The Summer Mailbag is Here! (Ep. 096)

Today, Cassie devotes the entire episode to answering listener and reader questions from Facebook, Instagram, email, and other social media. Take a listen as she talks about classroom expectations and reward systems, how we can teach everything we want, and how to get ready to take on a new art room.  Full episode transcript below.

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Cassie: We have this running joke at my school, me and my administration, and my specials team. I think it’s a joke, and I think it’s quite hilarious. I’m almost positive that nobody else does, but I don’t really check my email. And to say I don’t really is actually a stretch, I just don’t check my school email. It’s just, when email first came on the scene … and for some of you that are listening, there was actually a time before there was email. When it first came out, man, I was all about it. We’re talking like, what? ’90s, mid ’90s. I mean, it was amazing. You could instant message people, and bam, reach them right away. Now, it’s just way too much access, and I used to have the little dinger thing on my school email on, and the thing was constantly making a racket. I finally turned the dinger off, and then I finally just stopped checking the thing. I have found that ignorance is bliss. You don’t even know how many faculty meetings, and other kind of stuff you can get out of if you just stop checking that email.

Okay, this is probably the world’s worst advice to you. But I actually am getting somewhere with this. I have been checking my email lately, just because I actually have time on my hands to do it. And I am amazed at how many emails I’ve been getting from you guys. You guys have been messaging me all sorts of questions about school. Aren’t you people on summer vacation? You are a dedicated lot, let me just tell you that because so many of these questions are about teaching art, and thinking forward to the next school year. I thought I would take the time to dip into the mailbag an entire episode. I’ve done a couple of these podcast episodes, and I have to say they are my favorite. It’s like a Dear Abby, but Abby, that being me, it’s not the world’s most helpful. But gosh, golly, I try. So let’s talk today. Let’s talk about some of your questions, and I’ll attempt to answer them. I’m Cassie Stevens, and this is Everyday Art Room. All right, let’s dive right into this mailbag.

This first question comes from Ruth. Now Ruth has, she’s going to spend a little time explaining her situation, so I’m going to read that to you. It’s a very interesting dilemma that she’s in. I have found myself in this pickle before, and I bet a lot of you deal with this as well. So here’s Ruth. She says, “I wonder if you ever experienced the conflict that I do …” detailed below, “Because I bet your students are super engaged, and don’t need any other motivators.” Oh, Ruth. Let’s be honest, kids always need a little bit of a motivator. But let’s get to your dilemma. “I would love to know …” she says, “… how you motivate students to stay on task with their projects and clean up on time? I started a new teaching job last year, and the other art teacher that I share the room with established a decade long system of rewarding table points based on how well those tables behaved and cleaned up. Before that, …” she said, “… it was so difficult getting students to clean up on time, which is a problem when you have back to back classes.”

Oh Ruth, tell me about it. She says, “I completely understand her dilemma, but it meant that every month, both of us had to go out and purchase Dollar Tree items and candy, and stock the “prize table.” It also meant that inevitably, there were students who left the art room gloomy because their table didn’t get a prize. How sad to leave the art room that way? The other downfall is that I have to keep track of tallying the points for every class when I secretly find it to be a waste of time. I’d rather see students just have fun and follow directions because that is what they’re expected to do, as opposed to listening just to get points and a prize.” She goes on to say that she doesn’t believe in this kind of sense of expectation and entitlement. She says, “They’re so used to getting a prize every week. I did not have to bribe with prizes at my other schools, but it just seems to be a part of the culture at this school.” Well, Ruth, I think you already know your answer.

You already firmly believe that your students should be intrinsically motivated. I mean, you teach the best class in the whole school. And if they don’t feel that way, then maybe instead of going out and getting them things, you need to pump up your personal cheerleader vibe. Be excited, and I’m sure you are. Present the lesson in a fun way. Creating is the prize in itself. Working with clay, learning to weave, getting dirty and messy, doing all the things that they don’t get to do any other time of the week, except when they walk through your door, that should be the prize alone. Ideally. I mean, right? This is your room, granted. You do share it with another art teacher, but it doesn’t mean that you have to do things the same way. I would, to start the brand new school year, have a serious sit down with this other art teacher who you share a room with. Just because you share a room doesn’t mean you have to do things the same, and I would just let her know that, “Look, this system, it isn’t working for me.”

And all of the things that you just wrote in this email, this is what you need to spell out to her. If it’s not working for you, then it’s time to try something new. I think you were a great sport. It was your new school, you were doing it her way. It was working for her, so why not? I think that that was a really great thing for you to do because now you can come to her and say, “Look, we did it this way. I would like to try something a little different.” As opposed to just coming in, and carpetbagging the whole situation. You tried it out, and now you want to try something else and I don’t think that you should feel bad at all about that presenting that to her. You know, successful adults are intrinsically motivated. But children are not. Kids are not naturally motivated to just clean, or do artwork in a extremely neat way and always follow directions. They’re just not always … some of them are, but most of them just aren’t intrinsically motivated. That’s something that has to be taught.

