The Art Teaching Secret No One Wants to Talk About (Ep. 081)


Cassie: What’s the one dirty little secret that all art teachers, all art teachers have, and yet they never want to talk about it or admit it? Give up? burnout. Every single art teacher that you see, that you meet, that you follow on social media, no matter what kind of pretty beautiful picture they want to paint has experienced burnout. I feel like because of things like social media, where we want to project let’s say, a certain image or paint a specific picture. Unfortunately, so many of us don’t share our experience with burnout. It’s that thing that nobody really wants to talk about. Because people are afraid that they might be admitting that somehow they don’t enjoy what they do. They don’t enjoy creating with kids.

You all, we all do. Some of us are in tougher teaching situations than others. So I know for some of us, it’s a lot more difficult to say I love kids and creating every single day. But no matter what your situation is, you could be teaching in the most ideal setting, with the most fabulous resources and you’re still going to experience it.

Sadly, I just feel like it’s something that teachers don’t want to talk about. But I’m here for you. In fact, I first spoke about burnout on episode nine. Basically, the first couple of episodes, I was talking about teaching art, cleaning your room, routines, and now let’s talk about burnout. Because you all, I’m all about keeping it real. I experience burnout. Sometimes multiple times in one day.

Now, I did take a slightly different angle on episode nine. If you want to hear me talk more about burnout and how to get beyond it, you might want to take a listen. Today, we’re going to take a different approach. Talk about a couple of different reasons you might be experiencing burnout and how to get past it. Even if these things that are causing you to feel burnout are things that you perceive to be beyond your control. I’m Cassie Stephens, and this is Everyday Art Room.

Allow me to do a little recap of episode nine because the approach that I’m taking today when speaking about burnout is a lot different. I want to make sure though, I go over episode nine so that I cover all my burnout bases so to speak.

When I spoke about burnout the first time, I had seven things that I really wanted you to know. The first thing is that know that it’s completely okay. It’s not going to feel okay to experience burnout. Nobody wants to have a dread when they wake up in the morning, or when they walk into their art room and they see the mountains of things that they have to do and the long list of classes that are coming and you just feel like turning on your heel and heading right back home. It doesn’t feel okay, but know that it is okay.

The reason that it’s okay is because we have all been there. It might not always appear that way on social media or when you speak to other art teachers, but trust me, we’ve all been there. If it’s something that hangs with you for a day and then goes away. You end up having a great class or a really good day, or you managed to turn the mood around, then it was just like a little feeling, a little bit of a blow off in the morning.

But if that burnout hangs around, if it follows you like a little gray cloud constantly, and you can’t shake it, and you know that it’s starting to affect your teaching, and even outside of teaching, your home life, your well-being, then my suggestion would be, like I suggest, I swear to you, every other episode of this podcast, go see a therapist. Go talk to somebody completely removed from the teaching situation, from your life situation, somebody who’s going to listen and not pass judgment.

I cannot stress how important that is enough, especially like I said, if that little cloud of burnout just keeps following you everywhere. Don’t forget to treat yourself. Go easy on yourself. Maybe you just need a little afternoon to take that shopping cart and go up and down some aisles of the local craft store and just buy a couple of things that spark your fancy. Go grab a coffee with a friend, find a way to unwind and just not think about school. Maybe that’s part of it. Maybe there’s an art show looming. There’s lesson plans that need to be done and it’s just too much, and you need to take a clean break.

Don’t forget also to go back to your passions. I noticed a lot of times when I stop creating because I’m so focused on said art shows or prepping for lessons or trying to scramble to get everything ready or making my own teacher examples, that if I am not creating something that I’m interested in, I start to feel a little bit irritated. You know how when you’re hungry and you get hangry. Well, I feel like I get that way when I’m not creating. What’s that called? I need a word for that. I’m going to come up with it.

Make sure that you, even if it’s like five minutes in the morning coffee, doodling, return to those passions. Like I said, go easy on yourself, and it’s never a bad idea to hop off social media. That’s my advice in a nutshell, cliff notes version from episode nine.

