Dear First Year Teachers Watercolor

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.


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.

Have Heart, a collage of text and magazines.

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.


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 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!

Teaching Tips for Hybrid and Virtual


I have to start this post with a disclaimer: my first two and a half weeks of school has been a lot of putting out fires, just barely hanging on, and feeling a bit like a failure. But, as I rounded the corner into week three of teaching in hybrid, I suddenly felt like my feet were on the ground. For the first time, I had a handle on my schedule, what projects were going on, and I felt more confident dealing with the technology component.

Below are eight tips that I have jotted down as I moved through the dumpster fire that is the start of the school year, pandemic style.


If you are anything like me you love to plan out your entire semester, maybe even the year, in August. I love filling out my planner with when I aim to start projects and my project progression. This year, throw all your past schedules in the trash (not literally, since COVID is temporary you may want to reference those again in the future).

Figure out what your school’s plan is. Are you full virtual? For how long? Are you hybrid? Do the students switch off every other day? What does the daily/weekly schedule look like? Using this information, create your own schedule. Figure out what projects can be completed with low materials and decide which projects are most important for your art program.

In addition to roughing out the first few weeks, consider what happens at the end of a project. How are students submitting work to you? Set up your organization system NOW so students can learn it from day one. In the spring, I had students email me pictures of projects when they turned them in to be graded. That system was a hot mess. If I had to follow up with a student, or track down a project for grading, I was forced to dig through my e-mail.

This year, my school is set up through Teams and Blackbaud. I have chosen to train my students to access project information and submit work through Teams. Within our Teams group, each student has a folder with their last name. Every new project they create a subfolder with the project name, where they upload their artist research sheets, critique sheets, and pictures of their work. I know exactly where to track down their work, no questions asked.

Rough out your first few weeks of school. If you are in hybrid mode, count the number of days a project would typically take and apply those to how often you will see a student in person. When I realized I would be a hybrid teacher I opted for my students to work on one assignment at school and one assignment at home to prevent projects from traveling back and forth daily. This leads me to…

If possible, avoid having your student move supplies back and forth.


Many teachers around the world are finding themselves in a situation where students can no longer share supplies. Art kits are being put together for at home and at school use, art suppliers are running low on watercolor and drawing supplies. As a hybrid teacher, I had to create art kits to allow my students to work on projects at home. However, I quickly realized this system would not function well if my students where lugging supplies and projects back and forth from school and home every day. Inevitably, things would get lost, projects would be left in the wrong place, and students would be left with nothing to do.

To avoid that situation, I decided to have a project for in-class, and a project for at home, running simultaneously. This presents its own set of challenges. For one, my students will be working on projects at home that I can’t offer the same amount of guidance as I would at school. Also, there are times I present a project to the entire class, both in person and on Zoom, but if the students are at home they won’t apply that information until the next time they are physically present at school. It was also very confusing at the start of the year when I had to present multiple projects a few days in a row, then split the students up to start working on assignments.

However, despite the challenges of juggling multiple things at once, I think it’s easier than trying to fill virtual student’s time with busy work or risking supplies traveling from location to location. My school does allow communal supplies in the classroom, as long as they can be disinfected between student use. For those who have to rely only on individual kits, traveling supplies may be inevitable.


As soon as you determine which projects you are going to start the year with, start typing up your instructions. If you are in full virtual mode this is incredibly important for students to reference if needed. If you are in hybrid mode, this is a helpful tool if you are busy with one group of students and need the other group to start working independently.

When I say type up instructions, I mean type up every step, detail, everything you would verbally tell the students to do. If a student is late due to technical issues (inevitable) or misses a class, you can direct them to these instructions without having to interrupt the rest of the class.

Record demo videos.

Just like written instructions, demo videos are a huge time suck to create, but an invaluable asset when it’s done. If you are working on a project example now, stop! Set up a camera and record your process. These videos can be uploaded to a location students can access when they are working independently, if they miss class, or simply for a review of instructions.