I don’t believe … and this is just me, that you can teach somebody to be intrinsically motivated if you’re always just waving a little carrot, or Snickers bar, or whatever in front of them. You need to teach them to want to push themselves, and by constantly rewarding them for behaviors that should be, like you’re saying, expected of them isn’t going to help. Our job as teachers is to make sure that we are helping these small humans become amazing big humans and being what I call a “dolphin trainer” by rewarding them for things that they should already be doing isn’t going to get them there. So, Ruth, you know your answer and I am right there with you. Me personally, I agree with you. I tried actually at the beginning of this school year, I tried to do … and I’ve spoken about it on this podcast, table clips, and keeping up with table points, and behavior, yada, yada yada. Y’all it lasted … I don’t even think I lasted a week. The kids would remind me about it, and I was like, “Guys, we have …” I have 30 minute art classes.

Next year, I’m going to have 30 minute art classes with all of my classes, kindergarten through fourth grade. I ain’t got no time to be keeping up with table points and kids going over to get prizes and passing out stickers. No. The prize is, “You’re hanging out with me, and you’re hanging out in this magical room, and we’re going to do some awesome stuff. And you’re going to clean up after yourself because you’re a good citizen, and you’re going to learn how to become an awesome human doing these things.” So, Ruth, you do you and it’s okay if you even are met with some resistance from your cooperating teacher. Trust me, I’ve been in that kind of situation. It’s all right. In the end, the only person you have to answer to at the end of the day is yourself. If you feel really good about what you did in art class with your kids, regardless if you upset another adult, or whatever. If you feel really good, then that is in the end all that matters.

This next question comes from Angeline, she says, “Hi, my name is Angeline.” Hey there, Angeline. “And this will be my second year teaching art. I’m one of-

This will be my second year teaching art. I’m one of your followers. I teach kindergarten through fifth grade art, and I want to expose my classes to different artists, styles, and mediums. Any suggestions?

This, to me, when I first read this, I thought, “Wow, this question is so broad. Angeline, what are you talking about? I need more information.” But I think I get it, because I’ve talked about this topic before too. How do we teach it all? There is so much to teach. Just like Angeline is saying, different artists, art history, styles, all the different mediums, vocabulary, assessments, grades. How do we cram all of this in?

Like I said, for me, 30-minute art classes, and if you even look at it over the course of the year… One time I did that. I made the mistake, I don’t recommend you do this, of tallying up how many hours I would have with my students. I don’t know, it was something ridiculous like 12 hours or something dumb like that. I was like, “How am I supposed to teach all the things I want to teach in that short amount of time?”

First of all, take a deep breath and just know you’re going to try your best. You’re going to work really hard to make that happen, but in the end there is no way that you can possibly teach it all. I’m going to share with you a couple of tips, some suggestions, but I think the overarching theme is to make sure that at the end of the year, when all is said and done, your students know that you love them, you love them as an artist, you love them in your art room, you love spending time with them, because in the end, that’s important.

I also think it’s important for them to know that creativity can take on many different shapes and sizes. It doesn’t mean that you’re really good just at drawing, but that creativity and being in art class means that you are exploring, like you’re saying, all the different mediums, and that it isn’t just something that fits into a box. Do you understand what I mean?

Those are the things that I really want my kids, when they leave me, when they leave my school, I want them to know how much I value them, how much I have loved teaching them, and I want them to know that they are creative. They might not be able to “I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler,” whatever. You can actually be creative, and it doesn’t have to look a certain way.

When you get to the end of the school year and you’re beating yourself up because “Oh, I forgot to teach cave art,” or “I ran out of time to teach contemporary artists,” think about what you instilled in them. Perhaps that love for creating and for art will inspire them to go on and pursue art later in their life, where they will learn all of the things that you didn’t have the chance to teach in that extremely limited amount of time that you have.

But here are my suggestions. I have, like I said, 30-minute art classes, so the minute my kids walk in the door, I greet them, “Hello, my most amazing artists.” They respond, “Hello, my most amazing art teacher.” One of the reasons I do this is so that they know that they are artists. I’m addressing them as such.

The next thing, after they all come in and sit on the floor, I introduce them to a word of the week. It’s usually an element of art or just anything that we’re going to really be touching on in that particular art class. It might be the word horizontal or line or shape for first grade, but when fourth grade comes in, the word might be landscape. It just depends on what the lesson is focusing on and one particular word I really want to drill into them in that particular art class.

