Professional Practice

Staying Passionate About Your Teaching (Ep. 057)

Most teachers are feeling the excitement of coming back to a new school year, but what if that isn’t the case? What if you’re losing your passion? Cassie wants you to know that you’re not alone, and in this episode, she discusses how to combat those feelings. She talks about paying attention to how you feel about the new school year (4:00), ideas on how to take care of yourself (7:30), and trying new and creative ways to teach your old projects (14:00).  Full episode transcript below.

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Cassie: Now that we’re beyond Labor Day, I guess it’s safe to say that everybody is back to art-teachering land, even you slackers who waited until after Labor Day to come back to school. Don’t give me that, “Yeah, but we were at school until the end of June.” Whatever, slackers. It looks to me like just about everybody is back to art-teachering land, because when I scroll through my Instagram feed, it looks as though Lisa Frank done “esploded” all over all y’all’s art rooms. And I love it. I’m living for it. In fact, my art room might have a touch of Lisa Frank-itis itself. Everybody is talking about the F word; formal lesson plans. Everybody’s talking about the S word; summative evaluations. But some of you guys might be a little bit feeling like the D word; that you just don’t give a doggone. And that’s okay, but I think it’s something we need to chat about. It’s the beginning of the school year. Everybody appears to be juiced and excited, and maybe you’re just not. I’m Cassie Stephens, and this is Everyday Art Room.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “What’s wrong with me? Is my art-teachering meter broken?” I don’t know. Let’s take a quiz and find out. Get you a number two pencil, a sheet of loose leaf paper, and listen up, buttercup, because here we go.

Question number one; do you wake up excited each and every school day? Did you write, “No?” Good, because you and I can still be friends. Of course you didn’t. Of course you don’t. Of course you would much rather stay in your pajamas until 2:00 PM every single day, because you have a pulse, and you are human. Let’s move on to question number dos.

Are you able to dream up the most original, and creative, and unique lesson plans all the time? If you can do that, can you please, you know, shoot me an email? Because I could really use some help, because no, I cannot. I actually can’t sit down at a computer or at a table with art supplies and just think of something amazing to teach my kids. I actually have to be creating and doing something myself, but that’s just me. Moving on to question number three.

Do you struggle with consistency, discipline, and haircare maintenance? Y’all, I know I’ve shared with you before that I am not consistent at all, which is why the beginning of the year is really, really hard for me, because I know how important routines and consistency are. And the kids are usually better about holding me accountable than vice versa. And last but not least, speaking of haircare maintenance, do you dry shampoo more than you actually shampoo? Yes, that’s probably the only question that you’re going to answer yes to, that and number three. So if you managed to answer, “No, no, yes, yes,” hello, welcome to the club and join the part. Pull up a chair. Let’s talk about why we’re just feeling kind of “meh” about the new school year.

First of all, I think it’s really important, if you do have that “meh,” kind of unenthusiastic, not really excited, not your usual self, let’s just say, feeling about this brand new school year, I think it’s really important for you to just know that it’s okay; and for you to take it easy on yourself. And don’t beat yourself up, because it’s definitely not going to help. Many moons ago, I chatted on this podcast about burnout. And if you feel like you are experiencing burnout, and you know there really is something to that whole seven-year itch kind of thing; if you find yourself in your seventh year of teaching, closing in, maybe, on your 10th year, and you’re starting to feel hints of what you think are burnout, you probably are. It’s totally okay. You might want to go back and give that episode a listen.

Today, when we’re chatting, you might be feeling burnout, but you might just also have longings for summer, and the joy that that freedom with all your time was; or it might also be a couple of other things that we’re going to chat about today. I would like to chat about three separate categories, when it comes to not feeling super stoked about the new school year. The first one, I want to talk about your physical health, then mental health, and then just being your best self in your art room, and how to do that.

So let’s talk about physical health. And I’m going to talk about things that you’re going to roll your eyes and be like, “Whatever, Momma Cass. You’re not my momma. I know all this already,” but trust me, because I’m speaking from a place that’s really close to my heart; because the first thing I want to chat about when it comes to your physical health is drinking water. Yes, I know you just rolled your eyes at me. I saw you. Don’t even deny it. But the reason I bring this up is because at the end of the last school year, I was juggling a huge, school-wide art show, while firing millions, what seemed like millions, of clay projects; and just, you know, everything that comes with the end of the school year, as well. It was all happening at once. And I wasn’t doing the best job of remembering to eat.

And I hate it when people say that they forgot to eat, because don’t even give me that. I eat all day long. I wake up in the morning just so I can eat breakfast. But I literally wasn’t, because I was so swamped. And I stopped, I guess, drinking enough water. And it didn’t really catch my attention until I was helping a student, and I suddenly stood up, and everything turned black. And I almost felt like I was going to faint.

Later on, at the start of summer vacation, I went to a doctor. And she told me that I was probably experiencing a lot of dehydration at that time. It is so important that, even though we feel like we’re too busy to do X-Y-Z, we’re too busy getting our rooms beautiful for the new school year, too busy getting all of the supplies ready for the brand new projects we’re going to start with our students, you always have to make time to do something simple like drinking enough water. All right, mom rant over.