It can be overwhelming to look at a year of projects and imagine recording demos for every single one. Instead, start small. Look at your first two weeks. Can you get the demo videos done for just your full virtual projects? If you take one bite at a time, eventually you will eat the whole virtual monster.

Teaching with a breathable mask is key.

Before you even start your first day of school, go mask shopping. Order a few different styles from a few different companies. The most important parts of a mask are breathability, comfort, and safety. The mask is there to protect you and others, so make sure you have a quality mask that is actually doing its job. You will be wearing that sucker all day, so make sure it’s comfortable. I had headaches for two weeks solid, and I think a big part of that was adjusting to wearing a mask.

Finally, make sure you can easily take deep breaths in your mask. My nerves always kick into high gear on the first day of school. I talk a little faster, requiring bigger breaths between words. This year I had a particularly thick mask on the first day. When I took those nervous gulps of air the short moments between all of my informative words, I realized I wasn’t getting the level of oxygen I needed to not pass out in front of my class. I had to consciously take a moment to breathe, greatly slow down my talking, and a mask switch was necessary. I now have a thinner cotton one that allows me to talk more easily, while still protecting my health.

Also, wear your mask! Are you around people? Wear your mask! Are you six feet apart? Wear it just in case! Are you eating lunch solo or at a safe distance? Okay, fine, take off your mask.

Drink your coffee at the start of the day, you won't have time later.


If you take nothing else away from the post, remember this one. DRINK YOUR COFFEE BEFORE SCHOOL STARTS. I made the mistake the first few days of lightly sipping on my coffee en route to school, answering a few e-mails, and then realizing my class was on their way. Once your mask goes on and class starts, sneaking those gulps of coffee is nearly impossible. I have days where my planning doesn’t hit until after lunch, and coffee that has been sitting around that long just isn’t worth the effort to drink it.

Develop a system for learning student names.


Now that you have a plan, are caffeinated, and masked up it’s time to start your year! Learning student names this year is nearly impossible!! If you are hybrid or full-on seeing kids in person, you are likely only seeing their eyes. If you are virtual, you are probably only seeing their forehead. Typically, in week three of school, I have a handle on 95% of student names. This year, I am still figuring it out.

The biggest help has been assigned seating, required at my school for contact tracing. I can easily refer to my seating chart to see who is sitting where. Also, when students are on our Zoom call I see their names on their screens. To help further solidify the name/face connection I also have a roster printed out with their picture next to their name. Find a way to get that name/face connection made to help you more easily connect to the students in a time when we can’t be closer than six feet.


If I can promise one thing about this school year it is that you will be sweating… a lot… Technical issues will come up. On my third day, I got the blue screen of death in the middle of class. By the time I rejoined my Zoom call, the call had defaulted to a student and I couldn’t figure out how to regain control in order to share my presentation. Class ended early that day and I felt like I needed a shower afterward. I haven’t faced tech issues to that extent again, but at least I have a sense of control with my spare deodorant safely stowed in my desk drawer.

Teachers, be flexible and give yourself a break!


If I am being totally honest my mantra my first week of school was if I am just physically showing up every day, I am doing a good job. My expectations were very low, but as I have gained confidence in this new world of education, that bar is slowly starting to rise. It is going to be hard. You are going to be tired. You will feel like a failure. Tech will fail you. But, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You will hit a point where you feel like you have a small handle on the situation. In a global pandemic, as essential workers, as a small lifeline of normalcy to the students we teach, we are doing a great job every day just by showing up.

Thanks for stopping by! Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog or check my out on social media for more life experiences, project ideas, and art teacher nuggets. You can also cut out the typing up instructions and recording video demo by checking out art projects and resources on my blog here and here as well as on my TPT here.

Wash your hands, then make art.


