5 Ways to Be A Better Teacher This Year (Ep. 130)

For the first time ever, Tim is flying solo on this podcast! That’s because it’s the start of a new school year, and he has a LOT to say. Listen as he gives his 5 most important ideas for improving how you start your school year, including why you need to ditch your syllabus, why you need to let your personality shine through, and how to get conversations going with your kids in the first few days of school. Full episode transcript below.


Resources and Links




Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by The Art of Education. And I’m your host Tim Bogatz. 

Alright, so ladies and gentlemen welcome to the show. I’m going to be trying something a little bit different today. I’m going to be flying solo and hosting this one all on my own. And before we dive in I think I probably need to tell you a little bit about what brought this about. At first I think it was maybe just me listening to a lot of episodes of Cassie Stevens and Everyday Art Room and how she is just an absolute pro at hosting a show by herself and just kind of taking you on a journey for about 25 minutes through her classroom. And it’s really powerful stuff a lot of weeks. And I don’t know that I’m going to master it like she has but hopefully I can do all right. 

But really the whole impetus for this is just kind of me being selfish. I have a topic that I want to talk a lot about and I have enough ideas I hope and I think that I just want to really dive into the topic. And this was originally going to be an article that I was going to write. But the AOE Web site last week had so many really great articles that I kind of got kicked off. And so I still wanted to be a part of the theme week, all about going back to school. And even though my article is not there we can put a podcast together. And so I want to talk today about five ways to be a better teacher in your first week of school. 

Now I think this is something that’s important because now is the time that you really want to reflect on what you’re doing like you’re motivated to start the school year, you really want to dive into everything that’s going on, if you want to make changes now is the time to make changes. Because you want to get started off on the right foot. You want to make sure that your kids are coming in and they are excited about art. And this is when ideas are fresh in your head and you’re ready to go and so like I said you’re really motivated. And as we talk about all the time on the show here we think it’s important to reflect, we think it’s important to think about what you’re doing and how you can make changes for the better. And so I think if we kind of dive into that topic and think about how you can change how you do the first days of school it really can improve your whole semester or your whole year if you’re doing things right right at the beginning. 

Now I’ll dive back into some of these ideas a little bit later but I wanted to kind of draw your attention to some of the great articles that were on the AOE website last week that I mentioned. And it started out with Lindsay Moss having some great article or some great downloads that you can use for the beginning of the year. And I think that’s worth checking out, just different things that you can pass along to your kids that’s going to help both you and your kids. Debbie West had a name design lesson. She called it the Perfect Lesson to Start Your Year. And I think it’s really a great way to start because not only can it help you learn kids’ names but it can also help you get to know kids preferences, their personalities, what they do outside of school and helps you use a lot of different materials at the same time and just kind of get kids introduced to everything that’s available in the art room. 

So make sure you check those out and then I really loved Amber Kane’s article toward the end of the week that was called How to Plan Your First Day at the High School Level. And there are a few things in there that aren’t necessarily the way I would do things but there are some other ideas that are way better than anything that I would do. So shout out to Amber for putting that together because she’s talking about how from day one you can teach your students how to think like an artist and how you can do that with some of your procedures, how you can get them to create art, how you can get them to reflect and even how you can get them to help make the rules in your classroom. There’s so many great ideas. Anyway we will link to all of those in the show notes here and if you’re done listening to this episode and you want even more ideas I think any and all of those articles plus a couple more are all there for you last week. So we’ll get all of those linked and get you the resources you need to really start your year off being really successful. 

Now I want to dive in like I said to my ideas, my five ideas, the five things that you can do to be a better teacher in your first week of school, to start your year off right. So number one for me is tell everybody and hopefully not ruffle too many feathers but you need to ditch your syllabus. I know there are people who insist that you have to start out day one going over the syllabus and going over classroom rules, going over procedures. And when I challenge that, when I say “Hey, maybe there are other options out there”, a lot of times there’s this pushback of we have to set the right tone. We have to get kids in order. We have to know exactly what they’re going to be doing at every stage of art class. And yeah they do. I mean they need to know those things but do they need to know them immediately?

I think that there are other options and I think there are better ways because your kids don’t want to sit and listen to you for 45 or 50 minutes and I think more than anything you have this opportunity on the first day to show your kids that art class is different, art class is more exciting, art class is more fun, you’re doing cooler things in this class. Because guess what? If they have a seven period day, they are spending six other classes listening to teachers going over their syllabus, going over their rules, going over their procedures. And I’ll just put it like this. Nobody cares about your syllabus. If they have to listen to this six other times in your class, do you want to be number 7 or do you want to be that class that stands out? Do you want to be that teacher that kids remember because they’re up and they’re active and they are doing things and they’re realizing what a cool class you have?

