Classroom Management

10 Things Art Teachers Can’t Live Without (Ep. 036)

When you start teaching, the list of things you don’t know is expansive. It’s important to talk about the routines, supplies, and essential strategies to help you be successful as a teacher. Listen as Cassie goes through the 10 things art teachers can’t live without, including a great greeting for primary students (4:30), her word of the day (8:15), and her perfect attention-getting tool (13:30). Full episode transcript below.


Resources and Links




Do y’all ever have teacher dreams? I usually have my most frightening teacher dreams about … I will call them nightmares, because let’s be honest, that’s what they are. About two weeks right before school starts, it’s like clockwork. Every year, I have the same nightmare. I’m teaching essentially about five classes, all in some giant room, like a gymnasium. They are going completely bonkers. I’m yelling at them trying to get their attention. I’m losing my patience and my mind. Of course, my lovely principal then walks in with her clipboard and is all set to do an evaluation. That’s the usual back-to-school nightmare that I almost always have.

However, the other night, I had a really strange dream, and it was a school dream. I walked into my room, and it was completely empty, blank, like a clean slate. Now my supplies were still there, but … I don’t know if you’ve seen pictures of my room. There’s a lot going on. Like your average art room, there’s a lot happening, and none of it was there. I started to panic. How am I going to teach? What am I going to teach with? I have the art supplies, but where are my teaching tools?

I woke up in a little bit of a panic, but it got me thinking about what those things are, just things, or little routines, or whatever it is that I do, my top 10 things, let’s say, that I just couldn’t live without in my art room. I made a list, and I thought I’d share it with you guys today. I would also be curious to know if some of these things make it to y’all’s list too.

I’m Cassie, and this is Everyday Art Room.

Having jotted down the list and just taking a quick glance at it, the interesting thing I’m realizing is my first probably three years teaching, I didn’t have any of these things on this list. You know, when you become a teacher, I really feel like all of us are just shoved off of the plank of a boat into an ocean of complete unknowingness. I had not a clue for three years. That was back in the day when there weren’t resources online for people to use. I was going to the library every weekend poring over these books from the 1970s that had projects in them that involved macrame, which is totally hipster now. But in the late ’90s, I was like, I don’t even know where on earth to find me some macrame. Why would I do that, anyway?

These things that I’m about to share with you, these are new developments for me, as I’ve become, I guess, a little bit more experienced in my art teacher biz. Like I said, be curious to know if my top 10 is similar to yours.

Thing number one on tip top of my list, things I couldn’t do without in my art room, my coffee pot. If I could hug my coffee pot, if it had arms, we would just be hugging on each other all day long, y’all. Let me just tell you about my relationship with my coffee pot.

First of all, it starts even before I get there, because my amazing music teacher friend, Kiera, she brought in a coffee bean grinder. Y’all, we are snooty up in my room. We are not playing around with that coffee. She grinds up some whole bean coffee before I even get to school, because she has her stuff together way more than I, and it doesn’t take much, but she does. She grinds up the coffee. We’ve got that thing percolating.

When I walk in my room in the morning, it smells straight up like Starbucks. It’s the best way to start the day. You know, that old commercial, “the best part of waking up.” The best part of art teachering is coffee in your cup. I’m not going to say Folgers, because, you know, I said we’re snooty. That’s not what we’re brewing.

Coffee is top of my list. I don’t know how some of my art teacher friends out there do it who aren’t allowed to have coffee pots in the room. You know, my first painting class in college, that’s where I got hooked on coffee. They always had coffee brewing. Ever since then, that’s just what an art room has to have. A staple is a coffee machine. That’s at the top of my list.

Number two, something I could not deal without, especially with my kindergarten through second grade classes. I couldn’t do without having an entry greeting for my younger students. Here’s how it sounds. I know I’ve shared it with you before, but as my students are walking into the room, I say, “Hello, my most amazing artists.” They say, “Hello, my most amazing art teacher.” The best way to start your day. “How are you today?” They reply, “Ready to create.”