Back to school this year is like no other year. I have opted for smiling and nodding with every plan proposal, knowing that nothing is definite until that plan is in action in real time. Fully back to school, hybrid, distance learning, or other, there are endless possibilities for back to school. What works today may not work tomorrow. The plan of action could be flipped on its head the following week. So much is in the air that my school has decided to evaluate our school plan every two weeks, with potential of change EVERY TWO WEEKS!

I am a planner. I lay out my semester and year long calendar in August, type of planner. Re-evaluating every two weeks just doesn’t do it for me. But I am coming to terms with the fact that nothing about this school year is going to do it for me. I will go into school everyday thankful for the opportunity to teach art to students that day, because who knows if I will see them tomorrow.

Despite so many unknowns the planner in me just won’t go away. So check out my school’s plan and my plan for the many options facing us in just two weeks, including hybrid and distance learning models.


“Flexibility is the key to stability” I will remind myself often of this. My school has opted to start the year in a hybrid model. Brief explanation: in an effort to meet the social distancing guidelines to best protect the students, they have split the student body in half based on their last name. A-J will be on campus on A days and home on B days. K-Z will be on campus on B days and at home on A days. Everyone on campus must wears masks and social distance.

Students who are home will still “attend” a full day of classes by live streaming the class from home. That means teachers will be teaching students physically in the room with a camera set up so they can interact with those at home distance learning. I have no idea what the logistics of this looks like, this is where smiling and nodding come in. It will be a crash course from day one.

In two weeks my school will look at the situation. They plan to contact trace any case of COVID that arises on campus to quarantine anyone who had close contact. If cases have a sharp increase we shift to distance learning. As of now, the plan with distance learning is to livestream every class period, with shorter class lengths and time between classes for flexibility. We have to log in to touch base with our class, but if they have work to do individually they can sign out to work on it.

If in two weeks everything is going well, no cases have shown up, then there is a chance we could move towards the entire student body back on campus at the same time. I think this possibility is least likely based on current conditions in the United States. But, when we were let out of school mid-March I also thought I would be back in two weeks. Intuition is meaningless in the era of a global pandemic.


The hybrid model of back to school is a good solution for actual social distancing during the school day. However, sending students home with their projects every other day (and expecting them to remember to bring everything back) is unrealistic.

Because of that I am planning on assigning consecutive projects for students to work on in class and at home. In my advanced 2D and painting classes I will run projects as normal. I plan to follow my curriculums, starting with sketchbook making and moving to introduction to watercolor and a collage project.

For my students at home I have a lot of prep work to do. Some ideas I have thrown around is having visual journals as an at home project only. However, that limits them to only a handful of supplies unless I risk my supplies leaving my room and potentially (likely) never returning. I have also considered more heavily incorporating art history in my class, something I have always lacked (I have a few art history resources here). I may also have them start on the beginning stages of the next project, sketching out ideas, researching artists, or sketching their base drawings.

I am teaching a brand new course next year, Introduction to Design, that I am beyond excited about. I have already started developing lessons for it (check out what I have so far on my TPT) and have a ton of work ahead to wrap up the curriculum. The best part of this course is its 99% computer based and focuses on learning programs in the Adobe Suite (Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Spark, and more). We are a one to one school so all of my students already have laptops and access to the Adobe Suite. The hybrid or distance learning models function great with this type of course.

Although it is going to take a lot of extra time, I know I can make this work. I do have to remind myself that nothing is going to look perfect or be perfect so I need to ditch my planning neuroses at the door.


Part of me feels distance learning is inevitable. Numbers have finally started to plateau in the US after months of climbing. But, as soon as we start to get that stability back we are sending millions back to school.

For the well being and mental health of our students, I hope distance learning is not in our future, but as a planner, I will consider all options this year.

Although our spring format was very different than what my school has planned if we return to distance learning, I was still fairly happy with the projects I assigned. We started with a coronavirus visual journal reflection. Students brainstormed ideas, researched the virus, then developed a spread that reflected their opinions and feeling about the pandemic. I received some beautiful pages from my students.

