A Day In the Life

20 Things An Elementary Art Teacher Will Never Tell You

Yeah, I’m talking to you, regular classroom teachers.

1. When you say things like, “at least you only teach art,” we want to punch you in the face. Just because we only teach one subject doesn’t mean we don’t work as hard as you or that our job is any easier than yours. I teach 21 different classes. That’s 21 different groups of students with different group dynamics and different levels of understanding and ability. Not to mention I teach seven different grade levels. You teach one group of students at one grade level, and yes, you may teach four or five different subjects, but at least you don’t have to teach a class of 24 Kindergartners to draw the human figure and then immediately switch gears to explain to 6th graders how to convey the message, “We Hold Peace in Our Hands” through art.

2. We have our favorite classes. Yours is not one of them.

3. We probably don’t know your first name. And furthermore, we probably wouldn’t recognize you anywhere in our building other than standing outside our door. And outside of school? Forget about it. Especially when you’re new to the school like me. Again, 21 different classes in 3 different schools. You’ll be lucky if I even remember your last name by Thanksgiving.

4. We assume your students’ behavior in our room is a reflection of your classroom management skills. Or lack thereof. Seriously, I can tell you exactly what teachers have unruly classrooms based on the way their students act when they come to my room. And if your classroom management sucks, it means I have to work extra hard at managing your group of kids while they’re in my room. Oh, and #2 definitely applies to you.

5. We don’t have the time, the patience, nor the memory to keep track of your classroom’s tally/chip/point/star system, so please don’t ask us to use it in our room. I have my own classroom management strategies. An art room is drastically different than a regular classroom. Chances are, I have multiple different classroom management strategies and systems in place for different classes and grade levels. Your system will not work in my room. End of story. Oh, and when you pick your kids up and I tell you they earned a point or a chip or 10 seconds of talking time, I totally just made it up on the spot.

6. We hate it when your class goes on field trips. There’s nothing I hate more than having a class miss art because they went on a field trip. No, wait. There’s nothing I hate more than not being told a class is going on a field trip and having them not show up for art. I don’t keep track of your classroom calender. I have no idea what goes on outside of my room. Chances are, I didn’t get the memo. Assuming one went out. Yes, the nurse, the cafeteria, the custodians, the PE teacher and the bus drivers all got it, but the art teacher? Nope. Oh, and telling us we’re lucky because we won’t have your class that day is insulting. We work just as hard as regular classroom teachers to plan out our lessons. When your students miss a class, it throws our curriculum plan off by weeks.

7. Our favorite students are not the same as your favorite students. I tend to favor the kids with personality. The ones who get in trouble in your class. The ones who can’t be bothered with things like math and language arts. Chances are good that those students thrive in my classroom. Your good students? Chances are they do exactly what they need to do and their work looks exactly like my sample piece. This is not a good thing. They lack creativity and originality.

8. We kind of envy that you have time to sit down and eat lunch. Even if it is in the cafeteria with your students. I rarely have time to sit down, let alone eat something.

9. We can tell you have a substitute in your room even before your class shows up for art. Because they’re late. Or early. Seriously, is it that hard to leave directions to the art room for your subs? If I can hear your class coming down the hallway before I can see them, I’m pretty sure you’re out today and there’s a substitute. Your students are horribly behaved when you’re out. Which makes my job that much harder. Not that that’s your fault, I’m just saying. Although, a little heads up wouldn’t hurt, but I understand, you’re busy.

10. Yes, we’re art teachers. No, we don’t want to make your poster for you.

11. Art teachers hate glitter. And Popsicle sticks and pom poms and feathers and pipe cleaners. Yes, most of us have these in our classrooms, but I can assure you, we have no idea where they came from. A colleague and I are convinced the craft cabinet breeds in the middle of the night. Crafts are not the same as art.

12. Crafts are not the same as art.

13. We have to pee. Like, all the time. 

14. We don’t want the bag of rejects you amassed while cleaning out your junk craft room at home. Stop bringing it in to us. I have no use for 28 wooden spools or that box of 85 to-be-painted wooden cut-out Santas you have. Stop it right now. Stop. Right now.

