To Each Their Own (Ep. 034)

Each and every one of us has a different style of teaching. And no matter the pedagogy, we need to support each other as art teachers. In this episode, Cassie unpacks DBAE and talks about what it means for her teaching (6:00), why we need to support each other as teachers (10:00), and the best ways to share what is working in our art room (13:15). Full episode transcript below.


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Now, as most of you all art teacher types know, the NAEA 2018 Convention just kind of came to a close, and I’m still feeling a little bit of a convention hangover. I’m still kind of tired, exhausted, excited, overwhelmed, all the things, all the feels. However, if you were there, you know what it’s like.

I’m not going to talk about it, because you know it was super duper awesome and amazing, and if you weren’t there, then I really don’t want to talk about it because I know all of us who were there have been sharing it like mad on social media land. There’s nothing like seeing something like that when you aren’t there, so I will spare you the deets.

However, I did want to share with you a little story of something that happened to me right as I first got to the convention. I’m going into the convention hall to see the amazing Nick Cave and hear him be interviewed and speak about his work, and as I was getting off the escalator, at the top of the escalator, there were a group of lovely ladies and they were passing something out, pins, buttons, not sure what, but one of them said, “Excuse me, are you a choice-based teacher?”

Well, I’m in a hurry, and I’m also not a choice-based teacher, so I quickly said, “No, I’m not. Sorry.” The reply was, “Well, you should be.” That really stuck with me, that, “You should be,” said in that tone, possibly not meant that way, but it really kind of came across that way. It resonated with me.

Here’s why. I don’t think any of us as teachers should be telling other art teachers what they should be doing in their art rooms. I’m a big believer in the saying, “To each his own,” and we all got our own. We all have our own weird schedule. With me, it’s 30 minute art classes for my littles, and an hour with doubled up classes with my biggins, and it just rubbed me the wrong way.

I’ve been asked a lot about my thoughts on choice-based and TAB, and I’m not an expert on any of these, so I’m going to speak from my heart and I’m going to speak very honestly, but I’m also wanting you to know that I am not the authority by any stretch on instruction in the art room, let alone choice-based, TAB, or how I was raised, DABE … What is that? DBA. Yes, that’s the one. That’s me. Anyway, let’s talk about it, shall we? This is Cassie Stephens, and this is Everyday Art Room.

Okay, so let’s back up a little bit. Let’s go all the way back to 1998 when this gal graduated from college, Indiana University to be exact, go Hoosiers. I was raised up in my edumacatin’ world on discipline-based art education. That would be DBAE. I just happened to pull up the Wikipedia definition of DBAE, and the reason I had to look it up is because y’all, I was not a good college student.

Those of you who are pre-service kids out there, you might want to put your earmuffs on and not listen to anything I’m about to say, because it’s more of a, “Do as I say, not as I do,” type situation. If you’ve listened to a previous podcast of mine where I chatted about the biggest lie I learned in college, then you know that I was kind of a double major. I was getting my painting degree. I have a BFA in painting, which I don’t ever use, and I also was getting an art ed degree rather reluctantly.

That was my parents’ idea. They were kind enough to pay for my education, thanks mom and dad, but they had one stipulation. “Cassandra Lane.” I know I’m in trouble when they call me Cassandra Lane. “Cassandra Lane, if you want this painting degree, then you’re also going to need to get this art education degree, because we want you to have a JOB when you graduate from college.”

Now, y’all, I had no intention of being an art teacher. I was going to be a painter, a famous one, in New York City, but yet here I am, and podcasting as if I’m some sort of authority or have any sort of knowledge on what it is that we all do every day. I don’t. I’m just trying to figure it out like y’all.

That being said, when I was in school, my professor was the amazing Enid Zimmerman. That’s right. I went to IU. She is the art ed guru. When she was teaching, we learned all about discipline-based art education, but because I didn’t pay close attention, I actually had to look up the Wikipedia definition of DBAE.

If you’re not familiar, because I’m not quite sure if this is actually still taught in the art ed world, having been out of college since 1998, let me just share with you the definition. DBAE supports a diminished emphasis on studio instruction, and instead promotes education across four disciplines within the arts: aesthetics, art criticism, art history, and art production.

