Jul 8, 2014

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15 Things Nobody Tells You About Becoming an Art Teacher

We all know there are unknowns with any career path we choose. How we handle those unknowns can really impact our attitudes towards our professions. While I like to choose to handle curveballs with humor, I sometimes wish that I had had a cheat sheet when starting out. Here are 15 Things Nobody Tells You About Becoming an Art Teacher. Add your own in the comments below! We’re all in this together!

15 Things No One Tells You

1. You will attain rockstar status.

You receive this amazing designation (from your students) simply because you are the art teacher.Take advantage of your students’ excitement and enthusiasm, and provide the art education they didn’t even know they needed! (You might take over a position in which this superstar status needs to be re-earned or re-established. Accept the challenge.)

2. You will have to play nice with others.

School assignments, travelling, and sharing rooms vary from job to job. Here are some tips for sharing your space.

3. You will need to put on your big girl (or boy) pants.

You will need to stand up for yourself, your position, your program, and your materials. You won’t get things you need without asking or voicing your opinion. There will be tough situations. Be professional and stay calm.

4. You have to learn how to say “NO” with poise.

You will be frequently sought out for your artistic eye and school-related (or non-school-related) favors. People will ask to “borrow” your supplies. If you don’t learn how to say “no” to those opportunities that you don’t have time for, or that are, quite frankly, insulting, people will walk all over you. Say “yes” to those things you truly want to help with, but stand up for yourself and your time when you have to.

5. You will have to be your biggest advocate.

Your program may not be in jeopardy at the moment, but it’s always great to be prepared and realistic. Check out these great resources. Advocate through putting on an art show, attending district meetings, and making frequent parent and community connections as you build your program from year to year.

6. You will feel under-appreciated at some point.

It’s going to happen. When it does, take a moment to reflect, but realize that you’re probably doing a fantastic job. Be your own cheerleader, or better yet, find others to join your cheerleading team.

7. You will need to use (or develop) some serious organizational skills.

Art teachers have the unique pleasure of having A LOT of stuff to store and use on a daily basis. Finding smart solutions for all your supplies and materials is essential for a functional art room.

8. You will accumulate an obnoxious amount of stuff at school AND at home.

Read how to tackle the school-portion of this dilemma here. As for home, get organized. Plastic containers and drawers are cheap and effective. Sign up for the AOE 2014 Summer Conference  and get exclusive access to my flowchart on how to get rid of non-essential materials!

9. If you feel like you’re drowning, you’re doing it right.

The first couple of years in a position will be very overwhelming and busy. You will soon learn to tread water and eventually, to swim forward, I promise! Check out my tips for your first (or tenth) year of teaching!

10. You will most likely have extra duties.

Lunch duty, recess duty, breakfast duty, hallway duty. Look at this as a time to get out of your classroom and get to know your students in a different environment.

11. You will have to sit through irrelevant PD.

I try to be positive and make connections to my curriculum during these meetings, but honestly I’m thankful to have opportunities like AOE classes and conferences available. If you have PD money available to you, use it for something worth your while!

12. You will become a crazy bag lady (or dude).

This is especially true if you’re a travelling teacher like myself. I invested in a nice bag (it was actually a graduation gift) that fulfills my daily teaching needs, but also carry an oversized bag from Thirty-One. In addition, I keep a stash of reusable, cloth grocery bags in my trunk to joyfully add to my crazy bag lady syndrome when I just don’t think I’m carrying enough stuff.

13. You will need to stay on top of everyone else’s schedules.

Between teachers and students arriving early and late and the classes that just don’t show up, scheduling can become a big frustration. Send out a friendly email a few times a year asking teachers to respect your time and tell you when there may be conflicts. With finals, field trips and schedule changes, an email at the end of the year is especially important. Encourage friendly, open communication amongst your staff.

14. You will need a routine for nearly everything.

Entering, exiting, clean-up, work time…there is a lot to manage in the art room! Routine and structure will help things hum along smoothly.

15. Projects will flop.

Inevitably, some of your plans won’t go as, well, planned. Get some pointers on what to do here and here.

