You are FINALLY an Art Teacher! Now What? Where should you focus? How should you begin? Here are my Top 5 Tips, Advice, and Resources for First Year Art Teachers to help you get started and find clarity as a New Art Teacher.
Top 5 Tips, Advice, and Resources for First Year Art Teachers
Now before I dive deep on this, just know that in your first years, you are going to learn a lot, make a lot of mistakes (and learn from them) and that is okay. Be patient, be positive. You’re learning new skills: engagement strategies, participation techniques, classroom management, and teaching strategies. And no matter how much you learned in your student-teacher classroom as part of your journey (if a teaching program was part of it, I know we all have different paths to becoming Art teachers depending on where we live), you are about to learn way more. All your emotions you’re about to feel are valid and typical. We ALL went through it. It’ll be okay and that is why I am here for you!
I got a Bachelor of Education with a Minor in Secondary Teaching after my Bachelor of Visual Art. I graduated and went through the teaching program thinking I had it and I could do it. I was so energized!
And I got hired. Eventually, after a couple years, I transitioned to Elementary (went where there was a job available)(loved it) was subsequently crushed and realized, year after year after year, there was so much to learn. I felt like I had a grasp on things at year 5, but still had so much to learn. And to be honest, I kept learning and figuring things out all the way though to year 10 and beyond. There was always something to learn or a curveball thrown at you even though I thought I had seen it all.
So don’t worry. We all go through it and you will love it. Teaching is a journey, kids are humans, and although the year seems like it is in the same pattern, not ever will you have 2 teaching years that are alike.
So let’s dive in onto the Top 5 Tips, Advice, and Resources for First Year Art Teachers.
Know Your Why
When you’re teaching I think we need to stop and reflect more often than not, on our purpose and our WHY. We should in fact, do this for everything we do. Why are we doing what we are doing? Are we just going through routine and habits or rituals or is there a purpose? When we are teaching, we are affecting kids lives and so it helps to approach your day with your WHY for why your teach and your purpose in being there. Not only is this important for you to clarify for yourself, but it will be better for your students too because you will be actively working toward your why and your purpose, which will make a better experience for your students.
So in my opinion, knowing why you teach is part of teaching art to kids. Like why are you showing up and doing this every day? Why did you just become an Art Teacher? I guarantee that, when you go for a Art Teacher Job Interview, that you will be asked this in one way or another. So thinking about this and answering this is important on many levels.
I was recently asked this in an interview with NBC LX. I was asked to think about some questions prior to the interview and honestly, this one shook me up the most. It is not that I haven’t been asked this before, it’s just that I was startled and realized I was struggling to pinpoint it. I had lots of reasons, but they also changed recently. After more than a decade of being in a classroom, I am no longer a classroom teacher.
So when I was asked my Why, (and the journalist already researched me across my art website and Ms Artastic and knew my shifts) I was startled. I felt terrified because, after leaving teaching, I replaced those hours with more Ms Artastic hours and forgot to slow down and reflect on my purpose and why. So after nights of being terrified and awake, I have re-written my WHY for me now. This why has evolved, obviously, as I have evolved. I had a different why as classroom teacher, different why when I was getting my Bachelor of Visual Art then Bachelor of Education. And now, with this shift, this is my why at the time of writing this. This will not be your why, so definitely pick something for you!
“For a few reasons, I teach art.
First, I LOVE art. Ever since I can remember, I have always loved art. So it is a passion that I want to share with others, to inspire them, and help them along their own artistic journey. I think that Creative Thinking, Critical Thinking, exploring our own Identity and Individualism is all essential for the paths we will each take and is a necessary skill for all career choices, and to continue to progress as humans.
Second, I believe that we are all artists or are all creative thinkers and just express it in different ways. I am a Creative type and I know how it feels to grow up, as a kid, who LOVED to make art. I know what it FEELS like to always have this natural instinct to want to create and constantly have ideas percolating in my imagination. As well, I know how impactful it is when you’re a creative growing up and you have a mentor or teacher that sees that in you as well and they you to express your own ideas and individuality. I had teachers let me explore the depths of my imagination and that helped me along this journey to where I am today.
Finally, I want to encourage kids to create and make art and I know I can help them take those initial steps and teach them how to create artworks focused around their interests. I can help them understand how-to use Art Mediums, I can help them learn to use those mediums with a variety of techniques to help them build their art making confidence… So often, when I was in the classroom as a teacher I would see them looking at what we were about to create and you would see their thoughts in their expressions like “NO WAY can I make that.”
Then, upon completion, when they would stand back and look at their artwork… I would see that magical moment, that pure joy on their faces that read “Wow… I can’t believe I made that”… and it’s that sense of amazement, that wonder, that pure joy and excitement… is why I teach. It’s rewarding.
