Four Statements Every Art Teacher Hates Hearing

Let’s discuss the dreaded statements you hear every now and again in the art room. The statements holding kids back from working. The statements showing their lack of confidence or lack of desire. The statements, unfortunately, we hear all too often.

On a good day, you might only cringe reflexively.

On a bad day, you begin to question everything.

Remember, it’s good to empathize with students’ feelings – even those of inadequacy once in a while – but we must remain rays of positivity for our students!

Here are some solid “go-to” responses for the next time you hear students struggling.

SCENARIO #1 – “I Can’t Draw.”

Student: I can’t draw.
Teacher: What lies between “Can’t” and “Can”? (Prompting them to refer to the DIY poster).
Student: Um…Trying?
Teacher: Right! It takes courage to try, but I believe in you. Take the leap, I’m here to catch you if you falter. Then we’ll dust ourselves off and try again. It’s like having another life in video games. You never really lose, you start again when you need to. You don’t quit a video game when you run out of lives, do you?
*Remember, it’s key they give you the answer. Telling students doesn’t work nearly as well as hearing themselves say the word. It gives them ownership over the choice to see things differently.

SCENARIO #2 – “I’m Not Creative.”

Student: I’m not creative.
Teacher: (Behave as if you’ve just caught something in your hands. Peek into your clasped hands excitedly.) I got it, I can’t believe it!
Student: What is it?
Teacher: Well, it depends. See, it looks different to everyone. It’s an imagination spark. I see it as sparkly and rainbow-colored… kind of like a bouncy pom-pom that spurts out miniature fireworks. Do you want to take a look and tell me what you see?
Student: Sure! (If they appear uninterested, let students nearby motivate them by trying their hand at observing and commenting on how they perceive it first.)
Teacher: So, what does it look like to you?
Student: (Gives their creative response.)
Teacher: See, I knew you were creative! You just demonstrated what an incredible imagination you have! Just in case you doubt yourself again maybe you should keep this spark safely in your pocket. (Insert optional wink here.)

SCENARIO #3 – “I don’t have any ideas.”

Student: I don’t have any ideas.
Teacher: None? Wow, this is bad. (Look seriously concerned and pensive.) I think this is a job for the IDEA medics. (Make a fake ambulance alarm sound and grab two nearby students.)
Say to the other students, “We need you STAT! (Insert student’s name) has NO IDEAS! Can you save him?” (Two other students are prompted to whisper an idea each into the struggling student’s ear.)
Student: (Listens appreciatively.)
Teacher: Thank goodness they saved you! Be sure to show them your gratitude by using their ideas as a starting point. Remember to make the idea your own by making slight adjustments or enhancements.

SCENARIO #4 – “It’s Not Like Yours.”

Student: (Frustrated) It doesn’t look like your example!
Teacher: Oh, thank goodness! (Look relieved) I was worried it might. That would be terrible.
Student: Huh?
Teacher: Well, if it looked exactly like mine, why would you bother making it? I must say, I wish I had thought to (insert compliment/strength of student’s work here). Your piece is really unique. No one else (insert observation here).
Student: Uh, thanks.
*Remember, this throws them off balance. They don’t see it coming. I think they expect you to simply say, “It looks fine, keep working.” Celebrating the individuality of each student’s art will encourage students to see variations as indicators of strength rather than personal failings. Before long, this cry will be a thing of the past.

Yes, most of these involve some dramatics on your part. But remember, we work with children in a creative capacity! They respond to silly voices, humor, and levity.

Levity, in fact, is often the best band-aid in these dark moments.


Go forth and turn those doubts into dos. At times, being an art teacher reminds me of being a cheerleader. Our job is to believe in our students even when they don’t believe in themselves.

What do you dread hearing in the art room most?

How do you deal with these types of statements? How do you redirect them?

Lee Ten Hoeve


Lee is an energetic PreK - 8th-grade art educator in an urban district. She’s passionate about making art a core subject and employing curiosity to engage learners. 


  • southiefolk

    “Am I done yet?” When I hear this it makes me feel like I’m forcing them to eat their their least favorite vegetables.

    • Lee Ten Hoeve

      Oh, I know! That’s a big one.

  • John Hofland

    This is excellent! Thanks

    • Lee Ten Hoeve

      Agreed John. I’m so glad Ingrid shared that. I bet a ton of us will be using this song/video in class. One single word can be so powerful.

  • Ingrid Crepas

    I figured this out when I was really frustrated trying to learn something as an adult, and wanting to yell “I can’t do this!”, but knowing that wasn’t very learning-positive behavior, I added “yet”. I shared this with my students – they aren’t ever allowed to say they can’t do something… they ARE allowed to say they can’t do it YET. I told this in conversation to one of our special ed faculty and they shared this awesome video from Sesame Street!
    Love love love this message of Yet, and glad I’m not the only one to use it!!

    • Lee Ten Hoeve

      This is SO GREAT! Thank you so much for sharing Ingrid. I’m going to use this. Good old Sesame Street.

  • Valerie Naas

    “Is this good enough?”
    “I don’t have a pencil!”
    “Can we get to the project already?” (During art history “lectures” or background info sessions.)

    • Lee Ten Hoeve

      Oh Valerie I hear you! I always answer, “This is the project! We’ve already started.” It gets them to think about that portion of the lesson as active learning rather passive participation. You could also try sneaking funny bits into the lectures. If they have an idea they will pop up everyone still be riveted and focused looking for them. Something anachronistic in a classical painting you photoshop in would be a good example.

      • Valerie Naas

        Thanks! Yeah, I’ve always thought I was witty and weird enough to keep kids intrigued, but they are challenging me with every lesson! ;)

    • laura ornstein

      OMG I am not alone :) It really gets my goat when some students want to skip right to the project when I am giving a brief art history lesson with all the bells and whistles, or demos.I usually just smile and say let me just wrap this up but inside I am thinking rude!

      • Pam Moya

        so rude :(

    • Pam Moya

      Ooooh I really can’t stand the last one!!

  • Joseph T. Yawus

    Great motivational steps there

    • Lee Ten Hoeve

      Hi Joseph,
      I hope you found something useful. My goal was to acknowledge hearing these statements is hard and frustrating but also to offer some ways to combat them with positivity. Thanks for sharing.

  • Leo Barthelmess

    Levity always works. I find either they relax and then be able to work or start working so they do not need to hear my jokes.

  • smoun

    Love these ideas, i’ll be trying them next week

  • amanning07

    “I’m done!”

    That’s the phrase that wears me down. It’s almost like a curse word to my ears. Just this past week I instituted a new rule, no more can students say they’re ‘done.’ I’m making them change their language to, “I’m at a stopping point.” Which then leads to the opportunity to do some self-reflection and peer feedback. *Boom!*

  • J. Mawdsley

    Loved this article, and my classroom sounds the same during writing!

  • Edith Sorensen

    OK-mine is totally different from everyone else! It’s from other adults in the building-“you are so lucky to have so many talented artists!” Like I didn’t teach them anything! Yes-there are a crazy amount of students in my building that have fantastic skills and create wonderful things-soooo they all must have been born that way right!? Because I certainly didn’t have anything to do with that right? I sooo want to say to others “I just saw the state assessment scores and you are so lucky to have so many natural born intellects in your class! That makes your job so much easier!”

  • Jeremy Creecy

    “I can’t do this.” “I’ll take an F.”

    I hear the these two all the time with my high school students. My elementary students are eager to please, however, so I don’t have much trouble with them.

  • Melissa Woodland

    Like this? (insert visual of 25 kids shoving their paper in the air)