Hi friends! First off I want to start off by saying welcome to ArtwithMrsE.com! Wow, I can’t believe I’m saying that!
When I started documenting my adventures in art education on Instagram back in 2013, I never thought it would lead to such amazing opportunities to connect with so many incredible art teachers, parents, artists, and just anyone who values the arts in their life. I am very excited to begin this next journey into the blogging world and look forward to sharing lesson ideas, art teacher tips, and tricks, my art, you name it!
The next thing I’d like to say to any brand new art teachers out there: CONGRATULATIONS!! This is such an exciting time for you! There is nothing like the excitement of walking into your very own classroom/ teaching space for the first time. Whether you are in a traditional classroom, on a cart, or somewhere in between, this is still a very exciting time for you! But it also can feel very overwhelming. 14 years ago I walked into my very first art room, full of so much excitement but also feeling totally overwhelmed wondering where to even begin!? My walls were bare and yet my students were arriving in 3 days! So if you are feeling overwhelmed about setting up your art room, I want to help! I will walk you through all of the things you need to know in order to feel prepared and confident going into the school year as an art teacher.
1. Give Yourself Grace
Ok, now read that again. I’m serious. If you are a brand new teacher or a teacher new to the field of art ed, or heck any teacher feeling overwhelmed at the start of the school year, please know that you are not alone. Many teachers, even veteran teachers, feel completely overwhelmed and stressed out and like there is never enough time at the start of the year. If you have to scrap something because you feel like it just isn’t working- then do it. If you feel like you are not being true to yourself as a person or teacher, then change your course of action. Students thrive when their teacher is happy and excited about being with them every day. Nothing is worth the cost of your mental health so stay true to yourself and know that no one is perfect their first year (or heck first 15 years into teaching.)
2. Start with your floor plan/classroom layout.
Being a visual person I first need to see how my classroom layout is going to look before I start moving or organizing anything. In a sketchbook or just a plain sheet of paper, sketch out the classroom layout you are envisioning. Things to consider: Where is your demo space/ front of the classroom? What is the best table arrangement for student engagement/ student behavior? Pods or a U shape? Will any students have their backs to you while you are teaching? Will you have a carpet or maker space that you need to plan for? How do you envision your students entering the room, where do they come in? How do they walk to their seats? Where do they line up to place their art on the drying rack? Is everything safe in those areas? Once you have the flow and layout of your room nailed down, recruit a custodian or coworker to help you move your tables and furniture to meet the needs of your students and self.
3. Develop Your Classroom Management System
Classroom management is so important when it comes to setting both you and your students up for success at the start of the school year. So spend some time really working on a solid classroom management plan. Create a list of expectations or rules that you would like your students to agree to, or maybe even plan on collaborating with your students the first day to create some expectations together. How will you ensure that students follow these rules? Do you have a specific list of consequences that you will follow in the event a student breaks a rule? Children need things spelled out in black and white- there cannot be any gray areas. “If I choose to do ______ then ______ will happen”. This goes for both positive and negative reinforcement. For the record, I believe that positive reinforcement is incredibly effective and there are so many easy and cheap ways you can reward your students for doing the right thing. One of my favorites is awarding an “art star” at the end of each class. That student was my role model of the day, they earn a sticker and then get to be my helper the following art class. It works wonders! Whatever system you settle on, don’t forget to create visuals that you can display clearly for your students to help guide them to success.
4. Student Artwork Organization
As the art teacher, you are going to be responsible for most likely hundreds of pieces of student work- and as any veteran teacher will tell you, there is nothing worse than discovering that you have accidentally misplaced even one piece of art from a student :( So you have to figure out a system to help yourself stay organized. First- survey the scene. Does your art room/ teaching space have an obvious spot that is designed for storing student artwork? For example, I am very lucky to have inherited an art room that has large flat pull-out drawers designed for student work. I have one drawer for each teacher’s class. I know I am VERY lucky to have this set up-but don’t worry, I have taught in 4 other schools prior to my current placement and none had such luxurious drawers. So what hacks did I come up with? Well, one of my favorite ways to organize student work was to create giant classroom folders. I created a large folder for each class I taught which was just two pieces of poster board, stapled or taped around the sides and bottom, and labeled in the top corner with the class code or teacher name. Once those class folders are made, they can be stacked on open shelving or slid into vertical cabinets. In one school I taught in, I was in a mobile classroom with very limited storage so I just slid each folder into the top section of my drying rack and that’s where they lived. In another school, I taught art in a cafeteria and auditorium and ended up sandwiching them in between a cabinet and the wall. The moral of the story is- do what works best for your teaching circumstances and your space. While we are talking about classroom folders- one of the best art teacher hacks I learned from a veteran teacher was to create smaller “table folders” that slide inside the larger class folders. Most art teachers label or identify the tables in their classroom in some way: whether they are by color, by number, by famous artist- you name it. However you label your tables, you also label your mini folders that match the tables. Do you have to go out and buy fancy table folders? No way. I just take 12 x 18 construction paper, fold it in half and write the class code on top. I use colors to organize my tables so I have red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet table folders all with the class code on top, and they are then placed in the larger class folder or drawer. The reason why table folders are such a time saver is that at the end of class all of the students at that table place their artwork in the table folder, close it up, and then all you have to do is go around and collect 8 table folders to store in your class folder vs. collecting individual student artwork and even better- the next class you just pass out those table folders and it takes 3 seconds vs. passing out 25 individual pieces of artwork.
5 . Art Material Storage and Organization.