Therefore, I continue to want to encourage that. One way I can do that is through teaching, not only by creating Art Education Resources and Lessons for Teachers to use in their own classrooms as Ms Artastic, but by actually offering Art Lessons Online for kids that they can stream directly in their homes… that speak to their interests. To be honest, I’m not sure that I ever grew-up and I think that’s a personal strength.
I know how it feels to be a kid and an artist, and sometimes it is hard to access art lessons or resources. However, with technology, that has changed so I am making art accessible any time, anywhere, using art mediums that kids can easily use to make art, add their own artist flavor, and eventually apply the techniques to their own artworks from their imaginations.”
Decide on Your WHY as an Art Teacher
So what is your why?
Now I made you a poster that you can print off (just click and print, super easy), and then in the circle, after you know it, write in your why. And then put this in your teacher binder so you can see it and reference it every day as an affirmation to keep you motivated and on track on YOUR purpose. Each of us has a different why, purpose, and journey.
Find a Mentor
One of the best things I did in my years as a teacher was to latch onto more experienced teachers and glean information, teaching strategies, and engagement techniques. I observed how THEY wrote lesson plans and planned their own units, how they kept organized (I loved going around and asking to look at how someone organizes their classroom before the bell), how they kept track of assessment and performed assessment.
It doesn’t matter if the mentor is of another subject or grade, and in my opinion, it is better. You can learn so much from different perspectives and use what one person is using in Language Arts as a way to increase comprehension and understanding as a strategy in your Art Lessons. Is it different content? Yes, but teaching strategies are teaching strategies.
My advice is to ask the teacher if you can learn from them and observe their lessons. Ask your administrator to cover one of your classes for 30 minutes so you can observe your mentor teacher delivering a lesson (they might say yes, they might say no, but I would think there is more inclination to yes because it’s going to help you be a better teacher). Or maybe use a Prep-block for observation if it works out (yes this sucks but just go in earlier that day and plan before school to make up for the time).
Your district might even have a mentorship program! It is worth asking the school board or school about this to see if one is available. Finally, when selecting a mentor teacher, find one who has a teaching style you like. But even if you can’t find that, no worries, because you will most definitely still learn a lot.
Value Creativity and Experimentation
My advice is to always focus your classroom on encouraging creativity and experimentation. Let your students have the option to add their own artist flavor to an artwork or investigate ideas through choice-based learning (task cards and open-ended art projects or sketchbook prompts are perfect for this as they’re not comparing their art to an example every time). There is nothing more soul crushing than a teacher killing creative freedom or freedom to express.
Let them add artist flavor or something that reflects each individual’s identity. Maybe do a mash-up with the Impressionist style and something from today or a modern cityscape or take kids outdoors so they can do their OWN observational artwork with oil pastels in the Impressionist style (after you teach what it is), and then let them create their own art. That is encouraging Creativity and Experimentation and teaching Impressionism without making it dry and lifeless and turning your students into colored photocopiers.
Ways to Encourage Creativity and Experimentation in Your Classroom:
-Incorporate Choice-Based Learning Opportunities into your Year
-Allow for Collaborative Art Opportunities
-Allow for more Open-Ended or Student-Led Artworks
-Value and Encourage Diverse Perspectives
-Allow for Individuality and Artist Flavor (what I call it) to Flourish
-Allow for more Small Group Instruction to draw out your students strengths and support them
-More 1-1 Teacher-Student conferencing
-Focus on building a range of Engagement Strategies
-Definitely read the book “Total Participation Techniques”. I used those techniques K-12 for over a decade and they were always relevant and did what it promised: encouraged student participation in your lessons.
Encourage Active Learning
Lessons can be delivered in lots of ways. My advice is to change it up always to keep them engaged and to try and teach all your learned. Again, definitely read the book “Total Participation Techniques”. I am not getting any affiliation for this statement, I am just honestly telling you that it was the best book I read, used, and applied to increase participation and engagement by students from K-12. I have taught it all and it was always relevant. It got kids wanting to learn.
From videos to PowerPoints or hands-on learning experiences, you want to change it up to encourage active learning in your classroom. Here are ways to change up how you deliver your lessons:
1) Have access to technology? Create a Webquest or have kids design a presentation THEY will teach. Or have them make videos about an artist or art movement in small groups. Or put your instructions online and have them watch the demonstration there and work at their own pace. It just is a way to change it up and access different learners.
