An Art Teacher Journey: My Last Day of School

A picture of my first day of school and last day of school.

I recently made a major life change. Last fall, I decided the 2020-2021 school year would be my last year in the classroom. After kindergarten through senior year of high school, undergrad, graduate school, and twelve years as an art teacher, on May 21, 2021, I reached my last day of school.

Pictures of one of my classrooms

I taught for 12 years, at two schools, in four different classrooms. I taught everything from Introduction to Art to Ceramics & Sculpture to AP Art and so many things in between. I had classes packed in at 35 kids per class and classes with 5. I taught with zero budget and with a dream budget. I may not have loved every minute of it, but I loved most of it. Coming to the decision to quit was not easy and it weighed heavily on me, but looking back I know it was the right choice.

Updating a desk area in my classroom.

STEPPING BACK

After teaching virtually for the second half of the 2020 semester, moving to another classroom over the summer, and adjusting to teaching in a hybrid model, exhausted was an understatement. Last year was the second hardest year of my career (check out my post here on teaching tips for hybrid mode and for a letter to first-year teachers, my hardest year as a teacher). Although I had considered it for a couple of years, a few weeks into the school year, the voice saying it was time for a break had grown to an exigent level.

In September 2020, just six weeks into the school year, I began talking with my close coworkers and department chair about the possibility of me leaving. By October I had officially put in my resignation for the end of the school year. By December my job was posted, by January art teacher candidates were coming in for interviews. By February they had my replacement, an amazing artist and art teacher who I know will take care of my babies.

I cried in 3/4 of my sit-down meetings about my resignation. I loved my job. I loved my school. I loved my coworkers. I loved my students. I loved my classroom. I loved being an art teacher. So why was I choosing to leave it all behind?

For me, what it came down to was an imbalance in my life. For eight years I had been building a small business creating lesson plans, curriculums, handouts, and more for teachers and art teachers. I sold products through Teachers Pay Teachers and my blog. I began spending more evenings developing my products, which lead to working on weekends. I had babies, grew my family, and never faltered from building my business. I never dreamed it could become a full-time gig, but starting a few years ago it had the potential.

Although I could have stopped teaching earlier, I never felt the desire like I did last year. Teaching in a pandemic crushed my teacher’s soul. It sucked the life out of me until I could no longer put in the hours I needed to for my business outside of school. I no longer had the energy to be the best mom or wife I could be. I felt like I was drowning and something had to give. But what would give?

Do I choose the career I worked so hard for, the career I studied for and loved, or do I choose the business I made from the ground up, that was so successful and rewarding?

When it came down to it, the decision was easy, I chose to bet on me.

My home office.

BEING SELFISH IS OKAY

I felt incredibly selfish and guilty quitting my job. I hate quitting. I felt like I owed them so much for all that my job had given me over the years, but the truth was, I didn’t owe them anything. I don’t owe anyone anything. When I imagined my ideal day it involved dropping my kids off at school, drinking coffee on my front porch, quality time with my husband, making art when I wanted to, creating the products I have come to love creating for other art teachers.

So I chose me.

I moved out of my massive art classroom and into my tiny dormer window art nook. I make demo videos shoved in a corner and it’s a hot mess, but I love it. I type lesson plans sitting in my bed, next to my puppies, with Harry Potter and The Office on loop in the background. I have lunch dates with my work-from-home husband. I get to respond to questions and requests from art teachers in a timely manner.

I am fairly sure I have the best job ever. I have graduated to being a support for art teachers and all teachers. I can now help the ones in the job I still love and respect. I can still be an educator from a distance by supporting those still in the trenches. Those who are doing the most important work, inspiring, educating, and connecting with kids.

A picture of me on my 35th birthday.

THIS IS 35

This month I turned 35. I have never felt better. I have a happy family, a successful business, a recently renovated home. I get to chose what I want to do every day. I am a better parent, wife, and animal mama because I am also taking care of me. I think this year is destined to be one of my happiest, and I can’t wait to see what new opportunities may come in my new career path. I’m all in on myself, and I am confident this is a gamble I will win.

