Bringing Back the Art Teacher Hacks (Ep. 056)

The art teacher life is a difficult one, and it can get overwhelming very quickly. Cassie uses this episode to share a new list of her favorite hacks for the art room–each of which can help make life easier in your classroom. Listen as she reviews her previous list of hacks (1:30), dives into her new–and extensive–list of hacks (7:00), and the power of colored duct tape (15:00).  Full episode transcript below.


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Way back in Episode 30, I shared with you my top 10 art teachering hacks, and I decided to bring the hacks back. Today, I’m sharing with you 10 brand spanking new hacks, things that I’ve started trying out in my room this year that I’m loving and living for, but I also thought I would do a little review of those other hacks. You’re going to be double loaded with hacks. This is a hack attack. This is going to be so wiggidy whack. It’s going knock the plaque right off of your teeth. Yes, I’m sitting here looking at my computer at words that rhyme with hack. Busted. Are you about to get jacked with all these hacks? I didn’t think so. Let’s just get started. I’m Cassie Stephens, and this is Everyday Art Room, which is so wiggidy whack.

All right, so in case you missed Episode 30, slacker, I thought I’d just do a little review of what those top 10 hacks were before I share my new ones. These are my top 10 hacks that I shared in Episode 30. Number one, dry erase boards. Y’all, dry erase boards are the gift sent from art teachering heaven. I use them in case I have kids who finish early and they just don’t have time to use … What is it called? Free draw paper, which let’s be honest, ends up in the recycle bin. They also love to use dry erase boards when they have to sketch out an idea, or I just want to show them something. We have mountains of dry erase boards. It’s the markers that can get a little bit pricey, but the boards you can get on the cheap for a buck at my favorite place, Dollar Make You Holler Tree.

Second thing I mentioned last time were dried up markers. Did you know that you can take a dried up Crayola marker or any kind of marker and make it into a water color paint? All you got to do is band together all the markers of one color, rubber band them all together, put them marker tip down into a container. I like to use Mason jars filled about, I’d say, a third full of water, and just watch the water drain … Oh, I’m sorry, the marker color drain right out of the marker and you have a really cool diluted water color paint. My favorite thing to do is put it in a spray bottle and then the kids have a light diluted kind of color to work with. The other thing I mentioned before was using toothbrushes for slip and score. When you’re working with clay, you can need to just throw those slip and score tools out the window.

They’re a big old pain in the booty. In fact, they’re such a big old pain in the booty that half the time, the kids don’t use them and their stuff don’t stick. However, if you get yourself some inexpensive toothbrushes and a cup of water, we always use that to scrub the projects and attach them. Speaking of water containers, doggie dishes are my favorite. I get my from … fill in the blank … Dollar Tree. One side is for the sponge and then the other side is usually for water. My students just use that to clean their brush and then wipe their paintbrush off on what we call dirty old SpongeBob, the filthy, nasty, dirty sponge that’s on the other side. Helps to kind of keep their brushes clean. Tag board for messy mats was something else I mentioned last time.

Tag board in 18 by 24 inches is super duper to use as a place mat underneath any sort of painting surface. If you’re in a pinch and the kids want to clean their brushes on the messy mat, it works out perfectly. Think of it like a big art place mat. Needle threader trick. If you have not seen my trick to getting kids to learn how to thread a needle, you guys are missing out, especially if you’re teaching fibers and sewing. All you have to do is take a little tiny piece of paper, like I like to take a Post-It note that I cut into the world’s smallest rectangle, and you fold it in half. What I call it is a hot dog bun, because it literally has that long narrow shape like a hot dog bun. I have my students lay their thread inside that folded paper.

Slide the folded paper into the eye of the needle, take the paper off and viola, your needle is magically threaded. Yarn, speaking of. Lord have mercy, does yarn drive y’all crazy as it does me? Because it gets everywhere. It’s a tangly hot mess. One solution I’ve come up with, because I noticed other art teachers were doing it too, is to use those giant Coke bottles. I think they’re two liter bottles. Have some people who drink a lot of soft drinks start saving those for you and once you’ve cleaned them out really well, slice open the bottom, stick a skein of yarn inside and thread the yarn through the top of the bottle. If I’m going too fast for you right now, the reason is because I’ve already talked about these, and you can hear them all over on Episode 30.

