Chapter OneStarting the Term
Tip 1: Create a List of Questions for Your Principal
Find out what you will be teaching, how many students you can expect to teach, what room(s) are you in, names of contact people, and any money issues involved with your classes.
If you've been hired at the last minute, you might have accepted a teaching position before you have even seen the room you will be teaching. In general, though, the following questions will be answered in a departmental meeting, a new teacher seminar, or a general faculty meeting before the school term begins.
1. How many students can I expect to teach? What administrator has this information?
2. Will the courses last one half year or a whole year?
3. What grade levels will I teach? 4. Are there mixed grade levels in your classes? 5. Is there an art fee to be collected? 6. How is the art fee to be collected and by whom? 7. If I collect the fee, to whom do I turn it in and who will explain the procedures for collecting these fees? 8. How much money is there available for me to spend now and who is the person I can get this information from? 9. Is there state and federal money available for me to spend on supplies other than from Student Fees? Who is in charge of this account? 10. Where are all the art supplies stored now? 11. Whom will I work with to get and process purchase orders for art supplies? 12. Will students be sitting at tables, individual desks, or drafting tables? 13. Is there a sink or sinks in the art room? Do they have clay traps in the drains? 14. How much storage will I have and where is it in the art room? 15. Will I share the art room with another art teacher or another academic teacher? 16. Will I have a homeroom? 17. What are my duty assignments? Who is in charge of duty assignments? How will I get hand soap, trash bags and paper towels? Who is in charge of maintaining the art room? 18. What principal will I be working with regarding discipline? 19. What administrator may change student schedules after school starts? 20. Each day, how will I communicate attendance records to the office? 21. How long is the class period?
Do not ask for more than 15 minutes of the principal's time if you are still unclear about the above topics. Do not stay longer unless he or she asks you to stay longer. Do not be surprised if he or she passes your questions on to someone else.
Of course, if you have already seen your new room, you will already have many of these answers. Keep the answers to these questions handy at our desk. You may very well be feeling overwhelmed now. Do not worry. As you read on you will digest it and it will make sense.
Tip 2: Create the Right Classroom Environment
If you carefully plan the first days of school, you will set a solid foundation for the day-to-day operations of the entire term.
Two important considerations in any classroom are adequate seating and a visually stimulating room. I make sure all tables and chairs are clean and inviting. For many students, at first, the art room might be a scary place. Try to make it as friendly as possible. I count chairs and make sure there is room for each student. I check this against the class roster that has the largest number of students. It can be embarrassing for a child to stand and wait while you obtain for him a chair from another room.
Also, make sure you have a variety of styles and periods of art displayed around the room. For instance, I have examples of Impressionism, Expressionism, Non-Objectivism, and Realism placed on my walls. These pictures stay up all year. I have examples of architecture, additive sculpture, and subtractive sculpture displayed on high shelves. The sculptures also stay up all year. I display collections of excellent works created by former students. These works are to inspire my new students. I display a wide variety of styles and techniques. I make sure none of the work is falling down. Although on the first day I do not discuss all this displayed work, I certainly want it to help set the mood for our learning environment.
The day before you meet your students, be sure to have the following:
1. A supply box on each table filled with pencils and erasers (see Tip 32); 2. Your classroom rules posted in a prominent area (see Tip 16); 3. Five different punish-work assignments, each in a zip-lock bag (see Tip 17); 4. Printouts of class rolls of all students by class period, laid out in order; 5. Enough paper for a drawing assignment; 6. A "worst case scenario" plan for discipline (see Tip 17); 7. Examples of some of the projects the students will do during the course (see Tip 5); 8. Arrange student tables or desks (see Tip 24).
If you have prepared all of the above, you certainly will be able to handle your first day with grace, confidence, and humor.
Thought Provoking Questions about Your Room Environment
Look around your art room. What would you think about coming into this room every day if you were a new student? What changes can you make? What changes would you like to make later, down the road? How does the room reinforce who you are, their new teacher?
