Crafts are for summer camp. I teach art.

Dear sweet, innocent, substitute teacher,

I don’t even think you realized what you said today when you said it. There we were, discussing the fact that you’re new to the county, you were asking me questions about schools in the area, I was giving you tips on where to apply, all while the Kindergarten students you were assisting with were toiling away on their creations. The conversation was going alright, albeit a little distracting and inappropriately timed, but pleasant nonetheless.

And then you said it. Right there, in the middle of my art class, “I never understood how to teach crafty things to little kids. All that glue and stuff. How do you manage it?”

I’m sorry, how do I what? How do I teach crafty things to kids? Crafty?

Oh honey, I don’t think so. I don’t teach kids crafts, I teach them art. There’s a huge difference. Crafts involve gluing pompoms to Popsicle sticks and sprinkling it with glitter. Art, what I teach, what I went to school for six years to become highly qualified to teach, is about teaching kids how to create, how to hone their painting and drawing skills, how to look at the things around them, solve problems through experimentation and investigation. How to look at, and evaluate, a huge challenge and break it down into smaller, more manageable and doable steps. I teach students how to succeed in a situation they may not be familiar, nor comfortable with.

On my list of pet peeves, the misconstrued perception individuals outside of art education have about art education ranks high on that list. As art educators, we deal with this ignorance on a daily basis.

Take for example a colleague of mine who was engaged in a conversation with a second grade teacher. The second grade teacher couldn’t understand why my colleague had a problem with the class missing art when “all they ever do anyways are color sheets.” As you can imagine, my colleague was deeply offended and put-out, not to mention a bit angry.

We shouldn’t have to defend what we do to others, but we often find ourselves in a position in which we do, as my colleague did when she explained that the students receive color sheets after clean-up, at the end of class, as a treat.

I would never question what another teacher does academically in his or her classroom, nor make light of it. I would never question his or her education, although most elementary teachers I encounter nowadays are less educated than I am, but I would never presume that this means they’re less capable of teaching in their subject area than I am. I assume that every teacher I meet has received adequate training and education in their field of choice.

Unlike the occasional classroom teachers who are shocked when they learn that art teachers, art teachers need to have a degree to teach. And not only that, but some of us even have Master’s degrees.

The colleague I previously mentioned has, on more than one occasion, had to explain to other educators that yes, art teachers have to be certified by the state in order to teach, just like regular classroom teachers.

I don’t know where the idea that art teachers only do crafts with students came from, but it’s insulting. Most of the time I am quite capable of letting these ignorant beliefs roll off my back, and I move along with my day, fully aware of what my job entails, what my qualifications are, and with the full knowledge that what I do, what I teach, matters to students and their educations. Most of the time.

But sometimes, sometimes, the ignorance is so in-my-face that it indeed ruffles my feathers, works me up, gets me going. And in that situation I say, dear substitute teacher, don’t worry your pretty little head over it. I spent six years in college to become highly trained in the science of teaching kids how to not only open glue bottles, but also how to gently squeeze the bottle in order to get the glue out.

So go back to your clean, safe classroom and leave the messy stuff to us crafters, er, I mean, art teachers.


Ms. Art Teacher

(Small disclaimer: Please don’t think I believe all non-art teachers feel the same way as the few teachers I talked about above. I know many regular classroom teachers who understand and support what it is I do in my classroom.)


35 thoughts on “Crafts are for summer camp. I teach art.

  1. I totally understand! But as a high school art teacher, I have to make some students understand that my class is not just crafts and coloring sheets!


  2. I completely agree. I teach high school art and many students take the class because they think it is all about playing in paint. Somehow we have to get people's (parents, administration, other teachers, and students) attitudes to change about art!


  3. Sigh. Some will understand, but some won't. I'm struggling with the 6th grade teachers in my own district who have so little regard for what I do that they couldn't be bothered to tell me that their kids were going on an end-of-year field trip to an amusement park on Friday, and missing their next-to-last art classes of the year. Why bother to tell me? After all, it's only art, right? Yeah right. So, uninformed, I got out the materials and nobody showed up… I'm just back after having been out 2 weeks for surgery recuperation, and am in no mood for that ****. These students have work to complete; they need to complete their written reflection, and then I need to grade the work, calculate their final averages, and enter them on the computer. All BEFORE the last art class (which is after the end of the marking period anyhow), which I use for a culminating activity after having these students since kindergarten. It's important to the kids, too, since I'm the only art teacher they've ever known. It all leaves me looking like a fool, inventing grades out of dust.

    Luckily, the K-5 teachers in my district seem to have more respect and a better understanding of the fact that I actually TEACH and we aren't just “playing with crayons”.