15. Your students complain about you in our room. We let them do it. I do not, however, complain along with them. I just provide them with a safe and comfortable environment to vent their frustrations about you. Nothing against you, I just understand that everyone needs to vent from time to time.

16. We feel isolated and alone 88% of the time we’re at work. For real. Regular classroom teachers have team meetings and math meetings and ELS meetings and ESOL meetings. You have a bond and relationship that elementary art teachers only dream of being a part of. Our lunch time isn’t the same time as yours. Our planning time isn’t the same time as yours. We don’t get invited to IEP meetings. You only visit when you want something. Or when you’re dumping your students off on us. Heck, we feel more welcomed by and closer to your students than we do by you.

17. We aren’t journalists. Don’t ask us to come in and document your Bahama themed party with our digital camera. That’s what parent volunteers are for.

18. We hate having an “extra set of helping hands” in our room. Aides, assistants and volunteers in the art room create more work for me. It’s like babysitting adults. They don’t know what to do, where to stand, or how to hand out supplies. And they certainly don’t understand my unique style of classroom management. Plus, 9 times out of 10 the working noise level in my room will drive them bat shit.

19. It makes us feel good when your students bring us leftover snacks. Especially on birthdays.  Although most of the time, I will admit, I don’t dare eat the snack they bring. It still feels good to know that I’m good enough for your leftovers. You get holiday and end-of-the-year gifts. I get the smooshed cupcakes and broken cookies that no one else wanted. Would it kill you to request that your students start bringing in whiskey and ginger ale for snack though? Trust me, after my first three classes of the day (an hour each), I could use the pick-me up.

20. Art teachers are super stars. We have admirers down every hallway. We know you your students think we’re super cool, and we know you’re envious and wish you could be like us. My adoring fans shout out to me from across the cafeteria, wave to me from bus windows and high-five me in the hallways. Your quiet hallway line instantly becomes a twitter with “hi”s and “Do we have art todays?”s when I walk by. Line rules are broken for hugs. Grouchy frowns turn into excited smiles. “Hands by our sides” quickly spring up for quick and energetic flappy greetings. Your students love us. You wish you could be us. And we love everything, and I do mean everything, about being an art teacher.

PLEASE TAKE A MOMENT TO READ MY FOLLOW-UP, Humor. It’s Not All Sunshine and Roses. Mostly It’s Not.


130 thoughts on “20 Things An Elementary Art Teacher Will Never Tell You

  1. I am not a teacher, but I can actually relate to some of these things in my job as a graphic designer. Such as 'no I will not make that poster for you' and the comments in college where people thought I had a cake walk because I was an art major. I might have accidentally spilled a beer on one of them.


  2. You've really hit the nail on the head! Good for you, for putting the reality so beautifully in words. But in the end, you're right, the kids will always love us best -we definitely ARE the superstars!


  3. Did I ever tell you (no, I didn't) that the reason I majored in art was because of my elementary art teacher? He made art fun. He was a super star. He nurtured my creativity. I also had a kick-ass high school art teacher. It's because of those two men that I often thought of becoming an art teacher.

    I certainly hope that you feel like a superstar.


  4. This was so true. I especially relate to hating glitter and pom poms. I don't know how they end up in my art cabinet either. I certainly didn't order them. I can't tell you how many times classroom teachers ask me to do a cheesy art project which includes these things. I always turn them down nicely.


  5. This term will date me but RIGHT ON!!! I love this!!
    Now add this to the field trip deal…don't come back just in time for your Specials class or send the kids to me one at the time after you get back from a field trip…I have a class and half in my room and this disrupts and makes up wait at times. Don't think just because I don't have a class in my room I am sitting with my feet propped up. No, I am planning and cleaning and preparing…remember an hour of my planning was taken away so you could have 2 hours of planning once a month. Yeah, I'm put out on some things this year, but I still have the best job in the school:-)


  6. Something happened to my first comment…so this is a do over…
    RIGHT ON SISTER!!! Every word is soooo true!!!
    To add to the field trip part…don't come back just in time for my class and send those kids who are tired and thirsty to my class so you can have your planning time. I lost an hour of my planning this year so you could have a 2 hour planning time once a month…oh well, I still have the best job in the school.
    This is a wonderful list!


