Finding Your Place in the Teaching World (Ep. 051)

One of the toughest things to do as an art teacher is to find exactly where you belong and discover how to make meaningful connections with your colleagues. In this episode, Cassie discusses her own story and her own feelings of isolation (5:15), the importance of connecting with other teachers (7:30), and suggestions for stepping out of your room and making time for other people in your building (12:00). Full episode transcript below.


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When I attend my local state conference or the National Art Ed Conference or any kind of Art Ed related PD. I always make the joke that, “it’s the one time of the year that I’m surrounded by people who actually get me. And actually want to be around me”. And I always make the little joke and it’s actually not a joke because, it’s honestly happened on more than one occasion. That it’s the one time of year when I approach a table of teachers to take a seat, where people don’t pile things on the spare seats to make it known that I’m not welcome there. Instead, people actually will clear a spot, give a hug and happily ask you to join them.

That only happens though, occasionally. Only when you attend those PDs it seems, and I’m not kidding when I say, that I’ve been in regular PDs or back-to-school events where it’s the teachers and the staff, and I don’t exactly feel welcomed. I don’t exactly feel like I have a place with this particular group. Now, having been at my current school for the last 15 years, thank goodness that’s really no longer the case. I know these people, I’ve been knowin’ these people. And I just love them. But I do remember my first years of teaching and my first experiences at my current school, where I was the new kid on the block. And I really felt isolated and very, very much alone. And it’s so interesting to me, how you can feel alone when surrounded by a group of people. Sometimes even, surrounded by a group of like-minded people, by teachers and still feel like you don’t have somebody that you can turn too, give a wink too, exchange a side eye. And wouldn’t it be so great to have that group of people? Or just even, that one person? Because, I know what it can be like to be that lonely island.

So, let’s talk about today, how to bust out of lonely island syndrome, especially as we all head back to school. Many of us are going back to into a brand new school and it’s just like being that first … Or that brand new kid on the first day of school. It’s overwhelming and it’s a little scary. There’re butterflies in your stomach. Are people going to like me? Am I going to make friends? Who am I even going to eat lunch with? So many things that you never thought as an adult, you were going to have to deal with and yet, here we are chatting about it on a podcast.

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

So, how do you find your partners in crime? Just trying to put emphasis on the word ‘art’, I think that was a failure. Or, your art teacher in nation? Or just even, your teacher in nation within the walls of your own school? Well, I have to of course, take you on a little journey of my story because, I mean, I speak from experience of being very, very lonely. Feeling very isolated and, coming from college. When I was in college, I became extremely insecure. So insecure in fact that I developed what’s called … I learned later, a social anxiety stutter. I was just not feeling comfortable in my own skin. Very overwhelmed being at this huge, huge University. And then, translate that to me deciding to move six hours away from home to Nashville, where I didn’t know a single soul and start at a brand new school. I’m the kind of person that, I can be afraid of things like that. And overwhelmed pretty easily but I also have this theory that if you just plug your nose and just jump right in then it’s either a sink or swim moment. And thank goodness, most the time I manage to swim. Not beautifully, it’s more of a doggie paddle. But, I feel like that’s something that gets me over talking myself out of things.

So, I found myself miles away from home, brand new school where I didn’t know a soul. And I remember walking into the library, where we were having our little welcome back to school meeting. And … Right? My hands are sweating thinking ab out it right now. Everybody was in there chatting, catching up. They all knew one another and I remember looking around thinking, “I don’t know a soul. I don’t even know where to sit.” And I remember, getting ready to put my purse and my things down in a chair, and it was made very clear to me by a teacher at that table that, that spot was saved for someone else. “So sorry, that seat’s taken.” And, I tried again in another spot and, “Oh! So and so is sitting there. That seat’s not available.” And, I suddenly felt so lonely and just, isolated from a brand new group of people. Thankfully, I was able to find a spot of course, near the back of the room with the PE teachers, of course, my specials team. But it took me all morning just to kind of get all over that feeling of isolation.

And, it’s pretty scary. So I know what it’s like to feel isolated. And I think as art teachers, we are already naturally kind of, the odd man out. We’re kind of weird. We’re the goof balls. We don’t think we are but apparently, according to everybody else, we are. So we’re already standing out in that respect. And then, to also be the probably, the only person teaching that subject in the school. Also, tends to isolate us. Not only did I feel that kind of isolation from, you know, within my building. When it came to teaching, I also taught in a portable, which was also removed from the school. And it could have been miles away. That’s still how I felt. I felt so disconnected from that school, that even after five years of teaching in that school, I really never felt like I had established a solid friendship. And, I remember thinking every new school year when they would bring in the new teachers … This is going to make me sound so pitiful. But I remember thinking, “Oh look, there’s a new teacher. There’s an opportunity for me to make a friend.”