  4. One of my “favorite” I-can't-believe-you-said-that moments was during a faculty meeting a few years back while I was still teaching in NY (maybe I've mentioned it before?) The elementary school I was working at was about to experience a remodel and the powers that be were rethinking the placement of the classrooms and blah, blah, blah. At the time, the 6th grade classrooms were next to the music room. The Principal stated that he wanted to move the 6th grade teachers out and move the art room in, because art is non-instructional and learning wouldn't be disturbed by the instruments. I was flabbergasted and speechless, but thankfully a 5th grade teacher wasn't and immediately jumped to the defense of art and what I do. The Principal found himself quickly back-pedaling. Some teachers get it. Others don't.

    Phyl- It seems the ones that don't get it, at least in my experience, tend to be the 6th grade teachers. I wonder why that is?


  5. In my district, which is one K-12 building, the 3 of them think they are special. Until last year, they were considered elementary. This has been the 2nd year since they were changed to “middle school”. They still, however ironically, come to the elementary art and music rooms, and their classrooms are still located in the elementary wing of the building. But their report cards are secondary, and they do some class-switching like the middle school (though they still have one teacher for ELA/homeroom/and some other basic stuff). It's sort of a nether-land. Their teacher mailboxes got switched to the high school office (yippee), and they go to middle school assemblies. They also end classes a week earlier than the elementary and will have a LOT of time to themselves when we're still teaching. We have an ineffective K-12 principal who lets them run their own show, and it has made them very bossy and egotistical. They frequently will hold kids out of art to finish a test without asking if I'm doing any instruction (which of course I am, plus I need to grade them too but they don't care), actually without asking at all. They think they are better than us elementary teachers. Ironically, my first 9 years teaching were as a high school teacher, so I'm not without secondary experience.

    Sorry to go on for so long here, but it's obviously a sore spot. I went home very angry on Friday and need to put it to rest.


  6. I've had that experience too. I remember my first year teaching I was working until 8pm the first 4 weeks of school. Several of the teachers came up to me and asked me “Why on earth are you staying so late after school, you don't do anything but teach kids how to color?” I was so mad I think my eyeballs were going to torpedo out of my head.
    And Phyl…I feel your pain about kids missing out on art class. Most of 5th grade missed art all together during the last week of school. Some came just once a month because their teacher allowed them to stay in her room if they didn't feel like going to my class. And we wonder why fine arts are the first to get cut in a budget crisis.


  7. Seriously I can't belive that you wrote “Crafts involve gluing pompoms to Popsicle sticks and sprinkling it with glitter”. While it can be that it can also be so much more. Children can benefit from exploring and participating in craft activities as much as art.How much relies on the teacher's attitude and skill.


    • Yet crafts are NOT art … do crafts explore our curriculum? Principals and elements of art? Do they teach to problem solve? NO… they do not crafts involve creating a project that looks like the craft. Art is created to be unique not like everyone else’s…
      can be fun but art teachers do not teach crafts…seriously???


  8. Looks like you hit a “sore spot” with your post. Of course, you are on target and have every right to be angry. I had some very supportive teachers, thank goodness, but it's because I had to prove myself after the last teacher stopped.


  9. Mo says:

    Hmmm, while I agree overall with the blogger I think that both are viable without diminishing the other. Crafts people work at preserving a traditional form using historically appropriate techniques, tools and materials and there are artists who produce work with little regard for tradition or craftsmanship. There is value in honing ones skill just as there is value in carefree experimentation without regard to quality or longevity.


  10. This past year I had several students in a fourth grade class finally confess that the reason they don't feel they have to do any work or behave is because I am not a “real” teacher. I'm sure smoke was coming out of my ears when I heard that. I explained with teeth clenched that not only did I graduate high school, four years of college but I also chose to go back to school for three years to get a master's degree. When they get all the education I've had and the paper that says so then they can do what they want in my class. For now I plan to get each one of those sheepskins framed and hang the dad gum things in my classroom. Thankfully I have a supportive administration and staff.


  11. I totally agree!!! I am so lucky to work in a building that supports and “gets” what I do! I have the BEST staff and principal, but I seem to have the most issues with a 5th and 6th grade teacher too. They seem to think that special area teachers can just alter our schedules anytime that is convenient for them. SO aggrevates me!!! While I agree with Mo on the “definition” of crafter, that is not what this poster is talking about (I believe). The kind of “crafts” that I think we are talking about are of the “easy” paper plate, cottonball, glitter, and smiley face kind. While there is merit in the fun, meaningless, mindless making of cute themed projects but we all know that unless it has a skill set, meets standards, and teaches many art elements or has vocabulary, then it is not an “art”. Ceramics, weaving, and printmaking are crafts but not crafty. I LOVE crafts, but not necessarily the craftiness of time fillers with no real artistic value. I find it is a fine line but I always am able to explain my lessons with skills, vocabulary, links to other artists, and standards that it meets.