  7. Wonderful post!! You are “on the button” with those. I might add one, though. Just because I have art supplies in my room, it doesn't mean that you can send your students down to borrow paint, brushes, etc., for their science projects or literacy posters. Get your own supplies. My budget was cut this year and I need ALL my stuff!


  8. My favorite is the last one! Even going to the grocery store is fun when you're the art teacher! Everyone thinks it must be a drag to live in the town where you teach but not if you teach art. They love us like Justin Bieber (well maybe not that much!)


  9. Thank you everyone for the support and attention. It's reassuring to know I'm not the only art teacher out there who feels this way, because as I'm sure you all know, sometimes it can feel like you're the only art teacher out there.


  10. LOVE this! Soooo true… all of it! Well, except the bringing in stuff for me. I love that! I don't mind getting your junk if it means I won't have to buy more stuff to supply my Nevelson project! LOL! I hate the field trip thing too and the certain classes that are a nightmare behavior wise… definately a reflection on the teacher.


  11. I love this! You might want to add these:

    21. I am not the art supply store, or the office supply store. I am tired of being asked for scissors, paint, glue, poster board, white out (why would I have that?) Buy your own crap!!! I don't have a homeroom to bring me a classroom full of supplies at the beginning of the year…dang!

    22. Art is not the time to pull out students for testing/ behavior issues, tutoring. Well at least ask me first if, I have lessons to teach also.

    23. When you tell your students “Bye, have fun!” before you drop them off, it makes me think(or know)you do not take me serious as a professional. We are learning here, and while at times it maybe fun, that is not the main purpose of my class.

    Thanks, I love your blog!


  12. Oh, I cracked up throughout this whole thing. Love it!
    Do you meet with the other art teachers in your district? I think that helps tremendously, even if they aren't in the same building.

    I didn't realize how much the behaviour in my room was a reflection on the classroom teacher until I'd been at one school for a few years. Some teachers always had rough classes. Some always had good classes. They needed to do some self-reflection.

    And, how I love number one.


  13. I am the facilitator of my art department and I am sharing this at our next PLC meeting! Way to add some comic relief to the job! 🙂 Check out my blog, too, another “different” take on art education!
    -The ART of Education


  14. Anonymous says:

    I am an elementary music teacher and this list speaks volumes to me as well. You just haven't lived until you have been asked to spend your 45 minute/once per week classtime teaching some piece of crap song about the Water Cycle, the presidents, or the short A vowel. I am trying to make musically literate adults and intelligent consumers of music, not teach YOUR curriculum.
    And we totally aren't taken seriously at all. Specials teachers are absolute magicians when it comes to differentiating, hitting all seven intelligences, speaking to higher order thinking skills, making cross-curricular connections (ones that MAKE SENSE for OUR curriculum, not YOURS (see above)), and making learning fun. Really fun. Yet does ANYONE care what we have to say? Ha!


  15. You are GREAT! I love your 20 things! I haven't laughed that much in a looong time!
    May I share this with my other art teacher friends? I just saw some at the KAEA conference.
    I just found your site from “There's a dragon in the art room”. I am so glad to read it! I will be back to read more!


  16. Al says:

    Another music teacher with 37 years experience. My BFF is an art teacher and she feels EXACTLY the same way. ONE BLONDE GIRL you are my new hero!!


  17. Anonymous says:

    Elementary art teacher here….twenty years…oh my gosh, everything you wrote plus the three added by taramarie are things my fellow fine arts teachers and I have discussed for years! I just pitched a major hissy fit last week when, the day after I'd tossed out most of the random crafts junk that had been collecting in my room, a brand new bag of it appeared on my desk.


  18. I taught elementary art from a cart for 5 yeears before I switched to High School. And except for the room part, I could have written this. I demand of the big kids every once in a while “My elementary students used to clap when I walked in the room. Why don't you guys do that?”



  19. Number 21:
    My class is not a prize for you to award to a student or take away from a student because of some behavior that happened on your watch. The state mandates that I teach this subject to all children, and if I have to come down to your room and politely pick up the culprit I will.

    Unless it's that one kid.


  20. Thank you for saying all the things we mumble under our breath (or to the other specialists in our building). I am so sharing this tomorrow.

    And I am so happy to hear that I'm not the only one who hates glitter. Whew!