Now, reading that, I want to unpack it for just a hot minute. I feel like when it says, “A diminished emphasis on studio instruction,” to me and my mind, that means less of a, “Do as I do,” and it sounds like it’s more of the emphasis is on learning the four main As: aesthetics, art criticism, art history, and art production.

When I was in school and we had to write lesson plans, what are those? We always had to make sure that we hit on those four things, and so almost every lesson was based on either a famous artist or his masterpiece. The kiddos would learn about that work of art or artist and or, and then a lot of times, the lesson would be either inspired by that artist, which could look a variety of ways. It could look like, “Oh, we’re going to learn about Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night and then we are going to recreate it on our own,” or, when I was in school creating lessons, it could be like, “You’re going to learn about Vincent Van Gogh and you’re going to learn about lines and then you’re going to unpack that and see where that idea of Vincent Van Gogh’s lines takes you on your own.” It could be really wide open, or it could also be very, very narrow. When we were writing lessons in school and sharing those lessons, all of those kind of things were accepted.

Now, I, like I said, am not any sort of authority on TAB, which is Teaching for Artistic Behavior, and I’m definitely not an authority on choice-based, because y’all just heard how I was raised and how I have been probably kind of basing all of my teaching on for the last 18 years.

Over the last, I don’t know how long, maybe seven years, maybe even longer, I feel like I first found out about TAB when I first came to my most current school, so perhaps about 12 years ago, I heard about Teaching for Artistic Behavior. I’m going to read to you the definition from their website. It says, “Teaching for Artistic Behavior, or TAB, is a nationally recognized choice-based art education approach to teaching art. Choice-based art education supports multiple modes of learning and assessment for the diverse needs of students.”

For me, that definition is very vague. It doesn’t I don’t feel like paint the kind of picture that I believe that TAB might want you to actually see. I think if I were going to describe it, and I hope I’m not going to make anybody mad, in a TAB classroom, you would find it more like an open concept art studio where there are lots of varieties of media for the kids to go and explore. There might be a fibers center, a drawing center, a sewing center, a sculpture center, a clay center, you name it, printmaking.

If there is a media out there, then in the ideal setting of a TAB classroom, that would be set up like a center. The kids would get a little bit of instruction on the front end of class, perhaps being introduced to one of the new centers or a new technique, and then throughout the rest of the class period, they would be allowed to go explore and create in those centers.

That is my version of a TAB. If I have somehow messed that up or made it unclear or if you all choice-based friends out there would like to throw your two cents in, please feel free to do so in the comments, or feel free to drop me an email.

Let’s go back to my little incident at the top of the escalator, where those ladies, who were being sweet and kind passing out buttons, pins, what have you, made me feel the way I did because of that, “You should be.” Y’all, part of that might be me, because I know that I lean a little bit more heavier towards the structured art room, and that’s how I have taught for many years, and it’s what’s worked for me, especially with my crazy schedule.

However, part of it, if I’m being honest with myself, part of it was I heard that because that’s kind of how I feel. I feel like maybe I should be trying a little harder, trying something new. However, I will also say this, if I’m being honest. This is not the first time I’ve been led to believe by the choice-based friends that they’ve hit gold and they have the only way of teaching art, and if you’re not doing it this way, then you’re doing it all wrong and you’re causing damage to children.

I feel as though a lot of that tone often comes out of that camp, and for me, that’s very off-putting. Part of the reason I have, me personally, I have not kind of explored TAB as much as I have is because of that kind of feeling, that kind of condescending notion that I feel from that camp. Possibly, like I said, it’s just me, but it might not be.

Let’s go back to how I personally believe we as art teachers should be leading our children into the wonderful wild world of art education. I’m going to go back to my saying, “To each his own.” When I was at NAEA this past week, I met so many amazing teachers, and I met so many amazing young teachers. The thing I kept hearing from them over and over again was how overwhelmed they are, how every visual they have to create because it’s all brand new, every lesson they have to craft, videos if they’re on the video train, they are frazzled and at the end of their rope, and then to throw one more thing into the mix, are you actually doing this right? Then, they’re stressed on that. Should I be trying this other way of teaching? Am I doing this right? Is the way that I’m approaching teaching actually a disservice to my students?