And it just never happened. I just never gelled with anyone. And I’m sure a great part of that was my fault, despite me trying my hardest. I just couldn’t connect. And that’s one of the reasons that when I left my school, I was pretty fine leaving it. I had no real ties to it, aside from my love for the kids there. I hadn’t really made any connections with the teachers. And I don’t think I even realized how important that was until I got to my new school. And now, I find myself in a place, after years of being there, where I have a specials team that I’m really close with. Feel very connected with. I have a lot of teachers … All the teachers in the building, I adore. I really respect and, I’ve made some really solid connections with. But, that’s come with time. And that’s also, come with me being comfortable with who I am.

And, I also know what it’s like to go to PDs, Art PDs even, and feel a little bit isolated. So, the reason I’m sharing this with you is because, I think sometimes, when people are lonely they think it’s only happening to them. You might actually find yourself surrounded by people who are feeling the exact same way. I also remember one of the very first PDs, Art Ed PDs, I went too in Nashville, I carpooled with a group of teachers. And in an effort to just kind of, make buddies and just get out of my apartment where I was living, brand new didn’t know a soul. I suggested taking a drawing class at the local Rec Center. And I remember after making the suggestion, the car went completely silent for minutes. Like, I remember thinking, “Oh my gosh! These people, they don’t want to take a class with me, what have I done?” Who knows why they weren’t interested but of course, I took it to heart. I ultimately, did end up taking a class at Rec Center, by myself, and there were tons of people in the class. So once again, I was excited to connect with other creative types.

And I remember saying something off collar, sarcastic. You know, there’s a lot of times I say things where I strongly regret what comes out of my mouth. And the woman … A woman in the class, she turned to me and said. “You know what? You really might want to read the book, “How To Make Friends and Influence People”.” Y’all, I was devastated that somebody would say that to me like, “Oh my gosh! Am I that much of a freak that I need to read this book?” But hey, you know what? Right after that class, I drove straight to the local bookstore, I picked up that book and I read it from cover to cover. Not saying that you necessarily have too, but if you are a person who’s a little bit insecure, as I’ve found myself to be. Getting better with every day. And just, not comfortable with striking up conversations with strangers, this book might be the one for you. It really did help me become a better listener and a better conversationalist, so to speak. It’s not a book that I would strongly recommend but it is worth a read.

So, all that to say that I have had my own struggles with feeling very isolated. Feeling very lonely and I know how difficult that can be. I mean, I love to spend time alone. I love to have my own personal space to create in. But it’s always so wonderful to have like-minded friends to share your thoughts, your ideas, and just to have a great time with. So, how do you find your people? If any of those situations that I’ve mentioned have rung true with you, then you know that you have a desire to find your people and, how do you do that?

Well, my number one suggestion would be to start in your own building. Those are the people that you’re going to see on a daily basis. So of course, those are the one’s that you’re going to want to make the strongest kind of connections with. One thing that I have found that really helps and, I’m going to make an effort to do it again this year. Is to start eating in the Teacher’s Lounge again. A couple of years ago, I had a slightly longer lunch period and I was able to eat lunch in the Teacher’s Lounge and you guys, it was the highlight of my day. It gave me such a break from running around my room, prepping plans. Gave my such a break from just the stress of getting everything ready, and I know it’s so funny for other people to hear me say like, “The stress of teaching art” but, you guys know what I’m talking about. Because, you know that it can be very stressful. But if you just remove yourself for 30 minutes from that situation. Even if you think you have too much to do. When you come back to it, you’re a lot lighter. And that those things that seemed like, so frantic for you to take care of right then and there. They no longer seem that way.

Let me tell you what we did. Like I said, I did have a slightly longer … I think I had at that, that particular year I had a 45-minute lunch period, which seems like three hours in teacher time. And with my friends that I ate with, we loved each other and we decided to start having food days once … I think we did it like, for a while, once a week and then we had to dial it back to once a month. So what our food days were, was this. I would say, “Okay guys. This Wednesday’s Ice Cream Day. I’ll bring the ice cream, you bring whatever toppings.” And we would setup this huge ice cream bar and it was just like the highlight, we all looked forward to it. We all enjoyed just kind of hanging out, getting that sugar rush. It was amazing. We even had a Dip Anything In Chocolate Day, where we melted down chocolate. And we all brought random things, potato chips, strawberries … Yes, potato chips are amazing in melted chocolate if you’ve never tried it. And, we just sat around and ate that. We had a Hotdog Day, this was obviously before I wasn’t eating hotdogs.

