Professional Practice

The Top 10 Things Students Love But Teachers Hate (Ep. 006)

In this episode Andrew will share our deep dark secrets… that there are plenty of things in the art room that students love, but art teachers hate. Andrew and his faux-grumpy partner Tim Bogatz look at specific media and projects teachers can’t stand which normally boil down to students making really obvious and unoriginal aesthetic decisions. From zentangle and tie-dye, to glitter and even Pinterest, Andrew and Tim take no prisoners [5:00]!

Rather than let this turn into a big ole’ grump fest, Andrew and Tim look at the reasons why these love/hate relationship divides exist [19:45]. Best of all, the guys talk strategies for dealing with those things students love but teachers hate [22:30]. Teachers can’t just outlaw reviled materials or choices. Learn how to encourage students’ interests and choices while also pushing them to think more deeply and creatively. Full episode transcript below.

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Art Ed Radio Ep 6



Andrew: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the Podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education, and I’m your host Andrew McCormick.

In this episode, we’re going to go to some places that we seldom go. I’m going to confess to the whole world, shoot, I’ll even shout it from the mountaintops that there are simply things that we as art teachers hate, but yet our students love them. I’m going to bring on my good friend, the [ever-curmudgeonly 00:00:32] Tim Bogatz, to help me come up with a top 10 most hated things in the art room. Now, these are things that we as art teachers either begrudgingly tolerate or just outright ban from existence.

First, we’re going to take a fun look at what some of those specific pet-peeves are. Maybe it’s bad or unoriginal ideas, junky materials or maybe even some less-than-desirable attitudes and behaviors. Secondly, we’re going to look at some of the underlying causes of this divide. Is it bad, or maybe it’s inevitable that we have these splits? Is it generational? Motivational? Contextual? Finally, we’ll look at how we handle these love-hate issues. Do we just outright ban these things from our classroom or do we work with our students with these ideas? Do we just straight up allow them and then go home every night secretly hating ourselves for allowing the glitter to get out? Or maybe we’d try to find a happy medium?

Now, we could turn this Podcast episode into a giant [grump fest 00:01:33], but we’re going to try and avoid this and give you, guys, some tangible solutions, but I want you to know that we are here for you. It’s okay. You can say it. You hate hot glue and feathers. We get it. You stay awake at night dreading the next morning papier mâché demo. This is a safe place.

Now, some of these love-hate divides come down to differences and personal taste and teaching styles. I’ve never really been a crafty guy. Sometimes, my mom scratches her head that, of all her children, I’m the one who grew up to be an art teacher. As a kid, I couldn’t color in the lines to save my life, and we still hang this cross-stitch Christmas stocking ornament that I made back in kindergarten to stand in testament to all crimes against aesthetics and good taste. It was that bad.

I think one of the reasons that this love-hate divide happens, it’s not that tough when we really think about it, student come to us and they have a lack of scaffolding and opportunities to be original. In a nutshell, the things that drive me crazy are student choices that lack originality, thought and preparation. When student choices are obvious and trite, that’s why students love them. They’re quick and easy. We live in this culture that puts a premium on quick and easy. Forget being tough or challenging or time-intensive. Right?

There’s this great article on the AOE website by Ian Sands that talks about the 5 ways that you can get creative and motivate students and, dare I say, get them to make better choices and better work, getting them to come up with fewer trite, obvious, loathsome ideas. You’d get your kids moving, get them working on collaborative projects. You can give them more agency and choice. I’m a big fan of choice-based education. I know Ian and Melissa Purtee are big fans of TAB and choice as well.

This one is tricky because with more choice could come the opportunity for more bad choices. This is where I believe a quality teacher and quality instruction steps in and says, “Here is why this idea may not be so great. Now, you might love it, and I kind of hate it, but let’s talk about it and come up with a compromise that will make the best artwork and something that we can both kind of live with.”

If you’re battling the great love-hate divide right now in your classroom, I think you’ll really enjoy AOE’s Designing Your Art Curriculum course. You’ll learn the best ways to circumvent those hated student interests like zentangle elephants and faux “tribal dream catchers.” If you need some grad credits or PD hours, make sure you check out this great curriculum class. As with all the AOE classes, you’ll have a chance to get reflective with your practice and create a number of new tools to take your teaching to the next level. Designing Your Art Curriculum is a 3-credit class and it starts at the beginning of every month. Learn more by going to the and clicking on the course’s tab.

Let’s bring on Tim to get his take on his most hated art projects.