Speaking of being healthy, I am also the worst at this; eating healthy. I go through these weird phases where I’ll be really good about packing myself lunches. And then most the time, I’m literally eating a burrito that’s got paint all over it because I’m holding it with my dirty, messy hands. But I’m telling you this so that you can do the opposite of me. My husband is so fabulous about making sure I at least have good, healthy snacks at school. So he’ll always make sure I have like a little canister of mixed nuts, and some healthy kind of granola bars on hand, anything that I can make sure I’m at least eating a healthy snack when I feel like I’m about to eat a chair or a paintbrush.

And of course, last but not least, and this one’s a toughie for me, is making sure to get exercise. And gosh, I think that I … When I say exercise, I always think of people doing aerobics, like step aerobics. Can you tell I’m an ’80s kid? But for me, it just means going for a walk every night with my husband. We like to go for a hike. It’s really a good idea to get outside a little bit, too. All right, so that’s like physical health. And the reason I’m bringing all of this up is because, if you are feeling unenthusiastic about the school year, and you know, deep in your heart, that you love art, and you love teaching kids, and you love being in that space, but something doesn’t feel right, then it might not be burnout. It might be something else. And that’s why I bring up something like your physical health.

Now, let’s talk about your mental health. It’s totally fine and normal to feel abnormal. Trust me, I feel abnormal on a daily basis, like totally. But what’s not fine is not doing something about it. What’s not fine is not reaching out, and asking for help, and letting people around you know that you don’t feel right. I think it’s really important to reach out to people and talk your feelings out. For the longest time, especially when I first started teaching, and I was very shy, and I didn’t have a lot of … I didn’t have anybody, in fact, at the first school that I taught at, to talk to. I felt so isolated and alone in my feelings, and I really got to that point where I felt like something was wrong with me. And I really want to stress to you that there’s never anything wrong with your feelings, especially feelings of not feeling great, or not feeling excited about teaching. It’s fine to feel that way. But it’s definitely, like I keep saying, not fine not to do something about it.

So definitely reach out to a friend. I love talking with other teachers, because if you can find somebody in your building who you’re comfortable chatting with, what you’re going to discover is that they have felt the same way. And they might have some advice to share with you, to navigate out of feeling “meh” about the school year. And of course, I know I’ve shared this with you tons of times before, I really, really think it’s super important to seek professional help. If you just can’t shake this feeling, why not? This is why we have insurance, and this is why we have therapists. And I spent many years chatting with one, and I learned a lot. And I’m really, I always want to share with people that it was such a great experience for me to do that, that I always want to tell folks that they should definitely do the same if they’re feeling at a place where they don’t feel normal; they don’t feel like themselves.

Okay. Take care of yourself physically. Take care of yourself mentally. And now, let’s talk just about getting excited again to be in your art room, because maybe you just aren’t, number one, creating. Are you creating? Are you making stuff? Even if it means you’re creating a fun meal for your family, even if it means you’re making a silly poster for your art room, even if it’s something small that you’re doing; as long as you are creating, as long as you have turned off the TV, put down your phone, and actually gotten yourself a little bit messy, even if it’s just for 30 minutes. That alone can almost beat therapy, but not quite.

I also think that when I start to feel a little bit burnt out, or a little bit unenthusiastic about being in my art room, I think to myself, “Am I teaching the subject creatively?” Because what really gets me excited about teaching is finding a really fun and unusual way to introduce the content to my students. So I’ve got puppets that have sat in my closet for a while. I’m bringing them out this year. I’ve gotten silly costumes, recently, off of Amazon that I’m using. I’m doing a lot of things that are slightly out of my comfort zone, but they get me really excited to be in front of my students and share my enthusiasm about art in a different way with them. So if you’re feeling a little burnt out, maybe just dry a couple of different methods of teaching. Do it creatively, and I think you’ll really surprise yourself and your students.

It’s also important, I think, when you’re teaching something new like that, you’re probably going to bomb. There’s going to be some times when your face, like for me, my face, I can feel it, it turns bright red. I start to dip into my usual stutter when I get nervous, and the kids are, “I’m losing them. I’m losing them.” And it’s okay. It’s okay to try something new and have it fail. And it’s okay to reflect on that, and kind of circle back, and try it again. Trying something new and trying something new often is really what works for me, and you never know. It might work for you.

These are the things that I think that, if you’re feeling, you’re looking around, and everybody’s so stoked about the year, and you’re just not, I want you to know you’re not alone. But I definitely think it’s something that you should take a moment, really reflect on, take care of yourself physically and mentally, and really stop to think about what you could do in your art room that would get you pumped and juiced again.

Tim: 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.

