Professional Practice

How to Improve the Situation You’re In (Ep. 066)

Last week, Cassie talked about what to do when it’s time to find a new situation. But what do you do if a new job isn’t an option? There are ways to make the best of a bad situation. In this episode, Cassie talks about why you need to stand up for yourself, speak up for yourself, and how to come up with solutions to help better your situation.  Full episode transcript below.

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Cassie: In last week’s podcast, I chatted with you all about making that kind of tough … Well, not really kind of. It really is a tough choice when you find yourself in a situation, a teaching situation, where you’re not pleased emotionally with the environment or physically within your teaching space. When you find yourself in that predicament, I chatted with you about making the tough choice of whether or not you should stay or you should go. When I pose that question once again on my Instagram, I got an overwhelming response.

The number one thing that I heard from people was, “Oh my goodness. I’ve been thinking about this. I’ve been going through a situation at my school. I’m not happy with where I am. This has been on my mind.” The first thing I want to bring up is isn’t that so interesting? Something that was a small topic in my mind, me thinking that it would only resonate with maybe a handful of people. Because it did happen to me, how could it possibly be happening to anybody else? The thing is is that whatever you’re going through, whether it be at your school or just anything, it helps to realize that you’re not the only one going through something like that.

You’re not the only one thinking the thoughts that you have. For me, it was really kind of eye-opening to share that with people and find out that so many of us struggle with making that decision and kind of being honest with ourselves about whether or not we should stay or go. The other thing that really resonated with me was this, a lot of people said, “You know what, Cassie? Finding an art teaching job is not easy. When you do find one, even if you aren’t happy with the environment emotionally or physically, sometimes you’ve just got to stay.”

Whether that be because there aren’t a lot of opportunities in your area or just the notion of moving, relocating isn’t an option for you. If that’s the case, if you are in a teaching situation where it’s … We’re going to talk about emotionally unstable. What should you do about it? What can you do about it? Let’s talk about it. I’m Cassie Stephens and this is Everyday Art Room. All right. Perhaps you’re in a teaching situation where you don’t feel appreciated. You don’t feel understood. You get the side-eye from a lot of people in the building. Trust me, I do too. It’s starting to get at you a little bit.

What can you do about it? If you can’t leave the situation if those opportunities just aren’t available for you, what can you do about it to make the place where you’re teaching a little bit better? Sometimes it’s easy to let those feelings of misunderstood, unappreciated, not taken seriously really drive you nuts. I’m going to share with you a story that happened not even at a school but within my family. Many years ago, I remember going to a Thanksgiving dinner with my husband’s side of the family. We were sitting around the Thanksgiving table. It was his parents, his brother, my sister-in-law and their children.

I don’t even know how the topic came up, but the topic of what I do for a job, art teachering, that came up. I remember as soon as something about me being an art teacher came up, eyes were rolled and words like “yeah, but you don’t make any money, that’s not really a serious job.” I mean, you guys. My blood is kind of starting to boil just thinking about it and this was years ago. I have no idea why it all of a sudden my job being an art teacher, which I take very seriously, became the topic of discussion and was like the butt of a joke. I’m not just talking one time. This happened throughout the course of that Thanksgiving event and multiple times after that.

I remember just turning to my husband and looking at him with a look that said, “Are you going to do something about this? Aren’t you going to say anything? Aren’t you going to stand up for me?” I mean, after all, dude was a music teacher for a handful of years, but he didn’t say a word. In fact, we didn’t even meet my eye. Later on, I found out why. You need to stick up for yourself. If you want to say something, if you want to say and defend what it is you do, then you do it. What are you waiting for me to do it for? That situation was such an eye-opener for me.

It really had been thinking about all the times in my life, in my art teachering life, when I have looked to around for somebody else to stand up for me, to have my back, to come to my defense. You guys, most the time it’s not going to happen. You guys, most the time it shouldn’t have to happen because you should have your own back. I’m starting with this story because I think it’s important if you are in a teaching situation where you’re feeling like a victim or are you playing the victim. I remember many years ago in my first teaching school, I had another teacher that I worked with. She was another art teacher in the building.

Guys, let me tell you right off the bat. I remember meeting her. We exchanged names, shook hands, introduced ourselves. We sat down at a professional development. I pulled out my notebook and I was sitting there kind of jotting down ideas for projects for the upcoming year. I went to the restroom and when I came back, my notebook of ideas was in her lap. She was going over it. To me, it was the strangest thing. Like who just picks up somebody else’s notebook and just starts riffling through it? She turned to me and said, “This isn’t our curriculum.” I told her, “Well, you know, I kind of like to do things different than what’s in the curriculum.”

