A Letter of Advice to a First Year Art Teacher
This is a letter of advice to anyone who is a First Year Art Teacher from someone who has been down your path. I am going to share my tips, must-haves, and ideas for traversing the simultaneously scary and exciting path of being a first year art teacher.
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A Letter to a First Year Art Teacher
Your first year as an art teacher is so exciting and rewarding. I absolutely remember getting hired to make magic with kids. I spent hours preparing materials (back in a time before TPT and blogs existed or even before social media… or smart phones… Definitely had filing cabinets to pick through!) and scanning through my university art history books for ideas to inspire kids with.
I was just so energized and excited! After a few months, things began to change. I was staying after work till dinner time or even 7pm, making cute sketchbooks and preparing all the teachery things to make this magical experience for the kids. On top of it was all the marking, grades, report cards, feedback, lesson planning, unit planning and honestly, I was so lost.
Then on top of it, nothing can prepare you for a challenging class. I started with my first class as one that I got a contract for after the initial teacher left on stress leave. I was oblivious to what a challenging class was actually like- and to be honest, it was pretty smooth the first few weeks with them. And then the honeymoon phase ended.
As a first year teacher, there is nothing more overwhelming and stress inducing than watching a honeymoon period disappear with your students. It’s the point in the year, of every year, with every class you will ever have, where things get comfortable and everyone settles in and you get to know each other. I will repeat the last part: you get to know each other.
I found myself crying one day at a red light on the way to work in my first year, wondering how I was going to make it, how I could get everything organized, keep up with all the classroom management and lesson planning and teach these kids. How to reach them and inspire them and overcome the challenging unexpected behavior that was on display in the classroom and even in the school foyer, on the field, you get the picture.
Suddenly, there was honking behind me and shouting- I didn’t even realize the light turned green. And that was it, I continued driving and faced the rest of the year, showing up, making mistakes, and persisting through it. I decided to do a few things so let’s dive into that next.
Find a Mentor Teacher
First, I got a mentor teacher at the school. Honestly, this is one of my biggest pieces of advice: befriend your coworkers and anyone with a lot, A LOT of teaching experience. Buy them a coffee and ask them if you can pick their brain about their routines in their room, management style, when and how they assess and plan- everything.
I spent a lot of time visiting teachers teaching a range of subjects and grades. I started out in High School and now I was in Elementary/Middle and it was very different. I talked to teachers in Kindergarten and up and it turned out to be the best thing I did (because although I was a trained High School Art Teacher, I ended up spending the majority of my career in Elementary. I never would have guessed that because in university my attitude was “I’ll never go into an Elementary School”. I was so wrong.)
You might even pull techniques and strategies into your own teaching. I borrowed a lot from primary teachers- they really know how to corral a class and build relationships. If you ever get the opportunity to observe a kindergarten teacher teaching, it is really something. I would ask if you could observe them and take notes with their permission during a prep time, or see if an administrator can relieve you for a period so you can do this for growth and development. It’s like watching a magician- getting all these small people who are 5 years old to follow along and follow direction.
Art Teacher Must-Haves
Some things are a must and some are a want or a wish. For an art teacher, there is a lot to consider that you might need to purchase as supplies and your budget is going to be shockingly small (but remember, you can add on as the years go).
–Good shoes. Invest in a good pair of shoes and comfy, professional clothes. I like to be comfy always- but you might be okay with lots of styles. But good shoes is a must have when you stand on concrete all day
–Quality Scissors and Paint brushes. I can let go on a lot of things but no these. Nothing stops progress like bad scissors and paint brushes that make no marks (like the tiny ones with a few black plastic bristles). I spend money here and cut on fancy random single use things.
–Oil Pastels. They work for collage, mixed media, on all paper, with resist painting, and you can create still lifes or value or form or color mixing as though they were oil paints. You can teach a lot of art and technicality with oil pastels. Oh and if they break now you have 2. Plus they’re good till the last drop. P.S. there is no such thing as dirty oil pastels. Don’t “clean” them. As soon as you use them they become clean. It’s a waste of your precious energy.
