51 things I have learned in 3 years of teaching....

I wrote a list of things that I have either learned or found to be true in my last 3 years of teaching.  I came up with 50 things that I feel are important to know as an art teacher and many of them have nothing to do with art specific content.

1)    Make the art program whatever you dream it to be.
2)    If you don’t have time or the resources to help out with a project outside your room - it’s okay to say NO.
3)    The PTO is amazing – always thank them.
4)    Learn the name of the person who cleans your room – talk to them everyday.
5)    Have fun – but be firm.
6)    Never say a consequence you aren’t willing to follow through on.
7)    Learn the kid’s names as fast as you can.
8)    What you accept is what you teach – if you accept bad behavior you teach bad behavior.
9)    Ask questions to the kids, ask questions to other teachers – if you don’t know ASK!
10)  Try and find an art sub or two that you can call first to sub.  If you have an art sub often times class/projects can go on as scheduled.
11)  Invest in some really awesome kid appropriate videos for day when you don’t have art subs – I know it seems lame, but trust me it’s just better for everyone.  (I bought Pixar shorts and Shaun the Sheep)
12)  Make a binder of “emergency sub plans” under your computer so if there is ever a day when you are so sick you can’t see straight, or a family emergency -- you don’t have to plan out lessons.  Tell the music teacher or whoever you are closest with in the building where they are.
13) Assessing work of 500 students is tough – do something that is easy and quick FOR YOU!  Just because it works for someone else or the district tells you to do it one way – make it work FOR YOU!
14) Ask why.  If someone in the district is asking you to do something that doesn’t work for you or your program ask them why they want you to do it – try and understand so that you can come to a compromise.
15) Laugh everyday. 
16) Take and give a hug whenever students initiate the action.
17) Give lots of ‘high fives’ the kids smile like crazy when they get them!
18) Keep the kids accountable – if they can do it on their own make them.
19) Teach students to ask for what they need.  For example: “Ms. Novak I didn’t get a paper.”  “I’m sorry about that.  It’s going to be hard to do this project without one. Do you have a question for me?”  “Can I have a piece of paper?”  “SURE!” 
20) Teach the students to ask for help.  When you find them sitting there doing nothing after 10 minutes talk with them about their problem and their plan.  Then role play them asking for help – actually saying the words, “Ms. Novak I need help – will you help me?”  “Sure.  I’d love to help you.  What seems to be the problem.”
21) Have the kids do as much of the cleaning as you can – otherwise you end up doing it.
22) If the students are struggling with a procedure – worktime/cleanup/demonstration… have them practice practice practice practice!  I have had many kindergarten classes the spend all of a class getting out supplies and putting them away.  It is easier to take a class period and practice it till they get it than to fight with them ALL year.

23) If you feel a class needs an award system to help them make good choices – do it, but make them WORK for it.
24) Try new things.  Feel free to change lessons in the middle of teaching if you realize it just isn’t going to work.
25) Be honest with the kids – but keep private things private.
26) Read books the kids are into – I bonded with a student who I was having a hard time making a connection with over the Percy Jackson books.  He then lent me his book and we talked about them all the time.  After this I had far fewer behavior issues with him.
27) Get to know something about each kid – listen when they tell you about trips and events in their lives.  Having relationships with kids makes teaching them easier.
28) You are the teacher – your name is above that door – you are responsible for those kids.  If someone is keeping other kids from learning remove them from the environment.
29) Nothing is more unequal than the equal treatment of unequals. – ALWAYS remember this.
30) When there is a student who you butt heads with – they just push your buttons I have two strategies.  1) Remember they are building your patience. 2) Think about some real world job they would be really awesome at … like I had a kid who is really good at arguing and thinking he is NEVER wrong – he’d make a great lawyer.  When I think about a job they’d be good it – it helps me look past the behavior to the student and how I can help them succeed.
31) When you are at work give 150% but when the day is over go home and live your life.  On occasion work on school work outside of school – but try and make a habit of being crazy on top of things at school and then have a life outside school.
32) Can’t think of a lesson – go online.  There are TONS of art teachers who have blogs and websites.  Go surfing and before long you’ll have an idea.
33) Believe in each student – they can all succeed.
34) Each time a student comes to you give them a clean slate – although if they are being dangerous or stealing put them somewhere safe in the room and let them work back to a normal schedule.
35) Apologize when you are wrong.
36) Save or create really interesting projects for the last month of school!
37) Wait for the students to be ready to learn – but also keep the lesson moving.
38) Have the students be as self-sufficient as they can in the classroom – getting own supplies, putting them away.  Making sure students have ownership of a room they see for 45 minutes every 4 days can be tough.
39) When people try and donate stuff to your room make sure you really want it or need it – sometimes junk is just junk. (Like I have gotten bags of yarn that smell like pee or boxes of packing peanuts)
40)  Watch the ceiling tiles for evidence of roof leaks and keep books/papers away from those tiles.
41) Assume Kindergarten students have never used any type of art material.  Teach them how to take caps off markers and put them on.  Teach them how to clean up – where supplies go.
42) Kindergarten is way awesome but also generally the hardest class to teach.  Use their natural curiosity to teach then skills.  Example:  Give them primary colors and let them discover secondary colors – one student will mix them on the paper as an accident or curiosity and then it spreads like wild fire.
43) Always acknowledge that it’s okay to be frustrated but NOT to give up.
44) Have a safe place in the room where students can go to ‘take a break’ either on their own terms or yours.
45) Always acknowledge how a student feels.  Sometimes they just need an adult to say, “hey.  You okay?  You seem sad” or “I know you are mad and that’s okay.  These are your choices……”
46) Give kids appropriate choices unless they are being unsafe and then you make the choice for them.
47) Keep a journal or a PRIVATE blog where you can write about really great days and frustrating days.  NEVER write down names or specifics – but writing it out will help you process and let go of that day – also when days are rough you can go back and read about those days that were awesome.
48) Let the consequence fit the crime.  Example: if a student is not using scissors the right way they get to tear their paper.  If a student isn’t using paint the right way they get crayons…….
49) Say HI to the kids in the hall.
50) Let teachers know about kids who succeed in your room but often struggle in other areas – it helps everyone have a little more patience, understanding and hope.
51) Right is right even if everyone is against it and wrong is wrong even if everyone is for it.

 You have any other 'words of advice' or 'lessons learned'?


kristin said...

This was wonderful to read. Thank you for sharing!

Ms Novak said...

Thanks. It started out as a list for a graduating art teacher and I decided to share it.

Kristyn DeMint said...

Thanks for sharing...I actually just purchased the two videos you suggested for sub lessons. I also found a book on Amazon about the animation of Pixar short films. I am thinking it will make a great tie in. Do you have any other favorite videos you use?

Ms Novak said...

Kristyn - I am sure there are other GREAT videos to share -- but these are the only ones I have found that interesting enough for all the grade levels. Since they both are 'short films' the kids really enjoy watching for the whole class. I have tried other more true 'educational' videos and they are either too young and boring or have a phrase or two that I don't feel comfortable showing. Maybe in my next post I will ask just his question and see what people come up with!

Art at Chesterbrook Academy Elementary School said...

The wisdom of teachers.
Thanks for sharing

Crystal Bauer said...

Great advice! I am going to start my second year teaching art this year. My mentor (the previous art teacher at my school) has shared a lot of these things with me. They really are important to remember and great to be reminded of :)