Thanks for coming along on this wild ride with me! If you want to keep up with my day-to-day life, check me out on Instagram. Check out my TPT shop to see the products that have allowed me to quit my day job (and check out my blog shop, which I hope to polish up and add to this year). Thanks for stopping by!

7 Art Teacher Tips for Back to School

Get your classroom set up for the first day.

Never has back to school arrived so quickly. Thanks to the pandemic, after a summer that essentially lasted from April to August last year, May to August just doesn’t feel long enough. Even though it doesn’t seem fair, back to school is on the horizon, it’s time to gear up and get back to it (you can do it!). After twelve years of teaching, I wanted to share a few of my art teacher tips that make my back to school run a little more smooth.

The handouts I use for the first day of school syllabus and get to know you.

1. SYLLABUS & GET TO KNOW YOU

The most important thing to get ready are your first day of school handouts. I like to get to these early, to put my mind at ease. I only pass out two sheets, my syllabus, and a get to know you sheet. At previous schools, I would also pass out a behavior contract, which is a good addition for schools that may have more disciplinary issues. As an art teacher, I have to remind students how to appropriately use supplies and the potential danger for certain supplies (think Xacto knives). For each class, I select a different color paper to make copies of my syllabus. This helps me to easily keep them organized when they are returned and the bright colors make them easier for students to keep track of. Plus, what art teacher syllabus is complete without fun colors?

I also love passing out a get to know you sheet in every class. I have enough versions to give a different one to each group, so by the time my intro to art students hit advanced level art, they aren’t filling out the same sheet 5 times. This is a great way to use time on the first day and it helps me get to know my students. One of my favorite questions is what their favorite band or song title is. I add all school appropriate music to a school playlist on my Spotify account. I add to this every year and love hearing students say “OMG this is my favorite song!” during class. You can check out my first-day documents here and get to know you sheets here.

I use a U format to set up tables in my classroom.

2. SETTING UP YOUR SPACE

Once you have the pertinent first day of school documents ready to go, get working on your classroom. For teaching art, I have tested a wide range of table setups. Hands down my favorite is the U or a slightly open O shape. Essentially, tables are set up to have an opening that faces the front of the room, with students sitting on the outside of the tables. This is an amazing setup for two big reasons:

  1. Students are less distracted by people sitting across from them and can easily look up from their work to see a quick demo or hear an announcement. Also, limiting neighbors to one on each side helps students stay on task.
  2. You can utilize the inside of the U to help students one on one. I am not tripping on backpacks or leaning over students to answer questions as I move from students to student on the inside loop.

Class sizes don’t always allow for students to only sit on the outside. In this case, I will have a few on the inside, but I always fill up seats on the outside first. The only con I have found with this setup is students having to walk around the tables to access the central supply table. I often build in small gaps in the U for them to cut through to grab supplies.

Have a supply table set up for easy access to project supplies.

3. EASY SUPPLY ACCESS

As an art teacher, I am a big fan of students familiarizing themselves with supply locations in the art room so they can get out what they need on their own. Independent art students, especially in middle and high school, is very helpful. However, I also love my central supply table. This is positioned in the middle of my U setup. I have big flat tables where I put supplies every class is using for their current project. I try to keep the supply location consistent with the class, so supplies aren’t mixed between classes.

In all my classes we do visual journal Fridays. It’s essentially a free art day where students can work in their visual journal, a used hardback book they create artwork in, or they catch up on the current project. I keep a lot of my general art supplies, such as magazines, markers, newspapers, and similar that my students use in their visual journals in bins and drawers under my supply table. This gives them easy access to central supplies 5 days a week.

With this system set up, students generally know where to find supplies for their work early on in the year. It’s also easy for me to tidy up between classes with the project supplies centrally located.

Don't forget your art table in your classroom.

