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 that 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! :)

  • 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