If we talk about setting the right tone for your years, setting your right tone for your semester, this is the way to do it. Be the class that stands out and be the class that actually does something. I think it’s really important that from day one your kids know that they’re going to create and they’re going to communicate in your class. And what better way to get them doing that than on the first day. And I think there are so many great ideas out there for what you can do the first day and I’ll talk about a couple of them but just a couple of things that I think are worth looking at. 

Number one, if you were at the Art Ed Now Conference a couple of weeks ago Matt Young and Craig Hoffman, a couple of high school teachers from Ohio, shared all of the amazing activities they do the first day of school. Things to let kids get to know each other, things to get kids creating art, whether it’s two dimensional three dimensional. Get them drawing, get them building, get them collaborating. And again if we go back to Amber Kane’s article she has all kinds of great ideas but one art creation idea she has in there is having kids split into groups of four and tell them they have one class period to create the tallest tower possible that also has the most negative space with some paper and some tape. And she goes into more detail about that. But the point is there are so many simple things that you can do to get kids again communicating and creating on that first day.

And in between that there are ways to talk about routines and procedures. There are ways to talk about rules but that’s not what your whole class period needs to be. And so I think that if you think about how to organize your lesson, how to organize what you’re communicating with your kids you can still get those ideas across while your kids are having fun, while they’re being creative, while they’re actually making something. And that’s going to be a much more powerful, a much more memorable class for your kids and it’s going to help them realize that art class is not like my other classes. It’s going to be better, it’s going to be more fun, we are going to do more and I think that that’s a really really powerful way to get your kids started off right.

Now number two. Engage your students through art making. And again we just talked about a couple of these ideas and we’ve done entire podcasts on this before. There are so many articles out there. But give your kids something to do with art making. So it might be a simple drawing, it might be a sketchbook assignment where you give your kids something open ended, you give your kids something fun. Maybe you do some blind contour portraits and you can laugh about how terrible the drawings are. Any of those things are fine. It may be Debbie’s name design article. It may be anything that you want to draw inspiration from. If you can get your kids making on the first day, that’s what’s going to get them engaged, that’s what’s going to get them excited. 

And I think that any time you can again set the tone with creativity, getting kids to get past that, I don’t want to say hate, but get past that strong dislike for the first day of school. Things are so boring for them. So if you can make that transition from summertime back into school a little bit easier where you can create a project that challenges them, that really gets them thinking and get them started with whatever the case may be, it doesn’t need to be a beautiful finished product. But if it’s an exercise in drawing or painting or sculpture that allows them to get hands on, maybe get a little bit messy, get up and get active, get communicating. All of those things are going to be so much better than just sitting and talking. 

Another article that was up last week was Abby’s idea on making art and a couple ideas she had was like a dish soap resist painting project. If you have an intro course and you want to show kids like how fun things can be then that works. And she also talks about how you can model appropriate behavior, model appropriate procedures when you’re going through these types of lessons and still get some of those rules across. And maybe you want to do some sort of simple sketchbook assignment. Maybe you want to do a collaborative project. Any of those things are incredible for your kids and getting them out of that boring transition back into school and actually make it exciting as they’re starting their year off and getting them a little bit happier about what they can do in their courses in art. And a little bit more eager to come back and to engage in future days. 

Idea number three. I think it’s important for you to let your personality shine through. I think so many teachers are focused on rules and procedures and making sure everything is just the right way that they don’t let themselves be vulnerable whatsoever. And I’m not talking like overly vulnerable, telling kids all of your deepest darkest secrets. What I’m saying is just let kids know who you are. Let your personality come through a little bit. Let kids know that you are approachable, that you are fun to talk to, that your class is going to be a good one. And one thing that I love to do and I know a lot of people are doing this too because every beginning of the school year I get e-mails about it. But I do what we call a quiz about the teacher. 

And this was a video that I put up, oh goodness at least like three years ago on the AOE Web site just talking about how the very first day I give the kids a quiz about me and I’ll just tell them “Hey guys we have a quiz to start the day.” And they’re freaking out because they don’t want to do a quiz at the beginning and then they see that it’s actually going to be something fun and enjoyable. And so I just have them guess where was I born. How many pets do I have. How many shoes do I own. And then just random things that are just like borderline nonsensical like what did I have for breakfast this morning. There’s obviously no way that kids are going to know these sorts of things. But it makes it enjoyable, like it makes them have fun with their time in art class. And more importantly it lets them know a little bit about you which is step one to kind of building some good relationships and it lets kids know that your class is going to be enjoyable, that they can have fun in there. That they can let loose, relax and kind of enjoy their time and I think that’s really important. 