But what if the burnout that you’re experiencing are not things that you can control? What if you’re burnout is all about things like grades, portfolios, assessments, SLOs, the meetings, the team meetings, the data meetings, the additional responsibilities or duties or committees that you’ve been assigned to? Or at my school, the book clubs and not to mention lesson plans that you have to turn in every week, evaluations, all those things that are the steelers of joy from your teaching. If Marie Kondo could walk into our art teaching life that woman would be eliminating, swiping all of these things off of our plate, trash canning it.

Can you imagine how amazing teaching would be without all of those? Those little dark clouds you can’t control. They do follow you, and that does cause so much burnout. What can you do about it? How can we learn to love our jobs when it seems that the joy is literally sometimes being sucked right out of it?

Okay, so I have a couple of bits of advice I’m going to throw your way and hopefully it will help. Learn to say no. That’s my number one bit of advice. Now, a lot of these things you can’t say no to and we’ll address those in a moment. But there are things that you can start saying no to that will start to free up your time, that will start to make your step a little bit lighter and you a little bit happier and, added bonus, give you more time for yourself.

If you can start saying no to committees, to responsibilities that aren’t a requirement, but are just an added bonus, to stuff that will not benefit you and it won’t benefit your students. You and your students when you walk into that school, those are your two top priorities. If you are given a poster that a third grade teacher wants you to design or a responsibility from the PTO or any of these things, stop, think, take a deep breath, blink your eyes a little bit, apologize sincerely, and you could even start that sentence with, I have to think of my students. I have to think of them in my art room, and how much little time that I have with them. I’m so sorry, but me making this poster for you is going to make it so that I can’t prep paint for them. I can’t go home and enjoy my time with my family.

Nobody’s going to be able to argue with that. Let me tell you how I actually did this just this past week. I will tell you first of all, I am the worst sayer of no. My knee jerk reaction is to please people. I hate the look on somebody’s face when I even start to say no, because I hate to let somebody down even though the moment I say yes, I’m screaming bloody murder on the inside. Thinking you are so going to regret that Stephens. That’s just a whole bunch of time you said goodbye to.

Last week a teacher walked into my room, a teacher that I only see shockingly, when she needs something. What do you know? I knew the moment she walked in what was going to be asked of me. You all, it was two minutes before I had a class coming. I was scrambling to get out printmaking supplies for those kids. So, I’m going from table to table, to table putting ink in trays, laying out briars, making sure everything is prepped because I only have 30 minutes to see my kids.

The moment she started in, I said, “I am so sorry to interrupt you, I am prepping for a class right now. They’re about to be here. I have a feeling you’re going to ask me to help you with an evening academic night. I would be glad to be an assistant. But I will not be leading any sessions like I did last year.” Last year, you all, I did say yes. Last year, it was so much of my time zapped, and I was so frustrated about it afterward that I had said yes. So, saying no to me, even though she was obviously disappointed was such a great relief. I didn’t feel bad, I didn’t feel guilty. I just realized now I have free time. Free time that I almost in the blink of an eye said goodbye to.

You’re important, your students are important, your time is so precious. Learn also to prioritize. There are so many things that you can’t say no to. If you have to supply grades, you can’t say no to that. If you have to turn in lesson plans every week, well, that’s something you’re going to have to do. Portfolios, that’s something that happens in a district close to mine. It’s a lot of work. It’s required. I feel bad for those teachers, but it’s not something that they can wiggle out of.

If you have all of these things, responsibilities that you have to do, one way is to learn how to prioritize it. How do you prioritize? I think for me, it was really important this year to figure out my why. Why is it that I come to school every day? Why is it that I teach? Why did I choose this path? It’s crazy for me to think that I didn’t actually sit down and think about my why until the beginning of my 20th year teaching. How bananas is that? In fact, I believe there’s an entire podcast all about finding your why and then creating a work of Art.

What I did was after I came up with my why I teach, I decided to put it into kid friendly terms, paint it and hang it in my art room. I really recommend you do the very same thing. It was such a success for me that I was then approached by my admin to lead a school wide PD, to which I said yes to because this was awesome. For everybody to find, create, put it in kid friendly terms and paint their why.

