New Year’s Mailbag (Ep. 098)

It is the new year, and the guys are going to celebrate with a mailbag! Tim and Andrew answer questions from listeners on a wide range of topics, starting with their New Year’s resolutions. The discussion then moves into the best foods to use for sculpture (5:00), balancing their teaching of skills and concepts (11:15), and their essential supplies (20:00), before they close out the show by sharing what inspires them to be better teachers. Full episode transcript below.


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The guys covered a variety of topics today. Here are a few articles related to the discussion:





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

All right, guys. Welcome to 2018. We’re going to start the new year with something a little bit different. We’re going to answer some listener questions. We’re going to go through the listener mailbag. And Andrew is here with me already.

Andrew, how are you?

Andrew: Oh, man, I’m good, 2018, whoo, yeah!

Tim: That sounded like some really false excitement.

Andrew:: Oh, yeah. You know, this may shock you, but I’m not a big celebration guy. There’s like too much pressure like, “Hey, it’s your birthday. Have a great one.” I’m like, “It’s a Tuesday, like let’s not get out of control here. It’s just a day, you know?”

Tim: So, on New Year’s Day, you’re not thrilled about it being Monday. You’re not partying it up.

Andrew:: Nope. All that stuff is for amateurs, man. I just … slow and steady. Every day I want it be the same.

Tim: Fair enough.

Well, you want every day to be the same, but we’re doing kind of a crazy episode here.

Andrew: That’s true.

Tim: Answering a bunch of listener questions so maybe I’m breaking you out of your shell some.

Andrew: Yeah, a little bit, a little bit.

Tim: All right. You ready to dive in? We’ve got a lot to get to here.

Andrew: Yeah, man. Yeah, totally. Hit me with them.

Tim: Okay, cool.

So we’re starting off easy. This question comes from Jennifer Watson, pretty simple one, “Happy New Year, what are you guys doing for your New Year’s resolutions?”

Andrew: Do you want to answer that one first?

Tim: Oh, man, I don’t usually do New Year’s resolutions so that’s kind of a tough one for me. But one thing that I’m thinking about doing, I’ve got it in my mind that I might want to run another marathon this year.

Andrew: You’re crazy. You’re absolutely crazy.

Tim: I know. I know, right? All of my better judgment tells me, “Don’t do this again.” I did it a couple years ago. I was not fast whatsoever, but I knocked it out and I can say I’ve run a marathon before. As I finished it, I thought to myself, “Never again,” but the last couple months here, I’ve been getting the itch. I’ve been running a little bit more. I’ve been working out a little bit more and I’m thinking about it. So I don’t know if that counts as a resolution or if I’m even going to follow through, but that’s kind of something I’ve been playing with. It’s a possibility.

What about you?

Andrew: That was also my answer, but I don’t want to run a marathon.

Tim: Seriously?

Andrew: I don’t want to run a marathon, that’s just ridiculous, but I could definitely stand to get back into the fitness swing. I was doing a good job there for three, four years and then, man, you know, just life happens and your kids get busy and you volunteer for stuff. You coach this and you volunteer for that and there are certain days where I’m like, “All I’ve eaten is cookies,” that is just obscene. I’ll say some comments to my students, sometimes like, “Man, I should really get in shape.” They’re like, “Oh, Mr. McCormick, you’re so skinny.” It helps that I’m tall, but it’s just 200 plus pounds of goo. There’s not a single muscle in my body. Yeah, I’ve probably got to start getting fit. I’m not getting any younger.

I don’t normally do resolutions either because they’re just bound to fail, but there was one year, right around when my youngest kid, Oliver, was born. I was like, “I’m going to make a comic book. I’m going to make a comic book that’s all about giving things up. I made a couple of, they were like zemes, like really tiny things and I called it Twelve Months of No and every month, I was going to give up a new thing. So like the first month was no caffeine which was really hard, that was the worse. It was like no TV, no biting my fingernails because I have a nasty habit of biting my fingernails. I did a really good job. I made it all the way through the ninth month of giving things up and a lot of the things, once I gave them up, I didn’t take them back up again.

So I went like nine months without having any coffee which is ridiculous. My students sometimes ask me like, “Mr. McCormick, how much coffee do you drink?” I go, “Yeah, I usually have about two to three pots a day.” And they’re like, “What? Oh, my God.” I’m like, “Yeah, I don’t drink water if it’s not in the form of coffee.” Maybe that should be my New Year’s resolution, to not drink as much coffee. I don’t know.