4. THE ART TEACHER TABLE

As an art teacher, I have realized that I need a desk and a demo table. Your desk is where paperwork and projects to be graded pile up. It’s where your computer and the random bowls of paperclips, rubber bands, and tacks live. I can tell you from experience, this space is not conducive to creativity. You need a dedicated demo space in your room.

Pull a table just in front of the U opening at the front of your room and set it up with supplies you use regularly. If you are a middle or high school teacher, this is a great space to sit down and work alongside your students. It’s important for your students to see you working on art with them. You can work on the project they are doing or an example for another class. Often, I would work on watercolor painting gifts for friends and family or in my visual journal. Your art is a great way to open up a dialogue with your students. I promise they will be curious about what you are working on. That will lead to the materials you are using and the techniques you are practicing. It’s amazing how invested they get in your work just by watching you do it.

For elementary art teachers and upper-level teachers, this is a great demo space. Students can gather around your table or you can set up a camera that will display your hands at work on your SmartBoard. This is also a good spot for important supplies to live, such as Sharpies or Xacto Knives, so you can more easily oversee who is accessing them. I often keep a stack of examples on this table for quick reference while students are working on a project.

Figure out first day of school projects before the first day of school.

5. THINK EASY ON THE FIRST DAY

Once you have your paperwork ready and your classroom mostly set, start planning out the first day in every class. Keep it simple the first day! Both you and your students need to have a lighter day, day one. Use it to go over your paperwork, remind them of upcoming deadlines, such as when to return their signed syllabus, and have them fill out their get to know you sheet. Once they wrap up the administrative tasks, do a quick and easy first-day activity.

One activity my coworker does every year that I love is the timed drawing assignment. She covers her tables in big sheets of butcher block paper and spreads out markers. She sets a timer for a few minutes and tells them to draw whatever they want. Once the timer goes off, they slid over a seat and add to the drawing their neighbor started. This is repeated until they return to their seat to see what has become of their original creation. You can time this to fill up the remainder of the class period, with a few minutes to spare for clean up. Put out new sheets for every class.

This requires very little setup and clean up and it lets you see how creative your students can get in a short period of time. Don’t forget to float the room and keep an eye out for inappropriate additions to drawings. You want to nip that in the bud on day one.

Plan out your first week then move onto the first month.,

6. PLAN AHEAD

It’s very important to find time to plan ahead, especially as an art teacher. You need to order supplies before projects start and planning your projects in advance is the best way to do this. Get out your planner and sketch out the first week in every class. Keep notes on what supplies you have and what you need to order just to get through week one.

In every class, except AP Art, I have my students make their own sketchbooks. I teach a range of bookbinding techniques from simple stapled folders to coptic sketchbooks. This takes up the entire first week of school. I keep it simple, they get materials to create the front and back cover, they have to fully cover the inside and outside of the covers using whatever material they want. I give them access to scrapbook paper, magazines, Sharpies, paint, and more. Since they are creating their own design on the cover, it is fairly hands-off at the start. I float and help students find supplies and get to know them. Once we start bookbinding, depending on the level of difficulty, it becomes more hands-on at the end of the project. Typically, I have most of the supplies needed for this project already on hand, so it’s a great way to start the year.

After you have the first week ready to go, try to look further ahead. List out what projects you are aiming to complete in each class and how long you estimate each project to take. Using a pencil, write (or type) out your plan in a month or weekly view for every class. This will help you anticipate what is coming up and what supplies you need to check for. I try to order most of my supplies during pre-planning, and fill in as needed. Being able to plan out an entire semester, or even year is key in doing this.

I recently created a teacher planner, check it out here.

Wash your hands, then make art.

7. STAY SAFE AND ENJOY YOUR YEAR

Last but not least, stay in tune with yourself as you go through this year. We are all entering another school year in a pandemic that is just as unpredictable as it was last year. Do what you need to do to stay safe and make you feel comfortable at school. Keep yourself mentally healthy by working at school and resting at home. You can always catch up later, but you won’t be able to if you burn out early in the year. Don’t stress, all teachers are right there with you. The first day of school is intimidating regardless of whether this is your first or thirtieth year. Enjoy seeing those sweet faces, even if it’s just their eyes. You are teaching kids, you are their sense of normalcy, you are teaching them to expressive themselves in a scary time, you are doing great things!