Glue cups. If you know me, you know I hate glue bottles, so I use condiment cups. Fill it with about a quarter inch of glue, put the lid on it. My students use little brushes, the junkier the brush the better, because sometimes they get stiff with the glue and have to be chucked. They paint their glue on their projects. We never, ever use glue bottles in my room. Oil pastel storage. A great way that I have found to store oil pastels are bead containers, and in those bead containers, the individualized compartments, we store oil pastels by color. Last but not least, paint distribution. There’s so many different ways, but my very favorite are either ice cube trays or the plastic egg cartons, the really great ones with the two lids, one that folds over and then another one that folds over the top for that extra seal.

You’d better believe, I’m eating me some scrambled eggs every weekend just to stock up on those. That was my top 10 from Episode 30. For more details, you could just go listen to Episode 30, but consider that your Cliff’s Notes. Let me share with you today my new top 10. Starting at the top, OMG. I’m not even going to say the name. Okay, I probably will because I’m going to mispronounce it. I’m going to spell it for you first, and then I’m going to let you think about how it’s pronounced. Then you’re going to get the pleasure of hearing how I’m going to pronounce it. B-O-N-A-O-K. Bonaoke? Bonaok. Bonaok. It’s a microphone, and it’s amazing. It’s meant for karaoke. You can find it on Amazon. It’s about $30.00. B-O-N-A-O-K-A, and I am in love.

Several teachers that I follow on Instagram have been sharing this and I had to get myself one. It comes in a variety of colors. I wish I had brought it with me to do this podcast. Then you could have heard how amazing it is. You could heared. You coulda heared how amazing it was. I have been using it to do read-alouds with my students, and that’s going to bring me to idea number two, or my hack number two, read-alouds. I love to read to my students, especially my older students, the kids that I have hour-long classes with. The reason I love to read to them is because number one, I loved being read aloud to when I was a kid. I love listening to podcasts. I love listening to books on tape, and I also just really love reading out loud. Ask any family member of mine if I ask them all the time if I can read something out loud.

My favorite thing? Dear Abby. Love reading Dear Abby’s. It’s kind of the inspo behind our mail bag, but I’m going off on a tangent here. My favorite things to read aloud to my students while they’re working are Choose Your Own Adventure books, stories about artists that we are currently or not even currently learning about, and my favorite, favorite book is the 100 Dresses, but I’ve also enjoyed reading Mary Poppins to my students as well. What I have noticed while doing read-alouds is it allows my students to work calmly and quietly and be a lot more, I don’t know, just into the moment of their project, and just gives us a cozy, nice feeling when we’re reading aloud. I love to use my microphone to do that because it adds another layer, another dimension to the effect, especially since there’s this really cool echo feature on the microphone.

I would love to do read-alouds with my younger students, but unfortunately, their art classes are only 30 minutes long, so that wouldn’t give us hardly any time to get started working and for me to help my students as well. Speaking of help, you might be thinking, “Well, how are you reading aloud when your kids might need assistance?” Yeah, because next week, we’re going to start on a sewing and weaving adventure, and if you’ve taught sewing or weaving to the elementary set, then you know, it’s … how should I say this? A real test of your patience, especially those first couple of art classes, until they get it, and then it’s like they’re golden. Most of them. It does take a while to get there, so when it comes time to do that, here’s my other fave hack.

Play audiobooks. There’s actually some really great kid podcasts out there. I always want to preview listen to them first before sharing those with my students, but playing audiobooks on Audible is really awesome. My favorite, favorite things, and the kids’ all-time favorite thing … They ask for this all year round. Get a pencil, your kids are going to want to hear this one. The Haunted Mansion by Disney. It was recorded in 1969. You can find the recording on YouTube. Give it a listen to first just to make sure that you feel like it’s appropriate for your students. It’s about 13 minutes long, and my students absolutely love it. I mean, it was recorded in 1969 and it’s by Disney, so the cheese factor is mighty high. It’s 100% Velveeta, but it is so fun to listen to.