Tim: That sounds reasonable at this point if you’re drinking that much.

Andrew: Yeah, I love it. It’s my favorite.

Tim: Okay, next question. This one came in from Don Massey who you and I both know pretty well. He’s been on the show before. Kind of a fun one, “If you guys could make art from any type of food, what would it be?”

Andrew: Oh, I know the answer to this one. My first instinct was pancakes and I was like, “That’s so unoriginal because there’s like how many different famous pancake artists that draw crazy pictures in pancakes.” I actually really love decorating cakes with my wife. We do it every year. All of our kids, we have three kids and they all have winter birthdays so it’s like two weeks before Christmas, then Christmas, then two weeks after Christmas and then my birthday and then it’s like two weeks after is my daughter’s birthday. We usually go like all out making these ginormous elaborate cakes. I’ll just stay there because that’s kind of my jam. It’s like sculptural and we put fondant on everything and it’s fun.

Tim: I can buy that. I can buy cake as art. I may need you to help me brainstorm with this. My first thought was sculpture out of some sort of giant lump of food, like mashed potatoes was my first thought. I would love to sculpt with mashed potatoes. And then my mind kind of went to my art history professor in college. He had a sculpture in his basement that was made out of lard. Disgusting, right? The best part of about it is, it couldn’t have any direct light and it couldn’t be out of this temperature control because the lard just melts and gets disgusting. So it’s a sculpture that has to be like kept in the basement in the dark and it’s made of lard, which is disgusting, but also kind of fascinating. I think I might enjoy sculpting with lard or mashed potatoes or something.

Andrew: Well, no, Tim. I’m going to stop you right there because, man, sculptures are weird. That’s what my MFA is in and I’ve done a lot of work where I’d have food and found objects, food as found object and installations and stuff. And man, like critters, that’s all I’ve got to say. You put your sculpture away and then like three months later, you’re, “I’m going to get out … Oh, this pile of like mouse turds, awesome.” Yeah, Don is weird. I’m not going hang out with Don anymore. I don’t want to answer any more of his questions.

Tim: Wow, that took a dark turn really quickly.

Andrew: He’s just bringing up all sorts of memories I tried to suppress.

Tim: I know, repressed memories for me.

All right. The next question comes from another friend of the pod, Amber Kane, who’s been on here before. “What made you both decide that you wanted to be art teachers and what is your “why” for teaching?”

Andrew: I’ve said it before, but mine’s connecting with kids and seeing that spark and seeing that connection when you really connect with a kid. When a kid comes up to you and is just like, “Mr. McCormick, I’m so thankful that you’re my teacher and I love coming to your class.” That’s what it’s all about, man. I probably knew ninth grade, tenth grade, this is what I wanted to do. In high school, I’m probably a weird person that I knew early on that’s what I wanted to do. I loved art and I love … I don’t know, I think it’s taken me a long time to realize I just really love service. I love being there for other people. That’s a weird, I don’t know like a high almost I get, just kind of volunteering and being there for people. It’s pretty awesome. It’s a good mix of that. It’s creative and it’s being there for people.

Tim: Yeah, I like that a lot. I think my “why” is kind of the same reason. It’s those connections that you get with kids and the feeling that you’re making a difference in peoples’ lives. It’s what you’re talking about right there. My original inspiration actually came from having a terrible art teacher in high school. I think I’ve talked about this before, but my sophomore year I was in art class and I wanted to love it so badly, but I couldn’t because my teacher was literally the worst teacher I had in all of my years of school. So I just started thinking to myself, “I can do so much better than this. How can you make kids hate art?” I really wanted to be able to make kids love art. So same with me, like sophomore of high school, I knew this was what I want to do and I wanted to be better than that. I think I accomplished that, but I think that was the original reason for me getting into it. But like you said, just making the difference is really the “why” in making those connections.

Andrew: Let me ask you a weird question because I think we have a similar background. I didn’t really get along that well with my high school art teacher either. That was an initial inspiration too for me. But do you ever, as a teacher, like hear … I don’t know if this was a male teacher or female teacher, his or her words or something that they taught you come back even despite the fact, “Argh, I don’t like that person,” or, “They didn’t do a good job.” You’re still like, “Ah, but yeah, they really did teach me how to use a blending stump really well and now I’m using that with my own students.” Do you ever have any moments like that?

