Welcome to the How-To Guide for First Year Art Teachers where I give you my 10 Steps for Success! Congratulations! You got your own classroom. OH MY GOSH, you have your own classroom. Your mind and stomach start racing, both with extreme excitement and panic because now, it all just got real. You will have a lot of students, a lot of planning, and a lot of classroom to keep organized. Figuring out where to even start is a huge stress and will require a tea (or a beer) and a nap (probably some Netflix too).
Decide on Who YOU Are as an Art Teacher
Before you meet your students, you need to think about who YOU are as a teacher. We are not “ourselves” when we are teaching, rather we are “versions of ourselves” because we have to be professional, leaders to our students. That being said, you should definitely think about what kind of teacher you will be. Do you plan on having “art teacher outfits”? Are you fun and wild? Are you going to be a no-fun-in-the-art-room kind of teacher (not recommended)? Think about who YOU are. Think about what is most important to you and WHY you are a teacher. What is YOUR PURPOSE? What is the most important thing you want to teach your students? You need to understand your “why” and “who” before you walk in that classroom on the first day of school. Write down your purpose(s) for why you are an art teacher and place them in your day book or classroom as a reminder to yourself. Sometimes, we will need these reminders when a day/week/month/year(s) gets tough (one day you will sit down at your desk and think “Why am I doing this?”. It will most likely happen on a super rough day. It will happen. It happens to us all).
Create a Vision for Your Classroom
This is the creative and fun part. What will your art classroom look like? How are you going to decorate it? The best way to get inspired is by looking on Instagram or Pinterest. There is a lot you can find when you look up Art Classroom Design/Decor/Organization. You can probably spend every night until BTS getting ideas for this just by scrolling on social media for endless bedtime hours. The problem? It all looks so perfect and awesome.This creates 2 problems: 1- How do you do ALL of that with no time before the kids show up, and 2 – Money. You don’t. A lot of these people will remind you that their classroom have taken YEARS to build like that; some are in their 20th year. You cannot compare yourself to others. Also, people curate their rooms carefully for social media (meaning, their rooms don’t look like that on a day-to-day basis). Cassie Stephens will remind everyone that her room took a long time to get it where it is today.Do what you can with the resources you have. Don’t spend all your money doing up your room before you even made money from your career. That is not logical in any sense. BUT! You can do a few things of course. First, decide on colors or a “theme” for your room. Rainbow is a good go to, but you can also do like, natural or white contemporary… whatever. Next, shop where it is cheap for the basics and a FEW decor items. Just a few. Hit up Dollar Tree, Ikea, and your local thrift stores. Just so you know, you can spray paint literally anything. I highly suggest going to thrift stores, finding table lamps or whatever that have great “shapes” and then getting a spray can with the color you want that matches your room and just spray painting it. I do this in my own house! Vases, anything. Spray paint.
Last, make a few extra decor items for your room! You are an ART TEACHER! Make something! Make 3 things to go on your walls. Now, when you go in your room and set it up, it’ll look pretty decent for Back to School. Don’t worry, your walls will fill up quickly (but don’t be a hoarder!) because Art Teachers accumulate things fast and you will want to display student work.
Plan a Year Long Scope of Topics for Each Grade Group
Plan out what topics you want to cover in each month for each grade group. Write down your school months and copy it for each of your grade groups. Cover the units or topics you want to cover in each month so you have an idea of where your going through the year. This way you won’t panic when you finish a unit, wondering what you will do next. You will know! Just reference your plan. You can also start doing your unit planning for the next unit as you enter the last week(s) of the current unit. Click here for a FREE Printable for a Year Long Plan, Unit Plan, Lesson Plan, and Day Plan to get you started!If you really want to be organized, print off your Core Content or National Art Standards and color code each one for the months of the year. You can underline “October” year long plan title in orange for example, then underline the content or standards you’ll cover in October in orange as well. This way, you always know, and if an administrator asks what your plan is or what you’ll be covering, you can show them. You’ll always know! As you go through the year, you’ll build your units and have it organized with the unit plan at the front, lesson plan and materials behind. Then the following year, all you have to do is look at your year long plan, find the unit and you’re done!
Plan the First 2 Units for Each Grade Group.
Once your year long plan is done, you will want to plan the first two units for each grade group. Back to School is very busy, and will be even more so as a first year teacher. You will be doing a lot of learning, reflecting, and processing and all of that will take a lot of brain power and energy. You will make mistakes (YAY! Mistakes help us learn! Embrace them!) and you will need time to reflect on this as well. You will find yourself getting more stressed if you have to throw unit plans on top of it all. So, to avoid this and before your year officially begins, create your first two units right now for each grade group. Create the plan, the lesson plans, and all the resources you need to go with it. Place it in binder, in order. Now, when you start your year, you can focus on creating routines and procedures, community builders, and figuring out the job without any other distractions or added stress. You will thank me later. Click here is you need art tutorials and resources that are fully planned and ready to go. Print and planning is done!