The next thing I know at lunch, she is on the phone in front of me with our curriculum development person, whatever their bougey name is, asking her, “Um, the art teacher at my school, her name’s Cassie Stephens, she’s coming up with her own curriculum. Isn’t she supposed to follow …” You guys, she was having this conversation in front of me. I remember thinking what in the world is happening here? That right there painted a picture for what my year with this teacher was. She basically had it out for me. I don’t even have the faintest why. I remember I was so frustrated and so …

I don’t want to say scared, but anxious to go to work every morning that I literally made myself knowing that I was going to have to be in this kind of toxic situation with this other art teacher. One day I was sharing this kind of … I was just kind of commiserating with another teacher and she said to me, “Well, have you spoken to her? Have you thought about going to the administration about this situation? This sounds not healthy for you or for her. Have you done anything about it?” No. No, I haven’t done anything about it except to mope and whine and get sick every single morning. No, I hadn’t.

I remember this teacher said something to me that has stayed with me for a long time because I expressed to her I didn’t know what to say to this teacher. I wouldn’t even know how to begin with the administration about what this teacher was “doing.” Basically how she was making me feel. This teacher, she told me, “You know what, Cassie? You can say anything to anybody about anything as long as you choose your words wisely.” I’ve yet to perfect that. I still struggle with words and expressing my feelings and telling somebody, “Hey, this is making me feel XYZ and I’m not digging it. We need to think of a way to fix it.”

But it’s super important that we as adults learn how to do this. A lot of you all out there listening, I’m just going to make an assumption and some guess that you are females. Most teachers are females. A lot of us art teachers are females. If you’re listening to a podcast hosted by a female, then I’m guessing you might be a female and dudes, don’t mean to exclude you, but I might just pinch when I say what I’m about to say. Ladies, I don’t know how you were brought up, but if you were brought up like me, you were brought up to be polite, to be nice, to be a pleaser and to just kind of make everybody happy.

That’s how I was raised. I was raised not to start a fuss, definitely not to cause a fight. I was more of an extinguisher of any kind of discussions that became heated than I was an instigator. I think that a lot of us as females are kind of taught that. That we are here to make everything fine and smooth everything over. It’s not the case because if something’s bothering you in your school, in your life, with family, the only person who’s going to have your back is you. The only person who’s going to stand up for yourself and speak up for yourself is you as it should be. How do we go about doing that?

Look, you all, I am coming at you with this podcast being probably the most passive rollover person you will ever, ever meet. Trust me when I say this to you. This is a constant struggle for me. It’s hard for me to stand up for myself and speak up for myself because like I said, I don’t want to cause a fuss. I always want to just make everything smooth over. “It’s okay. Don’t worry about it. Forget it. Forget I even mentioned it,” but don’t. Don’t forget I mentioned it. How can we express the things that we need to say, that we want to say, to people within our building, people that we have to work with, our administration?

One way that you can express your feelings is to start with the word feeling. This situation, those words that you said to me, that look that you gave me, it made me feel blank. Because what people can’t do is they can’t argue your feelings. They can’t argue how something made you feel because it’s so personal to you. Let’s say you decide to have a sit down conversation with your administration just to let them know, “Hey, that time that you stuck your finger in my face and told me that I was going to take kids on a field trip, whether or not I wanted to or not,” yes, that actually happened, “Hey, that made me feel unappreciated. That made me feel degraded. That made me as though as you don’t appreciate me and what I do in this building every day to encourage creativity in our students.”

Just starting out with letting people know how a situation or something that happened to you made you feel, it can really be eye-opening for them. Another thing I think is important if ever you need to, I hate the word confront, but just talk to somebody in your building about something that’s not making you feel great. One thing that I think that is super important is to keep your emotions in check. For me, that’s really difficult because when something’s bothering me, I get pretty emotional about it. I can always feel that little lump gets in my throat and I’m like, “Oh no.” If tears come, that’s when people tend to stop taking you seriously.

If possible, if you know you’re going to be emotional, give it time before you approach whoever it is you need to talk to because when that gets in the way, you can often be dismissed as just being emotional and not be taken very seriously. Another thing to do I think is to make sure that you have a solution to a situation. If something made you feel … It made me feel unappreciated when you pick up your students five minutes late for art class because that’s my only time to go to the bathroom. That really makes me feel like you don’t appreciate me or value my time as much as you do yours. Here’s what I might suggest.