All right, Tim, so let’s get down to business.

Tim: Alright.

Andrew: Hey, right off the bat, you’ve got some explaining to do. You are a stalwart hater of all things glitter.

Tim: True. True.

Andrew: Subsequently, may I say, all things fun because I am a fan of glitter. Now, I know that there are some things on this list of 10 hated things that we are disagree upon, vehemently so, so, right off the bat, defend yourself. Why do you hate glitters so much, sir?

Tim: Oh, man, how much time do you have? No. If I had to sum up my hate for glitter, I think the biggest thing is the mess. I quit teaching elementary art 12 years ago and I am sure I am still finding glitter from back then. Like it’s ridiculous.

Andrew: I thought you were going to say you quit teaching because of the glitter – it drove you from teaching elementary.

Tim: That was a big part of it, if we’re going to be honest. I hate the look of it. I suppose it goes back to how you always make fun of me being a curmudgeon, but like sparkly things just don’t do it for me. I just don’t enjoy them.

Andrew: We’ve got to get you to unleash your fabulous side one of these days.

Tim: No. I think it’s part aesthetics and part cleanliness. I can’t get over it.

Andrew: Yeah. Listen, I can kind of one up you here, and I think we’re going to kind of brinksmanship here, kind of I’ll say one and you’ll say one …

Tim: Okay.

Andrew: … because I see your glitter. I actually like glitter, and I think it can be used actually well and I think it’s kind of fun. For me, melted crayons anything, I’m not a fan.

Tim: Yes. Yes.

Andrew: I’ve tried to work with students when they say, “We do melted crayon.” I’ve tried to make some projects work and that are cool that I can actually stomach, but it just … it looks heck, it looks crafty.

Tim: Yeah.

Andrew: I’m not a fan. I’m not a fan of the way it looks. I don’t like it.

Tim: Yeah, it’s so cliché. It’s so like it’s cute, it’s fine, but it’s not the art that I want coming out of my art room, to be honest. Like how many times do I need to see the couple under the umbrella with melted crayons all around them, but, oh, that umbrella stops them and …

Andrew: Oh, they’re saved. They’re saved from the melted acid rain that’s falling-

Tim: Yeah, it is. It is the worst, so I don’t know.

Andrew: Everything on Pinterest, they look amazing, and then like kids see it and they try to do it, and it’s like, “Oh, those colors, those are putrid!”

Tim: Why did you put the red right next to the green? That’s not how this works.

Andrew: It’s not good.

Tim: Yeah. That’s bad. All right, so, if glitter and melted crayons are number 1 and 2 on the list, number 3, I’m going to put anime. Are we going to fight about this one?

Andrew: I think, I mean, I didn’t know you were going with such a contentious one right off the bat, but …

Tim: No, I know a lot of teachers really like anime. Again, that goes back to what we talked about way in our first episode with originality. I have to yet to see an anime drawing that a kid brings in that’s creative and original. It’s just all so copied. I can’t find any originality in there, and so I just immediately sort of stay away from that.

Andrew: Oh, I see, okay, I can actually now … You won me over. You win the day because I actually think what you’re talking about then is execution and not necessarily like the specific discipline that is like that style of illustration.

Tim: Right.

Andrew: I’ve had some kids bring in anime that’s been really super just hacked, just I-copied-everything.

Tim: Yes.

Andrew: Then when you see a kid who really understands that stuff and brings in their own original, it’s pretty cool. We might have to call this one a draw and just say that you’ve seen nothing but poor execution of bad anime.

Tim: Fair enough. Fair enough.

Andrew: Okay, so this is the one, I don’t know why I get this one all the time, a kid who doesn’t think about what they want to do for the background of a piece, ooh, I know, splatter painting.

Tim: Yes.

Andrew: Oh, man, I hate it because every kid that I work with, every student I work with is convinced that they know, “I got this. I know how to do splatter painting,” and then I got red paint on my drawers and on the ceiling and on the floor. It’s like you don’t understand. You’re not throwing a javelin. You just like merely flicking the paint a little bit. It’s not the most original, thoughtful, planned-out thing. It’s like a default I-don’t-know-what-to-do-let’s-splatter-some-stuff.

Tim: Yeah, I think it is like, literally, the default idea for teenagers, like, “Oh, I forgot about the background. Yeah, let’s splatter it.” Everyone falls back on that. Again, it’s rare to see one that looks good.

Andrew: Right. That’s true. that’s really true. Yeah.