  12. Kay says:

    I understand where you're coming from. My administration is reducing my job this year, and I had to sit through a faculty meeting where my super went on about the music department and library. Art is being reduced to part time (1/2 year) for elementary because “he knows what a good job the elementary teachers do with crafts.” I almost burst into tears/ walked out.I think the teachers appreciate what I do for the most part. I know I've had many people tell me the students are going to be heartbroken they will only be going to art for 1/2 a year next year.


  13. I love this hot topic. I did a survey for my 6th-8th graders this year. I asked them if my assignments were challenging to them. What I meant to say, is this…Did you use your brain while you were creating art? But I didn't. Most of my responses came back with “they were a little hard but art is not supposed to be challenging, it is supposed to be fun!” I wanted to shoot myself in the foot. Next year, the pay looks as bleak as this year. I seriously want to throw popsicle sticks around and tell them to build me a log cabin. I will be sitting at my desk doing real art. ha! So, not only do we need to educate the parents better, we meaning me, I need to educate the students better. I am thrilled they love me and my class but how do you tell imbed in them the importance of what they are learning?? Most of my co-workers understand what I am doing but it always goes back to the fact that I can make a better poster for the hallway than them, sigh.


  14. I have been there, many a time. When you are looking at someone who just doesn't GET what you do. Many years of that…many years with a principal who didn't get it..who stood up in a budget meeting and said “well, let's just cut out art and music, that will solve the money issues”.

    These days I am in a very supportive environment. BUT I still deal with a few people who just don't understand what I really do in class and that in fact I happen to be MORE educated then them. But I am the one who's schedule doesn't seem to matter, who's prep can get cut, who can go three hours+ without a bathroom break. For me, its the Kindergarten teachers!

    I have plenty of popsicle sticks in my classroom, pop poms too! They get used in artful ways and during free time. Nothing is off limits in my classroom. There are opportunities to use those materials in their artwork. I've been known to stock up on those googlie eyes too! (I only teach up to grade 2)

    I know what you meant about crafts…I once had a teacher ask me years ago if I would do a project about clouds..YES< you know that one--the one where they glue down puff balls on blue paper! let's just say he knew NOT to ask me again after I "schooled" him what was art and what was NOT. Keep the faith.


  15. At our school's summer program they have set aside 30 minutes for “fun” time. Guess what is in that fun time? PE, Art and Recess. I guess we just get thrown into that category. That is one reason why I chose not to sign up to help. Sounds horrible, but I know, but it was the last straw when thinking about situations just like yours. Hope you are feeling well and the heat isn't too much for you. I know the hot days really get to me. Oh the joys of carrying a child! Take care!
    Jessica Balsley


  16. My neighbor told me that she likes the art her first grader “makes” in Sunday School better than what he does in school. Then she told me about the little leaf he brought home from Sunday School. There was an acorn in the middle and it was “Jesus in a boat.” And she thought it was a wonderful creation….by her son. I'm biting my tongue thinking how that really means that she likes the crafts his Sunday School teacher makes and doesn't like the things her child makes by his own hand with his own thoughts. ……sigh.


  17. I've had different attitudes at different schools, rather than just the teachers. I think a lot depends on the attitude of the administration. At my last school, other classes were scheduled at the same time as art, students would miss art because of behavior or to finish other class work. Trying to grades was crazy! I'm not sad that I'm going to a new school next year, though I may get the same attitudes. I used to get the “why are you still here” comments. It was just so rude, even if I NEVER came early or worked late.


  18. Abby says:

    I totally agree! I taught high school art once and it was a pain trying to get them motivated because they thought that as long as they did the minimum work and pass the class, that's all that matters. Some of my students actually said “I passed three quarters, who cares what I do for fourth quarter?”


  19. Anonymous says:

    I teach at two schools a day. The second one was new to me this year and the 5-6th graders had me in their sights the minute I walked in the door. “We got rid of the last art teachers, we'll get rid of you, too.” And their classroom teachers and the administration are almost as equally supportive. The kids figure art is play time, their parents echo them, and no one recognizes the state mandated learning objectives I am expected to teach every day – as well as incorporate math, science, reading, writing, social studies and others into my curriculum to support the “regular” teachers' programs. All in a one half hour class. And no budget. I leave that school ready to burst into tears nearly every day of the week.