Y’all, I just hugged those sweet teachers so hard, and I just want to tell them, “It’s okay. Take a deep breath.” I feel as though we need to maybe be a little bit more understanding and kind to one another when we share things that have worked well in our art room, because simply because the shoe fits you doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to fit everyone else. I don’t think we should make people feel badly if that shoe doesn’t fit them.

I think with that in mind, if we can all just embrace each different way that we teach and kind of open our mind to it, I think we will learn so much. What I think we are going to find is that there isn’t just one one size fits all. There isn’t just one shoe for us to all slide our foot into. It looks different for all of us and for all of our communities and for all of our schedules and situations, and we should celebrate that and take away as much as we can from each person’s successes.

That’s one of the beauties for me about being on something like Instagram. I daily learn so much from all kinds of art teachers and teachers. Now I follow a ton of gen ed teachers. I have learned so much, and the way to do that is to keep a really open mind, and that’s it. I feel as though that is the best approach for us to teach our students.

For me, this year, I have been letting go of that notion that I am not choice-based. I’ve been opening my eyes to it a little bit, playing around with how it might look in my art room, and for me, having taught as long as I have, it’s not been easy. It’s hard teaching an old dog like this gal new tricks, but it’s easy to teach our kids, because they are so willing and excited to try anything new, different, and fun.

If you’re like me and you’re old school and you’re thinking, “Well, how could I try some of these newfangled things? How could I possibly have centers in my room if I’ve never done it before?” Let me just share with you real quick how I’ve done it, and then just with an open mind, think about how you could possibly make it work for you. In fact, if you go back in podcast history, I did a podcast about my early finishers. That for me has been how I’ve been opening the door to having more centers available for my students.

What it looks like in my room real quick is I have early finisher centers for drawing. The kids can draw from observation or use my how to draw books, so I’ve got a drawing center essentially. I have a building center that has lots of blocks available for my students and all sorts of building tools. I have a fashion center for my kids to do fashion plates, and it also has a superhero fashion plates, which is great for everybody. There’s origami center. I also have a light table for the kids to explore and a fiber center with several different kinds of looms for weaving and finger-knitting.

That’s just how I’m approaching it, and I’m just seeing how it works, and I have to tell you, my kids have really enjoyed it. However, I also really enjoy teaching the way that I always have, and I know that it resonates with them as well, so for me it’s kind of been a little bit of the best of both worlds. That’s kind of how I’m making it work.

Anyway, there you have it. I don’t know how this episode is going to resonate with you. I hope that I haven’t stepped on any toes or hurt anybody’s feelings, because as art teachers, I know we are so passionate about art education and about how we personally approach it. I don’t mean any harm. I love all y’all, but that’s just … There’s no end to that but. That’s all I’ve got, but there you have it. Let’s go to the mail bag, shall we, and exits quickly.

Tim Bogatz: Hello, this is Tim Bogatz from Art Ed Radio. Thank you for tuning into the podcast. We appreciate everyone that listens, everyone who’s left positive comments, and contacted us with your feedback. If you want even more information from Cassie, check out the podcast tab on and get signed up for the Everyday Art Room weekly mailing list if you haven’t done so already.

Now, we’ve been talking a lot about Art Ed PRO, the subscription service that provides on demand professional development for art teachers. You can check it out at I want to tell you that a lot of administrators are supporting the service and a lot of schools have funds to pay for your professional development. Just ask. You can send your administrator to, where they can click on PRO for Schools to see if it’ll work for your school. It doesn’t hurt to try, and who doesn’t want to have control of their own professional development? Please make sure your admin checks out PRO for Schools at

Now, let’s turn it back over to Cassie as she reads the mail bag and finishes up the show.