And then like I said I always get dozens and dozens of e-mails when August rolls around. People are looking for new ideas and they’re like “Tim I just saw your video. I was hoping you could share the questions with me.” And I don’t know how many of those I have to respond to every month and now that I’m talking about it it’s probably a 100 more. But if you want those questions that I use for the quiz about the teacher just shoot me an email and I will be happy to get those to you. I think it’s an awesome way to start the year and to let your kids get to know you on the first day. So we’ll link to that video as well and like I said just shoot me a message if you think that’s something that’s worth trying. I will be happy to send you those questions. 

Now quick break from our ideas on how to be a better teacher the first week of school because I want to talk a little bit about Art Ed PRO. And we are talking all the time about how we want to reflect, how we want to improve and Art Ed PRO is one of the best ways that you can do that. It’s on-demand professional development with video tutorials, downloadable handouts and just all kinds of other resources to help you kind of take your teaching to the next level. So if this is something you want to do on your own to just be a better teacher like it’s out there for you. And if it’s something that you want to do through your school, see if you can get them to pay for it or even use it on your PD days, that’s worth looking into. 

And what’s really cool is there are three new learning packs that come out every month. There’s 75 total right now. The new ones this month are about building positive relationships. Kind of like we just talked about with that quiz. There’s one about observational drawing and one about how to teach perspective. And then there is another like 72 beyond those that should cover just about everything else you need, anything else you might have questions on. So so many topics there and I like I said three more packs released on the first of every month. It’s just this constantly evolving library of professional development topics. So it is the PD you need when you need it. If you haven’t done so already check it out and you can start your free trial at theartofed.com/pro. 

Now if we can jump back into our list I believe we’re on number four. And I think it’s important especially at the beginning of the year to get your classroom organized. And I think it’s important to show kids that you’re organized. So if you’re one of those people who needs to like I said set the tone at the beginning of the year, this is where you want to pay attention, this is how you can do it. Because I think it’s important to show kids that you are welcoming, you’re easy going, your class is fun but at the same time you can show them that you know what you’re doing, that there’s not time for a lot of nonsense. Like we have our procedures down, we have out routines that we need to follow and this is how we’re going to do that. 

So I think it’s important to just start out by having everything in its right place. Have your labels on the materials, be willing to talk to kids about hey “These are procedures when we are getting supplies. This is what we do when we are turning sketchbooks in, they go here.” And maybe you cover that the first day, maybe you cover that the first week. But as long as you’re kind of hitting that point a little bit every day and kids can see that you’re organized that goes a long way into setting that right tone and showing kids that it’s time to make art when we’re in here. 

But I want to talk just a little bit about my first day, what it looks like in my room, how I do seating charts and all that. And maybe you can use some of these ideas. So basically first day I think it’s important to be at the door and ready to greet your kids. And that does a couple of things. Number one, it creates a welcoming environment, it shows kids that you want them there. It starts everything off their first impression is going to be a positive interaction if you’re at the door waiting for them, welcoming them, talking to them about how excited you are that they’re there. That’s really important and that’s going to get things off on the right foot. 

But it also shows them that you are ready for them. If you’re scrambling around trying to stack up drawing paper and get materials ready and whatever else you need to do that doesn’t create the best impression for kids. If instead you have everything organized, you have everything in its place and you’re ready for them when they first come in, again that like I said sets the tone.

And then as kids come in I have a seating chart displayed up on the board. I use a projector to kind of show them where everyone’s going to sit. And again it shows that we’re in order. Everybody has their spot. I have the system for what I need, where I want kids to sit. And I know not everybody’s into seating charts but I think there’s something that really speaks to organization and speaks to preparation if kids come in, you’re there to greet them, tell them how excited you are for them to be in there and then they come in and see just look up at the board. “Oh that seat. There’s my name, corresponds with that desk. That’s where I go.”

Obviously you’re going to have to help some kids, they don’t get how that translates sometimes, you get them into their right spot. But then if you have note cards on the desk that also have their name to kind of create a secondary system for helping them find their seat, helping them get things in order, that’s a big deal and that’s a little bit of work to make seating charts and to put cards down because every desk in my room has period one this name, period three this name, period five this name. And that is a lot of work. But at the same time every single class period kids come in, they sit where they need to be, they are there, they have materials in front of them and we are ready to start as soon as that bell rings. And again setting the tone, that’s organization, that’s preparation. And it shows kids that you are serious about getting stuff done. So even though we’re going to have fun, we’re going to work as well. And so if you can have that set up and ready for them I think that is huge and I think that plays a big role in getting things started off right. 