I think knowing your why, hanging it in a prominent place, looking at it every single day, reading it, maybe even out loud to yourself every morning will help you prioritize all of those responsibilities that you need to do. One thing that I think will really help you if you do have all of those priorities and all of those responsibilities is to streamline your systems. Get a system for grading. Make it seamless, make it fast.

I have a girlfriend, my friend, Jen, she and I were chatting. I am mind blown that she can do Artsonia. For me, I just can’t seem to wrap my brain around it. She said to me that she has a system for it. As soon as the kids put their artwork on the drying rack at the end of the day, she takes the artwork off, snaps a picture of it, snaps a picture of stacks of classes of artwork, uploads them right away to Artsonia and it’s done. She has streamlined a system. Something that probably could have been a mountain of work to upload every single student’s artwork to Artsonia, which is a fundraising website, she’s got it down to a science.

According to her, it doesn’t take her anytime at all. Have I started the system yet? No, because I need my girl to come in and actually show me how it’s done. But if you can do that with your lesson plans, with your grades, with your SLOs, with your assessments that you have to do, with your pre-assessments. If you have a system, if you’ve got a streamlined, if you can make it fast, then I think you’ll start to be able to get things off of your plate a lot faster.

One thing that I do, which is kind of totally dorky and nerdy, but I have a little timer. Obviously, I have a timer on my phone, but I also have a little time timer. A time timer is one where it looks like an egg timer. I guess you could even use that or a little cooking timer. When you move the dial, it shows a great big red pie of the amount of time that you have left. If you set it for 15 minutes, there’s a big red 15 minute pie, and as the time takes away, the pie gets smaller. I love the visual.

Sometimes when I have a lot of things to do, and I want to focus on one particular thing and not be distracted, because I get distracted you all so easily, especially by my phone. If I set a timer and I tell myself you have 15 minutes to do this task, and you are only doing this task, not looking at your phone, not deciding suddenly you have to go do dishes because that of all things seems less daunting than what you actually have to do. But setting a timer and just powering through is pretty stinking awesome.

If you sit there with your to do list and you just draw that bright red line ticking things off your list, you’ll be amazed how great it feels and how much time you’ll save. I recently heard a quote from Cher of all people and I think I’ve shared it … Sorry, said that word twice,. I believe I’ve talked about it here before. I’ve shared Cher’s quote before, it’s what I’m trying to say. If it doesn’t matter in five years, it does not matter.

In five years, the fact that you said no to help out with an academic night, is that really going to matter? Or are you going to remember what you did with that time instead? For me, that meant I had more time to spend in my sewing room? Am I going to remember that dress that I made, or am I going to remember saying no, and potentially upsetting somebody for a couple minutes until they got over it, found somebody else to say yes?

If you put it in that perspective, I think so many things about life are all about your perspective. I heard that on Dr. Phil once. I don’t get a lot out of Dr. Phil. But I will say when I heard him speaking about perspective is everything. Sometimes taking a step back, thinking about it in the big picture, is this really going to matter that I didn’t agree to be on a committee, that I typed up lesson plans that look really similar to last week’s lesson plans. Is that really going to be a problem? Or are you going to remember where you actually spent your time?

I think that time that you spent with your students, enjoying your life, making the most out of being in your art room, honing your very specific teaching style and using your passions to teach your kids, that’s where it’s really going to matter. That is what’s going to get you out of burnout.

It’s so tough to see the big picture when you have so many of those dark clouds hiding the big picture. You need to learn to push them out of the way. What’s going to work best for you to get those things that are keeping you from enjoying your job? What is going to make it so that you can get rid of all those obstacles and really get back to what brought you to teaching in the first place? Your love for kids and your love for creating. Don’t spend so much time worrying about the little stuff. Focus on that big picture. Like I said, if it’s not these responsibilities that are causing you burnout, but it’s something more that you’re battling with on the inside, then go listen to episode nine.

Trust Mama Cass when she says, a therapist … I’m just going to say it again. Your mental health you all it’s so important. Take care of yourself. I think in doing so, in loving yourself, you’ll be able to better get back to what it is that you truly love. Thanks guys for letting me talk about burnout once again. Just know that if you’re ever got those dark clouds that your sister here has them to, we all do. It would really benefit us all more if we spoke about it a lot more.