I love doing that with my students. I’m totally addicted to it, because it gets them in the room in a happy manner. It also nips the bud of them asking me 25 questions at the door. “What are we doing today. I like your hair. Why are you wearing those shoes? Your makeup looks weird. That lipstick is funny.” You know the routine, so that [inaudible 00:05:28] something else I just couldn’t do without.

Now my older students, they come to me from … I have doubled up classes, and they come to me from two separate locations. They stagger in so we don’t necessarily kick off the class like that, because we’d actually be saying it twice. That’s why I do it. I mostly focus on doing it with my younger students.

Something else I could not do without in my art room, and I know I shared this in the episode when I chatted to you about my favorite art hacks, dry erase boards. They are an art teacherin’ gift sent from heaven above. Like I said, that’s not something I would have even thought about. I mean, were dry erase boards even a thing in 1998? I don’t know, but now, I couldn’t live without mine. I use mine in several different ways in my art room.

The big thing that I use them for is my happy-sad board. Lately, I haven’t even had to touch the happy-sad board, because now it’s such an established routine. The kids know what to do. They walk in. They sit down. We get started quickly and quietly. However, every now and then, some of us lose our ever-loving mind, and we forget that we’re supposed to raise our hand before speaking out, or we’re not supposed to sit and chat with our neighbor when the beautiful Ms. Stephens is talking. Rude.

The happy-sad board is simply a dry erase board that sits at the front of my room on my desk on a little stand. It has a happy face and a sad face. Whenever my friends walk in so nicely and quietly, I just start putting lines and lines under the happy face. Not so much talking when I’m speaking, we draw a couple of lines under the sad. It works great, because I don’t call out certain kids. I just say, “Oh, somebody’s talking when I’m speaking.” I draw a little line under the sad, and usually peer pressure will cause them to stop almost immediately.

I’ve also chatted with you about my love for dry erase boards when it comes to early finishers, especially when you only have maybe three to five minutes left of class. My students love to do a little bit of a free draw on dry erase boards. A new thing with my kindergarten friends is when they all finish early, if they have time, we all gather on the floor, or as they finish their work of art, they trickle down to the floor. We basically, with a dry erase board, take turns playing a version of Pictionary or a Win, Lose or Draw. They love this game, and thanks to dry erase boards.

Let’s talk about my thing number four that’s on my list, which is my word of the day. After my students walk in, we’ve done our greeting, they sit down, I tell them, “Our word for the day is …” I’m just going to throw one at you, play, because that’s what we’ll be using a lot this week. They know whenever I say that word or whenever anybody says that word, they go, “Woop, woop.” This is especially great if you’re introducing more difficult words, like landscape. It gets them paying attention to that word. They’re curious to know what that word means. It’s just a really fun and fabulous way to bring more vocabulary into your art room. That’s something I definitely use all the time and couldn’t live without.

Now this one, my number five, is definitely a new development within the last five years, my document camera. OMG, what did any of us do before a document cam? Previously, I used a child-size easel. I would sit down. The kids would sit on the floor in front of me. I would do all my demos on this easel. That worked great, unless I’m demoing something like watercolor paint, which y’all know is very drippy. Also, you can’t demo things like clay. For that, I would have a demo table, which was equally frustrating. As the kids try to gather around the table, they’re constantly moving, bumping the table, touching each other. It was basically a version of stop-quit-don’t for the entire demo.

Document cam, man, I love my document cam. My document cam is several years old now, still works great. It’s an Elmo, and it connects to my full screen television. Again, don’t know what I did without it. I’ve gotten a lot of people and emails asking me, “Cassie, what kind do you have, because it looks really clear, and the colors seem to stay true?” All I can do is tell you that it’s an Elmo. It’s a slightly older one, and I love it.

I used to use my Elmo, and I hated it when I had it with a pull-down screen. It never seemed to get the right color. It was always difficult to see, so being able to hook a document cam up to your television, I think that’s the key. I think that’s where it’s at. I don’t have a Promethean board, so I can’t speak to whether one of those are as magical as a document cam.