If I say, “Guys, our word for the day is landscape,” they know that when I say something is our word for the day, they go, “Woop, woop.” If I say, “Landscape, woop, woop,” you say, “Landscape, woop, woop.” You already know what to do. I literally say that same routine every time. “Who can tell me what does the word landscape, woop, woop, mean?” Then we talk about it. Every single art class, we are learning a new word. Instead of just like, “This is what a landscape is. Let’s talk about it. Let’s look at some pictures,” if you are actually having them interact with you, it adds another dimension to it and it locks more vocabulary into the brain.

Something else I started doing over the last couple years is that I do something called a hot minute of history, where I will, regardless of what the lesson is, introduce them to a one-minute little clip or video that I’ve made of art history. Sometimes it’s just a Prezi that I’ve created that I go through pretty quickly. Other times, I’ve drawn things on Procreate, where I will draw… I was drawing things about ancient Egypt. And after I drew it, when you draw on Procreate, it records what you’re drawing. I then did a voiceover on top of it and just did a really, really quick, abbreviated bit about ancient Egypt. It was just enough to touch on it, but at least I was throwing a little bit of art history at them. I was doing that every other art class.

Another thing that I like to do is introduce a contemporary artist as well. I try to tie in contemporary and master artists every time we’re introducing a new lesson. One way to help kids learn the names of artists is, when I introduce an artist, I’ll say, “Today we’re going to learn about Vincent van Gogh. I’ll say Vincent; you say van Gogh.” “Vincent,” and they say, “Van Gogh.” Anytime I’m talking about the artist, I will say, “And then Vincent…” I pause like that, and they all say, “Van Gogh.”

Anytime you can get the kids to interact with you, it’s going to help. Of course, I’m big on the call and response. If you are going to be introducing a lesson, when you’re done giving directions, have the kids repeat after you. One of the reasons that you might want to do this is it’ll help them retain information, it will help them remember the directions, and it will build up that vocabulary, added bonus that, yes, all kids are going to really love that because it gives them a chance to practice their English.

As far as mediums goes, the biggest thing I can say is when I’m thinking of projects in my room, I think to myself, “What can my kids do in my room that they won’t be able to do anywhere else?” Anywhere else in the school, they can draw a picture. Anywhere else in school, they can use markers. Anywhere else in school, they can use pencils. I don’t do a lot of those kind of projects in my room. They can’t anywhere else in the school use clay. There’s not a lot of times when they’re going to learn how to sew or weave. That’s why in my room we try to dig a little deeper, especially when, like I said, it’s just a matter of hours that they have with you over the course of a school year.

I really hope that helps you, Angeline. It is something that each and every art teacher struggles with.

This next question comes from Mrs. Mosher. She says, “I am thankful that I have found your blog.” Well, I am too. She lives right here in Tennessee. She should come visit sometime. She’s going to be a brand-new art teacher this fall. She says, “I’ve taught fifth grade for 14 years, and I love art and have always found ways to incorporate art into my classroom. I will have the opportunity to set up a new pre-K through fifth grade art room. Any suggestions would be much appreciated.”

I am happy to help. I know a lot of you are probably stepping into a new classroom for the first time, your brand-new art room, whether you’re going to be a first-year art teacher or even just somebody who’s changing schools or kind of changing careers from classroom to art room. Here is my little list. It’s a list of five things that I would recommend you do if you’re walking into your brand-new space.

First things first, you’re going to want to take inventory. Open every single cabinet, open every drawer, open all the closets, and get everything out. Yes, it is going to take forever and, yes, you are going to make an epically massive mess, but it will help you so much later on down the road to get everything out and take inventory. See what you have.

When you’re taking everything out, here’s how I would do it. I would get all of the books, set them all on one table. You might even want to divide them into two categories, kids’ books and teaching-

… two categories; kids books and teaching books. As far as supplies goes, any two-dimensional materials for drawing; pencils, color pencils, oil pastels, markers, chalk pastels, I would put all of those kind of things on maybe one or two tables. Organize them out because if somebody were right now to go into my room and start pulling things out, what they would find is I have oil pastels in like five different locations in my room. It’s a mess. It’s unorganized, but… So, if you were coming into my room, you would definitely want to pull everything out and get it all kind of situated in one spot, so you can take inventory and know what you have. This all coming from the person who just told you she has oil pastels all of the room. Whatever. Do as I say, not as I do.

The other thing I would start to lay out and organize, printmaking supplies, clay supplies. Just see what you have. Make a list what you have and how much. The second thing I would do is then find out what is your budget. Once you’ve discovered what your budget is, it’ll give you a really good idea of what you are missing. Look at your inventory list, get your great big 5,000 page art supply catalog. Think about what is it that I need. Now, if you’re a brand new elementary art teacher, you’re probably thinking, “Stevens, I don’t even know what I mean. That’s the question.” I have a couple of podcast episodes, Two I believe, that are all about art supplies and the ones that I strongly recommend, and I even prioritized it so you know what to order when you have a budget that’s big and glorious and what to order if you have a budget like everybody, which is nothing to write home about. There’s also a couple of videos on my YouTube channel and a couple of blog posts about what to order as far as supplies goes.