Tim: I have not. I’ve had some of those horrible flashbacks where like I wanted to enter something in an art show and she forced me to change the title of it, just stupid crap like that. I catch myself like, “Oh, yeah, don’t do that,” or maybe in the opposite way rather than appreciating what they may have taught me, it’s more of a warning like, “Hey, remember this? Don’t do it that way.” It’s been helpful, maybe not in the positive way that you’re thinking about, but still guides what you’re doing.

Andrew: Yeah, it’s like cautionary teaching. You were taught some things, kind of what not to do. It’s good.

Tim: Next question’s from Katherine Campbell, kjmakesit on Instagram, “What do you wish kids came to you with from elementary art? Would you rather they are knowing or experiencing a little bit of everything without mastery of any one thing or would you rather they have a level of mastery with a select few media or concepts?” She says, “As an elementary art teacher, I always feel torn since some of my students won’t take art after elementary.” So where do you come down with that?

Andrew: Wow, that’s a good question. I actually think I sometimes fluctuate because I’ve had classes where I’m just like, “Wow, man, I wish their skillset was so much better because I was not expecting them to not know all of this stuff.” And I want to be fair to all the elementary teachers I’ve ever worked with, I know for a fact this stuff has been taught. When a ninth grader says they don’t know how to make orange paint like, come on, that is taught early on. It’s just not retained. So then it becomes, “Well, was that meaningful to that person?” I don’t know. I still think I fall in the camp of, I just want my students to feel empowered and emboldened and ready to just create. That creative mindset versus like a laundry list of skillsets. I would probably take that any day of the week.

Tim: I’m with you on that. I want my kids to be open minded. I want them to be excited about new things. I want them to be willing to try new ideas. If they have experienced a little bit of everything, I would much rather have that. Just kind of diving in, a couple more points on that. I don’t think kids are going to master anything at the elementary level. That’s something that comes with being passionate and putting in a lot of work. You can’t put the hours in as you’re 11 years old. You can’t get to that mastery level. So I’d rather kids experience a lot and be in love with art and just be willing to try things. Because I can teach them skills, I can teach them how to shade, I can teach them how to blend, I can teach them how to mix colors, but I really need them to have that mindset that appreciates new ideas and appreciates the chance to try new things.

Andrew: Yeah, I want to take back my answer because I want my answer to sound more like yours. You said it really well. I was thinking like how many kids I’ve butted heads with this semester where it’s like, “I can’t do that. I’m not good at that. That is something I don’t do so I’m not going to listen to you because I know I can’t do that.” It’s this close-minded, “I either have the talent or I don’t.” And that has been really frustrating to work with kids, “Listen,” like you said, “I just need you to be coachable and I need you to believe that you can get better because if you don’t believe that you can get better, you’re absolutely right, you’re not going to get better and you’re going to continue to be bad at this. Do you want to get better at this?” “Yes.” “Well, then you need to believe that you can.”

I think that actually flies in the face of what a lot of, I think, educators want to give their kids, which is, “You are now proficient. You have reached mastery level,” and then a kid feels like, “Well, I’m done. I’ve reached this level of mastery.” It’s like, “No, there’s really no such thing.” I’ve been saying this a lot to my classes and they scoff and think that it should be like a bumper sticker or something. I know I didn’t come up with it, I probably saw it on Twitter. I hate the notion of perfection and I tell them that notion of perfect art and perfection is so overrated. I tell them why and we talk about growth mindset and I say, “Forget practice makes perfect, practice makes progress.”

And I talk to them about just always be willing to progress because if you’re thinking about being perfect, you’re never going to be there, and you’re going to be frustrated, and you’re never going to want to try to progress at something and get better. I say that one a lot. If I had kids come to me in eighth grade and ninth grade and like, “I’m not good at this, but I want to get better,” I’d be like, “I love you. You’re an amazing student and I’m excited to work with you.”

Tim: Yeah, I think that’s really well said. Now your answer’s back to being better than my answer.

Andrew: Yes. Yes, awesome.

Tim: Are you satisfied? Do you feel like we can move on now?

Andrew: We can move on now, yes.

Tim: All right. Next question is from Heidi Moray. I don’t know if you’re in this situation or not, but you’re pretty good at thinking on your feet here so we’ll send it your way.