–Watercolor paints. I favor these above other paints based on the fact that like crayons and oil pastels, they’re good to the last drop. I get the tubes and make paint palettes with colors pre-squeezed and let them dry out solid. Then they are ready to use just by adding water to a brush and swirl on top. You can even have kids share a palette to save money and storage. Unless your in High School or upper Middle School, don’t even consider acrylic paint as an option.
–Professional Development. Whether it’s in books or a course, I would pay anything for someone’s good advice and strategies. One of my favorite books was Total Participation Techniques. Take my money.
Be Ready to Try New Things, Fail, and Make Mistakes
You are going to make mistakes. You’re going to fail. It is okay. I have made hundreds of mistakes and have failed hard when it came to teaching at times. Listen, in 99% of instances, the only person who is going to know you made a mistake is you. Or if your students catch it- them too.
The best thing is that you now get to use this as a teachable moment. Hey, you’re a teacher- we’re all about those teachable moments. I always told kids I made a mistake and that I had to try again. This is your opportunity to teach Growth Mindset in your art classroom. “Mistakes help me learn!” and you use it as a moment to model fixing mistakes.
Literally, you will make hundreds of mistakes in your career. It’s okay. I know it is stressful in the beginning, but let me tell you- no matter the job or career, people make mistakes. You probably made mistakes at your previous job and this is no different. Kids understand and they need to see you as a human too.
Quick Art Lessons for the Art Room
It is always good to have on hand some quick and easy art lessons to use for when you’re a feeling off, under the weather, are absent and need sub lessons, or just need a well deserved breather. It takes a lot of energy to teach a lot of kids and perform big art lessons- because honestly, that is what you’re doing. You’re performing.
You guide kids through a beautiful hook and introduce a lesson, demonstrate it or teach techniques or topics, make art with them, then wrap it up and conclude with gallery walks, critiques, rich discussions, self-assessment, or student-led displays. All that takes a lot of energy so make sure you have some quick art lessons on hand to keep you high and motivated instead of drowning in the overwhelm that comes with all that lesson planning (and lack of guidance that goes along with it. If you want more guidance, click here.
So you might be wondering about where to find quick art lessons. Below are a few ideas, ranging from free to watch and free to download, to some that you can pay for at an affordable price that allow you to be fully prepped in seconds.
- Find Art Lessons on the Ms Artastic YouTube Channel: I have lots of ideas for quick art lessons and drawing tutorials on my YouTube Channel. You can use flexible mediums for most of these lessons and the videos range from drawing tutorials to full, quick art lessons. I add new videos here every week so make sure you subscribe while you’re there (I also post teaching strategy videos there for more free advice!)
- Find Free Downloadable Art Lessons: I also have some full art tutorials with lesson plans and additional resources that are free to download! If you’re looking for some art lessons that are ready-to-use to get you started, a great place to check out is the Artastic Collective’s FREE Art Resources page which you can view by clicking here.
- 31 Quick and Easy Art Lessons: Finally, if you need a bunch of quick art lessons for elementary, I would check out my resource in my TPT store called “31 Quick and Easy Elementary Art Lessons”.
This is a one-and-done art resource for Classroom Teachers & for Art Teachers to help you be ready for teaching Art with 4 art mediums or flexible options for easy Planning! Never worry about having to search for Art Lessons that can Easily be taught with low time, on a cart or on the move (especially if you’re a specials teacher or art sub) because this resource has EVERYTHING you will need for stress-free and worry-free Art Planning. Includes Non-Editable Art Lessons & ARTivities.
You can find this resource by clicking here.
4) Find Fully-Planned Art Lessons: finally, if you are in a time crunch and you need lesson plans, examples, assessment, and rubrics all done for you, there is a wide range of art lessons, projects, and resources available in the Ms Artastic TPT store (over 800!) for Kindergarten to grade 10. Whether it is the Elements of Art, Principles of Design, Artists, Art History, Holidays or Seasons, I got anything and everything in my store. You can view and browse the store by clicking here.
