The Not-so-Perfect Truths of Being an Art Teacher

From the outside looking in, the art room might appear as if it’s all rainbows and sunshine. But, any art teacher can assure you it’s not. We might look like we have it together as we radiate color and happiness, but don’t be fooled.

Behind every rainbow, there is a lot of work, dedication, and, sometimes, mistakes. We all do our best, but there are some not-so-perfect truths that come with the job. If you feel the same way, you’re not alone. Art teachers are humans, too!

The Not-so-Perfect Truths of Being an Art Teacher

1. We occasionally ruin artwork.

broken clay

Have you ever left a box of artwork too close to a trash can? Maybe you’re working on a display and misplace something only to find that the box has disappeared the next day. Well, your custodian was doing their job and took what they thought was trash or recycling because of your mistake. But, now we’re the one who has to share the terrible news with students.

Or, have you ever dropped a student’s clay piece while loading or unloading the kiln? Maybe it’s a piece of fragile greenware you accidentally bumped on the wall of your kiln and seconds later it was crushed into hundreds of small clay pieces. If any of these scenarios sound familiar, know you’re not alone. Throughout a career, every art teacher has made a mistake that unintentionally ruined a student’s artwork. These situations are the worst because we know we’re letting our students down, but it’s okay for students to see our human mistakes!

2. We forget to check emails.

full email inbox

Have you ever had one of those days where you’re running around your classroom nonstop? You’ve misplaced your coffee, phone, or water bottle for the seventeenth time already and finally remember you haven’t even turned on your computer for the day! When you finally do, you find a plethora of unread emails from the day before. But, students are about to come in the room, and you’ll probably be elbow deep in clay for the next few hours, there’s no time to check your email now.

As an art teacher, the moments we have to sit in front of our computers catching up on emails are few and far between. Often, we have to schedule this time into our day. If you ever feel overwhelmed by hundreds of unread emails, know it’s not just you. While you might have missed an email (or ten!), know the time you spent infusing creativity into your students’ lives is what really matters.

3. We don’t always know all the answers.

Have you ever intentionally skipped teaching a specific medium because you simply don’t feel comfortable teaching it? Maybe, you don’t know how to use a kiln, and you’re terrified to even look at it. If we’ve never worked with a medium, we may not know where to start. We don’t feel confident standing in front of our students only to fail.

Teaching art is a unique experience. Even the word “art” is an umbrella term for so many different mediums. Every art teacher out there avoids an area or medium because they lack confidence in their own knowledge, and that’s okay. However, we know when students miss out on something because we don’t know how to work with a certain material, it’s a disservice. Instead of avoiding a material, learn with your students! When we don’t try and fail forward, we won’t grow as educators. If you’re ever looking to try something new in your classroom, but don’t know where to start, check the Art Ed PRO Library. These masterful videos, articles, and resources can help you gain the confidence you need to tackle something new!

4. We throw away supplies because it’s easier.

dirty paint trays

No matter how well we teach our expectations to our students, there always seems to be some art supply that is ruined by improper use. Maybe, you’ve found another stash of unwashed paint brushes crusted with ancient acrylic paint. The last thing you want to do is try to save the brush by soaking it in Windex or Murphy’s Oil Soap, so you toss it in the trash can instead.

Or maybe you’ve found another stash of an art supply that looks like it’s at least thirty years old. You had good intentions of finding a way to use it because we don’t want to be wasteful, but it’s also taking up valuable shelf space. Although the art budget is tight, it’s finally time to part with those “aspirational art materials.” Don’t feel guilty about throwing away a few supplies from time to time; we’ve all done it! Sometimes, it’s best to start over fresh with new supplies and practices in place.

5. We hate grades.

Is your least favorite part of being an art teacher sitting down to enter grades into your grade book?  Maybe you are required to enter grades weekly, and if you don’t, you get a “friendly” automated email reminder. Yes, giving students meaningful feedback and assessing student growth is essential, but this can be done without assigning a numerical or alphanumerical grade. If you find yourself dreading the completion of an art project because you know you have to grade it, you’re not the only one!

6. We can be reluctant to share.

markers

Yes, we know other teachers sometimes act as if the art room doubles as the Walmart of the school. Have you ever told a teacher you don’t have a supply even though you can see it sitting in the corner of your room? Has a teacher come in to borrow paintbrushes you know won’t be returned or if they are, they won’t be washed out? Maybe you give them your stash of ruined paint brushes. Or maybe you keep your worst supplies out in plain sight, so if a teacher comes in asking for something, you can happily give them the materials you’re trying to get rid of.

If any of these scenarios ring true to you, it might seem a little rude, but we’ve all done it. What other teachers don’t always understand is that these consumable materials they are asking to use come from your curriculum and budget money. Giving away our supplies for other classes can add up over time. Often, we are more than willing to help out, but at times, it’s okay to be selfish, too.

Our job is awesome—and it’s hard. Sometimes it’s easier for us to take shortcuts because there simply isn’t enough time in the day to get everything completed. Although our job title might seem glamorous, it isn’t always. Sometimes we make mistakes and take the easy way out, and that’s okay. Remember to give yourself a little grace.

What’s another not-so-perfect truth you’d add to this list?

What art teacher confessions do you have?

Abby is a middle school art teacher in Omaha, NE. She focuses on creating meaningful experiences for her students through technology integration, innovation, and creativity.

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  • Megan Dejo

    Wow. This article hit that nail dead on the head, so to speak. I believe the hardest one is the grades. I want to make sure that I am providing timely, effective feedback about student’s growth and progress. This is married to encouraging confidence in them while on their creative journey, however their journey might look. BUT, the battle continues with grades and the feelings that tag along. How many times have you ever heard from parent, “How could you give him a C in Art?” “It’s Art for goodness sake, I told him if he got a B or below, he looses privileges.” “How can you grade on what isn’t there in terms of talent”. I, of course being a good advocate for the arts, know how to effectively respond, but still… Keep Calm and Art On! Thank you for helping me to feel connected.

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  • Jennifer Dreibelbis

    For number 6, I’ve built up a loaner stash. For example, I treated my room to new scissors this past year with Artsonia money. I put the old scissors in a tub to loan when people come looking to borrow. Then I don’t stress about when they get returned, if they all get returned, etc. Same with markers, crayons, and colored pencils. I keep all of those in divided baskets on the tables and replace them each grading period. The old, partially dried out, broken ones go into loaner tubs.