What things would you add to the list? Tell us in the comments below!

AleciaThis article was written by AOE Team member Alecia Eggers. Alecia is a certified K-12 Art Instructor, and currently teaches K-6 elementary art in central Iowa. She is passionate about teaching and reaching her students with an innovative and meaningful arts education.

About Alecia | Alecia’s Articles

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  • Christina Wilson

    Words of wisdom! I was a regular classroom teacher for twenty years before becoming an art teacher eight years ago. Knowing these things then would not have stopped me, but seeing them now is such a comfort. The hardest for me to overcome has been the disregard for my program. Sometimes I feel like I’m only to babysit so classroom teachers get a break, absent kids get make up time, students can finish tests… But the list above shows me I’m not alone, and my work is valuable and worth every bit of extra effort to make it meaningful for my kids!

  • Connie Bimm

    Oh my goodness! Dead on! I took on being the art teacher two years ago with ZERO training. I have taught band and general music for nearly 30 years and art became part of a new job. I said NO! but ended up doing it and loving it. Well, kind of a love/hate thing actually. Thank goodness for all you talented folks out there who really know what they are doing from one who is learning as she goes!

  • BKNY art teacher

    In addition to the 10,000 things you do on a daily basis, from time to time, you will likely be asked by administrators to create beautiful, artsy, creative displays (beyond your usual in-room bulletin boards, hallway bulletin boards, umpteen display cases in the hall) for things like school dances, prom, graduation ceremonies, school wide events, and/or an incredibly impressive display that would be the first thing visitors see when they enter the building – especially when important visitors are expected (yearly quality review, superintendent’s visit etc.). You will need to do many of these projects on YOUR OWN TIME, which means staying late, taking up precious classroom space for such large, ongoing work. The pressure is ON with these requests since they are basically “PR” for you (and, strangely enough, your personal artistic expertise: “Oh, the art teacher really IS an artist, herself! Wow!”) and your program. Can’t tell you how many of these I’ve worked on over the past few years. On one hand, it’s nice that admin wants the program to be so visible, on the other, it’s one of those “requests” that you really can’t refuse and often, you are asked to whip up something incredible without a lot of time to make it happen in a realistic way. I’ve learned from this and ask about potential upcoming projects way in advance but I still get hit with stuff that is unforeseen.

  • Andrea Aeschliman

    Be prepared to buy supplies from your own pocket that budget money may not cover. But also be aware that your parent organization (PTA/PTO) may be willing to give you a little money – don’t know until you ask! Just keep your receipts and write it off when it comes to tax time!

    • Alecia Eggers

      So true Andrea! Keep those receipts :)

  • Beth Townsend

    Wow! I’ve never identified so much with other art teachers until reading this!

    • Alecia Eggers

      You’re not alone! :)

      • Karen Larrabee

        Art teachers MUST take advantage of art ed groups to take workshops, share ideas etc. Otherwise you will feel alienated which is not god…

  • Elizabeth Rubenstein

    yes, yes and yes- going to share with my graduate students!

  • Christina

    #7,8,9’12’13 are the ones I was least expecting and most unprepared for. Also being seen or taken for the “babysitting” teacher. So “real” teachers can get their much needed potty time.

    • Christina

      Also when you teach art, you never stop planning at least mentally. That’s the fun part. A ray of sunshine on a Sunday morning is Monday morning’s 5k art project. Awesomeness!!! Oh and you get to be as quirky as you want to be. Other teacher just whisper behind your back…”Art teacher”

      • Alecia Eggers

        Haha totally agree! Love that we get to be quirky too!

  • Paula Oddo

    I’m Elem., so I see all the kids & knowing all the names plus the staff names is an art in it’s self! I’ve learned to do a calligraphy lesson, incorporating the kids names, in the 1st few weeks, so that I can cheat & seem like I have an above average brain!

    Good to know being a bag lady comes with the territory. Thought I was the only one!

  • Debs

    I’m going to tell my student teacher this fall to go read all of your articles! This is a good one along with all of the Eggerizing advice!

