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Each year high school and middle school students begin to think about courses for the following year and there can be a flurry of panicked questions that race through your mind: How can I recruit more students? How can I make sure they sign up for art? Recruiting might feel even more challenging this year if you haven’t even seen your students in-person or even on camera. Regardless of your current situation, next year is still going to come, and with that a new wave of students. Unfortunately, many schools continue to base a teaching job on student registration numbers and recruitment is a very real need. While this can create a lot of anxiety, there are some aspects of the process you can control and they might not be what you think.
Everyone swears they have the answer. They’ll hang posters, visit the younger students, display artwork, email parents, participate in school-wide registration events, etc. In short, art teachers will put on their best dog and pony show and do everything they can think of to recruit as many students as possible. But here’s the secret, none of that matters as much as you do.
The posters don’t mean anything if an interested student asks a friend about the art course you teach and they hear a bad review. The amazing wall of art you created with an Uncle Sam “I Want You” poster isn’t as effective when a student shares with their friend their recent project wasn’t fun to make. The most effective form of recruitment is the conversations students will have with each other at the lunch table. This can be scary to accept because you don’t have direct control over the situation. Now, this isn’t to imply that you should just be the “fun teacher” all students love in order to be in their good graces. We’ve all experienced the teacher with no standards where students enjoy the classroom because they feel they can do whatever they want. You can still be a good teacher and have students talk positively about you, which comes from a few places:
Developing a positive reputation for you and your course does not happen overnight or in isolation. It can take years for students and families to learn who you are and what you’re about. Your character and your work are built over time through the daily interactions and exchanges with students and families.
Even if you have a great reputation in your school and community, it certainly doesn’t hurt to support students through the course registration process. There are some tangible ways you can ensure students are making informed choices about their courses. Here are a few ideas:
Schools are already in a challenging situation and the course registration process can create even more anxiety. Being intentional about how you communicate your courses and recommendations to students can make a significant difference in their course selection process. Discovering manageable ways to recruit is the key to sustaining a long-term plan. And remember—none of it means as much as a positive rapport with students and families and a meaningful art experience for all.
What other ways can art teachers start a conversation with students about art courses?
How else can schools be structured to avoid annual anxiety for art teachers?