Art Teacher Resources
It is always a good to have some resources that you reference when you get stuck or are needing support. I offer a few ways to get this additional TLC to help ease some of the overwhelm that comes from starting an entire career as an art teacher from scratch (no one understands this except teachers. It is so overwhelming to work, go home and prepare to work to go back to work to work again.)
- This blog is a great resource for teachers. If you explore the different topics in the blog posts, you will find everything from Art Lesson ideas to the Elements of Art to Teaching strategies. If you’re wondering where to start and are feeling like “AHHH I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I AM DOING”, then I would begin with reading through this blog. Make sure you bookmark the blog or hit follow as I have new articles coming out a couple times a month and it is going to save you a lot of trouble and pain.
- Grab my FREE Art Teacher Focus Guide. It is a quick and easy guide to give you 7 areas of focus to give you a sense of where to start as a first year art teacher. It is full of good advice and tips and is of no cost to you so I would grab it for sure.
- Visit the Ms Artastic TPT store if you’re looking for fully planned resources. My entire days are spent thinking about how to serve art teachers and meet their needs. No joke! That and making art and making art for kids. All I do is art and I share my decades of creation with others in my TPT store and on my Art Curriculum called the Artastic Collective, specifically designed for Art Teachers.
- Subscribe to the Ms Artastic Podcast: There is a lot of advice for teachers on my podcast that is free to access on any of your favorite podcast players. I really try and make sure you have all the tools you need to be successful so give it a listen on your way to or from work for some professional development on the go.
- Enroll in Art Teacher Academy if you are looking for more in depth, art teacher training. Imagine having a program designed for art teachers to help you learn systems and proven strategies for lesson planning, classroom management, increased student participation, engagement, and motivation, and developing the understanding the importance of art education in your school community.
With Art Teacher Academy, you’ll learn how to improve your teaching strategies in a predictable and proven way, one that allows you to work smarter, not harder, by focusing primarily on continually improving five essential areas of your job– Lesson Planning, Productivity and Time Management, Classroom Management, Engagement Systems, Proactive Approaches, and Communication.
You will receive lifetime access to:
✔️12 week program that includes Video Lessons that provide strategies and systems that will help you plan, energize, manage, organize, and bring excitement to your classroom and art teaching career.
✔️a Workbook to help you plan and grow as you work through the program.
✔️Templates to make everything easier.
✔️10 PD Hours Certificate (check with your local district to see if they will accept PD hours from this program)
The Art Creation Toolkit: a special bonus that includes structured lesson plan templates that have quick pick features to help you plan engaging art lessons faster, creativity challenges, choice-based art lessons, and fully-planned art projects complete with step-by-step tutorials, lesson plans, and assessment. (a $80 value, FREE with this course).
Art Teacher Academy is a comprehensive Professional Development, training program designed to help you achieve art teacher excellence through learning systems and proven strategies for lesson planning and structuring lessons, planning your scope and sequence, proactive classroom management and strategies for unexpected student behavior. You will learn to energize students for increased motivation and engagement, participation techniques, and developing the understanding of the importance of art education in your school community, so that you can experience increased happiness, confidence, and less frustration and stress.
Art Teacher Academy is for anyone who is an art teacher, new art teacher, or is becoming an art teacher and wants to achieve confidence, focus, resolve, and art teaching excellence. It’s for anyone who has been facing stress in the job and struggle in the classroom or for new teachers and those who are in training that are feeling lost and alone without guidance for where to start, how to create highly engaging and structured lesson plans, are needing classroom management strategies, systems for organization and time management due to an unforgiving schedule and lack of time for planning and prep, and ideas for energizing and motivating students to participate and create their best work.
If you would like to learn more about this course, click here to get started.
Well that is my letter of advice to first year art teachers! I hope you find some things that resonate with you.
Want FREE Art Lessons for your Classroom or Homeschool Program?
Find FREE art lessons to help educators and homeschool parents plan the year efficiently with art resources that teach the curriculum and engage students with interesting content and art techniques. You can find all Ms Artastic FREE art lessons in one, easy to access spot and they’re all organized by seasons/times of the school year, and by holidays. Find the resources by clicking here.