Once you know your budget, like I said, prioritize your list. Put at the top of the list the things that you definitely need in your art room; oil pastels, chalk, tempera paint, watercolor paint. Those are the staples. And then as you go further down your list and you’re flipping through that catalog, you might want to add your dream items like, for me, neon oil pastels, fluorescent tempera cakes, the things that aren’t a necessity but they’re something that you would love to share with your students in your art room.

Once you’ve got your inventory taken, your budget laid out, and you’ve gotten your order placed, then it’s time to start organizing those supplies. When I think about how I organize supplies in my room, I divide it into three categories; supplies that I want my students to have daily access to, supplies that I want my students to be able to go and get but doesn’t have to be on the table every single day. For example, paint brushes are always available at this little spot that I call the store. It’s a long table where I lay things out cafeteria-style that my students can go grab as needed. And then supplies that you only pull out during special projects. For example, printmaking supplies stay in my cabinet unless we are getting ready to do printmaking.

So, once you’ve got all the supplies laid out, look at them and think, “Okay, do I want markers always on the table for my kids to access or do I want them maybe put on a shelf where they can go get it as needed?” In my room, I have a little caddy and I only keep three things in it that I know my kids are probably going to use every art class; scissors, pencils, erasers, and that’s it. Anything else is either available on a shelf for them to go and get, available at that “store,” or is put away for special occasions.

Now that your room is all cleared and everything’s organized, the next thing I would do is start to think about the traffic flow. Walk in your door as if you were your student. Are your students going to go sit on the floor like mine do and listen to directions and then leave the floor, go shopping at the “store” to gather supplies and then go to their tables and work? Then how are they cleaning up? Is there a certain flow to the drying rack? Are trash cans in a certain place so kids can easily find them and not asking you 25,000 times, “Hey, what’s the trash can?” Side note, you can have that trash can in the same place for three-million years and they’re still going to ask you where the trash can is. But thinking about that flow, the movement so that kids aren’t bumping into each other, so things make sense for them and for you is really going to help you establish routines on those first couple of days in your art room.

At the bottom of the list is going to be the thing that you’re going to want to start with. Don’t do it. It comes last, and that’s decorating, and when it comes to decorating your room, I would strongly recommend you decorate to educate, meaning you’re going to hang things up in your room that aren’t just cute but can actually help teach your students; a color wheel, a line chart, vocabulary words, those kind of things. So, those are my suggestions on setting up for a brand spanking new art room. Congratulations to you. I’m so excited for you. What a fun jump. 14 years in fifth grade to arts. Yes.

Tim: Hello. This is Tim Bogatz from Art Ed Radio. I want to talk to you today about the Art of Education University’s graduate courses. If you’re looking for credits or professional development hours or maybe you’re even considering working on a master’s degree, you can check out courses from the Art of Education University. We have over 20 online courses, which includes eight hands-on studio courses designed to help art teachers at every stage of their professional career. Whether you’re looking at curriculum, classroom management, technology, or want to make your own art and want to check out the studio courses, we have what you need. You can see what’s available, what interests you, and what you may want to sign up for at the New sections are starting July 1st, and you can enroll anytime in the next two weeks to get into those July courses.

Now, let’s go ahead and turn it back over to Cassie as she finishes up the show.

Cassie: So, I literally thought I could get through five mailbag questions, but I only got through three. Those questions were epically amazing and I’m hoping that they possibly struck a chord with you and maybe could be a little bit more helpful to you and your art tearchering world too. I know it’s summer, so if you’re like me, you have this habit of just totally switching the switch off, turning the art teachering brain off and going into vacation mode. And you should, but you might want to keep a little light on just to keep the ideas flowing.

So, hopefully if you’re listening to this podcast, even if you are in summertime land, you’re still thinking a little bit about school, and I think that that’s important. I think I talked about this just last week, actually. I think that that’s important because then when you go back to school, you’re going to be excited. You’ll be refreshed. It won’t be like that dreaded Sunday night syndrome. So, thinking about the new school year that’s coming up, thinking about what didn’t work and asking questions and working out a new solution is… Summertime is the best time for that because your brain isn’t panicking yet. You know you’ve got time to figure it all out.

So, if you guys have questions for me, feel free to send them my way. I will possibly check my email… No, I will. I will. As long as it’s not coming from my administration or anybody from my school, I will check it. I’m pretty sure they don’t listen to this podcast. Anyway, I hope you guys have an amazing week. And any of you lovely, delightful, poor friends are still art teachering your tail off, my hat is off to you. Summer is just around the corner.

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.