  20. Anonymous says:

    I am a first year art teacher. I absolutely love your blog. I can relate to every aspect represented in it.
    I retired from the Army after 25 years and I honestly feel I would rather be on the battlefield than teaching with these people. I'm sick of them telling me I have to relate my lessons to the “classroom” teachers lessons.
    They have to be about math science and literature. Well, do the classroom teacher (which by the way I do teach in a classroom too) have to relate their lesson to my subject matter NO!! I'm sick of PD that never addresses my subject and when I do add to the conversation they are blown away how I scaffolded my lessons. Really!!! I do have 25 years of experience as a mechanic and 2 flippin degrees. I'm already sick of it. The budget issue is another story. 207 students have $160 dollars for art supplies for the year. Good thing I'm not working for a pay check. it's CRAZY!! I wish someone would have given me the heads up before I picked this job as a relaxing alternative to my ARMY career.


  21. I know! I hate typical camp craft stuff! When I was teaching ceramics in camp, I tried to teach real art projects like sculptures, tiles, and mugs. I also wanted to scream every time I saw a child make a ceramic heart ;). Anyway, I'm going to teach at a new camp and the guy who interviewed me said he wanted the kids to make real art and not crap the parents are going to throw away. :)- Abby


  22. Anonymous says:

    I have been teaching Elem. art for 17 years now. After too many ignorant “glue noodles to paper plates and finger paint all day” comments from fellow teachers, I think I finally have an understanding of it. I find most of these comments come from people who have not been in a REAL art room in 20 years or more. Back in the day, art class was “crafts”…if you were lucky enough to even have a regular art class within your school day. These people simply don't realize how much the field has evolved and the amount of standard based education that goes on now. It's ignorance, not malace, that produces the stupid comments. I respond by politely asking them to come observe ANY class, ANY time, and see if they can keep up!


  23. I've read all these comments with great interest – it's obviously a hot topic wherever you are in the world! I taught art in (Australian) high schools for many years – art was often seen as the 'soft' option for kids who for whatever reason couldn't do the 'academic' subjects. In Queensland there are no specialist art teachers in the state run Primary schools – art is totally the responsibility of the 'regular' classroom teachers!!

    I now teach after school art lessons for primary age kids who want (and pay) to be there. I tend to have a core group in each class of talented kids who come back term after term, year after year …. I usually only have 2 or 3 vacancies at the start of each term. I get only positive feedback from the kids and their parents, and because I just rent space from the schools, it really doesn't matter so much what their attitude is! I've finally found my niche!!!


  24. Anonymous says:

    I have a big sign outside my art room door that says,”Art is work- it just looks like play.” So many staff and students comment on it. Just one of my ways of educating the masses.


  25. Anonymous says:

    There's a VAST difference between CRAFTS and FINE ARTS. I teach 5th/6th grade art. When I choose projects to teach my kids, I'm very aware that I must capitalize my time (I have very limited class hours available). I cannot afford to “waste” time on crafts. Sorry if that offends anyone, but these kids can learn crafting at home with their mamas. I need every moment to count with color theory, media techniques, the elements of art, observation skills, drawing skills, etc. Not to mention cross-cultural art, well-known artists, classic art pieces, etc….so much to teach & so little time!


  26. Pingback: #tbt: Crafts Are For Summer Camp. I Teach Art | Art Teachers Hate Glitter

  27. Beth says:

    I totally agree…that is why I am so upset that when our music teacher retires in June they are going to replace her with an instructional Assistant, not a certified teacher! The state of Indiana does not require degrees in music or art to teach anymore!!!!!


  28. Aauughrt teacher says:

    Hmmm. As a secondary teacher whose classes include traditional drawing and painting classes as well as photography and yes – CRAFTS, such as Fibers & Textiles, Ceramics and Sculpture, I am amazed to hear that so many think that the foundations of art and design are not inherent in craft work. My classes include principles and elements of design as well as opportunities for problem solving. reflective writing and study of craft within our history. I think we need further enlightenment even within our own ranks. Oh, and yes, I too have an aversion to glitter but do relent on rare occasions.


    • Crafts, as you are defining them, are very valuable, necessary and worthy in their own right. At the elementary level, I teach the crafts of fibers & textiles, ceramics and sculpture as well. I think the problem occurs when, primarily at the elementary level, the word “crafts” has come to be defined as something you do with wooden sticks, pom poms and pipe cleaners. Many people assume that elementary art teachers primarily work with such materials, and that that’s all there is to it, and I think that’s the big issue. Elementary art is so much more. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts!


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