All right, so here’s something I know I’ve mentioned before, but this hack is something that I could not live without. I mean, I’m sure I could, but I would go through withdrawal if I had to give this one up, and that is my single note handheld chime. Now, just a little side note, my husband’s company, TreeWorks, makes a single note energy chime, which you can find by just simply Googling. It’s like $12. It’s small enough for me to keep in my pocket. It’s got a little loop of a fabric on it so I can hang it up when I’m finished, and I love it. I keep it in my apron pocket, and I probably play it a dozen times a day. It’s great for me to immediately cut through any sort of sound and get the kids’ attention with a nice, crisp, clear chime sound that really is an attention-grabber.

I’d have a hard time living without it, because I am not one to remember the “Mona! Lisa!” or the “Class! Class! Yes! Yes!”, but this chime, this is what I do to get attention right quick. All of us are required to wear our ID badge. I can never remember to wear my ID badge, but we’re all required to wear one, and normally, most people I think wear lanyards. I hate lanyards. Any time I bend down to talk to a kid, or to get paint or whatever, I’m either slapping a kid around with my ID, or it’s dipping into the paint and getting all over me, so here’s my solution. I have an apron that I put on as soon as I get in my room. It’s like I don’t feel like I’m ready for art teachering battle without my apron. It’s like my suit of armor for the day.

Attached to my apron is a giant flower broach. Attached to that flower broach is, you guessed it, my ID. Any time I am in the school building with my apron on, my ID is already attached to my apron, and I’m already wearing it, so I’m not going to get in trouble like I normally do, and I’m not going to be whacking, smacking kids around with my ID badge. Nobody needs to get in trouble for ID badge smacking. That’s my solution to wearing that ID badge every single day. Now, when it comes time to color-coding your tables, I used to … It would probably be once every four to six weeks, cover each one of my tables with bulletin board paper. It made the tables look nice, and I made sure every color was the color of the table, so red bulletin board paper, orange and yellow.

After a while, it just gets exhausting, always covering the tables, just to see the kids pretty much demolish them. After all, they’re painting. They’re drawing. Whatevs. I decided last year to chuck the whole paper idea, but I still wanted the kids to know what color their table was. My solution was this. I had seen a lot of teachers paint the edge of their table, but they all mentioned that the paint chipped off, so I found colorful duct tape. If you’ve seen pictures of my room, you know colorful duct tape is something I use a lot in my room to decorate it. I’ve got a ROYGBIV that’s made from duct tape. I’ve to lines that were created out of duct tape, and now, every one of my tables has a duct tape rim. The kids, because duct tape is so strong, haven’t really been able to pick at it, and it’s been able to last me quite a bit.

I don’t think I’m going to have to replace it any time soon. Now, if you’ve seen pictures of my room, you’re probably thinking, “But wait, this year I did see paper on your tables. I do start my year that way simply because I can write the number where the kids sit. Because my tables hold four kids, each seat at the orange table is either a one, two, three, or a four, in order for them to learn that, I simply write that number on the corner of the table on the paper. Then in four weeks, when we throw that paper away, hopefully you know your number and your color. Hopefully. I’m probably going to regret that one. All right, now let’s talk about something that I know if you have heard me chat about art shows, you know this hack. This hack is so amazing.

Deer mesh is a game changer for hanging up artwork. Deer mesh, I guess it is a mesh, but to me it kind of looks like … Gosh, I don’t know what it looks like. A net. A net with wide squares, and what my parent volunteers do is they hang the deer mesh up, and this is important, with gaffer’s tape. Gaffer’s tape is an extremely strong tape. It’s what they use on TV sets in order to tape down all the cords on the floor so people aren’t tripping over them, so it’s very strong tape, and my parent volunteers, they cut the netting to the size of the wall, they anchor it with the tape at both the top and the bottom, and then, when it comes time for the art show, they simply use clothes pins to clip the artwork onto that netting.