A coronavirus inspired spread by an Advanced 2D student.
A coronavirus and distance learning inspired spread by an Advanced 2D student.

I was also really happy with my Artist Trading Card project that I completed in all my classes. Students created mini works of art that they mailed to both students in their classes and faculty at school. It was such a great project because of the process, sending and receiving mail, and the outreach to each other. I will absolutely do this project again if we head back into distance learning.

Artist trading cards and a letter created during distance learning.

Which project was a huge fail? When I allowed students to develop their own final project. I gave few parameters since the supplies they had at home varied so much. My kiddos turned in a range of final pieces from things that looked like it was slapped together in five minutes to really beautiful works of art. Even when we aren’t in the same room together, my students really need my guidance to ensure they all have the same level of creative exploration.

In addition to this post, I also wrote a blog post about distance learning plans here. I talked so much about the possibility of heading back to school at some point in the spring, oh how naive early April me was.

In addition to advanced 2D, painting, and intro to design I also teach yearbook. Yearbook is undoubtedly going to be more of a beast than normal. I will have to create an entirely separate blog post to tackle it. Yearbook advisors, I see you, I stress with you, it will be okay (because it has to be).

Good luck as you head back to the school year. If you need any pre-made lessons, worksheets, distance learning ideas, curriculums or more check out my blog shop and my Teachers Pay Teachers shop. In addition to middle and high school products, my mom and I have been collaborating on and creating elementary projects for traditional art rooms and distance learning. Thanks for checking out this post, help me share ideas for this school year by sharing with others and subscribing. Thanks for stopping by!

Elements of Design Worksheet Set

Eight elements of design handouts and activities.

Check out my latest TPT product, an elements of design worksheet bundle, pictured above.

As I approach the end to this very bizarre school year I have started to look ahead to next year. Many changes are coming my way and I am distracting myself from distance learning with planning for the future.

Next year I will be moving from my beloved classroom of 5 years to bunk up with the art teacher across the hall. In terms of scheduling, this makes sense, my room will go to a middle school art teacher who needs the space more than I. It also means a new challenge for me, overhauling another art room! This will be my third room at this school. At least it keeps me busy.

My artist inspiration chalkboard wall at school.

I will greatly miss my artist inspiration wall, but I will find a way to set up something similar the new space. My coworker has given me permission to take over and decorate… she has no idea what she has agreed to…

I am also moving from teaching 3 classes a semester and being the fine arts administrative assistant, to teaching 5 classes a semester and becoming a full time teacher at my school. I will miss many aspects of the administrative assistant position, but I am so excited to be able to focus just on teaching again.

The transition to full time teaching was made possible because of the addition of a new course: Introduction to Design. I will be teaching four sections of this class in our amazing Mac lab. Students will learn about the building blocks of design, design thinking, graphic design, web design, user experience, and they get to select a focus between urban design, fashion design, game design, or interior design.

Between moving classrooms and designing a brand new curriculum from scratch, I will stay busy. But, I am so excited to embark on this new project. As I develop my design curriculum I will share my lessons here and on my Teachers Pay Teachers shop. I just completed the first piece, handouts that go through the eight elements of design: color, form, line, value, shape, texture, typography, and space. Check them out here.

Don't miss 25% off my entire Teachers Pay Teachers store. Use THANKYOU20 at checkout.

If you are interested in the elements of design worksheet bundle, distance learning resources, or any other art education products, now is the time to shop! My entire store will be 25% off today (5/5/20) and tomorrow (5/6/20), use the code THANKYOU20 at checkout. Check out past blog posts about my products to read about other resources to make your teaching life easier.

To all you teachers out there, I hope you are surviving! Good luck wrapping up your year in distance learning. Summer is on the horizon.

A letter to all the worn out teachers dealing with distance learning.

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