And, we just had a blast and I really felt like I connected with those people and laughed a lot during those 40 minutes, which just meant the world to me. I also would say that a lot of times when I go in the Teacher’s Lounge … Now this past year, I didn’t eat in the lounge and like I said, I’m going to try, and make an effort. But one thing that I noticed when I would go in there, is a lot of people were sitting amongst friends, but they were on their phone. And I just thought, “If and when I decide to start eating in the lounge again, I’m leaving my phone in my room.” You cannot connect with somebody whose right next to you, if you’re looking at your phone. So, definitely make sure to save the screen time when you’re not around somebody, when you can give them actual like, face time. And I don’t mean FaceTime by your phone.

I also think it’s important to get outside of the school setting and hangout with buddies outside of school. And, what I’ve done to do that is, I’m not really great at just like going out to dinner. I don’t know, I enjoy that experience and I’ve definitely gone out to dinner with art … With teacher friends from school. But, I’m a person who likes to be doing something. Likes to be doing something with my hands. So if ever I decide I want to take a class outside of school, I always shoot an email to buddies who I know are crafty. Or I’ll send out a school wide email and just say, “Hey, I’m interested in doing X, Y, Z.” Recently it was crotchet. In the past it’s been a sewing class, a knitting class. Anything that I’ve been interested in, you’ll be surprised. There’re either teachers who already are really good at doing it who might even want to just lead a little knitting night. Or who’ve also had the desire to learn it and want to do it with somebody who’s also new to it.

So, if ever you’re thinking about taking a class, why not just ask buddies in your school? And see if maybe that’s something they’d be interested in. I also, one year, had a lot of people ask me, other teachers, ask me to teach them how to sew. They were coming to me at different times when I was sharing things that I had made on social media and I just thought, “Well, let’s just do a sewing class.” So, we did an apron making class every … I think it was every Tuesday at four until about five and, I had everybody bring a sewing machine and we learned how to sew aprons. Eventually, we even started sewing dresses to send to a church that sends these clothes off too places in Africa. Which was really a great bonding experience and a feel good experience for everybody that was involved.

So, those are just some ways that I feel like you can connect with people in your school and kind of, get rid of that lonely island syndrome that you might be feeling. But, let’s be honest. There’s nothing like connecting with other art teachers. I feel like sometimes, we all share the same wild and whacky brain, which is a beautiful thing because, like I said. When you go to those Art PDs, you can just feel the energy. You just feel suddenly like, “Okay. I’m with my art teacher and partners in crime. These are my folks.” So, how do you find those people? Definitely start by taking a PD, taking an Art PD, possibly going to National Conference. If you just start scouring the intra webs, you’re going to be surprised that there’s actually a lot of Art PD experiences out there. There’s fabulous online one’s of course. And then of course, there the ones that you get to be there face-to-face with other friends. Maybe people that you’ve only “met on social media” and now you get to see them right up close and personal and it’s so much fun.

I would also recommend, like I said earlier, just taking a class. Look into classes at your local craft stores. You’ll be surprised. I’m always shocked that right down the road from me there’s a sewing class happening. And I like the really short classes, the one off kind of, classes. So that I don’t have to make a long commitment. If it’s just one Thursday night for a couple of hours … Recently, that’s what I did from six to nine, I took a crotchet class. It was me, the teacher and one other student, it was amazing and I loved it. And we had a really great time. I also think that attending craft fairs … And you know fall is a great time to do that. There’s so many that happen during the fall, is an awesome way to make connections with people. When you go into those craft booths, talk to those creative types. I was so surprised to learn that many of them live in the area where I teach. And how fun would that be to have them come into my art room and chat with my students?

Not only that, but a lot of them are also eager to make teaching buddies or creative types, that can also create along with them. Or take classes with them. So definitely chat them up. It always feels so foreign to me to go into a crafters’ booth at craft fairs and start talking with them. But then I always have to put myself in their shoes. If I’m feeling a little bit anxious going into their booth and I’m the only one there, imagine how they feel. They’re selling their wares, they’re laying it out there. So of course, they’re probably also feeling a little bit anxious. If you’re not a chatty type, take a chatty friend with you. I have a teacher friend named Val, who is probably the most extroverted person I’ve ever met. She’s never met a stranger, and I love going to places with her because, she has no fear with talking to anybody. And it also makes it so I can see how a person who’s a big extrovert, talks to people and does it so easily. And then, it also gives me a little lesson on how to do that myself because, that doesn’t come super naturally to me. It’s always something I have to work on.

And of course, social media. I have met “so many wonderful people” on social media through Instagram, through Facebook, blogging, you name it. That when I am feeling a little bit lonely or I am struggling with something. Thank goodness I can pick up my phone, shoot a question out there to Instagram to all my art teacher and buddies, and get such a great and quick response. That’s always such a wonderful support center. So, you don’t have to be that lonely island, but you do have to make an effort. It’s hard, it might not feel natural for you. But you’ll be so happy that you did, once you find yourself surrounded by your art teacher and nation.

