Would You Let an Unenrolled Student Stay in Your Class?

There is a scene in my all time favorite movie, Mean Girls, where the Math teacher Sharon Norbury (Tina Fey) has the students confess to rumors they have spread and apologize to those they’ve wronged. Several of the main characters speak to their peers. Then one girl, who hasn’t appeared in the movie at all, addresses the group:

Crying Girl: I wish we could all get along like we used to in middle school… I wish I could bake a cake filled with rainbows and smiles and everyone would eat and be happy…

Damian: [shouting from back] She doesn’t even go here!

Ms. Norbury: Do you even go to this school?

Crying Girl: No… I just have a lot of feelings…

Ms. Norbury: Ok go home…

This scene was reenacted this year in my Art History class.

I asked the students, “According to Andy Warhol, who is it that makes great lunches?”

One girl shouted out, “Jasper Johns!”

“That’s correct,” I responded with a puzzled look on my face. Then I followed with, “Are you even in this class?”

The answer was no, not at all. She had been attending for several days but was not officially on my roster. It turns out, she had no scheduled class during that period and decided, since her friend was enrolled, that she would audit the class. Audit is the official term. I prefer to call her a squatter.

First, allow me to define what a squatter is not. A squatter is not someone who is cutting another class or should be somewhere else. A squatter is not someone who comes just to hang with friends or worse, to be disruptive.

A true squatter is the student who is coming from lunch, or study hall, or with permission from other classes, or, as in this case, a student who doesn’t have class scheduled during that particular period.

So, what to do with a squatter?

Once a legitimate squatter has infiltrated your room, the question becomes what to do with them? Like the fictitious Ms. Norbury, many teachers would respond by turning them away. They don’t want squatters using up materials, as budgets are tight. They point out that classes are already over crowded and believe if the student wants to take the class he or she should legitimately enroll.

The proponents however, want to see the squatters become fully engaged. They would rather see these students absorbing information than playing in the halls or distracting other classes. They believe the more open they are about providing access to the art studio, the better the chances those students will sign up for future classes. In other words, they prescribe to an open-door policy.

After clarifying that my squatter was legit, I decided to allow her to stay. She participated in all the assignments and projects. She readily participated in class discussions and even took the class quizzes. It was a pleasure to not have her in class as she certainly turned out to be one of the best students I never taught.

I recently contacted her because I wanted to better understand her position on being a squatter. I asked if she would mind answering a few questions. Here are her responses.

Squatter Q & A


Why did you squat and not enroll in the class?

I chose to be a squatter because I had some holes in my schedule. I thought about enrolling, I really did, but I just never got around to it. Plus, one of the classes I was squatting in was full.

What were the benefits of squatting?

You get do do all the fun stuff but none of the actual work. I mean, I still did it because the classes I squatted in were fun.

Were there any downsides to squatting?

Not at all. If I felt like going out to lunch one day instead of the class I was squatting in, I could. I was a free bird.

Anything else you might add?

I’m the best squatter. I’ve squatted in more art classes than I’ve actually taken. If that’s not dedication to squatting then I don’t know what is.

Would you ever allow students to attend your class that are not officially enrolled?

Have you ever had a squatter? Was it a positive or negative experience?


Ian Sands

This article was written by former AOE writer and choice-based art education expert, Ian Sands.


  • Emily Setrum

    Thanks for the article! It was hilarious to read, especially the questionnaire to your “squatter.” I also get infiltrators and at times don’t mind them browsing the art room but sometimes, resent their intrusion. It can be a hard choice to allow them to stay or keeping my door shut and locked. I have noticed that former students enjoy visiting and reminiscing the art room, and have been told it is a relaxing place to visit. New students seem to have a wide-eyed, curious behavior and treat my room as somewhere mysterious.

  • Leah Wood

    I have had both good experiences and bad experiences with ‘squatters’ . It depends on the students. I do take advantage and make them assistants, that way they are on attendance, administration is aware and I can see their other grades. They are under my radar. I have removed students who were just ‘squatters’ and assistants. I hold them to standards that I lay out for them “I like having you in here, this is what I need you to do for me for the privilege, X, Y, Z… If there is any issues with it, I would need to remove you. Do you agree to this?”

  • Julie Bulissa Kohl

    I don’t even understand how this happens! If my kid was in school and wasn’t enrolled in a class every period I would be furious. Beyond everything in this article this should be addressed by administration. We have a legal obligation to supervise students during the school day and that is clearly not happening if this is occurring. There is clearly a more serious issue here.

  • Ms. Mona

    I will take the squatter and see what happens. It could be a future student checking out possibilities. It could be a student who has a really “messed up” schedule waiting for it to be taken care of (which can take a while). Having been one of those who did not always follow the rules and regulations, I would judge it on a case by case basis and hopefully find a fantastic new recruit.

  • CM

    The student is a recent HS graduate She was accepted into a STEM program freshman year so, classes/electives were very limited throughout her High School career. 12th grade Spring semester and only one required class left for graduation. Her last semester, she only had to attend for one class/day. She tried to get into other classes to fill the day, but they said “you’ve only got one class left – you’re done”. She could not get into Art classes she would like (among others) because, well… she’s graduating and is low on the priority list for “electives”. Instead, she drives her brother to school every day, attends her one required course, and then spends her extra time sitting in on the Art classes she could not get into. She participates and is also a helper in the classes. Her art was entered into two exhibits. She earned an Award at Senior Awards Night for her dedication and commitment to art… very proud of her hard work and mostly how much she enjoyed her Art classes. Thank you, Mr. Sands for all your support. You are one of the best, most inspiring, favorite teachers she has ever had.

    PS – The student Mr. Sands is speaking of is my daughter. :)

    • iansands

      OMG! Thank you sooo much! Your post just made my entire month!

      • CM

        The thanks go to you! We hope you continue to be appreciated for all that you do! :)

      • Jessica Frisco

        Wow Ian! Congratulations!

  • Toby

    Years ago when I taught High School I had squatters as well! Some were lost souls and some really couldn’t get in… They had a study hall they didn’t need and they were not allowed to switch into art! Those kids I made into art cadets and then they could join the class… You learn how to play the games!
    One of my lost souls is now a parent of an elementary student I have and thanked me for taking her in….it was her favorite class and she still creates art! She inspires her child to be an artist too!
    Of course you have to wise to the ones who come to “hang out” and be disruptive in doing so… You call them on it! They’re gone! They get it!
    But never turn your back on a child, it may be the only positive thing in their day!

  • Artprojectgirl

    I actually run into this a lot in elementary! I’m like… “Where are you supposed to be?” They usually say Gym. It’s a little dangerous to have kids unaccounted for so I make a big deal about it.