Picture books are great for inspiring lessons and learning in your classroom!
Plan the First Few Lessons in the First Unit
For the first units in all grade groups, you especially need to have the first lessons planned before your first day of school. Create all your first lesson plans, match up your Core Content/National Art Standards/Curricular Content with your lessons, and make all the resources for them such as rubrics, student handouts, and PowerPoint Presentations. If you don’t know where to start, look up “Back to School Art Projects” on Teachers Pay Teachers or “Back to School Art Projects” on Pinterest for ideas of where to start.
Create a Grade book and Decide on How You will Assess Art
Decide on how you are going to assess and grade. Your school may determine part of this for you so be sure to discuss grading with your administrators to ensure you are meeting their expectations. For a grade book decide if you’re going to do a traditional paper template or digital. Personally, I prefer using digital. In fact, my grade book is on Google Drive. I have a template where there are tabs for each class and columns for the assignment. At the end of the document, it averages my grades into a 1-4 type scale (Ex: 3.43). If it is a primary grade, I use the numbers, if intermediate or higher I convert it to a letter (Ex: 4 = A). As well, I record a lot of observational data on my students and have one-to-one conferencing. I will work with a lot of students in small groups and am able to work with them on a skill, as well as observe progress. I also do art critiques and reflections with my students. No matter which way you are going to go, make sure you have a plan and decide before you start marking assignments.
Plan Your Classroom Routines and Procedures
Know what your classroom routines and procedures will be before you start the First Day of Art Class. You can’t walk into your first day, introduce yourself to your students, then essentially make up rules and procedures a you go. Everything needs to be meaningful, purposeful, and intentional.
Procedures and Routines You Should Teach Your Students: Always Model!
- Start of the Day (how do you want your students to get ready and start each class
- Waiting for Class (how should they wait outside your room?)
- Working Time (what does work time look like and sound like?
- Cleaning Paint brushes (SHOW them how to do this and have kids do this! Maybe even a small prize for the first time they clean and have the bristles up when put into the jar)
- Putting away mediums and materials (label your art room! It makes it so much better)
- Where to hand in completed work (I use an “Inbox”)
- Where to hand in notices that were signed by parents (I have a hand in notice bin)
- Where to get work they missed when they were away (I have a bin for this)
- How should they ask for help in your room?
- How should they clean up? Does everyone have a job or should you set a timer and EVERYONE cleans the room perfectly (if done in 5 minutes perfectly the kids get a point. At 10 points the class gets a prize (play time/cute erasers/a tiny candy/etc)
- How should they line up?
Plan Back to School, The First Week, and the First Day
Before the school year starts, make sure you have Back to School planned. Have the first week ready, and especially, the first day.
-Plan your first day activities.
Keep it simple! On your first day you should introduce who you are, your classroom, and have kids explore and experiment with a pre-selected array of art mediums and materials. You should also get them to learn who their classmates are. Back to School Community Builders and Icebreakers in an Art Classroom are a must. Hook them on art and build classroom community. Introduce a couple main rules for your room, but save the main speech or class discussion for day 2 or 3. On the first day, hook them with a fun exploration of art mediums and a game or activity where they will get to know each other and your art classroom. Introduce yourself! Tell them about all the things you love and do so they know your not just a robot speaking to them in the front of the room. If you love Star Wars, tell them that. If you have a pet, tell them about your pet and show a picture. This makes you a person and someone that the kids can relate to.
–Plan the first week. Have it all prepped and ready to go 80% should be community building activities and art exploration. They should be getting to know each other, practicing your routines, and exploring art mediums. By the end of the week, or second week (depending on how often you see them), you can start a “Back to School” themed art project. After you have all the first day stress out of the way, you have day 2 and 3. These days are when you are really going to implement your Back to School Community Builders and Ice Breakers. You need to focus on building classroom community this week, as well as training the students on your classroom routines and making sure they understand the expectations (and reinforcing them when they stray away from meeting the expectations). Day 3 and 4 you should start having all names memorized and can start trending toward starting a Back to School themed art project. You can start an art project by the end of the first week or in the beginning of the second week (depending on your schedule). Only start your project when the students are SHOWING you that they are good listeners and are following your expectations in the art classroom. I will not start anything unless students show me they can do beginning and end of art class routines by themselves when I say “Go” and that they know how to “Stop and Listen” when I prompt them to. Before the week ends, make sure they know supplies they need to get. Send home any notices or “Get to know the teacher” newsletters. As well, review all routines and expectations with the kids before they go into the first weekend.
