6 Important Pieces of Advice for Entering a New Teaching Position

While summer vacation brings relaxation for many art teachers, for others, it brings dread. Interviewing, getting a new room ready, and thinking about meeting a whole new set of coworkers and students is enough to make any art teacher want to hide in a corner.

I recently spoke with Killian Williams-Morantine, an art educator from rural Louisiana, about this very topic. So many art teachers will be in new environments this fall, and I wanted to share some of Killian’s sage advice.

I first met Killian at the 2015 NAEA Convention and was struck by his story of entering a tricky teaching position and winning over the staff and students. I thought, “Wait, isn’t this every art teacher’s issue at one time or another?”

Whether you’re entering your very first teaching position, switching schools, or switching districts, there’s advice here for you.

Meet Killian
Killian Williams

Killian came to his current position from a fast-paced, ever-changing background and the big city of Lafayette and landed in the middle of rural Louisiana. Namely, he landed in West Feliciana Parish, an area of Louisiana that’s known for plantations and Civil War sites. The entire region has 15,500 people and is serviced by one school district. It is here that Killian comprises the entire high school art department. Talk about culture shock!

Killian had some work to do when he arrived as the students didn’t know what to make of the “city guy” standing before them. Through hard work, persistence and an infectious drive to win people over, Killian now runs an incredibly successful art department. Here’s what he had to say.

6 Important Pieces of Advice for Entering a New Teaching Position

pieces of advice

1. Remember why you became a teacher in the first place.

Although many college students try out a few different majors, Killian’s journey to becoming an art teacher is on a whole other level. Holding every job imaginable from jailer to database programmer, waiter to cultural correspondent in Nigeria, Killian finally landed at art teacher, and things felt right. Killian says, “The main factor in what led me to becoming a teacher was my desire to help others. Teaching is a vocation and a service. Teaching is good for me, for my character, and I really feel I am in the right place.” So, even if everything goes wrong on your first day or in your first week, keep your eye on the prize. Remind yourself why you chose to become an art teacher in the first place.

2. Know that it’s normal to feel nervous.

I asked Killian, member of the U.S. Army National Guard, how he felt going into a new teaching environment on the first day. His response? “Nervous! Terrified! I was sweating through a suit jacket.” And, what did he say he was most nervous about? The kids! He likened it to starting high school for the first time and being the “new kid.” Anyone who has entered a new teaching position can relate to this feeling. Know if you’re feeling apprehensive too, you’re not alone.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!

When I started teaching, this was the most difficult piece of advice for me to take. I thought that asking a question would make me look silly or uninformed. Looking back, it was foolish to think that I would know how to use the copy machine or know where the extra thumbtacks were kept without asking. I was an art teacher, not a psychic! As Killian points out, “Your workplace has a culture all it’s own.” Seek out one or two helpful people you feel you can trust and ask away.

4. Make sure to develop a support system for yourself.

Although Killian is married to another art teacher (cool, right!?) he says, as an art teacher, you are often “flying solo.” It’s unlikely that you’ll have another art teacher in your building, especially at the elementary or middle school level. So, what to do? Killian has this advice, “Focus on developing a connection with other faculty, but more importantly, make connections with parents and the community.” During your first year, find a few extras to attend where you can mingle with these groups. You don’t want to burn yourself out doing too much, but you do want to start building relationships with the people that will support your program. Try chaperoning a school dance, attending a school board meeting, or helping to design the homecoming float.

5. Be prepared for an adjustment period with the students.

Like Killian, when I started at my second school, the kids were not too happy about it. The previous teacher had been a lot more lax with classroom management, and I was getting a lot of pushback. Every day I heard, “But Mr. so-and-so always let us do_____!” I chuckled when Killian told me, “I remember once telling a group of rowdy students, ‘This is it. I’m it.’” I could so relate! However, if this happens to you, it’s important to realize that you’ll have different strengths than someone else, and that’s ok! Within a few weeks, my students were happy to go along with the new routines and started saying things like, “Mrs. Heyn, I like how it’s so organized in here. I can always find my art!”

6. Think carefully about how you present yourself to the staff and students.

Appearance can go a long way in helping kids see you as the professional you are. Killian took to wearing simple, serious, skinny neckties that fit his personal style. Kids took notice. “Mr. Williams-Morantine, only you and the principals wear ties. What’s up with that!?” they asked. Think about how to convey your personal style in a professional way.