Tim: All right, and so, speaking of teenagers, I’m going to bring in number 5 here. I get really, really tired of teenage angst, just kids bringing all of those dark, deep emotions into class and it’s like, “I need to do this artwork of me sitting alone under the tree, and everything is going to be black,” and just like they’re pretending to be depressed because they think it’s cool.

Andrew: Yeah.

Tim: Yeah, I struggle with that. That’s a tough one for me.

Andrew: It’s funny. I feel like there was a time period where that was really prevalent, this sort of all-black everything and like white goth kind of look. I guess I don’t get as much of that anymore, but I definitely do get the like, “Don’t look at me. Look at me. Don’t look at me. Look at me.”

Tim: Yes. Yes.

Andrew: They’re like, “I don’t want to draw attention to myself, but I want everyone to know how like mysterious and dark and like [inaudible].”

Tim: Right. Yeah, and there’s like this romanticism that comes with those sorts of emotions. I will never understand that.

Andrew: Yeah, and I think some of that has got to be sort of generational and contextual because it’s like I’ve had to have this talk with my students and say, “Okay, when you are younger, every bad day that you’ve ever had seems horrible because you just haven’t had very many of them. Like I’ve had more bad, crappy days than you’ve had days in general, so like I can contextualize things better.” Yeah, I think give them time, they’d grow out of that.

Tim: Yeah.

Andrew: I don’t know. One of the things, this kind of relates to teenagers, that I really don’t like, again, I think all of these issues have bigger reasons why they get under our skin and drive us crazy, especially middle school kids, you’re talking 7th grade, 8th grade, why on earth are you still drawing a sun in the corner of your paper? The double-whammy is a sun in the corner with a smiley face.

Tim: Yes.

Andrew: You can just get out of my class right now because I am not putting up with that. Have you ever seen a sun in the corner and with a smiley face? That’s ridiculous.

Tim: Yeah.

Andrew: I think though what really drives me crazy about that is it’s like … again, it’s like this not thinking, not thoughtful oh-let’s-default-to-how-I-drew-when-I-was-in-3rd-grade-or-2nd-grade. Even in 2nd grade, that wasn’t cool with me. It’s like you’re better and older and wiser than that. Why are you defaulting to this, this hack sort of like convention that’s not even real. I don’t get it.

Tim: Yeah, and it’s frustrating because you know they know better, but they just choose not to do it. I guess that’s a hallmark of the middle school probably. Yeah, it’s frustrating really quick when you see just things that they should have gotten over a long time ago, especially when you’ve seen them and you know they can do better.

Andrew: That’s even worse. It’s like you just made some amazing artwork and, now that you have a couple of days, and maybe it’s because it’s unstructured, you’d revert back to 3rd lollipop trees and V-shaped birds? Get out of here.

Tim: Yeah.

Andrew: Just get out of here.

Tim: All right, so I’m going to continue on with that theme. All right, so I’m bringing in number 7 here, things that I hate showing up in artworks like corner suns, the 3 big ones for me. I hate closeups of eyeballs, I hate roses, and I hate hearts. Yeah, I guess those fit in with the glitter and me just being the curmudgeon, but, man, I get so tired of that. Like every kid, like, “Oh, I want to do a closeup of an eyeball.” How many, literally, thousands of times have I seen sketches from kids like need to do that? I don’t know the fascination with it, but, for whatever reason, every single kid wants to do that drawing of just an eye.

I don’t know. Do you get that with your middle schoolers?

Andrew: I do. Again, it’s like I think I blame Pinterest, I blame Instagram, even like YouTube, like videos of, like, “Watch this amazing watercolor artist in 5 minutes make this eyeball,” and everyone’s just like, “I want to do that.”

Tim: Yeah.

Andrew: I mean, to some degree, like I like that stuff, as in like, “Wow, they’re masterful, like good job,” but I also think it becomes a formula for them. How many times have they … has this person drawn this exact same eyeball to this effect? That’s the 1 thing I think oftentimes students don’t see or think about. It’s like you didn’t see all the other work that went into play to get this person that they can make this thing seem so effortless. I don’t know. I think that goes in with your teenage angst. It’s like what better way to symbolize the struggle than the closeup of my … the windows to my soul with the heart reflecting through my eyes. It’s just like  ugh.

Tim: Yeah, I’ve seen it, been there, done that. I’m over it.

Andrew: Yeah, so I’m going to go out on a limb here, Tim, and say that you don’t have any tattoos of roses and hearts or anything like that?

