Should Teachers Make Art During Class?

Last month I wrote an article about making time to make art. Though I wrote about teachers needing a specific place to make art, like a home studio or rented space, I left out one of the more obvious locations — the art room.

Considering it from the merit of space alone, the art room is a nearly perfect place to make art. Many art rooms contain large windows providing ample, natural light. These facilities are usually well-equipped with sinks, drying racks, and plenty of storage. There is a wide variety of materials on hand and media from which to select. There is only one difference between a home or rented studio and your classroom… The art room comes complete with a set of 30 students.

This raises one consideration. Should an art teacher make art in the art room?


Yes! Make Art!


The proponents of creating art while students are working cite one major advantage. Students benefit from observing a working artist in the room. First, it is important for the students to know that their teacher is a working artist. It raises their respect for their teacher as they view their instructor not only as some one who tells but someone who does. Teachers who paint or otherwise create in their classrooms are quick to point out that the students learn by observation. They see how the teacher masters techniques and skills which they may apply to their own work.

No! Students First!


Opponents to making art during class time question how those who do it find the time. These teachers claim to be constantly on the move, addressing student concerns. Any attempt to work in class would be continually disrupted by student questions. They simply couldn’t focus on both their students’ needs and the concentration needed to complete their own art.

Yes, But…

There is a group of teachers who claim the middle ground. These teachers create art while at the same time addressing student concerns. They accomplish this by working alongside their students, completing the same assignment. Though this tactic doesn’t allow for the full freedom in creating your own art, it does provide the advantage of allowing students to see the teacher at work. Sitting down at the same table next to students allows these teachers to demonstrate how they use the materials and how they address the project.
There are several factors that come into play when determining if the teacher can work on his or her own art during class time. These include the structure of the class, how independently the students work and the teacher’s tolerance for interruptions. Taking these factors into consideration, along with weighing the pros and cons, can help you decide if working on your art in the art room works for you.

Do you work on your own art in the art room?

If so, how do you balance instructional time and your work habits? If not, what factors prevent you from doing so?



Ian Sands

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


  • Susan Thorne Zavagli

    I work right along with the students…..never do get to finish my piece but the students gain from watching my steps and how all the elements come together…..I encourage my students to use the tools and take off with their own perception

    • Karen Twomey

      I do the same as you Susan. It is great to see the students take off and let their ideas fly. Sometimes I use some of their ideas in my own work as the ideas evolve. We can all learn from each other and just because I’m the teacher doesn’t mean that I have all the good ideas. I find that the students come up with a myriad of things that haven’t even crossed my mind.

      • Susan Thorne Zavagli

        I too have learned from my students

  • Arty Spangles

    I too work along with my students. It helps them to see my thought process as I work. (it also helps that I talk to myself as I work) This shows them how I deal with problems or mistakes I might encounter and how I solve them. I think students seeing this allows them to understand that thier mistakes are okay and nothing has to be perfect.

  • Crystal B

    I like to work along with my students when time allows. Sometimes I feel guilty and hope that my principal doesn’t walk in! However, by working along side my students, they have the opportunity to watch me work with the same skills they are practicing. I, too, am always interrupted and never actually finish my work. I see value in students watching me and knowing that I am not just a teacher, but an artist at heart.

  • N2 Art

    I like to share my work from home and demonstrate on my work, but when I work alongside, they miss valuable instruction from me. Each one is working on very individualized work and when I’ve tried working alongside them, the work suffers. We have had new students come who’ve complained that their previous teacher “didn’t teach” and “just worked on their own work” and I just don’t want to give them that impression. Perhaps some teachers have a much longer class period. Ours are only 45 minutes, so there just isn’t time.

  • Cindy Kay

    I’d like to think that as I demonstrate a skill/concept for the class that I am creating a piece of my own art before their eyes. Discussing some of my thoughts as I work provides the students with a glimpse into the thought process. Actually creating something very different from what the students are working on seems like the right place, but potentially the wrong time. During recess many students visited the art room where I occassionally was working on one of my own pieces. The informal setting did not leave me feeling guilty or nervous about anyone walking in. The students as well as our colleagues will most likelyenjoy seeing our work just as we may enjoy hearing the vocal music teacher sing. I think it is a matter of prioritizing. Helping the students comes first. I think that our assignments should be interesting enough and fun that we would like to create them as well.

  • Joy

    Creating art alongside my elementary students is one of the joys of my job! I live for the classes where students are already started on a project and don’t need constant guidance. The camaraderie I experience by grabbing my own project and sitting with the kids is fabulous! They love seeing what I’m working on and many times they get inspired by whatever technique or method I’m using. Sometimes we even have ad hoc lessons based on whatever my art project is at the time! Many days they make sure to ask what I’m working on before they leave for the day. It encourages me to keep doing independent art and helps foster curiosity in the students! I’m all for it :)

  • Becca

    YES! Yu creating with your students is the best teaching tool you can use. It is possible to create, teach and pay attention to your students needs all the at same time. Just be flexable! The best part of teaching HS Art is the fun of creating things with and collaborating with the kids!

