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I was in the middle of a one-point perspective lesson with my fifth graders. I set my pencil down and dropped the ruler from my hand. Then I moved away from my desk to the back of the classroom and told the students there was a new art teacher…them.
It wasn’t planned, and I didn’t prepare for it. I hadn’t woken up that morning with the thought that I was going to let my students try their hands at my job. Instead, it was more like one of those flashes of inspiration that I rarely get the chance on which to act. But suddenly there I was, handing my ruler and pencil off to a fifth grader who had been working one-on-one with me as we mastered how to draw a three-dimensional chimney on top of one of her buildings. I think the fifth grader was in just as much shock as I was when I told her to take my seat and use my document camera to teach the class what we had just been practicing together.
Maybe it was the pleasure of sitting in my fancy chair, or having every set of eyes in the room on her, or perhaps it was the little phrase, “I trust you. You can do this. You’re in charge. Teach the class what I just taught you.” But she gladly accepted the golden scepter I handed her and took her place on the throne. I moved to the back of the room while a smile curled up on my face. Every student in the room was silently watching each pencil line she made. Listening with bated breath to all the steps she gave. My head was filled with an outpouring of thoughts.
“Wow! She is teaching it all on her own!”
“I don’t ever think I’ve heard these kids be this quiet.”
“What else might my students be able to teach each other?”
“I want to do this more often.”
As she wrapped up her demonstration, another student approached me to ask if he could show the class how to add a bench in perspective, and that’s how the rest of the class went, peers helping peers, friends taking on leadership roles I had never given them before. That art class changed us.
When I quit teaching, it impacted the way that I saw my students and the way my students saw themselves. My students felt confident and competent. They were the teachers, capable of not only learning but helping others learn. More so than that, it made my students feel special.
A mother recently informed me that she heard her daughter chattering to her friends about how she got to be the art teacher one day in art class. The mother then relayed that in doing so I might have just made her daughter’s whole year.
I don’t quit teaching every day or for every grade level. I still love being the teacher and watching my students learn. But occasionally, I like to find my way to the back of the classroom and watch something truly wonderful unfold in front of me.
Have you ever let your students play teacher? Tell us about it!
Why do you think it is important to make students feel confident and special in the art room?
Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.