A Day In the Life, Gripes

It’s All Fun and Games, Until Someone Pulls the Love Card

Twice a year, I bust out a popular boxed drawing game to play with my students. The last week of school happens to be one of the times I bring this game out. The students love it, I get a kick out of it, and good fun is had by all. Until this week. If you follow Art Teachers Hate Glitter on Facebook, then you’ve already heard part of the story. Here’s what I posted earlier this evening:

For Your Consideration: It’s the last day of art and you’re playing a Pictionary-esque game with your AP 3rd grade class. You pull a subject card that reads, “Gym teachers in love.” Do you,

a) think it’s silly and let your students draw it because it’s all in good fun and they’ll get a kick out of it, or

b) think it’s inappropriate and controversial and banish it to the back of the box?

The responses were essentially divided into two camps, what’s-the-big-deal, and why-poke-the-bear, which is exactly what I expected. As you can probably expect, there’s more to the story than the small little blurb I posted to Facebook.

I play a modified version of the Pictionary-style game, (affiliate) Luck of the Draw, with my 3rd-6th graders. The students are given a subject, which I read from a card I’ve pulled out of the “subject” box (pre-selected for comprehension and maximum humor). They then have a minute to draw the subject. After the minute, the drawings are shared with their table anonymously (or as anonymously as elementary students can be). The students then vote for the drawing that they feel best fits a selected category card. It’s silly, it’s fun, and students of all artistic abilities have a chance of getting their drawings selected as a “winner”. For the last round of the game, I like to select a really fun subject that will get the students roaring with laughter. Sometimes it’s “hamsters juggling,” sometimes it’s “a moose in the house,” and sometimes, it’s “gym teachers in love.”

Until this week, it never occurred to me that “gym teachers in love” was an inappropriate or controversial subject to give students to draw. The response to this subject has always been giggles, mixed with some “ews” and drawings that show two adults with hearts over their heads. Well, for the first time ever, a student took this somewhere it shouldn’t have gone. Somewhere I never expected a third grader to take it, and in surprisingly shocking detail. It was a big deal. Administration and counselors got involved. It was ugly.

I later approached the AP who handled this situation to find out how things had ended. The whole thing had been very emotional, I was actually very upset by the ordeal, and I wanted to make sure that the student was okay. Little did I know, but I was about to be thrown under the bus.

It was suggested that I was to blame for why the drawing was made, which, okay, had I not chosen that subject, the picture never would have happened. Fair enough, but in my mind, there was a bigger issue at hand.

Why is a third grader drawing such detailed images that are not developmentally appropriate for his age?

It quickly became evident that I was the only one who felt that this was the most pressing concern. It was suggested that the subject I asked the students to draw was inappropriate because of everything kids see on TV nowadays. Apparently “love,” something that we teach our children about since the day they are born, something that is interwoven into many human relationships, is a rated R topic. You know, because that’s what kids see on TV, that ever present instigator and fall-guy for every bad thing anyone anywhere has ever done*.

It was implied that the subject was controversial because gym teachers are often accused of doing bad things. Hold the phone. So, if the subject had been “science teachers in love,” or “music teachers in love,” that would have been okay? So, because the subject was specifically about gym teachers, in love, that automatically pushes it into unsafe territory? Why, because gym teachers are evil and dangerous? What, are gym teachers not allowed to be in love? What if it had just been “gym teachers”? Or “in love”? What if I had asked students to draw “love”? Would that be wrong too?

Since when has “love” become an inappropriate and controversial thing to talk about and ask our students to consider in their art work? I ask students to draw family portraits. Is this inappropriate because bad things often happen in families? I ask students to draw pictures of themselves with a friend. We discuss relationships and body language and how you can tell that two people are friends just by looking at them. Kids draw themselves with their arms around their friends. They draw themselves holding hands. Is this inappropriate?

I’m still confused by the backlash that occurred because of this one drawing that this one student drew. I’m shocked that anyone would suggest that I’m asking my students to do inappropriate things. I’m amazed that the focus has been turned around on me and taken away from the student who could really use some attention and help.

I think I just got my first real taste of the anti-teacher vibe that exists now. If this is truly the state of education, that teachers are blamed for the actions of their students, then I don’t know if I want to be a part of that anymore.

What are your thoughts?

*It’s interesting to note that while I wrote this, the TV was on and a commercial came on about Love. The commercial showed many different demonstrations of people showing love for each other, and it was all rated G. Or maybe hugging and kissing children and grandparents is PG? R? I just don’t know anymore.


19 thoughts on “It’s All Fun and Games, Until Someone Pulls the Love Card

  1. Anonymous says:

    Sorry to hear but yes this is the 'blame the teacher' stigma going around. Support from Admin is crucial and it seems Admin has lots of power these days. Oh and students are our 'customers'…… ugh…… We're easy targets too as non-core 'fun free for all' teachers. Only art teachers know how hard it is so do what we do well. Happy Summer!