In addition to all of these suggestions, Killian also advises you to take some time to make art. It’s therapeutic to lose yourself in a piece or a project after a trying day. Finally, Killian has this to say, “When it comes to your classroom and program, think outside the box. Your class is going to be called the “fun” class. Make sure it lives up to this name, but also ensure learning is happening. It is important to create a safe place for all your students.”

Thank you so much, Killian, for sharing your story and advice with us!

Are you entering a new teaching position this year? How are you feeling?

If you’ve been in this situation before, what advice do you have to offer? 

Amanda Heyn

Learning Team

Amanda is the Senior Editor at AOE. She has a background in teaching elementary art and enjoys working to bring the best ideas from the world of art ed to the magazine each day. 


  • ArtsyChic11

    I am returning for my second year as a middle school art teacher. I can relate to “flying solo” as I was the only art teacher in the building. I was lucky enough to develop some amazing friendships with other staff members. Unfortunately, none of them will be returning this year. I am more confident in the technical aspects as this is a familiar school. However, the biggest problem I ran into last year was keeping the lessons fun and getting student buy-in. I am linked to Language Arts in regards to testing and the push to include LA standards was intense. I began feeling like I was throwing art into a LA class. The students were getting bogged down as well. Any suggestions on how to keep Art “art class”. Thanks!

    • Douglas Lloyd

      Congrats on making through your first year. I would remember that you are not the language arts teacher, and your class is not language arts. You should focused on what you went to school to do, which is teach art. LA stuff should me supplimental not your main focus. I had a wise teacher my first year of teaching, he said if you are not having fun, don’t expect your kids are either. This isn’t much, but the kids are expecting art, and not another LA class. This is their only chance to be creative and crafty. You are doing more good with that then teaching the LA. For sure.

    • Elizabeth Castor

      Wow! Way to go! First year complete and best wishes for your second year. As for your integration question, I feel that integrating is nice but should not be your main focus (it sounds like you feel that too!). When I worked with middle school (a few years ago) there were expectations for literacy integration too. As a result, I requested a class set subscription to Art Scholastic magazine (great for art history and critical analysis of varied works), we made use of sketchbook journals for written reflection, self and peer critique (I also threw in a handwriting exercise which was under 3 min and made a big impact on drawing skills too) and tickets out the door (also a critique). But each of these was used because it was the right tool/technique for the art lesson presented, or because my content standards required it from me.

      I also discovered that in my evaluative system there is room/spaces for me to have input to direct my professional growth. I discovered that in situations where my content is getting “the brush” I can try to politely request input from admin/evaluators on my progress/success with these standards first. Then other school initiatives go in the 2nd or 3rd box.

      I hope that helps and that you enjoy year #2!

      • Heather Ann Holland

        Thank you for this response. It gave me a lot of ideas to think about.

        I had used scholastic art magazines in my student teaching and have mail from them sitting on my desk now. I enjoyed using them, but not quite sure how to fully incorporate them into my curriculum and fit them into my art budget.

        • Elizabeth Castor

          You may check to see if the magazines can be shared… perhaps the library can get or share the cost of the subscription (maybe 10-15 issues which can be shared in a classroom setting but don’t clutter up the library too much) This resource can then be checked out by other teachers in the building as supplemental material for lessons (what a sneaky way to get them to help you do art history!) or for research projects/biographies

          • Alecia Eggers

            Great idea Elizabeth!

    • I am sympathetic to everything that was written by Elizabeth and Douglas about your focus SHOULD be your art curriculum. Sadly, though, you may have it mandated that you integrate a specific way. In my own district, I frequently heard about integration for LAL and Math. My school brought in consultants to ‘help’ us as a district. Well, I was able to limit some of what they asked me to do because those consultants truly didn’t understand what I did (namely, work on a 6-day schedule with 480 kids for 43 minutes which means I see my students for 8-9 days in a quarter!). I developed some things and I’m going to revise that this year as well. You may not be able to sidestep your school’s mandate for integration. Nor should you. The goal should be doing it in a manageable way for your schedule, grade levels, and curriculum. That means you may have to fight for integration YOUR way.

      I would suggest you maybe take some time and make a chart for yourself that lists how and what your district wants you to integrate. Make three columns and then reflect a little on what would be a minimal, moderate, and too much work for integration. They may have specific standards for you. If not, then maybe YOU select a few and then see how you can easily put those pieces into your existing curriculum. The more YOU put your fingerprint on integration and come up with solutions, the less likely your district may see the need to do your thinking for you.