Now, the reason I’m telling you about it in August, here, 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, and sign up in the next day here for the low price, 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 question comes from Rebecca. She says that she has a job interview next week to teach a lesson to kindergartners for 30 to 45 minutes. “What do you suggest? Just a window into my situation, I teach kinder through fifth, art on a cart, in a huge building; 18 classes a day. Please help.” So Rebecca writes because she is looking for another job. That schedule did not sound ideal. And so she’s looking for, doing a lesson for an interview. Oh, my gosh. Can you imagine the stress? And I know many of you actually have lived that stress. Thankfully, I’ve actually only worked at two separate schools. And so I’ve really only done a couple of job interviews for teaching. And I’ve never had this experience, where they make you perform.

I often envision it, in my mind, like you’re in one of those cop movies, and you’re sitting in a fishbowl kind of room where they have the one-way mirror. And they’re watching you from the outside, behind the glass, in a room, trapped with like, let’s say 45 crazed kindergartners that they gave a bunch of Kool-Aid and brownies to right beforehand; probably some espressos as well.

So my lesson, I’m just going to share with you what I would suggest, never actually having done it; I always tell people, because I get emails like this quite a bit, to do the paper sculpture lesson. If you’ve followed me recently on my blog, then you know I kicked off my school year this year with a getting-to-know-you sculpture project. And it was paper sculptures that all of my students made, kindergarten all the way up through fourth grade. And I do this paper sculpture project with my kindergartners on their very first day in art class, and it is always a hit. Every kid is successful, and every kiddo has a fabulous time.

So this is what I would suggest folks do. It’s easier for you to actually see me demoing teaching this, as opposed to me just describing it to you. On my YouTube channel, I have a couple of videos of me teaching kindergartners the paper sculpture lesson. Or, like I said, you could pop over to my blog, where there’s a link to that video. But that is always what I strongly recommend. It only requires two art supplies; a little bit of glue, and some paper, and some paper cut into strips. Easy-peasy. Thanks for the question, Rebecca, and good luck on that job interview.

I have been sharing a lot on Instagram recently about sewing projects, because I’ve decided to kick off my school year with my students doing some sewing projects. So my third graders are actually weaving, and then we’ll be going to sewing. My fourth graders are sewing. And I’ve gotten a lot of questions, because we, most of us weren’t taught how to teach fiber arts to kids when we were in college. So I’m getting a lot of questions about that, and one question that comes up a lot is about needles. “How do you know what needles to use for what projects? I can’t seem to find needles that work and that kids are able to thread.” So let me just give you the rundown of the needles that I purchase when I am making an order, and I plan on doing fiber arts projects with my students.

I always order plastic needles if I’m weaving with my students, and my students are weaving on looms that are three inches or wider. And the needles I get are the six-inch, plastic needles that have a very large eye. The reason I purchase those needles is because my students can easily go over and under the warp with that very thin, blue needle. It’s always blue. And it’s just a lot easier for them to weave with because of that long length. So that’s one needle that I always order, but we only use those for weaving.

When it comes time for sewing, if my students are younger, like my second grade students, when we are stitching on something like burlap, that’s what I introduce sewing to my younger students with, that material, I have them stitch with something called a tapestry needle. You can get tapestry needles that are plastic, but I really like to stick, most of the time, to metal needles. It makes the kids feel like they’re handling an adult art supply. And it removes that kind of babyish, kid factor when the needles aren’t plastic. So when they are learning to sew, I buy the tapestry needles. The reason I love them is because they have a large eye. It’s easier for the students to thread, and they are also, they have a blunt tip; so when my baby sewers, so to speak, my brand new stitchers, they’re not going to be poking themselves with a needle.

When it comes time to actually sew a fabric, like a cotton, or muslin, or felt … Felt is like one of my most favorite things to use when I’m sewing with my students, especially right now. My fourth graders are making pillows. Smart-Fab is also a great fabric to sew with … I always have my students stitch with something called chenille needles; C-H-E-N-I-L-L-E. The reason I love chenille needles is because you can find them anywhere; Walmart, Joann’s, wherever. And they have a large eye, not quite as big as a tapestry needle. They have a large eye, so it’s a little bit easier for students to thread. But they have a pointed tip, not a blunt tip. So when it comes to sewing, those are my three basic needles that I always purchase, and we always use for different sewing projects.

If you have a question for me, you should ask me. You can find me at the Everyday Art Room, at the

So just keep in mind, guys, that you are not alone. It’s impossible to be super stoked, super excited, hashtag, “Living my dream,” all day long; all day, every day. There’s going to be days where your hashtag, “Living the dream,” is staying in PJs forever. Is that a job? And if it is, can I please have it? Because I would be the best, the best at staying in my PJs all stinking day. So just keep that in mind, guys. And if you feel a little bit of a “meh,” figure out how you can turn it into a, “Yeah.” See what I did there? You like that? That was like the worst joke ever. All right, y’all, make sure to drop back by next week, when I’m going to be sharing with you my favorite pairings for Cheetos; best wine pairings for Cheetos. Will it be a red? Will it be a white? Y’all have to come back next week to find out. Have a great one, 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.