“How do people plan for high school elective classes? I end up with multiple grade levels within one class and student skill levels range from basic to advanced? How do you collect individual data, how do you teach for that, how do you track growth in that kind of situation?”

Andrew: Oh, that’s a tough question.

Tim: Do you want me to take it real quick?

Andrew: I do, yeah, go ahead and I’ll think of some things. Go ahead.

Tim: All right. You organize your thoughts for just a second. You don’t even have to listen.

Andrew: I won’t. I’m not going to.

Tim: Not that you listen to me anyway, but …

No, I think the biggest thing you can do for all your kids is to show growth, you need to have portfolios, whether it’s just a handful of works, whether it’s 18 works, whatever the case may be. I think it’s important for kids to show their growth. I think it’s important for them to work in sketchbooks or visual journals so they can develop that process and you can track them with their growth from one stage to the next whether it be with studio habits, or with specific skills, or with knowledge or vocabulary, whatever it may be. Just make sure that you’re keeping records and have kids keep all their work together. It makes it easier for them to reflect on what’s happening in that classroom, it makes it easier for them to see where they’re growing, and it makes it easier for you to track it as well. Whether it is your sketchbooks or just keeping work around or developing a portfolio, I think that’s a really good way to show and track growth.

Then I think as far as working with multiple grade levels or working with, in particular, with skillsets, I think you just need to have your lessons open-ended enough to allow for differentiation. If you’re working with a theme or if you’re working with something that’s a little more open-ended, kids can develop their ideas, they can develop their skills at all kinds of different paces. Kids can still meet objectives, they can still plan what they want their work to be and their planning may be at different levels, their technical skill may be at different levels, but if you allow for enough differentiation, I think you can make that work pretty well.

Andrew: Yep, that would be my answer too. Yep, that was good.

Tim: You’re supposed to be thinking of your own answer.

Andrew: My knee jerk reaction is you have to stay flexible. I like that you brought up the practical tip of portfolios, whatever that looks like. The only thing I would add to that is I think one of the ways to show student growth is to have student reflections in there, so whether they’re writing about it, artist’s statements, their pre-planning stuff. I can’t say it any better when it comes to offering up open-ended enough and divergent enough projects that your beginning level students to your advanced students feel like they’ve got the leeway and wiggle room to make something that offers up enough … oh, I’m blanking on the word that I use all the time … resistance, right? I often draw parallels of all things between artwork and weight lifting. When a kid is like, “Ah, is this good enough? I want to take the easy way out,” I’m like, “Hey, man, this is like you waking up early, getting dressed to go to the gym, driving to the gym, and then lifting one pound weights. Why would you cheat yourself the ability to get resistance?”

I think when you have open-ended projects like that, your advanced students can try some things that are tough and your beginning students can also try something that’s tough. It’s just going to look a little different.

Tim: I think the reflection part is a really important piece there too.

All right. We’re going to go back to an easy question now.

Andrew: Oh, that was a tough one.

Tim: This is from Randy Copeland, “What is your one essential supply in your art room? What do you have in your room that you cannot live without?”

Andrew: Masking tape, that’s my favorite thing. I use that all the time.

Tim: Okay, give me a quick top five or top 10 list. What do you use masking tape for?

Andrew: I teach a adaptive art class, a art class for students who have some severe and profound disabilities. We do a lot of resist with that stuff so taping things off, painting around it. We hold things down. I use it as a sculptural material if I’m doing armature stuff. It’s like a jack-of-all-trades. That’s only three though, I realize maybe I don’t do as much as I thought.

Tim: That’s okay. I didn’t even think about it, but as soon as you said, “Masking tape,” I was like, “Oh, yeah,” just because it comes up so often. There are so many things that you can and will use it for so that’s a good one. I was just going to say my essential is a really nice, high quality set of colored pencils.

Andrew: Yeah.

Tim: I love teaching my kids colored pencil drawing. I really, really take pride in how well my kids can do that. It’s my art of choice as well, my media of choice. I love having really nice colored pencils around just because when they have high quality stuff it really allows for some amazing work. The difference between high quality and low quality colored pencils is so pronounced that I think you need to have those nice ones. So that’s my essential.