  • Hope knight

    You won’t sit down all day. You will develop the unpleasant habit of woofing down your food. You’ll never look at the clock, bored, counting down the hours. You will go home exhausted every day, but you will be fulfilled.

  • cstanmellow

    - Actually work on the projects that you teach to your students. An important (and FUN) job of a visual arts educator is creatively mentoring your students. “Do what you teach!”
    - Keep up with the ‘new media’ and current events in the arts. use this information in the classroom to demonstrate the relevance/ importance of the arts and design.
    - It is important to relate to the world of the age group you are teaching. Find out what is relevant in ‘their worlds / culture and use this to connect projects.
    - Sense of humor is essential. Laugh at yourself when appropriate.
    Do not take students disinterest that might be demonstrated at times personally. They have many stresses in their lives too some of which we might not be aware. These are the times to minimize and focus on ways to connect.
    - Remember ‘quality is more important than quantity’! you do not need expensive supplies and a great number of exotic materials to make their experience with creativity successful. Challenge yourself and your students with a project that uses minimal supplies and a creative visual objective.
    - Find opportunities to ‘teach’ your administrators, colleagues and parents. Be aware that they might not have had a creative talented visual art teacher like YOU. Often these adults are operating in their own insecurities about the arts. This may be why they (if they are demonstrating) have what comes across as a negative/ irrelevance for what arts teachers and visual arts programs.
    - Remember you have one of the most important positions in education!

  • Carol J Bittner

    I taught Art 37 years. There is never enough money for supplys. I often spent thousands each year because I wanted the materials for my kids. I could give most kids success. Art knowledge is accumulated year after year. Most kids keep their projects for years. Art is the very best subject in the whole world to teach. Art teachers are magical people who do wonderful things. That an art room should look as if art work is done there.

  • zeze

    and every once in a while you will meet a former student who will Thank You for starting them on the path of Artistic expression.

  • arttzylady

    I am a high school art teacher. Remember that in high school, your class may be a throw in class. You will getting students who have no interest in art but need to fill their schedule. Be patient and you might sway them into loving art. I have done many times and have those students coming back for more!

  • Aussie Art Teacher

    All of the above and then some! Aren’t we lucky to have this ‘Dream Job’?!!

    • Paula Oddo

      oh yes indeed

  • Gloria Gray

    Know when to change or ditch an art lesson. Sometimes, it’s not the flop so much as an interruption to your class schedules change due to all of the other planned activities (by administration and other staff members). If there is no big problem with storage in the art class, store lessons for a later time (don’t forget to incorporate this switch in the updated lesson plans that you have. That way, it becomes part of your normal lesson planning (Finish the ….lesson that was not completed). The best time is when you’re in overload and the children are at a point when they just want to do something they have been familiarized with. And, it will be a good review.

  • Neva Felino

    I’ll be starting my 9th year of teaching art at two elementary schools. The PTAs raise the money to pay me and there are no other like positions in our school district. The 15 things list is right on target with my experience. Thank you! So helpful to feel there are others with the same experiences!!

  • Cindy Phillippi

    I don’t spend thousands for extra supplies….can’t afford it, but I have become great at recycling, reinventing, and repurposing materials some of which have been donated through many avenues. You will learn to be super resourceful, and will realize that some of the most unlikely materials can be those that give your program depth, variety, and an aspect of just plain fun.

  • Judi Wade

    Lunch time is either playground duty and/or in your classroom for those kids who just love making art when they can

  • Miss Jeanie

    It is extremely challenging to coordinate your attire with your daily lesson focus, keep a “professional” look, preventing stains, and stay comfortable, all while very far and few will ever notice any of it.

  • Claudfin

    it sounds hard…great article

  • HSArt

    No matter how much you plan, organize, and modify the guidelines of your projects, there will still be those few students who do something so far out in left field you have to write another rubric to grade their work. Sometimes it’s wonderful, sometimes it’s a complete mess. It’s ok! Let yourself off the hook! You are doing a great job! If the vast majority do the project as somewhat expected, bravo! Keep refining the projects, calling for their attention as you describe what to do, show them examples of similar artwork, and keep the rubric up for the duration of the project. Most will produce a wonderful piece, and the others, hopefully, will discover why you give guidelines for each project! Or not! ;-)

  • Kristy

    Somehow I became the person to go to when you need your shoe fixed. Every year kids come to me with blown out shoes, haha!