Having a solution for whoever it is you’re talking to, one that’s not just like, “Here’s what I suggest, get a clock and pick up your kids on time.” No, I’m not talking like that. One that’s actually like something you’ve put some thought into. If you just come to somebody like an administrator with a problem, can you imagine? That’s what they hear all stinking day long. Who signs up for that job where all you get to do is just hear people complain? But if you come with a solution, then your administration’s going to think of you as a problem solver, not just a problem giver.

Also, I think it’s important to schedule a time to talk with somebody, especially if it’s something that you know it’s going to take a little while for you to get through. You might want to be able to be in a place where you can close the door, have their complete attention, sit down, not have them running to lunch or going to do an evaluation or whatever it is they need to be doing. Set an appointment for sure to make sure that you have their undivided attention. Sometimes I feel like when something happens to me in my building with a teacher, with an administrator, with a parent even, sometimes it’s not necessarily them.

Sometimes it’s me, meaning it’s how I perceived it. I remember I used to back when I first started teaching, I used to always watch Dr. Phil after school. I would just always have it running in the background. I remember a phrase that he said about perspective. It’s all about perspective and how you view a situation happening or how a situation went down might be completely different than how somebody else would view it. Meaning if somebody made an offhanded comment your teaching style or what it is you do all day or your wild and wacky outfit, you might take great offense to that.

You might have put a lot of thought into that wild and wacky outfit because you have it all planned out to go with your lessons thank you very much or how you’re hanging your artwork or whatever when it might have been a comment that literally just meant nothing. It was maybe just a joke or somebody was just blowing off steam. Who knows? But if it really stings you, sometimes it might just be you. Sometimes it might be the fact that I didn’t get enough sleep that night or I’m a little emotional that day and I’m just taking everything a little too seriously.

When that happens, before talking with that person about it or requesting a sit-down, think about it this way. In one year’s time, am I even going to remember what just happened? In one year’s time, am I going to wish that I had spoken up? In one year’s time, will I just kind of look back and think, “Gosh, I was so emotional that day and I took that comment to a place where it was definitely not intended?” One thing that I know for certain is that working in a building, I’m just going to say this, this might not be appreciated by all, but bear with me because I know a lot of you are going to agree.

Being a female working in a building that is mostly filled with other females is not always easy. Also keeping that in mind will help you I guess better understand where everybody is coming from. We’re all stressed. we’re all trying to do our best. We’re all trying to keep our focus on our students. Sometimes it’s not always easy and feelings get hurt and things get said that aren’t very nice. It’s important that you have your own back, that you definitely take a stand and you stand up for yourself, but it’s also important to realize when it’s a good time to do that and when it’s a good time to just let it go.

I say all of this because we as adults working with other adults might find ourselves in our school where we’re there and we’re here to stay. We need to make the very best of that teaching environment that we find ourselves in. One way to do that is to make sure that we are appreciated and we stand up for ourselves and definitely stand up for what we know is best for our kids in their art education.

Tim: 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, daily articles, and other resources that can help your teaching. It’s all at under the podcasts tab. You can also sign up to receive weekly emails whenever a new episode is released. Now let’s get you back to Cassie as she opens up her mailbag.

Cassie: Now it’s time to take a little dip into the mailbag. This first question is such an awesome one. I will be a student teacher next semester. Any tips? Yes, so many. In fact, I might have a podcast. No, I don’t think I have an episode about it. I do have one that’s all about like starting out teaching and being in your first-year teacher, so that might be a really good podcast to do. But in short, my advice to you as a person going into student teaching, first of all, let me just tell you a couple of pet peeves that I’ve had not with my student teachers, but with what I guess were called practicum students.

These were a group of students who would come in once a week. There were usually three of them hanging out in my art room for about half of a day and then split. They were supposed to come in, observe, kind of cooperate and get to know the kids a little bit and then eventually each of them was to teach a lesson. Here’s something that I noticed that kind of drove me bananas. I didn’t notice this with my student teachers, so I don’t know what the difference was. Thing number one, be on time. In fact, be early.

Not crazy early like an hour early that it’s creepy and weird, that your teacher walks in and is like, “What are you doing here so bright and early?” I’m talking like get there before the kids do. If school starts like my school at 8 o’clock, why not shoot for 7:45? What harm is it going to do? Also, it gives you a minute to spend a little quality time with your cooperating teacher and help her or him get supplies ready. Be on time or early. Second thing, put your phone away. For the love of all things holy, do not take your phone out when student teaching. You don’t need to be posting pictures of what the kids are doing.