Tim: I don’t have any tattoos. Period. If I did, they would be way cooler than that.

Andrew: A tattoo on your arm that says, “Glitter for life?”

Tim: Yeah, I need that.

Andrew: You need that. Okay, so let’s go to number 8. This is going to be kind of a switch-up a little bit.

Tim: Okay.

Andrew: I know I’m probably going to get some hate mail on this one, but the crafty stuff, the stuff that is like, “Follow this formula, steps 1 through 6, and you will have the most amazing pop tab bracelet,” or, “the crocheted iPhone cozy.” My beef with that is not that I don’t like iPhone cozies, I love iPhone cozies, whatever, but it’s like, as an art curriculum, you would like to think that there’s more problem-solving, creativity, critical thought than just steps 1 through 6, you’re a good little boy or girl, and you made this thing.

No. I think that there is kind of a place for that every once in a while, but I think, if your program has too much of that, you’re kind of taking the legs out from under you a little bit. You’re becoming pompoms and sequence and popsicle sticks and I think that… [inaudible]

Tim: Yeah. No, I think that’s what it comes down to. I’m impressed that you made your own dream catcher, but like we have some critical thinking skills that we need to take care of, too.

Andrew: Right.

Tim: Yeah, it needs to go beyond that. All right, so I’m going to bring in number 9 on the list, and I probably need to explain myself a little bit with this one, but I really dislike zentangles. Visually, they’re great. I love zentangles, but when did they go from being really cool doodles or really nice sketches into this whole commercialized with lesson plans, becoming certified, and people making money off of doodles? We gave them a fancy name and, now, we’re making money. Kudos to whoever came up with that idea and decided to market that, but, man, we’ve been doing it for centuries. I have no idea why it needs a special name and a special designation.

Andrew: I wonder if there wasn’t like a perfect storm. Again, this is I think the third time I’m throwing Pinterest under the bus. I’m like I have a Pinterest account and I like it and I use it, but maybe not, but I feel like zentangles and Pinterest got big at the same time and they were just like a match made in mediocre heaven. It’s just like, “Everyone, make a zentangle elephant.” We were talking off mic. It’s not that we don’t like a good zentangle elephant, but it’s that I’ve seen it done a hundred times. When students default to that, it’s that lack of originality.

Tim: Yes.

Andrew: Okay. My last one, and I think this is number 10, and I think I had some trauma growing up in my early life that made me not like this, but I do not like tie dye. I will not do it.

Tim: Hey, do not tell Abby Schukei.

Andrew: Oh, she’ll hunt me down because she’s like … Yeah, she’s got a tie dye posse, man. Come and get me, but I don’t like it. You could give a $100 and say, “I want you to teach a tie dye lesson,” I’m just like, “No, I’m not doing it,” The rubber gloves and the uric acid or whatever the heck you put in there to make the colors bright and the rubber bands. Go do it. I’m sorry. Go do it at summer camp because this art teacher ain’t doing it. I’m not doing it. I’m not doing it. Do it at home. Do it at home.

Tim: Nice. Nice.

Andrew: I think I had some traumatic experiences growing up.

Tim: Fair enough. Fair enough.

Andrew: Yeah, so, hey, we’ve had some fun kind of romping through the muck of top 10 things that we don’t like. There are some other things that maybe we left off. I’m sure that our listeners have some other things they’d add, and we’re embellishing a little bit to kind of have some fun with this, but let’s get at maybe a bigger question. Why do you think, Tim, this love-hate divide happens, because we didn’t just say these are the 10 things that we hate? These are the 10 things that we hate that we know our students love. Is this divide inevitable? Is it generational? Is it natural? Why do you think this happens?

Tim: Oh, I think it comes with experience more than anything. Kids will see that eye for the first time or that pop tab bracelet and they’re like, “This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen,” and maybe it is because they’ve seen it before. We’ve been teaching art for a decade-plus now, each of us, and we’ve seen it hundreds of times, and so like what they find fascinating just seems so trite and so clichéd. It’s because we’ve seen it so much. I think it is just kind of an age and generational thing. They haven’t been exposed to bigger and better things, and so that’s what fills in for them as for what they find truly fascinating.

Andrew: Right. Back on our very first episode about originality, like I brought up the student who wanted to do the melted-crayon boy and girl under the umbrella and I talked her down from that ledge and I said, “You’re not going to do that and here’s why.” Here’s, in all seriousness, what think is important that we do as art teachers. You don’t just say, “Nope, teacher hates glitter,” or, “No, teacher hates tie dye.” You say, “Okay, the reason why I don’t want you to do this melted crayon, zentangle closeup of a heart with glitter around it is because it is obvious and it is trite, and I’ve, I have seen this done a thousand different times and, 98% of those thousand times, it was probably done even better than what you’re going to do.”