Number six on my list is my art supply store. I don’t have a store in my room. I have a large cafeteria-style table. Actually, it’s just a random table. It has all of the supplies that my students can go and gather on their own. I have it organized by grade level. If my kindergartners are painting in their little section of the table, and they know it’s their section because I’ve drawn a little line on the table with tape, and there’s a big K on the wall next to where their area of the table is, there will be paper and the painting supplies they would need. They know just to grab from that spot.

After I’m done giving directions, and my kids are done doing the call-in response with me, which I’ve done a whole podcast on, so I won’t bore you with that, they know the supplies they are to go get at the store. That’s their own individual supplies, like paper and paint brushes. The rest of their stuff is at the table. If I came into my art room, and there was absolutely nothing there but supplies, I would immediately create an art supply store or a table with individual grade-level of supplies.

Number seven on my list, and this is a favorite of mine, these are my collection of favorite books. Get your pencil ready. I’m just going to say them real fast and furious. If there was something I couldn’t live without, it would be these 10 books. There’s so many to choose from, but I whittled it down to 10. “Beautiful Oops” by Barney Saltzberg, “Mix It Up” by Harve Tullet, “The Dot” by Peter H. Reynolds, anything by Peter H. Reynolds, y’all, let’s be honest.

“I’m Not Just a Scribble” is a new one to my library. It’s by Diane Alber, and I love it. “Mouse Paint” is a old classic by Ellen Stoll Walsh. Any of the “Getting to Know You” books by Mike Venezia are a huge hit in my room. “The Goat in the Rug,” a favorite of mine, always, especially for teaching weaving, by Charles L. Blood.

Okay, this book, I keep saying they’re all my favorite, but this one is my absolute favorite book of all time. I read it every year at the beginning of the year to kindergarten and first grade, because I love it so much. It is “Purple, Green, and Yellow” by Robert Munsch. It’s my fave. Anything by Shel Silverstein. You got a couple of minutes left, pull any Shel Silverstein poem book off your shelf. Read those kids a poem. I remember my second grade teacher doing this when I was in school, and that’s when I fell in love with reading, in love with books, in love with words. Thank you, Shel Silverstein. And “I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More” by Karen Beaumont. There you have it, my top 10.

Moving on, I could not live without my chime. My husband, he makes chimes that drummers play, but he also makes what’s called a single note energy chime, and small applaud, this company’s name is Treeworks. I have one of his single note energy chime, that’s a lot of words, that I keep in my room. It stays in my apron pocket. Anytime I want to make an announcement, or it’s getting too loud, or I want to have an attention grabber, I play this chime. It makes a very high-pitched, clear, and loud distinct sound. As soon as the kids hear it, they stop and they look at me. It’s just like a knee-jerk reaction. I don’t have to say Mona Lisa. We don’t have to do anything of that stuff, because I can’t seem to remember that. The chime, use it all day long. Whenever I even lead workshops, because you know teachers are the chattiest of people, I use that chime constantly.

Okay, number nine isn’t something that I couldn’t live without, but it’s something I wouldn’t want to live without. That is my clean-up gong. I love my clean-up gong. It’s so pretty. I painted it like a color wheel. It’s just so fun to end the class on this really loud gong note. It signals to all the kids that they are to stop, drop, and clean up. The clean-up gong, I love it so.

Number 10 is this. Something in my art room that I could not live without are really healthy snacks, water and chocolate. I have noticed on the days when I don’t stay hydrated, when I don’t eat healthy, when I don’t have a really good solid lunch, not their typical frozen burrito like I a lot of times resort to, but when I have a nice solid lunch that I look forward to, that I sit down and I enjoy with my music teacher friend and my PE buddies, it really does make my day so much better.

Okay, I’m going to tell you about an app that I’m currently addicted to and I have no affiliation with, but I think that you will love it as much as I do. It’s called Mealime. That’s all one word, just one L, Mealime. You can find fabulous recipes super cheap, super easy. What I’ve been doing is cooking it at night and then taking the leftovers in the next day. You just end up with a really healthy meal. I have found that when I eat better, I teach better. I just wanted to throw that out there.

Also, chocolate. I really have an addiction. Dark is my fave. If I have that handy, I know everything is going to be fine. If I can’t find dark chocolate, then I go on a mad hunt throughout the school, because stuff might hit the fan if I don’t.