  • Carol

    You will spent a lot of your own money, because you want your kids to be able to do neat projects.
    Art is the best thing in the world to teach!

  • Katie Paetzold

    If your school puts on student concerts, you may be required to make large backdrops and/or props for said shows. This can feel like a job in and of itself. On top of displaying student artwork, submitting student work to festivals, and decorating bulletin boards, this task can become quite daunting if you don’t manage your time well.

  • The Artist

    Hope the your position is not cut out of the budget. Or that your not made a .5 and have to do two schools a week to keep your salary. That means you see close to 500 students a week. Your duties are double, less planning periods and Art on a Cart.

  • Richard Mayer

    I taught for 35 years and it was as much of a learning experience for me as it was for my students . I taught in a high school where there were several art teachers. We were a great resource for ideas, creativity and support for each other. If you are the only art teacher in the building connect with another teacher in your district or another district with whom you can share ideas. I also found cooperative learning was a good way to deal with classroom procedures. Since retirement I have become Facebook friends with a lot of my past students. I was amazed to find out what effect I had on them. Some of them even posted the pictures of their art projects from my class that they have shown to their own children, so do not ever let anyone tell you that you as an art teacher do not make a difference. My department has many graduates working as professionals in various art fields.

  • Christa Wise

    The first year, or the first time you do a new project, you will never try so hard nor do so poorly. The second year/time you will be easily 50% better.

  • Gina

    You will spend your own money and lots of it!

  • Betsy. Retired art teacher

    One of the best things that happened to me was when I ran into a former student about 20 years after he graduated and he listed every major art project he did from first through sixth grade. He said he couldn’t wait for my weekly class!

  • http://kimsartzykids.blogspot.com Kimberly Swanger

    You will often pay for materials out of your own pocket. You will learn how to use anything that gets donated.

  • Sandra

    You will have students that you have taught in the past as years go bye, and one day they will remind you that your were their art teacher, and how much they loved your class.

  • Mindy

    oh yea! I wore those badges with honor for 26 years!

  • Gregory Ray

    You WILL have students placed in your class who DO NOT WANT to be there… especially mid term transfers… it just art class… they won’t have to catch up there.

  • Gregory Ray

    Would not want to teach any other subject… ever.

  • Don Scott

    Wow…how true. I taught HS art for 33 years, mostly at the same school. I was very lucky to be valued and supported, always had enough money. It was a 75 hr week job but worth it. I was the rock star of the school for 25 years and still run into former students who remember me who are in their forties. Some are amazing artists in various fields. You touch people, save lives and start some in new directions. Very few downfalls….had to be the commercial artist of the school and design lots of shirts, logos, etc but most of the time I loved the attention. Now retired, I do miss the kids but not the overabundance of busy work that took away from time on art projects doing charts, graphs, objectives and lots of weird acronym for programs that would fix everything but they didn’t. Art would frequently reach many kids that were unreachable and potential dropouts. All in all, an amazing career……very lucky. Don’t know any job that you go to and everyone loves you (almost) you get to play with art stuff, show lots of art and talk about it to widen kids’ minds, tell jokes, be a goofball and listen to your iTunes on you computer while your class works away on projects…..another art form to turn kids onto to music they have never heard……Wow…..

    • Alecia Eggers

      Very well said Don! It’s so true that we truly have the best job!

  • redcarol57

    At the high school level, they don’t tell you about the kids that only sign up for your class because their buddies did, and have no interest in art, and decide to tell you that on the first day of class.

    • Gene

      Why do we “create”?

  • rfrank

    after 32 years as an Art teacher, grades 6-12, I have to say it was the most rewarding experience of my life.I have been retired for 10 years, and still in contact with my school , present staff, and many students I have taught, some just turned 50 yrs old.Art is fulfilling, and all kids love it, thats why I chose to be an Art teacher!

