Classroom Management

5 Simple Classroom Management Solutions for the High School Art Room

So much time is spent talking about high school pedagogy, student work, art shows, and everything else that comes with teaching older kids. Too often, though, we overlook (or are afraid to talk about) a huge aspect of teaching high school: classroom management.

We went to the AOEU Facebook Page to ask our readers their questions about managing the high school art room.

Here are solutions to five of the most pressing questions.

High School Classroom Management

My question is about the age-old struggle with idle hands. I am yet to find a solution to fairly and meaningfully engage students who finish their work early. It’s great to have students intrinsically motivated to create for fun or practice, but that often isn’t the case. And in a high school setting, that downtime between projects can foster trouble. – Deborah

My personal solution to this issue is to just not give them any downtime. Every advanced class I teach has multiple projects happening at once (usually 3), plus weekly sketchbook assignments, plus a choice project they work on throughout the semester. Simply put, there is always something for kids to be doing.

If that seems overwhelming–for you or for your kids–just spend some time teaching about your expectations for what your kids should be doing. Pre-teach, post lists for them to see, and talk about what you need them to do; this could be additional drawing assignments, working on the 365-day drawing challenge, a Genius Hour project, or whatever else you think is meaningful and relevant to your students.

What do you do when there are just so many kids stuffed into your classes? – Sloan

As the 37 kids in my 4th-hour class will tell you, no one really likes this situation. Kids don’t want to be with 5 people at a 4-person table or standing at a table in the back because you ran out of chairs. They don’t want to be fighting over supplies or climbing on each other to get anywhere (well, that one couple does, but that’s a subject for a different post). The solution? Empathize with the students.

By approaching the situation with a “we’re all in this together” mentality, I find kids are more willing to work with less-than-ideal circumstances. I try to talk to every kid every day in my classes, even if it’s just a “How are ya?” as they come in the door. It’s important they don’t feel like they’re getting lost in the shuffle.

I thank them for their patience, both personally and as a class, when the sheer volume of people throws a wrench in things. And I subtly remind them that I need a little of their help when it comes to classroom management.

Some examples of phrasing that I might use are below:

  • “I know it’s tough when this many of you need supplies, so let me explain this new setup.”
  • “Because we have so many people in here, I really need your attention during this demonstration.”
  • “I can’t watch over everyone’s shoulder when we are cleaning brushes. Make sure you are responsible, and hold your neighbors responsible too. These are materials we are all using, and we need to take care of them.”

It’s never going to be an ideal situation with huge classes, and you’re never going to get the one-on-one time you need to teach the way you want. But that doesn’t mean it’s unmanageable.

What about those kids who are not treating art like a “real” class? My students think since it’s not a STEM class, that it’s a study hall they can use to do their homework for more “important” classes. – Melissa S.

This is one of the behaviors that fall under what a colleague and I refer to as the “Don’t Feed the Cat” management plan. What happens if you feed a stray cat? The cat comes back. Again. And again. And again. What happens if you let a kid do homework in your room? The homework comes back. Again. And again. And again. So don’t feed the cat—don’t let it happen in the first place.

If a kid comes in with homework, simply tell them it’s not an option to do other classes’ homework in the art room. Remind them of what they could/should be doing. If there’s nothing, find something, and make it meaningful; check out the ideas in the first answer above. If they refuse? Take whatever disciplinary action is appropriate in your mind. This is a simple phrase and a simple idea, but it can be repeated ad nauseam: “You do art when you are in the art room.” Nothing more needs to be said.

Students constantly talk and then are unable to figure out directions. – Melissa M.

I’m pretty sure there is a special circle in hell where you are trying to present a lesson, but all you can hear the entire time is a neverending whispered side conversation. There’s nothing I hate more.

The solution in my room is that I simply don’t tolerate it. Waiting works, proximity works, and calling them out works (as long as you’re not condescending.) I once got a little hardheaded and waited out every side conversation with a terrible class–took me 34 minutes for an 8-minute demo. But we talked about it afterward, the reasons why it can’t happen, and how much time it wastes. The behavior was negligible for most of the rest of the semester.

Kids usually figure it out when you wait them out a couple of times, but if not, pull them away from class and make your expectations clear. Do it again if it persists. Add consequences if it’s necessary. Just do what you need to do so the behavior is minimized.

It may seem like you’re wasting a lot of time when you’re in the moment. But if you tackle the problem head-on at the beginning of the semester, you will save so much time throughout the course of the class. Take care of the problem early, and those actions will pay dividends for a long, long time.

CELL PHONES!!! AAAARRRGGGHHH!!! – Just about everyone who wrote in

Guess what, everyone?! Cell phones are here to stay, and as a teacher, there’s nothing you can do to stop that. The sooner we all accept that, I think the better off (and more relaxed) we will all be. Yes, you can create a “cell phone jail”, post cute signs about no cell phone use, lecture, take away phones, and write referrals for students who don’t listen. Two questions for you, though: Is that really worth your time? Are you accomplishing anything more than creating spite and animosity coming at you from your students?

I think it’s more important to teach our students to use their phones responsibly. Yes, your kids might be texting. They might also be researching, blogging, bragging about their art, or promoting their work (and, therefore, your art program) on social media. I will trust my kids in that regard because if they’re getting their work done on time, I honestly don’t see the problem. Have you ever answered a text while your kids are working? How long did it take? Did it affect your ability to do your job? Most of our kids can send a text more quickly than they can pick their nose or scratch their heads—it’s not taking giant chunks of time out of their day to use social media.

For those of you saying, “but they’re on their phones all day!” I have a news flash for you: those are the kids who are going to waste time with or without a phone in their hands. The phone is not the problem—the behavior is. So figure out how you would deal with any similar behavior–redirection, conversation, consequence, or whatever else–and go about it that way. The phone is an indication of the problem, not the problem itself. The sooner we realize and accept this, the better off our classrooms will be.

What are your questions about classroom management at the high school level?

What are your behavioral pet peeves?

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.


Timothy Bogatz

Tim Bogatz is AOEU’s Content & PD Event Manager and a former AOEU Writer and high school art educator. He focuses on creativity development, problem-solving, and higher-order thinking skills in the art room.

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