Write down your observations and plans for changes below:
Tip 3: Mix Up Activities the First Week in Beginning Art
In your Introduction to Art or Art 1 classes, mix up the first week by having drawing activities, organizational duties, and student and teacher introduction.
My classes were 96 minutes each and, oh, let me tell you, this time can be an eternity if one is not flexible with different activities. You will need 10 minutes to start class and 10 minutes to clean up, so shorter classes have less interacting time. I loved the long block-scheduled classes because of the longer uninterrupted creative time. You may need more days for your first week activities depending on class length.
Please be flexible, after all, who knows when there will be a tornado drill or an emergency call from the Yearbook staff for a full class picture. Did I mention be flexible? Be flexible! You will not be able to control every minute of the day at school. Count on every single day having a surprise for your carefully planned day. Roll with the punches, and pick your battles very carefully before you choose to go screaming through the halls.
When your students come into your room, stand at the door and wear a comfortable smile. They may only glance at you because they are looking to see who the other students are. Nonetheless, they will briefly look at you. Quietly welcome them to the room. If you have made student seating index cards, ask the students to find their assigned seats. If you have not made cards, ask students to stand until you can seat them alphabetically. Many changes happen the first week of school. You may not be able to "ink in" your seating chart for two more weeks.
When I call roll for the very first time, I make careful pronunciation marks in my roll card when I ask each student to tell me how they pronounce their first and last name. Once I am finished, I will call the whole roll again with high hopes that I will pronounce all the names correctly. This always creates many smiles when I get the hard ones right. (Of course, we do remember why this is important to me, don't we?)
Tip 4: Arrange Students Alphabetically
Arrange students alphabetically on the very first day. If students sit with their old friends, they tend to stay with their old ideas.
Art class is an unusual mix of grade levels and academic abilities. I have found that given the opportunity, children will sit with their friends and that usually leads to excessive talking. If you place them alphabetically the very first day, you will not have to deal with cliques. I will discuss with the students my reasons for doing this. I explain that, if they look around, they will see a group of individuals that is unlike the makeup of most of their academic classes. This makes it very special because they will get a chance to get to know a completely new group of people with different experiences in life. Some of the projects will be easy to do and others will seem difficult, and what is hard for one person to understand may be easy for someone else.
"Now," I explain, "take a minute to meet the person sitting to your left and to your right. Remember, these are people you want help from sometimes and you certainly don't want to make fun of their art, because sometimes your own work is going to look pretty weird too!" I usually get a laugh at this. They begin to meet the other students in their own way for a couple of minutes. Very quickly students learn to bond with their neighbors and begin to feel comfortable sharing and asking for help from each other. Watching and hearing another perspective enriches their appreciation for art. I will now begin to engage them in a little discussion, "Can anyone remember any art work they have seen displayed around school by previous art students? Why do you think that one work sticks out in your mind?" The answers may be about technical skill, or about the content of the message the work conveyed. I will ask if anyone else remembers that particular piece or assignment. Someone will agree and there we go-students finding students who share an appreciation.
When I ask for another opinion, I get another kind of answer such as, "Yes, I remember seeing a drawing by Johnny Wilson and I didn't know Johnny could stick to anything that long to do something so well!"
"Well, Johnny did some incredible work in here. I also remember that drawing. He entered it in the Spring Art Show and I feel it was an exceptional piece."
Are you catching on to what I am doing? I am trying to get these students to feel excited about this class as well as helping them to feel comfortable. Remember, the National Honor Society student is just as afraid of not catching on to art as is the Special Education student.
As another bonus, using alphabetical seating allows you to control problem students without having to single them out. I remember one principal, on a surprise formal classroom observation, made this statement about my classroom, "Good job, Mrs. Johnt. I see you have not isolated the difficult students to the back of the room. It was the first thing I noticed."
Tip 5: Introduce Yourself and the Projects Your Students Will Complete
On the first day with your students, introduce yourself in a way that will connect your life with theirs. Show examples of some of the projects the students will be doing during the course.