  • Mrs. Art

    I didn’t see schedule mentioned. I’m in my 43rd and last year teaching elementary art. I still can’t imagine administration setting up a schedule with 0 time between classes – one in, one out. 6 classes a day all different grade levels so the teachers can have common planning time. It’s a prescription for physical exhaustion. On your feet all day – eat on the fly. Need to be at school early to set up all the supplies, and stay late to clean and organize for the next day. It’s at the very least a 10 hour work day.

  • sylvie corneau

    This is great …beasy bees like me! They do existe!; p

  • Peggy

    Can be very lonely. You are too busy to chat before and after school with colleagues or during any prep. After 20 years of being an elementary teacher, you can loose your ability to talk to adults because you so seldom see them.

    • EC

      This is so true! I teach fine art at a university, and I rarely get to converse with my colleagues. It can be very lonely (as can being an artist!)

  • Kathy Storrie

    One time in 4th grade a boy said he hated art on the first day of class. After that I decided to try something different for 4th graders. It would give not only him a chance but the whole class an opportunity to choose what they wanted to do from 3 choices. He liked being able to choose and when his close-up flower with pointillism was done the whole class oohed and awed. He was so inspired he did 2 more flowers. All year he kept improving and he realized not only could he do art but he loved it! It made my year, too!

    • Alecia Eggers

      Love it Kathy!!

  • Karen Larrabee

    I taught art (K -8) for 30 years, have been retired for 10 and the rewards are still coming. Even though I’ve moved out of state, Facebook has reconnected me with many former students who tell me I was their favorite teacher and reminisce about some of the projects we did (lots of room environments…).They still have their coil pots they did in 3rd grade, or their paper mache animals or their copper enameled jewelry. I know because they show me photos. Some students have gone on to be nationally and even world renowned. I’m in awe.
    For those of you currently teaching, please make your lessons relevant. Teach the why along with the how. Teach art history. Teach about artists. Teach about art in society. Make every lesson show why children need art. Learn how children learn about art and then teach that way. And be organized. That’s a must. Find a system that works for you. I used a folder/portfolio system for grades 5 – 8 which made the students accountable and responsible. Helped me. Helped them. Worked great.
    Read all of the excellent thoughts below and enjoy every minute!!!

  • RobinJo Norris

    This is my 20th year in Elementary art. I see 860 or so kids a week. Just today, some 7th graders came back to see me…so they could tell me how to better prep the incoming middle school kids! To me, that’s the best thing about teaching art: the children grow up with you. You really can teach them to collaborate with you to increase their learning! You can teach them to trust their own creative intuition. You can teach them to think like artists, even if that’s not “their thing”. I love my job :-)

  • bg

    You will get a very big bladder.

    You will experiment with trash and recycling

    Your students will mock you for saying everything is beautiful

    You will stay awake all night going over assignments in your head

    You will wake up realizing you forgot to change a grade

    You will have grateful parents

    You will have angry parents

    You will dig in trash to find a pencil sharper that got put in by mistake

    You will laugh

    You will cry

    You will love

    You will change lives

    You will find happiness in students success more than your own

    You will become more creative

    You will become a better artist

    You’ll probably have to do yearbook eventually

    You will get budget cuts

    You will get paper and poster board cuts

    You will miss a giant paper cutter when you need one at home

    You will always have dirty clothes from art messes

    You will get to the point when you had a student who made a mess a broom and say I’m not your mom or maid.

    You will get I’m a creative rut and discover the collaboration of Pinterest

    You will become the queen of containers

    You will pick up colored pencils off the floor throughout the school

    You will become a hoarder for those lean years

    YOU WILL LOVE IT.

    • Susan Grant

      So true!! All of it!

  • REG

    not all kids love art-especially in middle school be sensitive to that and try to give these kids special “jobs.” Also, you will rarely get a shout out from administration ELA and math are what is “important”- but thats okay the kids are always hanging out in the art room….which I am lucky to have….. with a sink.

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