doesn’t particularly even like school. Had I required him to answer all the questions on his paper, he would have shut down. He wouldn’t have moved on to the second section, the hobby section, where he wrote about his love for basketball.

As I reflect on encounters like this, I’m reminded why I believe it’s important to pick our battle as educators. Sometimes, we need to make accommodations and change exceptions. As difficult and “unfair” as that is for other students, it is what’s best for kids. My motto is, “What is fair isn’t always equal and what is equal isn’t always fair.” I’m going to give my students what they need, and my students’ needs aren’t always the same.

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How do you pick your battles in your classroom?

What are the outcomes when you do?


Cassidy Reinken

This article was written by former AOE writer and life-long learner, Cassidy Reinken.


  • John

    Good article. I like to begin with an interest survey as well. In my intro class, they come back to that interest survey at the end of the nine weeks and incorporate their responses in an iMovie slideshow that is made up of images, video and music. I find the videos the most revealing part. I have them answer questions like “What is art?” and “Why do people value art?” I work with high school students and often their video answers are quite introspective.

    • I love this! Your comment couldn’t have come at a better time. I was JUST (5 minutes ago) telling my class that they will be working on the iPads for two days next week. I also JUST pushed the iMovie apps to their iPads this morning. Is the theme of the project, “What is art?” and “Why do people value art?” Also, where do they get the images? I’m very intrigued by this project. Thank you so much for sharing!

  • Art Teacher

    You could improve your motto by amending it to say “same” and eliminating “equal.” I agree that not every need is exactly the same, but equal rights to getting your needs met are important.

  • ElizT

    Thank you for your encouragement on this subject. In a small
    private school, I do not meet regularly with other art teachers to bounce
    things off one another.

    Every year I have students with emotional challenges or
    little quirks that seem to hinder them from cooperating with the status
    quo. I remind myself, isn’t that what
    art and creativity are all about at times—going against the flow? Meanwhile, if the student persists in obstinacy
    or frustration, I do try to work around that, whenever possible, with
    assignment alternatives. They have to
    put up a little fight first, though, because I don’t want them thinking it is
    easy to wheedle out of assignment responsibilities. When I’m convinced they really do need an
    option, I’m never so happy to see a change of student attitude through my just
    tweaking the requirements a bit. And I
    always make sure I make a mental note of that student’s attitude, if they have
    persistent difficulties, so that when they do have success, I am quick to
    encourage and rejoice with them over their accomplishment. I’ve always maintained that if a student does
    not like art or does not want to cooperate, that that is my problem—my challenge.
    I have to consider whether or not
    the skills or processes in my assignment agenda are being compromised first,
    before tweaking an assignment, and then I am good to go with the tweaking
    process. For instance, when we
    integrated an art lesson with a science unit on the human skeletal system, I
    had the kids craft a skeleton using pasta.
    All of a sudden I was bombarded with ideas from the kids for different
    ways to pose their skeletons. I, evidently,
    wasn’t thinking as creatively as the kids, when I planned the lesson for mimicking
    the life-size model that stood humdrum in the classroom. Of
    course, I flexed! The point being, that sometimes kids’ objections can open up
    a lesson from good to great!

  • Sheila Kopaskam

    I thought this article would be about other battles: I noticed when I
    first started teaching middle school that most middle school teachers
    never “hear” unacceptable language in private conversations.