  21. I love it, its so true. I do art on a cart at 3 schools- only one school actually has a cart- the other two have too many stairs… but I have about 42 classes a week (2 special ed self contained) and I love it- I love that I get to spend some time (if only 30 min) with 900 different kids, all hilarious. I have to say though, I feel blessed to have a supportive group of coworkers- they are always telling me how much they love what their students do during art and always display the student work (I have a no-hanging policy since I simply have no time to do that for the teachers). We have the best job ever, thanks for sharing.


  22. I wanted to let you know I shared your blog on my own art ed blog. I meant to add this earlier in my comment.


    Thanks again for sharing, I'm going to email your list to the good-humored classroom teachers I work with, as well as all the other art teachers I know.


  23. Anonymous says:

    You forgot to tell classroom teachers to buy their own supplies out of their own budgets when they dream up some last minute hairball of a “hands-on” project.

    As the matter of fact, I don't have a class set of brushes, palettes, paper and paint ready “lend” to you, only to be left to rot in some corner of your classroom as you move on to important things


  24. Anonymous says:

    I love your blog!! I'm sharing with teacher friends everywhere, I saw it on a grad friend's facebook. What you are writing is soo true about art teaching. I was cracking up at the request to “stop petting Ms. Art Teacher's hair”, that has happened 4 times this week.


  25. Anonymous says:

    Love it! I have in one class period a group that is with me Monday-Friday, a group of band students who come in that class on Tues and Thurs, then another group of band students who come into that same class on Mon & Wed. In the mean time the guidance counselor pulls students out of my class, the resource teacher takes kids out for tutoring and then the classroom teacher may take kids out to make up work if they were absent. Doesn't matter what I have planned because it's just ART! We're there just so the subject teacher can have their planning period. I've been told that I take my class way to seriously!
    Thank God for those hi fives and hugs and chants “Yeah we have art today!”
    We do make a difference in a child's life!


  26. How could you write this stuff about the REAL teachers who do so much more than the average arts and craft teacher? Homeroom teachers clearly have a more challenging schedule, grading demands and responsibility to their kids…you need to understand your part as their prep period, a place for your art students to relax during the day and have a fun moment to craft, socialize and create. I do not think it is really all that difficult to come up with fun projects for your kids to make-come on!
    Are you really willing to believe this crap I am writing? Gotcha! You have no idea how darn hard I just laughed reading your 20 points! I only wish I had the courage to post it myself, so thanks for being my voice! This sounds like my lunch conversation with my dear friend each day! She teaches PE. You are a champ! Thanks so much! Oh, and consider getting posters made for sale on your site. I would buy it to hang in my closet! I will have to link you to my site!


  27. #11 is forever my favorite.

    Doesn't matter I'm not teaching now, still applies. #25: I am not YOUR teaching assistant, personal artist or parent volunteer.

    Oh, and while I actually will now make that poster for you, it's a poster. You don't treat it as important so neither do I. I will make your bake sale poster because you won't, but it's not going to be art. I'm an artist. I get paid (or well bribed) for actual art.


  28. artz-fartz says:

    OMG…LOVE LOVE LOVE! #4 is spot on. I've been saying that for years. Doesn't matter the year, or the “mix of kids”, the same teachers can take the sweetest, most creative kids and turn them into monsters, behaviorally speaking, based on the management style in their room.

    However, I don't necessarily mind the cleaned out craft rooms While some of it *is* crap, I've gotten a lot of cool stuff that way. ART stuff! And, I'm pretty good at recyling. 😉


  29. Anonymous says:

    I was that “regular” classroom teacher for years before I got smart and became the super star art teacher… This is great! Love it! I how ever use “extra hands” all the time to wash my brushes and hang the art… heehee


  30. Anonymous says:

    I heard my admin refer to us as “those people” the other day. Yep, I wear a super hero cape and am proud of it! I would add….no I won't paint something for your newly designed living room for free, easpecially when you call me “artsy fartsy”.


  31. Anonymous says:

    my thoughts out loud…. #21 Please don't call my students' work “CUTE.” Really? Do you think I went to college to teach your kids to make “cute” shit? #22 And how do you “borrow” paint? Are you going to peel it off the paper that you are painting it on when you are done and give it back?


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