Tim: Hello, this is Tim Bogatz from our Art Ed Radio. Thank you as always for listening to Everyday Art Room. Now, Cassie is talking about a lot of great things today having to do with burnout. She has some great suggestions. If you want to dive even deeper into some of those suggestions, we actually have an entire Art Ed Pro learning pack that is all about curbing art teacher burnout.

In this pack, you can discover steps in your teens to keep yourself feeling energized throughout the school year. We talk about strategies for expediting your grading and cutting down that to do list and being efficient with your prepping, and with flipping classroom content. You can find great ways to connect with students and staff members and help you on the personal level.

Finally, there is information about investing in yourself with goal setting and learning to say no when things get to be too much. A lot of the things that Cassie has said today. If you want to learn even more about that, check out Art ED Pro at the

Cassie: Let’s take a little dip into the mailbag, shall we? This first question came to me from Instagram, and it’s from an art teacher who’s struggling because she works in a school where they pretty much are expecting her to run her classes very quietly. She says, “I feel so inhibited. I think moderation with talking is key. Art should be fun. I teach a school that frowns on any kids talking during class. How do you feel about that?”

Well, how I feel about it it’s kind of irrelevant, because it’s not my art room. I think that how you run your art room should be up to you. As long as those kids are safe, as long as they are engaged and they’re creating and they are enjoying themselves, I don’t see anything wrong with kids talking. I think that a lot of teachers, we’re all different. I have days where I’ve got music playing, the kids are chatting and for me, as long as they’re just still focused. If we’re just talking about Fortnite and making fart noises. Well, then we’re going to switch to quiet working art class. But if we’re focused and we’re … Sometimes we’re just rocking out, and it doesn’t bother me. And then I have days when I don’t want to hear a lot of chatting, I want to see a lot of focused work, especially for doing something that does require more focus.

For me, it just varies class to class, grade to grade, project to project. For you, your art room is your domain. I feel as though you should be able to have a stronger say than your admin in the noise level of your room. That being said, they are your admin. So, what I would suggest would be for you to invite them to sit down, not to evaluate, but just to observe, hang out, enjoy the class. Encourage them to walk around and listen to what the kids are talking about, and talk to the kids, ask the questions. “What are you making? What are you guys chatting about? Please tell me it’s not Fortnite or farts.”

Then afterward, ask if you can have a sit down with your admin and say, “Look, I don’t know if you noticed, but the kids enjoy speaking while they create. I don’t mind this because they are chatting about creating, they’re chatting about their art, they’re exploring materials and they’re excited.” And then listen to what your admin has to say.

Why is it that they’re expecting the kids to be quiet? What is the benefit do they see in that? Like I said, it’s different from teacher to teacher. Perhaps when your admin long ago was a teacher, they ran one of those really quiet kind of unfun classrooms. Not that a quiet classroom is unfun, I’m just saying it sounds a little bit like that.  Thank you so much for your question. That’s awesome. I really think inviting that admin is key.

My next question is all about cleanup, Lord help us all, how do you do clean up? I want to know exactly how you do it with each class. Exactly. Well, I do have an entire podcast all about cleanup. I believe that was one of the earlier podcasts as well. But in a nutshell, having a system, having a routine, that is key. I have three main parts to my cleanup, and I love to use my time timer, because then that big visual that I mentioned before, where the kids can see, okay, we’re closing in, all right. A lot of my kids, they’ll see we’ve got five minutes left is usually when I’m about to announce clean up. Some of them if they’re finished, they’ll start cleaning up especially because I have three big incentives for kids to clean up and to do a good job cleaning up.

One of my incentives is, is I pick a kid to play what we call the cleanup drums. We also have a cleanup gong. And then I have a table caller, where my kids get to use a microphone. My mom just bought me this blue light that a police officer would have on the top of this car, like a blue light special kind of light. Now, that’s going to be another new job. So, there’s going to be this little blue siren light that I’m going to turn on. This will also help my deaf ED students too.