Thanks for taking the time to check out my blog! Read tips on how I handled hybrid teaching last year here, check out more information on visual journals here and here, and visit my blog shop here and art teacher products on Teachers Pay Teachers here. Spread the word about my blog by sharing on social media or with friends! Thanks for stopping by.

Back to School TPT Sale 2021

A picture of the beach in Mexico

TEACHERS PAY TEACHERS BACK TO SCHOOL SALE

Another school year, another summer, and we are back again to back to school. I had a wonderful, relaxing summer (or at least as relaxing summer can be when you have a 5 and 3-year-old). I did have the opportunity to sneak off to Mexico with my high school girlfriends, but we aren’t here to reminisce on the past, we are here to look to what is on the horizon, and I hate to break it to you, but school is starting once again!

Also on the horizon is the annual Teachers Pay Teachers back-to-school sale. My entire shop, including curriculums and bundles, will be marked 25% off on August 3rd and 4th, 2021. Check out some of my latest products below and be sure to shop the sale here starting tomorrow.

2021-2022 ACADEMIC YEAR PLANNER

Teacher Planner for the 2021-2022 school year.

One of my recent endeavors is designing my own planner. I love to put pen to paper, planning out my year months in advance, and working through my weekly to-do list. This planner is designed for teachers by a teacher, covers the 2021-2022 academic year, and can be used digitally through Google Classroom, a saved PDF, or printed at home. It includes weekly and month overviews, project plans, supply ordering, and more. It includes watercolor designs throughout and is perfect for any art teacher or general ed teacher. Check it out here.

INTRODUCTION TO DESIGN SEMESTER CURRICULUM

Introduction to Design Curriculum

Last year I had the opportunity to design and teach a brand new course, Introduction to Design. This class teaches students Adobe software through graphic design, industrial design, fashion design, and more. Students learn how to use Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Spark, and Microsoft PowerPoint. This curriculum includes everything you need to teach every single day of a semester and is perfect for middle or high school students. Check out the curriculum here.

ART HISTORY IN THE CLASSROOM

I have begun dabbling in art history projects over the last year. I have loved creating artist-focused presentations and packs for Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse, with Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg coming soon. In addition to artist-focused lessons I have also created art history overviews for prehistoric art, ancient art, Egyptian art, and pop art, with more coming soon. These packs are perfect as a jumping-off point for an art project, history assignment, or for students in distance learning.

SELF-PORTRAIT PRINTMAKING PROJECT

Self-portrait printmaking project

I just wrapped up my most recent scratch foam printmaking project, a pop-art self-portrait project perfect for 5th grade through 10th grade, check it out here. This pack includes examples, daily presentations, a demo video, printable handouts, lesson plan, printing instructions, and more. This project is also part of my latest TPT bundle, a kindergarten through 5th-grade scratch foam printmaking pack. See below for details.

KINDERGARTEN-5TH GRADE PRINTMAKING BUNDLE

K-5th grade printmaking pack

This pack covers everything you need in all 6-grade levels, kindergarten through 5th, for 4 days, or 4 weeks if you see your students once a week. Teach all students about the art of printmaking, but keep it simple by aligning supplies and procedures. A wide range of skills, subject matter, and artist exemplars are introduced as students build on their printmaking knowledge and techniques. Check it out here.

FINE ART FRAME CLIP ART

Clip art artist frames

Last but not least, if you want to add a fun element to bulletin boards, handouts, or similar, check out my fancy art frames clip art. Any work of art will feel museum-ready when framed in these illustrated frames. They are available as PDFs and PNGs, with transparent backgrounds that make layering easy. Check out the pack here.