You definitely don’t need to be posting pictures of their faces. You just don’t need to have that gadget out. Turn it off. Put it on silent. Whatever you need to do. Don’t put it in your pocket. Put in your purse. Put your purse far away. It just looks I think completely unprofessional to have your phone out. Now if you’re cooperating teacher wants you to post things or whatever, I guess go for it. But to me, if I saw a student teacher with her phone or his phone constantly out, it would just look kind of like you weren’t present and you weren’t taking it very seriously.

The other thing I would keep in mind is you are in somebody else’s classroom, so what they say goes. You’re the guest. When I say what they say goes, what they say you might not totally agree with. It might not be your teaching style. It might not be how you plan to run your art room and that’s fine just so you keep that in mind. I would even like journal big time and just write down some things that you definitely would bring back to your room and some things that you might not. That’s okay. Don’t leave that journal laying around by the way. It’s okay because you’re there to kind of learn the do’s and the don’ts of art teachering.

This person isn’t perfect and nobody is. You’re going to see what works for them and then you’re going to learn yeah, that might work for me and that’s just not me, that’s not my personality, that’s not what’s going to work in my room. One thing that I noticed when I student teaching was I assumed that everything that the teacher was doing was the law. Like this was the one and only way to teach XY and Z. It took me a long time when I was teaching in my own room to realize no, there are lots of different ways to teach portrait drawing. There are loads of different ways to just teach kids. Finding what works for you is what’s going to be the best.

If you have a cooperating teacher who is kind enough to kind of let you explore your own teaching personality, then great. You might find yourself in a student teaching position where the teacher isn’t cool with that and that’s fine too. After all, it is their room. That’s my biggest bit of advice, be a little bit early, put the phone away, and take everything that you’re seeing with a grain of salt knowing that you are your own awesome teacher and that’s what you’re going to end up being. It doesn’t have to look like anybody else’s teaching style, but you’re own. This next question is also from a soon to be the art teacher.

The question is advice for Praxis art exams. I moved to Tennessee and they won’t accept my Texas license. Isn’t that so annoying when you go to different states and you’ve either got to retake a very expensive test or they don’t accept the test that you took or somehow the scores have to be much higher than they were in the previous? I got really lucky. Thank the goodness. What? What am I thinking? Thank the gods that I passed my Praxis exam. Don’t ask me how as I’m the worst test taker ever. My scores from Indiana somehow made it so I could get a job here in Tennessee. Any advice on Praxis exams? I don’t know.

Study. Get a really good night’s rest. Gosh, just do your stinking best. I don’t think I studied. I know for certain I didn’t get a good night’s sleep and I still did all right and I have a teaching job. These are not the things that I miss. I don’t miss going to college. I don’t miss writing papers. I don’t miss taking exams, but I will be sad and I will miss out on answering your emails if you don’t send one my way. You can find me at Everyday Art Room at Speaking of college, my freshman year in college, we were required, I wonder if they still do this, to take like a physical ed class. I’m sure most of you can relate to this.

I am not an athletic type. Perusing through the catalog of choices for PE classes, I stumbled upon karate. I thought, “You know what? That’ll be fun. I can manage that. Easy A. No problem.” I get into this karate class in my sweet little uniform with my bright white belt and yeah, it’s going swimmingly. I learned all the cool punches and the kicks and the cool sounds you get to make when you’re throwing out a punch. I remember the one day they told us to partner up because we were going to be sparring, which was a part of our final grade. Sparring. Didn’t I just tell you all a little while earlier that I am not one for confrontation?

Definitely not into physical contact. If I would prefer if I were not touched … That sounds weird. Just not beat up I guess ever. Who would prefer that? Regardless, I remember seeking out the smallest teeniest tiniest girl in the room because I thought, “She’s going to be just like me. We’re just going to pretend. Throw a couple of air punches with limp wrists and call it a day and going to away and be best friends and get milkshakes afterward.” Perfect pairing. I was sure of it until the buzzer, timer or instructor said to start. This girl went bananas karate chopping me, you all.

At first, I thought she was kidding so I started laughing and then I realized that the blows were starting to hurt. Hey, isn’t anybody going to get this little hyena to get off me? End of story. No. Nobody did. I got a C in the class. Hyena girl got an A and nobody had my back. I should have learned right then and there, although it took me years later, that once again nobody is going to have your back even in karate, but yourself. Don’t end up getting beat up by a little hyena girl, you all, and have a great 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.