The teachers have loved it so much because nothing sticks to these cinder block walls, that when it’s not art show time, we just leave the deer mesh up so that the classroom teachers can continue to use that mesh to display student artwork. Now, that being said, my parent volunteers last year, and like I said, they hang my entire art show, so me, I’m not going to picky, and I’m not going to tell them how to live their life as far as hanging that art show goes. If they find a new solution that works better for them, I let them go for it, and last year, they started doing something a little different. In addition to the deer mesh and clips, they started putting little squares of masking tape on the back of the artwork, one in each corner.

I actually had a mom who would sit in my room every morning, and her job was to just put the pieces of tape on the back of artwork. Then, when the other moms would come in, they would use a hot glue gun, put a little dot of hot glue on the tape, and then stick that right on the wall. What’s the tape for, you’re wondering? That’s so when the moms and the teachers take the artwork off of the wall, that it doesn’t damage the artwork. The tape prevents it from being damaged. Those are two hacks for getting artwork up and hopefully getting it to stay up, especially on those cinder block walls. My new favorite thing last year that I started using, and I’m so in love, are sheet protectors. You can get sheet protectors at the parent-teacher store, and they’re a lot more thicker and durable.

I’ve also seen them at Target and the Dollar Tree, and you can, like I said, get them at the parent-teacher store, and it’s a much thicker plastic, but if you are in a pinch, or budget is an issue, and when is it not, you can get the plastic sheet protectors for three-ring binders and a good amount of them at your local office store. The reason I like them is this. I have a lot of instructional sheets that I place on tables. I have a lot of what I call idea sheets, or sheets, especially when I’m out and there’s a sub in the room, I have a sheet that reminds the kids of the steps of the project that they’re working on. However, a lot of those sheets get paint spills on them or dirty, or they get marked up, and they just get so gnarly that after a while, they end up in the recycle bin.

I love having sheet protectors to protect them and keep all of those idea sheets and those step-by-step sheets looking really great and pristine. The other thing I love them for is that you can draw on them with dry-erase marker and then erase. If the kids were going to do, let’s say, a how to do draw kind of project, or if you wanted to do an assessment … For example, right now, I have a bunch of photographs of landscapes inside my sheet protectors. My students are going to work with a partner at their table, and use a dry-erase marker to draw a line to show the horizon line, the background, the middle ground, and the foreground. They can be a really fun way to do assessments with your students. If you’re not using those sheets, you might want to check them out.

Okay, I just want to share with you for a minute how much I hate sharpening color pencils, and I have a feeling I’m not the only one. Usually, when my students are using color pencils, and let’s say I’m doing a read-aloud, it’s like nails on a chalkboard when I’m in the middle of reading and I hear the sound of my pencil sharpener. I have a love-hate. I mean, I love color pencils. I hate sharpening them. An alternative to that are art sticks. If you’re not familiar, an art stick is basically just the lead, just the inside of a color pencil. Crayola makes an art stick. They’re fine. Prismacolor makes an art stick. They are divine. Expensive, but amazing. If you haven’t checked out art sticks, save a little money, get you a little box every year, because like I said, the Prisma ones are pricey.

The Crayola ones are fine, but definitely start looking into those if you are bothered by color pencils as much as I am. All right, guys, that is my top 10. Oh my gosh. It was a hack attack. I’d love to hear your favorite … I almost said your favoriten. Favoriten art teachering hacks. Please make sure to share them with me, because I could use all the hacks a girl could get.

Tim Bogatz: Hello, this is Tim Bogatz from Art Ed Radio. Thank you as always for listening to Everyday Art Room, and I want to tell you today about the Winter Art Ed Now Conference, which is going to be taking place online on February 2nd. That’s a Saturday, and it is the best day of professional development that you can get. The reason I’m telling you about it in August is that you just have one more day to sign up for the conference for just $99. After that, the price goes up to $129, so this is the lowest price you can get. It’s going to be an amazing conference filled with amazing presenters and great ideas. We are going to have presentations on empathy, building relationships, chalk pastels, brain breaks, street art, community connections, steam ideas, sculptures, ceramics. The list goes on and on and on, so if you’re looking for a great day of professional development, all online, all easy to attend, make sure you check out ArtEdNow.com, and sign up in the next day here for the lowest price you can get of $99. Now, let’s go ahead and turn the show back over to Cassie as she opens up the mailbag.