Cassie Stephens: Let’s take a little dip into that mail bag, shall we? This first question comes from Amber. She says, “I love your podcast and I have listened to every episode.” Guess who’s getting a gold star? Her name’s Amber, in case you didn’t catch that. She’s awesome. “In your last episode, you mentioned your music playlist for art class. Can you share the playlist with the rest of us?”

Sure thing. I just created a playlist. I have no idea why it has taken me so long. I have it on my phone, and I also connect my phone to my little speaker. It’s called a UE Boom. I love it. It’s great. Get your pencils ready. Here are my favorite tunes. Most of them are rock, and some of them are simply instrumental.

I tried to pick songs that were really inspiring, songs that I loved, and motivating, so here we go. I have, “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey, the Pink Panther theme song because I love it. My favorite song of all time is called, “Accentuate the Positive.” My favorite version is sung by Johnny Mercer. It’s the best song ever. I want to get all the lyrics printed and plastered everywhere.

Anything by Sly and the Family Stone is a hit in my book, especially for just feel good lovey dovey stuff. “Everyday People” is a fabulous song. “Thank You” is my fave. I also have some They Might be Giants tunes, like, “High Five” and the “Roy G Biv” song. That’s another band you can’t go wrong with, They Might be Giants.

Of course, I love me some 1950 tunes like “Rockin’ Robin” and “Hand Jive” and basically anything from the ’50s. Some of my other faves are “Right Now” by Van Halen. I love Van Halen. “Love Train” by The OJs, “Express Yourself”, not the Madonna version. I don’t know that that would be elementary room appropriate, but the one by Labyrinth is great. “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang, another great band. “Yellow Submarine”. So many Beatles songs. I could just play them all day long.

“All Star” by Smash Mouth is one of my faves, and it really gets the class excited, and of course, an art room classic in my art room is “The Clean Up Anthem” by Greg Percy. If you don’t have any of Greg Percy’s art, they are made for the art room, if you don’t have any of his music, then you need to start downloading. So, so good, but “The Clean Up Anthem” is my all time fave. That’s the song that we try to play when it’s time to clean up. That’s just a few. I will definitely share the entire list on my blog if you want to check it out. Thanks for the question, Amber.

My next question comes from Rachael. She says that she’s teaching art for the first time next year, and she is wondering about my messy mats. I have two kinds of messy mats in my art room. I have messy mats that are just tag board. Tag board is like a thick poster board, and you can buy it by sheets of 100, and it comes in a variety of sizes. I buy mine 18 by 24. They work great when the kids are painting and you don’t have to worry about them getting the table dirty, hence the name messy mats.

I also have some mats that I have cut out and placed the elements of art on, and then had them laminated. Think of it like a place mat, but with information on it. I got this idea from a classroom teacher. When you go into the classrooms and you see that they have the alphabet taped to the top of the kids’ desks or simple things you need them to remember, I thought, “That’s genius. I should try to make something like that for the art room.” That’s how I came up with the idea for these giant laminated mats. I made mine probably about three years ago. It was very time-consuming to create them, but we’ve used them since, and I love them.

What I did was I got on Teacher Pay Teacher and I purchased the elements of art poster set from Art with Miss Gwen, and I printed those in a smaller version and laminated them to my messy mats, both on the front and the back, the elements of art on the front, the principles of design art on the flip side. I love them and they wipe down great with a baby wipe. I hope that helps, Rachael, and good luck with your first year teaching. You’re going to remember every last detail.

If you have a question for me, please feel free to send them my way. You can reach me at Yes, that’s it.

At the end of every art teacher day, you’re only left in that art room with yourself, so you’ve got to think, “Did at some point today, did the kids have fun? Did at some point today, I laugh, like genuinely laugh, or did they also crack up at something?” Anything. Doesn’t even have to be art-related, just as long as there was joy at some point in your day and in their lives while they were in your room.

If you feel like you can confidently say, “Yeah,” then you’re doing all right. In fact, you’re doing better than all right. You’re doing great. It’s awesome to keep an open mind and try new things. Definitely do that, but also, give yourself a high five every now and then and just know that you are amazing. Regardless of how you’re approaching doing it, if they had fun, and learned something, then you did your job. Thanks for joining me, 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.