  2. Anonymous says:

    “Gym teachers in love” is a hilarious category! Students of that age LOVE their gym teachers and could have a lot of fun with that! I am absolutely appalled that this has come back on you. The student took it too far and should be spoken to about the appropriateness of it in the classroom (or anywhere else). Even at that young age, they know that some Thu.GD dont belong at school. I wonder what the parents thought of this?


  3. Wow, I do hope your administration has taken a minute at home to think about this incident and whether they say anything to you about the error of their thinking or not, they at least have figured it out on their own. That poor child has seen things he should not have seen at such an age…it is confusing to him at best. Where I teach in Chicago it is par for the course. (This year I have had a 2nd grade girl who is extremely sexualized and turns everything into a sexual topic. I handed out long handled paint brushes and she immediately started acting like she was handling a penis in a sexual manner.) I am lucky to have administration who know that the innocence of our children has been altered by their life circumstances. I would have used that card, but knowing my students I would quickly explain what is expected by a visual representation of love before they started drawing. My guess is you have no reason to have to explain as the majority of your students are well adjusted and know the boundaries of what can be visually depicted and what cannot. It really upsets me that you are the fall guy on this when the parents and counselors should be seeing a huge red flag flying above this little boy. I'm so sorry your year is having to end this way.


  4. How sad – I'm sorry you had to suffer through this situation with uncaring administrators. Unfortunately, many admins who are untrained and unsure of how to handle these situations professionally have to play the blame game to feel 'in control'. I hope this situation can be put behind you without further complications. In today's world, kids are exposed to adult content at a much younger age than we were – apparently it requires too much effort to change the channel or wait to watch the DVD until the kids are in bed (if the kids even go to bed before the adults!). In my school community (urban, low income), my students' interpretation of 'love' could range from innocent hugs n kisses to the X-rated program their parents watched last evening so I would be very leery of giving that assignment here for fear of similar results. Wishing you a peaceful summer break…


  5. Anonymous says:

    And sadly, it's these things that caused me to quit my job. It got to the point to where i couldn't teach, for fear of hurting someone's feelings, me getting in trouble, not being fair enough, or being too fair, etc. This is a great example that teachers have no rights! I applaude you for bringing up the subject matter that the child drew. I hate that they have not looked into that. If it was indeed very detailed, then i would press into that, first by talking to the counselor about your concerns, and calling DHS. What will happen next, is that something will be found out about that child and then you will be blamed for not turning that in, or not pushing it. YOu can't win! Children draw what they know, what they see, or what they imagine. A sexual encounter or body parts is from what they know or see. And 3rd graders should not know too much.
    My last thought: If gym teachers are capable of doing “bad things” then they really shouldn't be in our schools…..


  6. This is truly a tough one. How did the administration find out about it? Did the students keep talking about it after class and it got to the office, or did you report the student's act? I am imagining myself in the same situation and I wouldn't have had a problem with the “gym teachers in love” subject at all – and I know the kids would think it was hilarious. I would imagine that I would have taken the offensive drawing, called the student to the side and made it clear that it was highly inappropriate, and continued on with the game, hoping that continuing on would make the students in that group forget and move on to positive things without it becoming the focus. I am curious as to how it escalated.
    I have had my share of uncomfortable moments with students and admin and I feel your pain. It's so sad that teachers like us take unnecessary blame, and mostly that so many kids have their innocent years tainted.
    Remember that situation a few years ago when Ernie and Bert were in the media with people wondering if they'd “get married” and one of the Teletubbies was being called gay? It is so wrong of people(adults) to sexualize characters and concepts that are created for innocent young kids. It's also sad that the kid who made the drawing has that knowledge and doesn't know any better – he shouldn't be humiliated because he is so young and just needs understanding and better guidance.
    Good luck to you with this!


  7. Hope – I totally agree with the Bert and Ernie thing! Sesame St. Corp. said it best with their gentle statement of decline on the subject:

    “Bert and Ernie are best friends. They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves. Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street Muppets™ do), they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.”

    EXACTLY. Let kids learn about friendship and other important social things FIRST – they don't know what the deal with dating and marriage is yet and they don't need to – they will figure it out once they understand the friendship and kindness base to everything. They need to learn how to be good people FIRST, and how to treat others/tolerance etc., sure….but save the details and why/when/how stuff for later, for Pete's sake. Let them be kids.

    Otherwise, they get confused and draw inappropriate drawings in art class 😉

    So sorry this happened. Appalling, really.


  8. Sesame Street can do no wrong. They even handled that Big Bird thing during the election perfectly by not really responding at all, even with Big Bird making an SNL appearance. Let's follow their lead.


  9. Anonymous says:

    Seems like someone didn't realize that it's developmentally appropriate for 3rd graders to draw inappropriate drawings in art class. Maybe next time the card could read “teacher thrown under the bus”.


  10. Anonymous says:

    After 23 years in the classroom, I am always cautious when subjects that may in some way turn “dirty.” I always tell the kids, “Keep it clean and school appropriate or I will bring it to the office myself.” This nips many things in the bud.