      Oh, and lastly, you may want to also develop a rationale for why your integration may look different than other departments. Specialists are often lumped together. Sadly, we are not all the same. I have to grade 80 pieces of student work everyday whereas my friend the PhysEd teacher grades based on participation. Our fields of study are different; integration will be different too!

      Hope that helps!

    • One idea is to pull in concepts students are working with in Language Arts without actually teaching any Language Arts during art time. For example, if students are learning about mythology in Language Arts, maybe you study Greek or Roman art in your class. You can use their prior knowledge as a jumping off point for your own projects. Things can be loosely connected too. In the previous example, maybe you use mythology as a jumping off point for the students creating their own surrealist mythological creatures.

  • Amanda R. Vaughan

    Thank you for this article. I needed this. I taught elementary for 11 years and this fall will start my first year with middle school. I’m excited and terrified at the same time. I left everything that was familiar and comfortable. Now I’m starting from scratch and unsure of how I’m going to tackle so many new things to learn. Change is hard, but I think it will be worth it. At least that’s what I keep telling myself and searching out from others.

    • Good luck to you, Amanda! You’ll do great! Middle schoolers (especially 6th graders) remind me a lot of elementary students. :)

  • The Art class is the “I get a break class’ to most of the other class room teachers. Many refer to art, music and phys ed as ‘specialists’. You will very rarely be treated as ‘special’. Some will show appreciation, many will treat you like the lunch lady. Also many teachers have some art projects they do in their classes. They may resent you if you try and model your’s into their routines; keep your program an independent curriculum unless asked.

  • Kayla

    I am currently job hunting and attending interviews. What I can do between now and entering my first classroom to prepare for the up and coming school year?

    • Kayla,

      What a great question! I would focus on planning out just a few things because you don’t know where you’re going to be. You could consider planning a few different possible first day activities and put something together that would help your future students get to know you better like a short video or slideshow. That way, you could walk into any classroom with a little something prepared. Best of luck!

  • Heather Ann Holland

    I am a first year art teacher.
    I am a first year soccer coach.
    I just got married 3 weeks ago.
    I am fixing up my husband’s house to get ready to sell.

    I am excited, overwhelmed, and nervous all rolled into one. It is comforting that I am teaching at my own home school, but that makes me nervous because I should be accustomed to how things are done here since I was a student here.

    I am in my classroom for the first time right now. School starts in less than 2 weeks. I just rearranged my room to how I want the furniture laid out. The teacher from last year made the order for me and I just approved it so I can get my supplies.

    Everything is starting to hit me… all my patience, all my student teaching, all my college courses, all my learning experience from being a student in this same building… This is actually happening and I feel like it’s been a long time coming. Then, I get here and it’s like “Where do I begin?”. Everything I was taught and feeling goes out the window and I’m stuck here re-arranging my room layout again. lol.

    I’m hoping being a coach and a teacher for the same building- I can see the students in multiple ways. On the field as an athlete, in my classroom as a student and as an artist. I’m excited to get to know my kids.

    I’m worried about my curriculum and how other teachers are going to view it. What parents are going to see when the kids take home their projects. I want to put art more around my community, at more school events and show the community our art program is amazing!! I will be working with 2 other art teachers and I feel they will be an amazing support system. I’m anxious to see them and reflect ideas off of them and come up with some really amazing projects.

    I’m excited to see what kind of artistic potential will be coming from this classroom… as I re-arrange my layout again…. :)

    • Wow, Heather! That is quite a load to take on. Remember to be kind to yourself. You don’t have to do everything the first year! Good luck with that furniture! ;)

  • Erin Sherman

    I have been an art teacher for a few years and recently switched schools. The team leader has a bit more negative/grumpy attitude than me and I finally stood up to her. It didn’t go well. Any advice on finding the balance between being professional yet keeping distance in a way to avoid dealing with a difficult untrustworthy team leader? Would you talk to your principal or vice principal?

    • Handling negative coworkers can be really tricky, especially if it’s someone you have to work closely with. The best advice I can give is to keep your distance as much as possible and focus on those things you can control. I’d consider going to administration if this person is being highly unprofessional or offensive. But, if they’re just being annoying, I’d likely try and let it go. If you do decide to talk to your administration, I would approach things from a position of trying to find a solution rather than just complaining.

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