Tim Bogatz: Hello, this is Tim Bogatz, the host of Art Ed Radio and the host for the Art Ed Now Conference, that is coming up next week on August 2nd. Today, I want to tell you about one of our awesome sponsors for the conference, Art To Remember. They’re helping us bring all of the amazing presenters to you and they are putting some really nice materials for you in the swag box.

Now, if you haven’t worked with Art To Remember before, it is hands down the easiest fundraiser you can run in an art classroom. They send you the paper you need, there’s no cost for shipping the work. And they send you all of the products already organized for you. So, if you need lesson ideas, there are a ton on their website and you will also see a lesson presentation from Jennifer Borel at the Art Ed Now Conference. And honestly, when my own kids are doing a fundraiser like this, it doesn’t even feel like a fundraiser. I’m always excited to see what I can get and I love to see what kind of stuff my own kids can bring home. My daughter has a water bottle she loves with her own artwork on it. And my son got me some luggage tags with his work on it for when I’m traveling to conferences and video shoots.

So, if you’re looking for a fundraiser, Art To Remember is the place to start. If you are curious about it or you haven’t done one before. There is a profit calculator on their website where you can enter a few stats and estimate how much you’ll earn. So if you fill out their Get Started form or email them, they can put together a sample schedule. Send sample products and materials for you. So make sure you check them out at and make sure you checkout the details for our online conference at

Now let me turn it back over to Cassie, so she can finish her show.

Cassie Stephens: Did somebody say, mailbag? No, well too bad because, I’m opening it up anyway. This question comes from Trin Traves at Trin Traves. She says, “How do you get kids to finish work if they’ve been away or if they are not great school attenders?”

That isn’t a lesson question and I know one that all of us deal with. So, here’s what I do. A lot of my lessons I have started recording them and you can find them on my YouTube channel, feel free to use them in your art teachering world. The beauty of having a filmed art lesson, is that if somebody is absent, all you have to do is have them plop down on the floor or wherever they sit, and watch that portion of the video. So therefore, they’re all caught up with the other kids. If you have access to iPads and headphones, even better. Then it doesn’t serve as a distraction to the other kids as they’re working. That’s usually one method that I have found works great. It means that I don’t have to sit there and reexplain to that child one-on-one when I could be or might need to be, helping a roomful of other kids. Especially when you’re doing something like clay or weaving, something a little bit complex that they really need to focus and listen too.

Another thing that I’ve done, which is not my favorite thing to do is, pull kids from their classes. Ask their teacher if they could come in during a down time. The kids of course, they don’t usually want to come in during recess but there’s always the handful of kids that don’t mind because, they do want to get caught up. And again, if you can just show them that video, tell them where the supplies are and then, they can work quietly and uninterrupted. That’s great. But, I have found having a videoed lesson, really has helped me. And if that’s not a possibility, then another thing that I have found is, having a worksheet that has the directions not only written but also, drawn out for them to see visually. This is step one, this is step two, okay. This is where I am on, I’m on step three. And this is what I’m going to do. So, I hope that helps because, I know it is a big struggle to catch up those kids.

My next question says, “Any tips on where to begin when it comes to addressing the flow and the layout of classrooms? I’ll be cleaning out, revamping, etc cetera, this summer and I’ve collected so many ideas from seeing your photos and others.” Thank you. “How do you decide on table setup?”

You know what? This question is such a fabulous one, that I believe it deserves its own podcast, so let’s do that next week. Let me share with you … Because it does take time to really sit and figure out your flow, to map it out. Let me share with you how I have laid out my art room. How I have decided upon the flow of my art room. So that you can start thinking about your art room and would something like that work for you. Because ultimately, you do need to stop and think about, where do you want things to go? Walk through your room personally, to just see does this flow? Does this make sense to how I want my students to easily maneuver around the room?

Alright guys, if you have any questions to me you should totally send them my way. You can find me at

So, of course saying all of that about being the newbie I guess, and kind of finding your people. When you do find yourself like me, in a school for 15 years. You’re comfortable, you know these people. And then, there is the new teacher who walks in. Be sure to be that person that you needed, to that new person. Be sure to make an effort to reach out to them because, they may be all smiles and look comfortable but they are having those first day jitters, too. Just like you might be. Just like you possibly have been. What I like to do when there’re new teachers is, I like to go to them, when they’re in their rooms working, kind of off quietly to the side and make a point to introduce myself and let them know, “I know you’re going to meet a million people. It’s completely fine if you forget my name. But just know that I’m here if you need any supplies.” This is what I tell them. “Don’t tell the other teachers that you got them from me. But, if you do need any supplies. Just let me know, come my way. And just know that I’m here if you need anything.”

Be that person to those newbies that you wish somebody would have been, or maybe, somebody was to you. And, that’ll make it so there’s no lonely islands because after all, we’re all in this together.

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.