Make Your Plan on How to Create Classroom Community
The first few weeks will be a time where you build in classroom routine, procedures, and most importantly, when you can build your classroom community. It is important to do meaningful activities where students can really talk to each other, and you, to build connections and relationships. You need to talk with as many students as you can during this time to memorize their names, learn about their interests, and observe their drawing skills and willingness to learn/draw/experiment. Make sure that in your day plan for your first weeks, that you have a serious plan for how you will build community in your art classroom. THIS IS AN ESSENTIAL PART OF TEACHING. Write out your plan and stick to it. Put it in your day book at the front if you have to in order to remind yourself to do it. You will regret it later in the year if you don’t use this precious time wisely. Plan your goals for creating first week connections with this FREE printable: First Week Connections, Ms Artastic
- Try some fun drama games, sit in a circle and share their names and something about themselves.
- You can have them make collaborative art at their tables on poster-sized paper and allow them to talk to allow them to get to know each other. You can sit in at tables as they talk and listen/ask questions to get to know your students and learn names
- You can have them create “About Me” artist portraits and share their pictures and interests to small groups. Again, float, listen, sit, and ask questions. Memorize names!
Use Picture Books to Help Engage your Students in a Lesson:
How-To Use Books in an Art Lesson:
Books are a lovely way to engage students in your art lesson while teaching about a concept, artist, or art movement. I love to use books as either a hook for my lesson or as part of the content or background knowledge I teach my students before we create.
Using Books as a Hook:
My preferred way is to bring the kids over to a central location in front of me. Think about a space in your classroom that can be your “carpet” time area, either by actually placing a carpet, using mats that can be stacked, or just having them gather to sit. If not, read and walk around their tables to engage them all, or use a document camera. I do all, but my biggest success is using a corner of my room to read (which, corners are typically dead space anyway.)
Then, like a lot of primary teachers do, read them the picture book or a part of your art history book or an article. After, you can record any thoughts, “something learned”, or wonders on a white board that is there, or on chart paper. This will help the students access deeper, more critical thinking.
After, explain that you will be creating art based on: the picture book, the artist, the movement or time in art history, etc. This way, the kids now have been pre-loaded with background knowledge on the topic and will be a bit more encouraged to create because THEY KNOW.
If you tell kids you’re going to make a Van Gogh inspired artwork, but you’ve only shown them pictures of his work or a Powerpoint slide, they tend to be less excited. Books connect with people differently; it makes it more personal. That being said, before you create, you SHOULD present lots of mediums about the topic to the child. After the story or article you read to them, then you can bring them to their tables and show a Powerpoint or YouTube video to access different learners. Or, if you’re fortunate to have access to technology or bring it to your room, you can have them research related topics on kid-safe websites.
If you haven’t tried using picture books this way, you really should. For example, I always read “Ish” by Peter H. Reynolds at the beginning of they year, and then we all create “Ish” inspired art as a way to get kids comfortable explore art and the creative process. They are SO EXCITED to do it after reading. And yes, I make an Ish Gallery too.
Let’s look at my recommended books!
Take Time for Yourself. Everything This Year is a Learning Experience.
This is literally the most important thing that you need to do. TAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF this year. Don’t forget, you can’t teach if you’re stressed, burn’t out, or broken. You will snap at kids unintentionally then regret it, you will not plan or keep organized as efficiently as you would hope, it literally just will not work. You need to book times in your week where you will relax and do nothing.
Try to go into work EARLY instead of staying late. You want to know what I do? I honestly go in an hour or two BEFORE the start of the day (my principal starts early because he does the same as me) and then I do all my photocopying first (when everyone else is sleeping), then I do all my marking, then plan for the next day. When the bell goes at the end of the day, honestly, I say bye to my kids (fist bump, high five, or a hug) and then I PEACE! Gone! I try as much as I can to leave work at work, both physically and emotionally (as hard as it is).
You need to take time for yourself so you can be PRESENT for your students. There is a lot of decision making and people saying your name all day. You will most likely be sick on week 3 if your a first year teacher (and then every second month after that). The classroom is ROUGH in the first year. But if will me so much more if you don’t look after yourself. I am saying this from experience. In my first year I thought that staying till 7pm made me a better teacher. No. It made me grumpy for my students, and constantly tired. Now I walk, sometimes on my lunch break if the day was …unexpected. I try to be mindful. I even do mindful meditation in my art class! I love it. It makes me happy. Once in a while, I’ll sneak ketchup chips in my desk and when I need a happy moment, I’ll have some at recess.
The BEST Books for First Year Art Teachers:
Read my Blog Posts that will Help you GROW as an Art Educator:
-Learn How to Fuel your Creativity
-Learn About How to Walk a Creative Path in your Everyday Life
-How to Encourage a Maker Mindset in your Classroom
-Exploring the Elements of Art at Home with ANYTHING!
-10 Reasons Why Arts Integration in Schools is Important
-How To Guide for First Year Art Teachers: 10 Steps to Success
-How to Teach Art Classroom Rules and Routines in a Fun and Engaging Way
Try out some of my suggestions and see if it helps you focus your first weeks in your First Year of Teaching to create an efficient, learning, community driven classroom.
If you liked this blog post, don’t forget to pin this post to your Pinterest board!
For more art project ideas, resources, and a FREE Art Lesson, subscribe to my newsletter!