And then lastly number five. I think it’s important to just get the conversation going with your kids. I talked about that just a second ago with greeting them when they come in and it’s a “Hey, how are you?” Just getting that conversation started. And I have a goal and it’s not necessarily attainable every day but I want to speak with every kid every day. And it might just be that interaction at the door. But it might also be a longer, deeper conversation. And like I said you’re not going to talk to every kid every day, it’s impossible with everything else that needs to be done. But if you can come close and if you maybe miss a kid one day, just go back to him the next day and say “Hey sorry I didn’t get a chance to say hi yesterday, you know how busy it was.” And then jump into a little bit more of a conversation. It’s important. It makes kids feel welcome. It helps kids know that you care. And I think that that’s vital into having the right type of classroom, the environment that you want, the environment that your kids deserve honestly.

And Andrea Slusarski was on like a month ago talking about how she tracks her interactions with kids. And again that’s even more work for you. But if you’ve already got a seating chart made up and you can just check off or just make a note or say “I still need to talk to this kid.’ Or “Oh man I haven’t talked to this kid since Monday.” You can really make sure that those interactions are ongoing and that they are positive. 

And then the last thing just kind of under getting that conversation going, I think it’s important to let kids ask questions. So just one last idea I want to share. I know we’re getting up toward the end of the podcast here but I think it’s important for kids to be able to ask questions. And so one thing I do is on the first day I have a note card for every kid and I ask them to do a couple of things. What we do is we’ll have them split that note card in half and one half is anonymous and one half is about them. And you can give them two note cards, you can do however you want but on the anonymous side I have them ask three questions. And they can be questions about anything. They can be about the school, they can be about me, they can be about this class, what we’re going to do. And it can be a really good exercise for putting kids at ease. Like they’re nervous, they’re stressed out about the first day, they don’t know how to get to their next classroom. They don’t know what’s for lunch. They don’t know how long period … It’s a laundry list of things they don’t know. But if you can get a couple of questions answered that makes them feel so much better. 

And so what I do is I have them turn in those three anonymous questions and I’ll just answer them out loud. I’ll just read through and it’ll say “Hey, how do I find this math room?” And nobody knows who asked. Nobody’s embarrassed about asking some of those questions. But yet they know the answer. It makes their day a little easier, it lowers their stress level, their anxiety, puts them at ease. And so a lot of them are going to be questions about “Wait, what time do we get out of school?” “Where’s my English class?” “What are they serving for lunch today?” “How do I pay for lunch?” And those are not the most exciting questions but they’re obviously causing kids some anxiety because they don’t know. So if you can put them at ease with that, I think that’s huge. And again if you can answer questions about yourself or they can ask about the class. “What kinds of projects are we going to be doing?” Things like that. It’s great for them to be able to know those things and be able to ask things without being embarrassing. And if there’s ever anything inappropriate, you skip it. If it’s a repeat, you skip it. Just kind of let them get to know you. Let them get to know a little bit more about the class, about the school and that’s awesome. 

And then, you know, lastly, I said they have one with their name on it and I just ask them to tell me a few things about them. Like what helps you feel most welcome? What do you want out of an art class? How would you like to be greeted? What do you want me to call you? What do you like most about school? Keep it really positive. Tell me about music. Or what are you streaming on Netflix? Or what kind of video games do you play? What’s important to you? Who are your friends? All those things and just kind of keep it positive and let them get to know you. And I have kids give me a recommendation too. I say “Hey, just give me a recommendation of a song I should listen to, a show I should watch, a movie I should check out, a book I should read, anything like that. And just again open up those lines of communication. And if you have something in common you can talk about that with them in the next few weeks or if you don’t have anything in common with them talk to them about “Hey why did you recommend this song? I’ve never heard of it.” Or “Why should I watch this show?” And just kind of open up that dialogue and let your kids have a little bit of a conversation with ya. 

And we can extend that a little bit more and talk a little bit more about those interactions in probably a future episode but I’ve taken way too long. So I think we’re going to go ahead and wrap it up and that will do it for us today or at least for me today. So let me know what you think about me flying solo. Just this word vomit of ideas on what you can do in the first few days. And let me know what you would add to this list. Like what else do people need to be doing to start the year off a little better, to be more successful in those first days, those first couple of weeks or even that first month. And maybe use all of these ideas or maybe a couple of them or maybe none. But more than anything like I said in the intro I think it’s important that we just reflect on what we do. 

The first part of the year is the best time to do that because those days are so important to getting off on the right foot. And now is the time when you’re motivated to make changes, to start new, to improve what you’re doing. So maybe take what I said here and use it. Maybe not. But definitely, if nothing else, spend some time thinking about what you’re doing to start your year and most importantly ask yourself “Is there anything I can be doing better?”

Art Ed Radio is produced by The Art of Education with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. We’ll be back next week with an actual guest and more of a back and forth conversation. But in the meantime I hope you enjoyed this episode and I hope it plays at least a little part in you getting your school year started right. So good luck. Thanks for listening. And we will talk to you next week. 

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.