Art teacher= keeper of all the fun stuff, am I right?? However one of the biggest tasks as a new art teacher is figuring out a supply system that works for you and your students. No lie, this can be daunting but like anything, just take a bite one piece at a time. First thing’s first: what is your storage situation? Do you have cabinets? A storage room? Open shelving? Anything at all? If you are a teacher on a cart then obviously your art supply organization/ distribution is going to be much different than a teacher who doesn’t leave their space. In your case, one could assume that you at least have a “home base”/ storage room where your materials live when they are not traveling with you. But for the sake of this topic, let’s assume you have a storage room and some cabinets. First, you need to decide what supplies do you envision your students using the MOST. For me, those are oil pastels, construction paper crayons, sharpie markers, washable markers, and any and all types of paint. Make sure that those materials are stored somewhere that is easily accessible to you, as you will be using them often. Personally, I keep almost all of my art supplies in my storage room, with the exception of my paint and clay supplies. I have my most commonly used supplies stored in the first column of shelving at eye level as you walk into my storage room so I can grab them quickly. Materials that I only use once or twice for specific lessons are stored and organized by medium deeper in my storage room. Supplies I rarely use are kept on higher shelves as I don’t have the need to access them on a daily basis. For my paint supplies, I make sure to keep them stored above my counters and near my sink so that I am able to layout my palettes and paint trays for distribution. I keep water cups and individual paint cups also above my sink for quick grab-and-go accessibility. Something else you may want to consider is: Do you want any of your materials to be also part of your decor? Meaning- if you have open shelving, have you considered displaying your supplies in an aesthetically pleasing way that is both serving the purpose of form and function. For example, I have chosen to take off the cabinet doors to a few of my cabinets specifically for the purpose of displaying some of my supplies to excite my students about being in art. If you don’t follow Bar Rucci over at Art Bar Blog, I HIGHLY recommend heading to her blog, IG, and checking out her books. One of the best tips I ever read from her was to create a space that excites children to want to create art. Display your materials in ways that are aesthetically pleasing: like sorting materials by color, or displaying smaller supplies in clear jars or bins so that students are excited to create when they see those materials. I chose to embrace Bar’s advice by displaying my fluorescent paints in open shelving, arranged in color order. Also displaying my paintbrushes in matching labeled tins with easy accessibility. Another thing to consider is labeling where your materials are. This is where supply labels will be super helpful! Not only are labels great for you, but they will help anyone else who is in your room assisting you, whether it’s a substitute, student helper, parent helped, co-teacher you name it! I created these art supply labels that have been incredibly helpful because not only are they labeled with the word, but also there is an illustration of the supply. These are also great for ESL students to have the visual representation of the supply. You can place these on the bins where the supplies are, or on any cabinets or shelving where that supply is being stored. You may also want to consider if you will be leaving a caddie of specific supplies on each table and what you think makes the most sense to go in there, and also having each space labeled so students know exactly where to return their supplies.
6. Create a Warm and Inviting Space.
To be honest, my first year teaching- I spent way more time in my classroom then I did in my own house. So I wanted to enjoy walking into my classroom every morning, and I wanted my students to WANT to be in my space. Now of course it’s not just your room and physical environment that make your class special- it’s YOU, their amazing teacher! However, as artists, we are inspired by things that we see! Consider aesthetics and how you can create a space that is warm and fun and an exciting place your students will want to come! Not every teacher feels that rainbows and bright colors are their cup of tea- but other things you can consider adding to your space is accent lighting (table lamps, cafe lights, etc…) greenery (helloooo cute little house plants to add warmth!) and maybe even a water feature! One year when I was teaching in a mobile classroom, I bought a small table fountain from Lowes and it was easily my students’ favorite thing in that space! Be true to yourself when decorating your classroom. What are you drawn to? What do you think your students like to see? For me, I do love color, so I opted to create my visuals using bright colors, but with a clean modern touch (specifically my elements and principles of art and my famous artist wall). You could think about adding a statement wall or mural to your room if you’re feeling fancy, but certainly do not put that kind of pressure on yourself right out of the gate.
7. Share Bits of Your Personality
One way that I show some of my personality in my classroom is with one word: Personification. Seriously, I know it’s silly but there’s nothing kids love more than word bubbles and crazy googly eyes. Giving inanimate objects in your room a personality is a fun way to engage students and still share valuable information with them. There’s just something about an old paintbrush with crazy eyes on it that helps teach kids about the right way to care for a paintbrush.
8. Build Relationships First…
As Kayla Dornfeld says “Relationships first, everything else second”. This statement could not be more true. Don’t stress over what it is you will be teaching your students the first or even second week of school, the content is not important yet. What is important is getting to know who your students are first so that you can create quality lessons for them that meet their needs and skill level. Instead of jumping right into content, spend the first few weeks getting to know your students’ personalities, interests, hobbies, etc through their art while also practicing those rules and procedures we talked about earlier. One of my favorite ways to get to know my students is by having my students design a cover for the sketchbooks we create every year. Sketchbooks for students are a great way to provide a personal space for students to create, they are a safe place for practice and an amazing way to see growth. I could go on and on about why sketchbooks are an amazing tool for kids to have in the classroom, but you can read more about them here. I ask my students to design a cover for their sketchbook that has a theme around something they are passionate about. I love walking around the room asking students about their work and learning more about them, their hobbies, interests, etc. I am always blown away by how invested my students are when designing their sketchbooks and how attached to them the get by the end of the year. Sketchbooks are just one way you can get to know your students and begin building a rapport and mutual respect for one another that is sure to lead to a successful year.