  • Rachelle Ray

    100 percent yes. In college when I saw my professors making art it really helped me see things in a different way and beyond added learning gave me respect for them as artists not just as teachers. I do this with my students as often as possible and they love it.

  • Definitely Yes! During the summer after my sofomore year in high school my wonderful art teacher left to another local district. I gave the new teacher the high respect that I gave all authority figures. My old teacher, now a wonderful friend and colleague, always said that it’s great to observe and learn from many different art teachers and artist. We will learn something different from the techniques and skills that each possess. However, my respect faded each time I asked this new teacher how to do something I might have been working on ( a technique or specifc material). Instead of showing me how he might address the material or project himself, he stuck a book in my face. “Here, there’s some examples in here.” I lost respect for him. I figured, why listen to this guy if he can’t show me he can do the stuff that he is teaching. Had he done some artwork at all in our classes, I would have respected that he knew what he was doing, but wanted me to find out on my own. This was way before YouTube and the internet, so finding out on our own wasn’t easy to do. I spent lots of time in the library and enjoyed reading The Artist magazine, but it wasn’t as good as having an artist work with me.

    Because of my experience, I make sure that the students see me as a working artist. If it is something I have not perfected or have much experience with, I tell the students that and we work through things together. My students are young and required lots of attention. There is rarely an opportunity for me to just do an artwork of my own while they work. Instead I work on my teacher example or a similar project with the same materials as the work every chance I get. I might work under the document camera for all to see. What I really like to do is take my work from table to table, spending a few minutes with each group. That way they get an up-close view of me using the supplies and get new ideas. At this time, I can also help answer questions or help correct poor technique or work through a problem. They love the attention and I love creating.

    • I also love to work at the tables with the students, rotating tables thought the class period. It’s the perfect solution for the elementary level!

  • Toby

    Hmmmm…? I only know because I’ve seen someone who spent their time working on “their work”, letting the kids run, or do whatever…. what was important to them was “their work”. Then they were excepted into the national watercolor society… But if the group only knew… I say…Hmmm?

  • Ellen K

    Sometimes I do work on my own stuff, but usually I am covered up with paperwork and frankly I am just too tired to work during the weekends. Since my AP class is a studio class, once they are involved with their own work I work on mine taking frequent breaks to help, redirect or confirm.

  • Sheila Kopaska-Merkel

    I work on the project I m teaching for a small portion of the class for some projects. A majority of the class I spend circulating. Then I cannot stop myself from working on it outside of class time, and students can see how I finish. That is a majority of the art work I do these days, sadly. I do discuss and sometimes show other work that I do at home.

  • trishakochersperger

    i teach elementary art and sometimes during one class as the kids are working I will work on an example for another class. Although its not “my work” that I would work on in a studio they sure love to see me working.

  • Kara Dare

    my middle school classes are small this year and I have recently began working on the assignments along side my students. It is a lot of fun and the rest of my classes like to see my work. It is not my best work but it is relaxing and I can teach specific things by changing something in my work to answer a students question or struggle.

  • Sara G.

    when I was student teaching, years ago, my cooperating teacher would work on paintings he was commissioned to paint. I thought it was wrong then as I do now. As a Union Officer, I now know there is a name for it…”theft of service.”
    It is a different story if you are doing art along with your students. I think there is a definitely a place for this. I think our students need to see us doing art along with them!

  • Jami O

    I always have a least one piece of of my own work going for students to observe, and usually more because I get caught up in new ideas all the time. Student projects usually have me working on a piece under the document camera, although they rarely get finished. The kiddos love to come in and see what progress I’ve made, and it fires them up. I don’t get lots of uninterrupted time since the students and their needs come first, but I have always thought that it’s important them to see the process, to see that the things I ask them to do to prepare for a project are the same things I do for my work. I try to spend 20-30 minutes on projects after school if there isn’t a meeting, as a way to unwind and to let the creative process keep me fresh and inspired.

  • iansands

    I understand the benefits everyone mentioned but to be honest, I can’t even grade during class let alone work on my art :) I don’t think I’m very good at multitasking

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  • Andie Olson

    Once I introduce the project and get the ball rolling, I am left with a lot of somewhat awkward “downtime” The students are engrossed in their work and often don’t need much help. I was wondering if it were taboo to work along side with my students. This article makes me feel so good about doing so. Students seem to enjoy watching me work, and I don’t feel like I am wasting my time just sitting there.