Over the years, I’ve made more than my share of mistakes.… and many of them more than once! We all make mistakes, but we can learn from each other and at least avoid some of the common ones. Here are some lessons I’ve learned the hard way!
1. Doing for your students what they can (and should!) do for themselves. From passing out supplies to washing brushes at the end of class, this concept applies to many aspects of teaching. And at the risk of being controversial, templates fall into this category, too. If you regularly use templates, you may want to examine why. If you have a compelling reason.… then by all means do it. But if it’s just to save time or have more control over the outcome, maybe it’s best to let the kids give it their best shot without the template and see what happens. After all, that’s where the learning is. From prep to clean-up, and everything in between.… sure, you can do it faster and better, but if the kids can do it themselves, let them whenever possible.
2. Focusing too much on the end result or finished product. This is the classic struggle of process vs. product. While a successful finished product can certainly boost a student’s confidence and self-esteem, too much emphasis on the end result can send the wrong message. After all, art is subjective and the value of self-expression shouldn’t be underestimated. If students are afraid to fail, they will also be afraid to try anything new or anything they might not already be good at. Process vs. Product? Finding balance here is the key!
3. Not continuing to create art of your own. Remember why you got into teaching Art in the first place?? Because you loved making art! I think we lose credibility with our students when we stop pursuing our own growth in what we love doing. Time is precious and there never seems to be enough of it, but no matter how busy you are, find at least some small way to be creative every day.… journal in a sketchbook, make your own greeting cards, paint on your iPad, decorate your lunch bag.… just do something.
4. Giving empty praise. It’s so easy to fall into the habit of general encouragement, giving compliments like, “Good job!”, “Well done!”, or “Wow — that looks beautiful!” But when we do, we miss an important opportunity for our words to be meaningful. Make that extra effort to give specific praise, with comments like, “The way you put that orange flower against the blue sky really makes those colors pop!”, or “I can tell this group was really paying attention by how well they followed directions.” Then your praise can also become a tool for learning and motivating.
5. Drawing or painting on a student’s work. A few lines here, a brushstroke or two there… what’s the harm when you have a whole class to get to and your students are asking you to do it? Well, it does more damage than first meets the eye. I always had an intuitive sense about this, but it wasn’t until I took an oil painting workshop with a local artist a few years ago that it really hit home. At one point, she reached for my brush and said, “Do you mind?”, as she added a few highlights on my painting. Yes, it totally fixed the problem I was having, but I never felt like it was my painting after that. In fact, it’s still sitting in my garage.… unfinished.
6. Repeating the same projects every year. Some projects are so popular that you would face wide-scale disappointment if you didn’t do them each year with the next incoming class… you know the ones I’m talking about! But repeating too many of the same projects will make your program (and your job) seem stale. Instead, weave new projects into your curriculum each year to keep things fresh and interesting.… for your students, and for you! You can always find ways to update just about any lesson, and who knows, you may also improve it in the process. There’s no shortage of inspiration out there, so keep exploring new ideas!
7. Reverting to “cookie-cutter” craft projects for holiday gifts. Sometimes we cave to the pressure from our grade level co-workers who need a gift to send home for Christmas or Mother’s Day and ran out of time, or simply neglected to plan for it. It’s great to help out when we can, but it need not be with a cookie-cutter project that doesn’t allow for individual expression. One of the wonderful things about art is that there are so many different ways to approach the Standards we teach. A Christmas ornament may have symmetry, pattern, and texture, and that Mother’s Day jewelry box could be painted in the style of Monet or Van Gogh. Never miss an opportunity to teach important art concepts, techniques, or history, and find ways to tie as much learning and personal choice as you can into every project you do with your students.
8. Teaching a new lesson without trying it yourself first. Ouch! We’ve all done it and regretted it afterward. No matter how straightforward a new project may seem, there is always value in working through it once yourself before you teach it to your students. Use this time to really think through how you’re going to explain each step and what the potential problems might be.
9. Forgetting to enjoy your students. It’s easy to get so caught up in what we need to get done that we “miss the forest for the trees”. In other words, you can get so distracted by your to-do list that you entirely miss the big picture… this wonderful opportunity we have to build relationships with our students and enjoy them as people. Try to find ways to make a personal connection with each of your students. Find out what is important to them, what they get excited about, what they love. If you have too many students to accomplish this with each one, still do what you can. You’ll succeed with many and you may notice fewer behavior problems and less stress in your day as a result!
10. Not letting students see you make mistakes. Let’s face it, mistakes are inevitable. Creating art is all about problem solving, often on the fly. If students can watch you make a mistake and “own it” (rather than try to hide it), it not only shows them that you’re human, it’s also a great opportunity to teach them that “failure isn’t final” but is a vital part of the learning process.
I hope this list will help you avoid some of the more common mistakes Art teachers make. Since we are all going to make mistakes, we may as well make different ones and learn from each other!
Do any of these mistakes resonate with you? What mistakes have you made that the rest of us can learn from?
Please share in the comment section below!