That is my top 10 list. I’m curious to know what is also on yours. Thank you guys for letting me share.

Tim Bogatz: Hello. This is Tim Bogatz from Art Ed Radio. Just a quick reminder that you can find all things related to Everyday Art Room on the Art of Ed website under the Podcasts tab. You’ll find the full transcript of every show, links to Cassie’s blog, Art of Ed articles, and resources that can help your teaching. It’s all at under the Podcast tab.

You can also sign up to receive weekly emails whenever a new episode of Everyday Art Room is released. Now let’s get you back to Cassie as she opens up the mailbag.

Cassie Stephens: Let’s take a little dip into the mail bag. This question comes from Bethany, and Bethany is a first-year teacher. She says she’s very 2D minded. Her background is mostly drawing, painting, printmaking, and graphic design. However, she never got around to taking a ceramics or a 3D class, and so she’s feeling a little bit insecure about teaching clay to her students. She says, “I’m not sure what lessons to start with or if you’d recommend any specific resources about how to teach these kids such skills when it’s not your own wheelhouse.” What a great question.

All right, now I have recently, Bethany, done a couple of podcasts all about clay that you might super helpful. I did one that is simply on air dry clay. For those of you that are kiln-less, that would be the podcast that you would probably benefit most from. But I also have a podcast that’s filled with my troubleshooting all about people who do have a kiln.

Here’s the crazy thing. Bethany and I are so much alike, because I got my BFA in painting. I never took a ceramics class in college. I always heard you had to throw too many pots on the wheel. That freaked me out, so I never took it. Idiot. I was in the exact same position as Bethany.

Here’s what I would recommend that you do if you find yourself in this spot. First of all, find out if there is a class near you, a ceramics class that you can take simply for your own enjoyment, and of course, to learn. I remember taking my very first ceramics class when I started teaching in Nashville. I would go in every evening. It was like once a week, I believe, for two to three hours and just learn how to hand build. I was looking for specific projects for the kids. I was just trying to figure it out on my own, because like she’s saying, once you’re comfortable with a medium, then you’re so much more comfortable teaching it.

I would recommend definitely seeking out any classes at all. If that’s not an option, reach out to art teacher friends that live locally to you so that you can go over to their art room, have them show you how to operate a kiln, and have them just sit down with a ball of clay and play with the clay with you, because they can show you projects all day long. You’ve got to sit there and do those projects to understand all the troubleshooting. Of course, I would definitely recommend that you invest in the purchasing the fine book that is titled “52 Projects For Kids, Clay Lab for Kids,” written by yours truly, Cassie Stephens, available wherever you find your books.

But really, it just comes down to playing with the clay and experimenting. Even if you just take home a bag of clay … this is what I did actually this weekend, took home a bag of clay, watched some YouTube videos. My mother and my mother-in-law were in town visiting. Once I had figured out the projects I wanted to do, after breakfast we cleared off the table. I had my mom, who is not artsy at all, and my mother-in-law, who is super artsy. We sat, and we played with the clay.

I said my third graders were going to be making this. I want to troubleshoot it with you guys. Let’s just explore and see what we come up with. We were making super hero cars. They came up with the best stuff. Really, all I can say is just roll up your sleeves and dig into that clay. I think that that is your best bet. Now I would definitely have somebody hold your hand and walk you through operating that kiln for the very first five times, just to make sure you know what you’re doing.

Thank you so much for the question, Bethany. If you guys have a question for me, then you should totally send it my way. You can find me at the

Okay, so you heard my top 10 list. If you walked into a bare bones art room that had nothing but supplies, what would you immediately spring into action and either pray to the art gods for or just rearrange the room for? What is it that you do in your room that makes it so special and it’s something that you just always naturally have use your go-to thing? I would love to know, because personally, I would love to also introduce it in my art room. I love all the ideas that we as an art teacher community share. I think that’s the beauty of art teachers is we’re so caring and sharing.

Thank you so much for letting me share my top 10 things I couldn’t live without in the art room. You guys have a super fabulous week with those top 10 things and more, but don’t forget to start off with coffee first. Always the coffee. Have a great week, guys.


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.