Cassie: And now it’s time to take a little dip into the mailbag. This one comes from Kim. Kim says, “What do you do with the unfinished art projects? File them with finished and have a finishing day or days before an art show? Have kids finish during the next class? Does that put them behind?” That’s a great question, because I know a lot of us have issues with kids who are either what I call pokey little puppies or they were just absent that day. One solution I have found is having … A good majority of my lessons are filmed. They’re on video, so if I do have a student that was absent, what I’ll usually do is have them, once I get everybody else working and at their seat, I’ll pull that kid aside and let them watch the video that shows them what they missed so that they can catch up.

That’s one solution, but I know that’s a lot of work, making videos. Trust me, I know. You could have another student pull them aside and do a little peer modeling, peer tutoring, to explain to them what they missed and kind of catch them up, but there’s always the kids who are absent a lot, or our friends who work a little slower, and you know what? Sometimes we’ve just got to move on, and so usually when it comes time for the art show in April, I will start pulling works of art because I’m matting it or framing it, or going through and just making sure that every student finished every piece of art, because when we do art shows, we hang every piece of artwork that every kid has made throughout the course of the year.

Now, I can do that because I have about 350 students, and we usually end up with between five to 10 pieces of two-dimensional artwork per student, so it’s not an insane amount. That being said, what I will usually do about three art classes prior to the artwork getting hung for the art show, is I will usually, on a dry-erase board, make a to-do list, and I will write, “To do, thing number one, finish your James Rizzi cityscape.” Then I’ll tell them, “Okay, when that’s done, you put it on the drying rack. You move onto thing number two. Thing number two, make sure that you have finished water color painting the background of XYZ. Thing number four, make sure that you’ve finished doing your zen tangle whatever-ness.”

It stinks because there’s a lot of things to do, but usually what I’ll do is I’ll set up certain little, I’ll say, stations around the room. This one is if you’re going to need to watercolor paint. This one over here is what you’re going to move onto when you’re ready to do that zen tangle thing. The reason I set it up like stations is because if I were to get out all the art supplies, it would take me forever, but if I just get out the art supplies needed for those small little tasks, then it really helps. I’ve also went to teachers and just said, “Can I borrow so-and-so?” Or usually, I’ll go to my specials team, because my kids always go to PE every single day, so they’re either going to PE after art, or coming to PE before, and I’ll sometimes ask if I can pull a kid to let them finish.

Especially when they know I’m in art show crunch time, they’re pretty good about that. I hope that helps, Kim, because I know that’s frustrating, and I know a lot of us experience that too. This question comes from Mary. Mary says, “I was just moved from a general education teacher to a full-time art teacher at my school. We are a younger school and have not had an art program in the past, but want to establish one. I’m search for advice on what materials are essential, and where and what to get, and if you could help me out on any information, that would be greatly appreciated. I think the best thing for you to do would be to listen to the podcast where I talk about the supplies that I order every single year, like the essential art supplies to every art room.

I’m not sure off the top of my head what episode that is, but if you go to the Art of Ed’s website, they have a title and a little brief description of every podcast. That is definitely where I would start. I also, on my YouTube channel, have a video where I walk you through all of the art supplies that I order every year, as well as a couple of … I know I have at least two blog posts about that, so definitely check those out. The best place to order supplies, I would ask your school bookkeeper where your school actually gets a discount, because a lot of schools get one, and I would start there. That way, you can get more bang for your buck. Thank you, Mary and Kim, for the awesome questions. If you have a question for me, you should totally ask me. You can find me at the Everyday Art Room at TheArtofEd.com.

Here’s some other hacks I failed to mention. Duct tape not only works really well on the edge of the table, but if you have a really chatty kid, it’s so super awesome because it … Did you think I was going to say to put the duct tape on a kid’s mouth? What kind of art teacher do you think I am? No, it works really well to make tally marks on a thing to tell them they’re talking too much. Okay, that’s what I was going to say, but whatever. Judgey. Anyway, join me next week when I share with you my favorite wine pairings for doing lesson plans. Thanks for joining me, 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.