I think it goes back to your mantra that I really like and I’ve been adopting and using, which is “make it your own,” like be more original. I think that’s what the problem with all these things is they’re not original, they’re maybe not open-ended, they’re limiting a little bit and trite.

Tim: Yeah, and like if we’re melting crayons and they insist on melting crayons, like take it beyond that stupid umbrella, figure out how you can do something else with that to add color to a painting, to add texture to something. Let them figure out how to bring it in somewhere in their artwork that doesn’t just copy that example that we’ve seen a thousand times.

Andrew: Right, and that was kind of my last question and my last point that I was going to throw to you is like you can’t just be a jerk and say no to everything. You’ve got to have some strategies for working with your students when they want to use these things that they love. What would you suggest are the strategies? They could range from “you let them do it and then you secretly hate yourself at the end of the day,” like, “I can’t believe I let them use glitter,” or outright banning. Or is there a little trickery and rope-a-dope where they think they’re getting their way, but you’re actually kind of getting your way, too?

Tim: I’m going to go with option C there because I … No. I look at those as kind of a teachable moment. I take that opportunity to explain to the kids like, “Hey, I sort of don’t like this and here is why,” and I can explain to them why it looks trite, why it looks cliché and then, from there, we can brainstorm together, we can look at other options that maybe let them bring in some of those ideas or some of those techniques, but also pushes them to try something new, to expand things a little bit further. You take that original idea, but, like you said, let them make it their own. Ask them to take some ownership and do something new with it, and, then, I think you’re really taking advantage of that learning opportunity.

Andrew: Yeah, I love that answer, man. Yeah, it’s a conversation. It’s a relationship. It’s kind of bartering back and forth about what’s going to be good and still tying in to what they love and their interest and not just always saying no, but pushing them to go above and beyond. I mean, you can’t just ban this stuff. I mean, Tim, I’m sorry, dude, you’re going to have to order some glitter every once in a while from the Blick Catalog. Like you’re just going to … or the catalog. You’re going to have to do it.

Tim: Just real quick, and we can probably end on this, I’m really proud of the fact that I have not had any glitter in my classroom in the 12 years that I’ve been teaching high school. As long as I can keep that going, I will be a happy art teacher.

Andrew: I’m mailing you some as we speak. I’m going to infect your room with glitter berries. All right, man, thanks for coming on. This was fun.

Tim: Yeah, it was. Thank you.

Andrew: We talked specific pet-peeves. I think Tim pretty much agrees with me that the origins of this love-hate split is often generational, contextual, and, really, it’s bound to happen. That’s when it’s our job to step in and help students make better aesthetic and stylistic choices by giving them honest feedback that something is just too played out and trite. While they might love it, we can force students to think more deeply and originally. We can’t simply ban all the things that we don’t like. That’s the art teacher as dictator.

The ideas to work with students to keep their interest and ideas alive while also stretching them past their most basic desire to just go out and recreate something that they’ve already seen on Pinterest, that’s really the ultimate Jedi mind trick, too wean the students off those things that they think they love while also pushing them a little bit further. Sure, you can make Disney fan art, but what if you made artwork that was critical of Disney or smash it up with something else a little bit and got into misappropriation? Sure, you can paint a ceiling tile, but why would you just copy something? Why don’t you make a ceiling tile that’s more original?

Sure, you can glitter, but why are we putting glitter on a drawing? Why not make a big sculptural glitter explosion? If you can do that little rope-a-dope and get your students to think that they’re getting away with the things that they love while also convincing them to go further, then you might just grow that little curmudgeonly heart a little bit bigger and maybe you’ll even be able to allow a little glitter into your life. Tim, I’m talking to you right now.

Art Ed Radio is developed, produced and supported by the Art of Education, with audio engineering by Michael Crocker. If you want to support this show and enjoy what we’re doing, please subscribe on iTunes. Leave some comments. Write a review and, definitely, give us a rating. That’s how we get a little publicity on iTunes. We definitely like those 5-star reviews.

New episodes of Art Ed Radio will be released every Tuesday, and additional content can be found under the Podcast tap at Join us next week where I’ll be talking with my good pal, Sarah Dougherty, on how to make data in the art room sexy. Thanks for listening.

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.