Letter to a First Year Art Teacher – Practical Advice from the Trenches

Letter to a First Year Art Teacher - Practical Advice from the Trenches
Dear First Year Art Teacher,

Congratulations on your new job teaching Art! You are embarking on a wonderful adventure!

There will be days ahead when you’ll declare to anyone who will listen that you have the BEST job in the world. There is SO much to LOVE about teaching Art! But, as with all things, there will be challenging times, too.

I’d like to share some things I’ve learned (usually the hard way!), to help you launch into the world of teaching as smoothly as possible. Some of these suggestions are specific to Art teachers, but many of them could apply to any new teacher. I hope these tips will help you become the best teacher you can be!

First things first…. guard your health! New teachers are often known to catch every “bug” that goes around! It doesn’t have to be that way, but you’ll need to be intentional about taking good care of yourself. That means getting enough sleep, drinking lots of water, eating healthy food, exercising, and washing your hands a lot! (You may be rolling your eyes, since I’m sure you already know all that, but if you actually do it, it really works!!) For me, it also means taking extra vitamin C and D, and getting a flu shot. Talk to your doctor about what you can do to boost your immunity. You’ll find more tips for staying healthy in this blog post. Everything is so much easier when you feel good!

Classroom management is essential. Go over your rules, procedures, and expectations on Day 1, but leave time for a fun art activity, too! Plan to keep teaching your procedures all year long. (I know, you shouldn’t have to, but you will!) Don’t be surprised when you have to re-teach procedures after several months of doing them! When students “forget” a particular routine or procedure, stop everything and have them “practice” it. But also “catch them” doing things right and praise them whenever you can!

Simplify your “Rules” to make them easy to remember. Instead of having a long list of “Rules”, try boiling them down to just a couple of categories, like: “RESPECT” (yourself, your artwork, your teacher, your materials, your classmates) and “EFFORT” (always try your best). Those two rules cover just about any classroom infraction you might have. You can hear a good explanation of the difference between “rules” and “procedures” on the second episode of Cassie Stephens’ podcast, “The Everyday Art Room”.

Be consistent. Students feel safer and more secure when they know what to expect, and their behavior will reflect that.

Smile! You’ll hear some people say that “you shouldn’t smile until Thanksgiving”, but I believe this sends the wrong message. Let your students know you’re happy to be there with them, and tell them you love and value them. BUT…. if they’re behaving poorly, let them know you won’t tolerate it – because you believe in them and they’re better than that.

Get the facts before you react. Things are often different than they first appear! This simple tip alone will save you from all kinds of trouble.

Communicate with parents early and often. Don’t be afraid to make that hard phone call. Sometimes you really won’t want to! But remember, it’s fine to keep it short – just make yourself do it and pretty soon you’ll feel more comfortable making those calls. Don’t let a language barrier get in the way…. find a colleague who is willing to help you with this. And try to make just as many calls with good news, too!

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Take advantage of all the wonderful resources on the internet. You’ll find lots of great ideas on Pinterest, Instagram, Teachers Pay Teachers, podcasts, blogs, and Facebook groups just for Art teachers. There are so many fun ways to connect with other Art teachers, find inspiration, and discover new ideas to try!

Eat lunch with the other teachers at your school…. even if you feel like you could get SO much done by having a “working lunch” alone in your classroom. It takes time to build strong relationships, and spending lunchtime with your peers can really help.

Set limits on your time and your materials. Don’t be surprised when teachers want to “borrow” your supplies or ask you to make signs or posters for them. Be careful of setting a precedent by being too “easy-going” in the beginning. It’s important to clearly communicate your limits here. Specify which materials you’re willing to share and keep them in a separate place where teachers can access them. Decide ahead of time how you’ll respond to requests for doing “quick little art projects” for other teachers or the Home & School Club. The Art of Education has a great article on this very topic here.

Stay humble and teachable, and don’t be afraid to ask for help…. it won’t make you appear weak. Asking a colleague to observe you now and then can give you valuable input and perspective to help you grow as a teacher.

Try to have a “thick skin”. Avoid taking things personally or being easily offended by your students’ (or their parents’, or your colleagues’) behavior. Most of the time, it will have nothing to do with you, but everything to do with something going on at home. You might be the best thing they have going, even though it may not feel that way to you!

Don’t get frustrated by strategies that don’t work for you. Just keep trying new things and learning from what doesn’t work.

Remember that even the most difficult years bring blessings if you just look for them. No two years are ever the same. Your challenges will change from year to year, so try to keep them in perspective. As your confidence and experience grow, so many things will get easier!

And finally, enjoy your students! Appreciate all the fun things you get to do with them. You have a unique opportunity to make a difference in the lives of your students and their families, so do all you can to make the most of it!

For more “Learn from My Mistakes” wisdom (specifically for Art teachers), read my blog post, “10 Mistakes Every Art Teacher Can Avoid”.

If you’re already an experienced Art teacher, what advice would you add to this list?? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below….

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