Simplify Your Art Teaching Life

It’s a busy life being an Art teacher. Sure, we often don’t have the day-to-day stress of standardized assessments, taking kids to lunch, or a homeroom (mostly). . .But, we do have involved preps that take tons of time, planning, and organization to pull off. Also, holy patience, batman. All the patience.
Here are 10 things you can do to simplify your Art teaching life.
#1 Develop Efficient Systems
I only have three minutes between classes. Most of the time, this means I have to entirely change out supplies and artwork. I need to put away one set of artworks, get out another, AND have a way of everyone in the incoming class getting his/her artwork (without a wild herd of children climbing all over one another). I keep student artwork in 8.5” x 11”  manila folders labeled according to the table seating. Sure, the artwork hangs out, but it serves the purpose of keeping the work sorted. I’ve tried portfolios, cubbies, and drawers, but those storage systems seem to “eat” artwork by crunching it up etc. When my students come in, their artwork is waiting for them and their warm-up task usually relates to activities aimed at getting them to settle down and work. I keep paint on trays labeled according to table seating (and they are stored on easy-access open shelving). I keep markers, pencils, and art sticks in containers labeled according to (you guessed it) table seating. Every day, I have student helpers whose job it is to hand-out folders and materials. This enables me to change out from paint to printmaking to charcoal in 3 minutes or less.
Tempera cake trays stored according to table seating
more paint storage
#2 Avoid Colored Pencils (when possible)
There are some projects that are just *so perfect* for colored pencils. And, then there are those projects wherein you just need an efficient way for the kids to lay down some color. When that happens, a typical default is colored pencils. But, colored pencils require a ton of classroom management: pencil sharpening. Ugh. You know pencil sharpening management is a pain in the butt no matter how you cut it. Either you have sharpeners at tables for the students to use (which you have to track), or students have to get up to use the sharpener (which becomes an excuse to be out of a chair/avoid work). So, unless we are doing a project geared specifically at colored pencils, I use Art Sticks. Basically, they are woodless colored pencils. Crayola’s art sticks are greatfor daily use, and Prismacolor makes some ah-mazing ones for more specializedassignments. I personally believe the pigment is better in art sticks, but that is just me.
Crayola Art Sticks
#3 Buy “Bendy” Rulers or Use Cut Cardboard
We have those “indestructible” metal rulers at my school. I hate them. First, they aren’t “indestructible.” Students have bent them and they look like something from an auto-parts yard (and no one wants to use them). Also, the metal rulers make a fantastic, loud, clanging noise when you bang them against any surface or one another. No matter the management, the kids will bang on them. It is especially problematic as it wastes time to hand-out rulers during class, and I like to have them waiting for students. Buuut, the students aren’t mature enough to ignore the rulers while I talk. Sigh. I’ve tried wood rulers, but a lot of them get broken “accidentally.” My answer? Bendy Rulers; they make little noise and they bend. The kids can handle them while I talk and they don’t break easily Bonus: They actually make for a great kinetic motion for those “active listeners.” Don’t have the budget for bendy rulers? Just cut some thick cardboard or matboard; works just as well as a ruler.
“indestructible” metal rulers.
bendy rulers!
#4 Call Home in the Moment
If a student does something that merits a call home, I call home at that moment (not later). I take the student aside somewhere (usually the doorway to my classroom) and I call home. I don’t ask the student for the phone number as I want to avoid any other behavior infractions; I look up phone numbers via my online gradebook. This helps in 4 majors ways: 1) the student knows exactly what I said to the parent, 2) the parent has an opportunity to speak to the student in the moment, 3) the other students witness the call (I make sure we stand far enough away to not be overheard), and 4) this usually helps the behavior to change immediately (sometimes, the student maintains the behavior and the parent can hear that too).
#5 Practice Saying “Yes”
Ever tried just saying “yes” all day long? As teachers, our answer to student requests is often “no.” But, what if you said “yes” to all student requests (excepting those that might emotionally or physically put students at risk)?  The result is usually a much happier teacher day full of way less student attempts at negotiating, bargaining, pleading and whining. And, sometimes, you learn really awesome, positive, and great things about your students.
#6 Let Students Use Their Mobile Devices
End the war on phones in your classroom. Designate specific times and manners for responsible mobile device usage in your classroom. My students are allowed to listen to their mobile devices (only if they have headphones and the device must be on “shuffle”) during “studio time” (the student work session). I can manage behavior using the mobile device usage by reminding students that usage of mobile devices is a privilege that can be revoked due to poor behavior. Additionally, the fact that students can look up reference images, color palettes, and inspiration sources via their devices is a HUGE untapped resource.
#7 Track Your Stuff
You need a system to track items that like to disappear into pockets (like pencils and sharpies). I’ve written a lot about this.
General Use Pencils
#8 Start a Class Store
The pencils I keep out for general student use get scuzzy fast. Also, students get citations (our school-wide negative consequence) for not having a pencil in Band or Math class. They will risk getting a citation for stealing a pencil from me in order to avoid the guaranteed citation for not having a pencil in Band or Math. So, I started a school store wherein students can purchase things from me like pencils, pencil erasers, sugar-free mints, mobile device stickers/decorations, and an opportunity to sit where they want for a day. You might ask how students “buy” these items? Well, this leads into. . .
#9 Use Incentives
All of us southerners know it’s true: You catch more bees with honey than vinegar. Different teachers use different incentives; I use “green tickets.” Students can earn a ticket for any kind of positively displayed behavior. My daily helpers always get a ticket, and as a result I have 30 middle school kids vying to have an extra clean-up responsibility(!!). I just have to flash a bit of green in my hands and I have the insta-attention of my students. Students use their “green tickets” to buy items from my store (which is only open during Warm-Up/the first 5 minutes of class).
#10 Out-Smart Your Students

My classroom is right next to the bathrooms and the water-fountains. The door has a window. Students in the hallway just looove to wave in the window at their friends through the window, and my students just loooove to get up and wave at their friends. It is annoying and it leads to a lot of behavior management. One day, I got tired of managing this behavior, so I out-smarted the kids. Ha! When you can’t change the behavior, you have to change the environment. Next time you get frustrated think, “How can I eradicate this situation all together?!” 
My masking-tape “grill” keeps the wavers at bay!

2 thoughts on “Simplify Your Art Teaching Life”

  1. So many interesting tips Amy! I am a newly enthusiastic convert to Crayola art sticks for the same reasons, so I will have to try Prismacolor as well. Great post.

Comments are closed.