2) On-task Learning: I spend the first 2 to 3 months honing in on my expectations and classroom routines. Back to School routines aren’t developed in 2 weeks. To set yourself up for success, practice for 2 months. One of the things you’ll teach and model is what on-task learning looks like in YOUR classroom. For me, on-task means kids are actively making progress. I would often turn on spa or zen music or Animal Live Cams at Explore.org because it helps keep kids focused and calm (during work time). I typically allowed talking as long as it was within volume reason and and allowed flexible seating and never had a seating plan (this was my teaching style, but you might not be comfortable with that. Although, there were times that, due to unexpected behavior, I couldn’t allow this. But take the time to practice and repeat what on-task learning looks like. Literally, write in on the boards talk it through every lesson before they do their independent work, then STOP the class when it gets to loud, remind them of the expectation, then practice again. And reward them when they do it (I love stickers and candy at the start of the year. After that, it’s expected).
3) Small Group Instruction: is a great way to support all your learners. I eventually ditched my desk for a rainbow table so I could support kids who needed help. Kids would go to “Party Island” (they named it this) for help if they needed it instead of me running around the room constantly. It was always a party there and they loved sitting with me to get help. And I didn’t have to move hahaha.
4) Total Participation Techniques: Get the book. Use them. Research them. I can’t suggest this enough.
5) Engagement Strategies: Research them, try them out, and see what sticks for you or your students. This is essential!
6) High Expectations: Definitely hold the expectations high, but allow for mistakes and experimentation. If a kid wants to go above and beyond, I extend their time for creating. If a kid wants to take a risk to make it better but fails at it and the project flops, that is OKAY and they know that I will still grade fairly on their process, attitude, and willingness to take a risk (isn’t that what art making is about? I fail all the time as a Professional Artist. So if a kid spent a ton of time researching and experimenting, that is a solid to me if they still learned from it and understood the standards.)
7) Teach Kids How Artists Fix Mistakes. I teach, model and revisit this to avoid paper ripping and the “I need a new piece of paper” situation. I made you a FREE printable for this that you can add to your tool box and use as a poster or glue in sketchbooks or pass out at Meet the teacher to get parents on boards with your style. Click here to grab it!
And if you have some reluctant art makers or kids who really just don’t want to engage with the art making process, click here to read my advice on that.
Finally, it is essential to plan ahead. The best way to feel stressed out, confused about what to do next, or where to go, or defeated is by doing no planning.
1) Take the time at the start of the year to develop your Year Long plan. Write in the standards you want to cover each month for each grade. Then, pair an art lesson you’d like to do that will cover MULTIPLE standards or curricular content targets. It’s NOT one lesson = one standard. Cover as much as you can in one go. Go DEEP in your units and you will plan LESS by teaching MORE.
2) Next, create your art lesson plans in batches. Create 7 examples at once, then writes 7 ways to hook the kids, write 7 lesson plans, make all the additional materials, design 7 strong conclusions to your lesson, make 7 forms of assessment, etc. Do it in batches. Then go photocopy it all. Copy ahead. When you’re always one step ahead there will never be stress or rushing. You will always be ready and won’t be going to a Facebook group saying “EMERGENCY! I HAVE NO LESSON PLAN FOR KINDERGARTEN TOMORROW, GIVE ME YOURS!”
3) Organize and Keep your Lessons Permanently. Put all your masters into clear protective sheets and file into binders or save your documents and file, in an organized way (not just to your “documents” or “desktop”. Make a “Grade 4” and in that break it down further) so you Do your Planning ONCE and are planned FOREVER. Do the hard work one time. Not every year.
4) Find Art Lessons Online if you need help getting planned. There is a lot to plan at the beginning so to alleviate some of the pressure in a stress-free way, I would find Art Lessons online. If you want to browse through over 800 Art Lessons an Resources, I would recommend looking through the Ms Artastic TeachersPayTeachers store.
5) Find a fully-planned Art Curriculum to save you time. Need professional resources already curated so you can focus on teaching and alleviate that stress? Lesson planning really does take up your evenings and weekends. I know that feeling of working at home to go back to work to work. Crazy. Find an Art Curriculum you can subscribe to and access so you can worry about the teaching part of teaching. If you want me to take care of your planning, learn more about my Art Curriculum, the Artastic Collective here.
Those are my Top 5 Tips, Advice, and Resources for First Year Art Teachers!
My biggest piece of advice is to just remember that it is your first year. A mentor teacher once told me when I was new “It took me around 5 years before I felt like I was in a groove” and I have to agree, after having gone through it, that s a correct statement. So don’t worry about your first or second or third years, it’s okay to still be learning. I am still learning. Education always changes.
Every year you will learn something new, every class will provide a new experience, and you will have plenty of students who will throw you curve balls. It will be hard at times and the middle will be messy, but at the end of it all, you will have learned and grown so much. It is okay to be afraid or not know what you’re doing. Know that each day, week, month and year is an opportunity to hone in and refine your skills. Don’t worry about making mistakes because they will happen. Aim for progress over perfection and you will do fine.