Classroom Management

5 Strategies for Working With High School Students Who Hate Art

Working with high school students can be challenging at the best of times, but when you have a student who hates your class it can ruin an entire semester. You know what I’m talking about–always late to class, rolls their eyes when you give a direction, refuses to work, or is just basically disengaged. Fortunately, there are strategies that can help turn even the toughest case around.

5 Strategies That Work to Build
Relationships and Improve Behavior


1. Treat the student with respect.

This strategy is essential, but it can be really difficult, especially if you encounter defiant behavior. It’s so tempting to raise your voice or resort to sarcasm when a student is rude or disrespectful but doing so will always make the situation worse. The student’s behavior will escalate in response and cause a much more difficult situation for all involved. Instead, take a deep breath and maintain your cool.

Next, ask what’s going on and listen. Try to be non-confrontational. For example, instead of asking, “Why are you refusing to work?” try, “I noticed that you put your head down a lot during class. Are you getting enough sleep?” If you discover a problem during your conversation, try to help solve the issue, which could range from providing extra support to setting up a meeting with a guidance counselor.

Remember, suggesting that a kid who’s always tired needs extra sleep may seem obvious, but there are many children who don’t have a parent that gives this sort of advice. Just listening empathetically can really help form a positive relationship.

2. Be flexible and fair.

On first glance, these descriptors don’t seem to belong together, so let me explain. Fairness, in my book, means that everyone gets what they need. This often results in different expectations for some students. Sure, it’s the teacher’s job to hold all students to high standards, but if those standards create a barrier to learning, then enforcing them is a losing battle.

For example, one of my expectations is that my students create and maintain blogs used for reflective writing. It’s an important part of my curriculum, but in every class I have a handful of students who struggle with this task.

I have to be flexible to provide the best learning experience for each of them. Some end up with a one-on-one review of the assignment and specific feedback about how to make their writing more analytical. Other students need frequent reminders to keep up with expected blog posts. Some, due to working with a disability or language deficit, have modified written assignments or an oral reflection. Each student receives the support they need. To do what is fair, teachers often have to be flexible.
be flexible Melissa

3. Focus on improvement.

Think about where the student is now and what they could do to improve. For example, for a student who is chronically late, being on time more often than not would be a big improvement. Once you’ve developed a positive relationship with the student by treating them with respect and being flexible and fair, it’s time to talk about what needs to improve.

Be direct and honest: “When you come in late every day it’s frustrating because you miss important directions. Could you try to be closer to on time?” Yes, it would be ideal if this kid was there before the bell rang every day but that’s not currently happening. Some improvement can help make a positive change.

4. Include choice.

Students are all individuals with their own likes and dislikes, abilities, and interests. Letting them have the responsibility to make choices about the content, direction, or process of their artwork can be motivating. Including meaningful choice in assignments often improves participation and engagement. It’s also very beneficial for classes that have a range of ability levels because when the artwork becomes increasingly different there is more room for every student to feel successful.

Meaningful choice goes beyond things like selecting a color scheme or a type of background. It involves making decisions that have a higher level of impact on the artwork. Areas of choice include materials and content of the work. Choices can be modified, meaning students can be given a few options to select from, or open with a broad spectrum of options available.
include choice

5. Let it go.

Not everyone is going to like your class, and that’s okay. Sometimes personalities clash or a student just isn’t in a place where they can engage and participate. Hopefully, applying the above tips will make the situation tolerable. However, if you encounter chronic behavior that disrupts learning, it might be time to take the problem to your administration. Before you do, make sure that you’ve documented the interventions you’ve put in place and contacted parents.

Working with kids who hate your class is a challenge but using strategies like building respectful relationships, being flexible, focusing on improvement, and including choice can help the situation.

How do you deal with kids who hate art? Tell us your tips in the comments below!


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.


Melissa Purtee

Melissa Purtee is a high school art educator and a former AOEU Writer. She is passionate about supporting diversity, student choice, and facilitating authentic expression.

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