Andrew: Good answer, but gosh, we could not be any more different because as soon as you said that a little bit of me died. I was like, “Oh, gosh, colored pencils.” I feel like I’m so bad at teaching them and I reluctantly get them out. I imitate my students when I bring out, “Guys I want you to be really careful because I know what you’re going to do. You’re going to look at these things.” You’re like, “I know you guys. I know colored pencils,” and then they just start drawing like they’re in second grade when they’re like ninth and tenth graders. I’m like, “Why are you scribbling? What are we doing?” I try to model it. I try to model it. “Forget it, we’re doing chalk pastels. I’m putting these away, chalk pastels.” I don’t know. I need to watch you teach colored pencils, man. I’m not so great at it.

Tim: Weren’t you just talking a minute ago about challenging yourself and resistance.

Andrew: Yeah, yeah, yeah. You caught me. You caught me. I’m a big hypocrite.

Tim: We can talk about colored pencils another time.

One last question though to close out the mailbag. This is a tough one. This is from Shay Thomas, “Who inspired you? Where do you draw inspiration from or what makes you want to become a better teacher?”

Andrew: It’s kind of easy and it’s kind of cheesy, but it’s my students. I have a bunch of students this year who, they don’t have an easy life and they’ve at the age of 16, 17, 18, they’ve dealt with more challenges than I have or that I would ever want to. I see these kids come to school every day and battle through just BS, dumb assignments that their teachers are making them do and the interpersonal drama of high school and middle school. “You guys are some strong SOBs, I love you guys and you’re awesome.” I draw a lot of inspiration from kids like that, kids that I know need an advocate and a champion. And they keep me going. We kind of talked about that, what inspires you to come back, to be engaged, it’s my students. And I think that’s the best form of inspiration. Otherwise, why would we do this job because it’s ridiculously tough.

Tim: Like you mentioned, we just talked last week about what keeps you coming back. Absolutely, your kids do. That’s what makes me want to be a better teacher is those connections with kids being able to see them develop, being able to see them become better people. I think that’s a wonderful thing. As far as inspiration for teaching, I love seeing what other teachers are doing, whether that be through Twitter or Facebook or Instagram or just reading what teachers are writing about on their blogs. That’s always really inspiring to me. Even people like Melissa Purtee and Ian Sands who both used to write for AOE, I’m never going to teach anything like they teach, our pedagogies are so different, but they always inspire me to think about what I’m doing and they always inspire me to reflect and to be a better teacher.

I think seeing those different viewpoints and reflecting on what you’re doing because of that, I think is really inspirational to me and that always makes me want to become a better teacher as well. So quick shout out to those two and everybody else who’s writing about what they’re doing, sharing what they’re doing in our classroom because I think it is really inspirational to see what teachers across the country are doing.

Andrew: Well put, man, well put.

Tim: Cool. I think that’s going to wrap it up. We’ve been talking for a really long time, but I enjoy answering all these questions. It’s been a good time. Andrew, thank you for joining me and, yeah, we’ll talk to you again soon.

Andrew: My pleasure, man. Talk to you later.

Tim: Big thanks to Andrew for hanging out and answering some questions and thank you to all of you who wrote in with some questions. My apologies if we didn’t get to yours, but we obviously receive a lot of them and we can’t answer everything. Hopefully, we can do another one of these episodes soon.

I also want to tell you before we go about one of our awesome for the Art Ed Now Conference, Art to Remember. They are 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 work, and they send you all of the products already organized for you. If you need lesson ideas, there are a ton on their website. You also see a good lesson from Alicia Kazmarek at the Art Ed Now Conference.

Honestly, when my own kids are doing a fundraiser like this, it doesn’t even feel like a fundraiser. I’m excited to see what I can get and I love to see what kind of stuff they 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. They are amazing. If you’re looking for a fundraiser, Art to Remember is the place to start. If you’re curious or haven’t done one before, there’s a profit calculator on their website where you can enter a few stats and estimate how much you’ll earn. If you fill out their get started form or email them, they can put together a sample schedule and send sample products and materials for you. Make sure you check them out at

That is all for us today. Thanks for sitting through a lot of mailbag questions. I hope it was entertaining. Next week I will be back with Molly Wiste and we’ll talk about how you follow a legendary teacher. I hope you can join us. And Happy New Year.

Art Ed Radio is produced by The Art of Education with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Remember, you can sign up for our email list at We always love to hear from you so send us your questions for the next mailbag episode and comments and anything else you want to share at Thanks for listening and, like I said, we’ll be back with Molly Wiste next week. We’ll talk to you then.

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.