After seating and roll call, I introduce myself. I also tell them how to pronounce my name. I tell them where I was born and raised and where I went to high school. I mention my husband and my child and a little bit about each one of them. I list where I went to college and where I got my Advanced Degrees. I mention my past teaching jobs in other cities. I explain why I chose to teach at their school. I like to discuss why I love teaching where I am now. This will be another "hook" because I am letting them know I want to be with them. You will have your own reasons for being happy with your job.
In our first class meeting, I discuss why I teach art. This is going to take some soul searching on your part before you can share your reasons with the class. It is a personal reason for each teacher. I teach art because I did not have art offered in junior high or senior high school. Only boys could take Industrial Arts classes. The boys got to make cool lamps, footstools, and boxes. I distinctly remember sitting at my typewriter in Typing Class and centering a column of words. I remember thinking, "this is as close as I can get to doing something artistic with an assignment." This struck me as tragic and pathetic. I was an average student back then and I had no place to set myself apart from the others. I vowed to myself in college, when I was an art education major, that once I had the chance to teach art, I would make it a valuable experience for the students.
I recommend that you not spend more than 10 minutes discussing your background, but I certainly would not eliminate your story. Your students will be interested in you.
Now is a great time to show some examples of some of the projects the students will do this term. Get them excited! Show some drawing, painting, and sculpting projects you will be teaching. Be sure to show how the students may interpret an assignment differently. Show assignments that will be expressionistic and some that will be realistic. Pull out some of the materials the students will get to use. Show how a work looks different once it is mounted or matted. Do not hold back your enthusiasm for teaching all of this.
Your students will be leaning forward and looking carefully at your examples. They will be grinning at the work and grinning at you, even if they are a little bit scared. Life is good.
Thought Provoking Questions about Your Art Experiences
Think back when you were in grammar school, junior high school, and high school. Did you get to take art classes? How do you think art experiences affected your self-esteem and your self-expression? Did you reach your potential with those teachers? How do you imagine your life would be, if you did not have art classes as a child? How do you wish your art classes could have been when you were younger? Why did you choose art education as a college major? Years from now, what do you want your students to remember about you?
Give yourself generous time to think about your answers to these questions, and then answer them in the space below:
Tip 6: Discuss Goals, Finances, and Grades with Your Students
Briefly, during your first meeting with your students, discuss your goals for the class, financing the class, and your grading system.
If you answered the questions on the previous page, you will have an idea about what your personal goals are for your classes. Here are my own goals that I share with every class:
1. Every student will improve in his or her artistic techniques. 2. Every student will improve in their ability to express ideas and feelings through art. 3. Every student will expand his or her appreciation for all forms of art.
This looks basic, yet I want the students to hear my goals for them. What are your goals? Your students do not have a clue about what you expect from them, unless you clearly express it to them.
Discuss financing the art program right away with the class. We had a countywide student art fee that each student had to pay before one received credit for the class. How could the system do this you may ask? The student could have chosen other electives that do not have supply fees. I am very careful how I spend their money. I explain to them that I buy the finest materials that we can afford. I will buy them wonderful paintbrushes that will not resemble the plastic toothbrush kind that came with their elementary watercolor sets. Has anyone ever tried to paint lips on a painting using a toothbrush? For specific purposes, I will buy them delicate specialized drawing pencils and erasers. I carefully spend their art fees on materials that students do not have access to at home.
If you teach high school, you know that the first thing on a teenager's mind is, "Can I pass this class?" Get this question out of the way quickly. Every student in my class can make an A if they follow the following guidelines:
1. Come to school every day and do not get behind on your projects. 2. Listen carefully to the teacher's classroom instructions and follow them. 3. Listen to the teacher's individual instructions and follow them. 4. Meet assignment deadlines. 5. Assignments will be carefully prepared and show good craftsmanship.
All assignments demonstrate obvious thought and planning. With these guidelines, it is possible for less talented students to make A's and very talented students to make F's. The student's innate talent is not what one's art grade will be based on. What you do with what you have is how grades will be determined.