Family picture in Savannah, GA

I hope you had a fun, relaxing, and mentally restful summer. After a crazy, unpredictable school year, we all earned summer like never before. If you missed my social media posts over the last few months, you may have missed the big announcement that I am stepping back from teaching this year. Instead, I am focusing on growing my curriculum development business. I am now here to work for art teachers and all teachers. I plan to spend the next year focusing on elementary products, creating a new high school drawing curriculum, and bringing you an AP Photo curriculum. I have plans to share my Teachers Pay Teachers journey and tips for creating your own shop in the future, so stay tuned.

Thanks for taking the time to check out my latest blog post. Don’t forget to shop the TPT sale tomorrow, 8/3 and 8/4, and give yourself the gift of pre-planned and tested lessons to make your teaching life easier. Good luck with the school year!

Dear First-Year Teacher in a Pandemic

Dear First Year Teachers Watercolor

I remember going through college as an art education major and relentlessly hearing how challenging it is for a first-year teacher. After a while I internally rolled my eyes, silently repeating “I know, I know.” I heard it so many times the warnings fell on deaf ears. I graduated, got a job, set up my classroom, and anxiously awaited my very first day of school in my very own classroom.

They were right. They were all right.

The first-year teaching sucked. I can think of a few bright spots, but overall it was overwhelming, exhausting, mentally taxing, and more often than not I felt like a failure. I knew I had a passion for this career, I connected with a handful of students, I had a supportive coworker, and I pressed on.

Enter the second year.

While the second year was leaps and bounds better than my first year, my second year presented its own challenges. My supportive coworker who was beyond beloved by our student body moved on to a new school. I was tasked with taking over her classes and trying to find my fit with students who just wanted her as a teacher.

Welcome to the third year.

I began to hit my stride in year three. I felt more confident, I perfected my teacher stare, I for once had discipline mostly under control in my classes. And after my third year, every year has been easier, better, more fulfilling.

Then COVID hit.

My twelfth year teaching has been almost, almost as challenging as my first. Fall semester 2020 felt like the rewind button had been hit. There was a huge learning curve incorporating the crazy amount of technology needed to run classes. I suddenly had discipline issues I hadn’t dealt with in years because students had more boundaries to cross being in hybrid. My confidence level dropped, my exhaustion level increased, my love for my profession started to get buried by the to-do lists, grade follow-ups, failures, and more.

As I was contemplating my own woes one afternoon after my class had left, I was hit with the sudden realization that there are first-year teachers in classrooms at this moment. My worst year and second-worst year teaching are combined into one for some.

What a nightmare.

Abstract watercolor painting

Dear First Year Teachers,

This will be the worst year of your career. I promise. It can only go up from here. I promise.

Although you may cry more days than you leave with a smile on your face, you are racking up teaching experience, jamming in all the nonsense in one year. You have learned to deal with blow after blow, you have overcome overwhelming obstacles, just by showing up for your students every day you are crushing it. You have dealt with and accomplished more in your first year than any other first-year teacher before you.

You will exit this year with more life experience than a typical first-year teacher. You have likely seen the worst in your students, parents, administration, and coworkers. Hopefully, you have also seen the persistence, perseverance, and strength in those people.

After the instability you have experienced this year you won’t believe how easy your second year will be. You have essentially packed three years of experience into one year. It might have been a harrowing experience but just imagine life as a teacher as you pictured it in college. No masks, no Zoom calls, no following up with students whose faces you have never seen, and work that has never been turned in.

Yes, this year is terrible, but this year is not a fair representation of life as a teacher. You will overcome, you will make it through, and before you know it pandemic teaching will be in the rearview mirror. You can do it because you have to. You can do it because your students need you to. You can do it because you entered into a profession you had a passion for and you need to give a typical year a fair shot. And this year was certainly atypical.

We need you. We all need you. You are doing great things.

Love,

A very worn out twelfth year teacher

Dear teachers, don't give up watercolor painting.