A couple minutes before, I pick those kids, I’ll say, “I’m about to pick my three friends to be the drummer, the gonger and the table caller. I’m not looking for people that asked me because if you ask me, the answer’s no. I’m just looking for people who are already starting to clean up.” Suddenly my kids start hustling. My cleanup routine is this. If we’re making something that’s wet like a collage or painting. Paintings go on the drying rack. Paint brushes go in what I call the hot tub, which is just a big coffee can filled with water that the kids through the brushes in. And then if I have baby wipes, they can get one only. They’re to clean their hands and their table and if added bonus, they can clean their chairs because how does paint end up there, I don’t know, but there is.

And then when they’re all finished cleaned up, and I’m not just talking their area, their entire table, even if it means they’re helping friends. They are to stand behind their chair with a zero up. Meaning they make a little O with their hand and they put it above their head. That’s our school signal for silence.

What I do is I look for those kids who I see who are cleaning up calmly, quickly, quietly, and I’ll pick those three kids. One will go play the drums, one will play the gong, and then lastly, I pick the table caller. I picked that one last because it’s the job that everybody wants.

When the kids hear the drums and the gong. If they didn’t pick up that it was clean up time based on their friends moving around and putting things away, then they for sure know. And then once all my students are standing behind, the pushed in chair with a zero up, I will hand one of my students the microphone. My student who gets the microphone, they know how to turn it on. They’ll step up on one of my step stools so they have a nice high view of the entire room and they say, “Drum roll please.” The kids tap on the back of their chair until the table caller makes a horizontal swipe with their hand, and then they start calling the quietest tables in the room.

I stand next to the table caller and I’ll say “Oh, hold on. Look at orange table, they still have paint brushes out.” And then orange table will scramble to put their paint brushes away. “Oh, wait. We’ve got yellow table. I see scraps of paper on the floor.” They’ll manage to pick all that up.

I’m standing there watching making sure the tables look great. Table caller calls them. My students know that if they run to line up or if they talk once they’re in line, their table will be disqualified and sent back. That’s how I run my cleanup. Does it work perfectly? No. There’s many a days when I forget to set my time timer, I look up and we’re late and I can hear my next class outside my door. In which case we just line up and go, “Hey, next class walking in. Guess what chicken butts, you all get to clean up after the last class. Sorry about it. Let’s get started.”

Having those systems and incentives, free incentives at that. Having drums, that wasn’t free, but just having a couple of chimes, sounds, lights, alerts, getting that microphone. I’m not handing out candy, I’m not passing out stickers, I don’t have to give out erasers, I don’t have to tally mark things to see … You know what I mean? All those things that I’d never be able to keep up with in 30 minutes. This is the system that works for me.

If you have any questions for me, send them our way. You can find me at

Here’s when I experience burnout, which is why I’m talking about it right now. This month, the month of February. It’s that long spend because we don’t have a winter break, I don’t even know what a winter break is. I keep seeing on Instagram these other art teachers who are like out in Florida or out skiing and #winterbreak. Where do I get me one of them? I don’t know, I don’t have one of these things. But I sure wish I did because it’s that long distance from Christmas break or what we call winter break, the holiday break to spring break. That is the longest. Usually, even in Tennessee, we’ll have a couple of snow days thrown our way, which is a glorious surprise. But this year, the temperatures … The other day it was 70 degrees. That’s bananas even for us down south.

You know your girl has been dragging her feet to school lately, seriously. It’s been real rough. By the time I get there, I’m good. Mostly because I’m scrambling to get everything done in time. But I’m not going to lie, its been a little difficult. The other day we had, well, rain day. You all, we’ve never had a rain day before, but it has raised a lot. I’m not going to downplay it. We’ve had like bad bad floods. But a rainy day, even if it’s a rainy day, I’ll take it. You know what, it was a three day weekend and I’m not feeling too shabby about going back tomorrow.

Just know your girl here, I’ve been to burnout town many a times. I’m there for you. Have a great week you guys, and just say no to all those committees, posters, responsibilities and afternoon duties. You’ll thank me later.



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