Thanks for checking out my blog! Help me spread the word by sharing with others. Follow me on Instagram, Tik Tok (this is new for me, be nice), and Facebook to stay up to date. Check out more teaching tips for hybrid mode and starting back second semester. Also, give yourself a break and relax for once during your planning period by getting some already made resources for your classroom here.

The Halfway Restart, Art Teacher Style

Have Heart, a collage of text and magazines.
A snippet of a visual journal page created by one of my talented Painting class students, Fall 2020.

The day before school started, spring 2021, I laid in bed and felt something I had not felt in the last nine years. Dread.

Dread is a mental state and physical sensation of distinct weight that I often felt at my first art teacher job. Since moving schools and finding a supportive, happy place, I haven’t felt this in years. But, here it was again, reacquainting itself with me. And I hate it.

I love my job, I love my coworkers, I love my school. But, after a tough pandemic controlled first semester, it was hard to imagine going back. I felt more pessimistic about the start of this semester than I did the first semester because I knew what was coming. The combination of in-person, full virtual, hybrid feels like you are juggling and teaching three different classes in one. (Check out my survival tips here)

I hadn’t even closed my eyes and the exhaustion of what to come was already washing over me.

The next morning my husband asked how I was feeling and I was honest, I was unsure and wished I could just call it quits. He told me I couldn’t go in that way, I had to pull through because of my students.

He is so right.

We can’t let this get to us because we are responsible for so many others’ emotions. We provide care, support, and education to very malleable young minds. How we feel matters because it impacts how they feel.

I had to pull it together.

I would be lying if I didn’t admit I lamented with many others. That deep sighs hit me during my drive in and planning period. But, everyday, I will pull it together before my students step foot in my room. That is my goal, my motto for wrapping up this year. I plan to go out with just as much enthusiasm as I came in with nine years ago.

I’ve got this. We’ve got this. You’ve got this.

PREPPING FOR NEW CLASSES

The syllabus, contracts, and bathroom passes I use every year.

This semester, like many other middle and high school art teachers, I have three brand new classes. This means I get to hit the restart button (for better or worse).

Before I left last semester I printed and made copies of all my typical first day of school paperwork. Starting a new class with clear expectations, requiring parent signatures, and holding students accountable for turning them in is an important way to start the semester. (Check out my first day of school pack on my TPT and in my blog shop).

A few years ago I updated my get to know you sheets, creating a unique one for every class. I love using these as a time filler the first day, and I read every one to help me get to know my students from day one.

On the back of each get to know you sheet I always include a brief survey. I ask questions such as, what other art classes have you taken, what is your favorite art material, what is your least favorite project from another class? This helps me understand where each student may fall in terms of experience and gauge interest in different types of projects.

TIP: Include a favorite song or band question on your sheets. Use their responses to build a class playlist using Spotify or similar. Always check song ratings/warnings to make sure the music is appropriate before adding it!

ART KITS, TAKE 2

Art kits and brush tube sets to send home with students.

Before school started I once again prepped my art kits and brush tubes for my students to take home. Since we are starting the semester in hybrid mode, I need them to be able to make art at home. If we ever go full virtual, I know what is in each kit and what they are capable of creating.

All my art kits have paper sheets I have the students use as a check-off when they first go through their kit. If they are missing any supplies, they have to touch base with me to get them. This helps them see what they have in their kit and confirms they got everything (holding them accountable for it all at the end of the semester).

I have been using the brush tubes for years and swear by them. Each student gets their own set of 5 brushes that must be turned in, well cared for or replaced, at the end of the semester.

How to you keep the kids accountable? Give them a grade for turning everything back in. This won’t work in every circumstance but it is the best solution I found.

I am sending as many good vibes and happy thoughts to all you art teachers, general teachers, administrators, and more out there. If we can survive this year, we can survive anything.

Thanks for taking the time to check out my blog. You can read more art teacher related posts here, visual journal posts here, and check out my teaching resources on my TPT and in my blog shop. Thanks for stopping by!