    Kids are exposed to too much, way too much. Type “love” into google and half the images are porn that even kids won't avoid, and even filters do not catch 100%. When we do parody foods, I say, NO Weedies cereal boxes, it's not appropriate. When we do a design unit for magazine covers, I say, no playboy, keep it clean. When kids have to create something based on the figure, I say, keep it covered.

    If they complain or argue, which is VERY uncommon, I tell them when you go to college and become an art major, you can draw all the naked people you want. But this is a public school, and I want to keep my job, and not lose my house. Don't do it! (I never say “because I say so” I let them know an honest answer why.)

    This is a completely different era. There has never NOT been internet for these kids. It's in their pockets!

    Yes, the graphic nature of the drawing should be reported to DYFS as a possible indication of abuse. I saw something similar in a 2nd grader's drawing that I reported. It may be a sign of sexual abuse, or a kid who has seen too much porn.

    My last point is to make sure you see everything as the kids create it, and focus particularly on kids who try to hide their drawings. It may be personal, but I tell them it won't leave the room till I have a peek, and if it's too secret to even show me, it shouldn't be drawn here. Ultimately I am responsible for everything that is created in my room and leaves my door.


  11. So telling of this day and age. I teach fifth and have to have the sex talk with my students. The teacher last year got in big trouble because they were asking questions and while she gave general and appropriate answers, she was told she shouldn't have allowed the questions. There are so very many days I feel like I can't win. I love the prompt and think the admin is way wrong on this one.


    • K. Wray says:

      As a parent the response that teachers shouldn’t allow nor answer questions angers me greatly. Where else do we want young people directing questions they can’t bring to their parents or that their parents won’t answer? (Seriously. Every adult should be thinking about that question!)

      That ATHG was thrown under the bus without the Admin ALSO looking into why the child was graphic beyond the normal bothers me greatly too.

      Lastly, being related to a gym teacher who’s in love, that card being inappropriate for little kids is ridiculous. At that age drawing them holding hands or kissing is expected, drawing people with hearts looking at sports equipment is expected. Graphic naked body parts isn’t expected so why in the world would you have the 6th grade “keep it clean” talk with third grade?. *facepalm*


  12. Anonymous says:

    As a former teacher of this age range, I cannot fathom that the concerning nature of detail the student presented in the drawing, was dismissed. It could be that the kiddo has seen too much teevee or it could also be something really concerning. This child's welfare is THE most important thing to look into further.

    I don't know if it is a little too drastic but might it be time to involve CPS? I am wondering though, what contact or information was brought to the family in this situation? It is a complicated situation but the focus should not be on you.

    What is happening is classic blame-gaming. If we blame someone's lesson plans (jeesh, “gym teachers in love” is funny and innocent) then we don't have to take responsibility.

    This is not about you. This is about fear, shame and embarassment on the admins part that maybe they didn't handle it to the best of their ability. Do not, I repeat, do not be bullied.

    I'd speak with the school counselor (if you are lucky to have one) for advice on how to proceed in this matter. I know school is probably out but in this situation that seems like a good ally for you.


  13. Anonymous says:

    You know what…It's their perverted thinking. Your administration (or at least one of them) need a good f…(beep). And of course, they blame you for their own dirty thoughts:))) As an administrative figure, unfortunately enough, your AP has poor personal skills as well. Instead of turning this whole situation into a positive learning experience for this poor “accelerated” kid, your AP escalated already potentially unpleasant situation. They were not looking for the positive solution for everybody and most importantly for the kid, but somebody to blame. Well, good occasion for questioning their professional adequacy.


  14. they blame you because it's the quickest, easiest way to pass the buck and “solve” the problem. I would recommend to most teachers that if something like this happens again that you deal with it yourself and not involve administration. It's a teachable moment… if you can show the student why this is inappropriate for school (and the other students if they saw it). Administrators tend to blow things out of proportion because they see themselves as the “hammer” or the consequence of last resort. If you were concerned it's a quick an easy report to DCS in most places. Don't hand off your power as the teacher to the administrator. It's your classroom! SOLIDARITY


  15. Anonymous says:

    When I took Art Therapy in college as a requirement for Art Ed, I wondered why we were looking at the symbols for abuse… for this morbid reason. It's sad that we as Art Teachers can see things that others can't but yet there is little that we can do about it. Know that you're not alone here.

    I had a student in third grade that would act out sexually and not only did the school say that I was not to discuss it with parents– I was to keep it a secret. In that situation it was the Gym Teacher that really needed to know as I thought that this student needed extra supervision in the locker room. I told the Gym Teacher right after I quit. Teaching takes too strong of a stomach in many schools now.


  16. Something similar to this happened to me 25 years ago. A first grader drew a pattern on a lady’s dress in his drawing, that his mother decided was boobs. No body asked the kid what was in the drawing. The Mom just reported to the principal that I was having kids draw nudes in first grade. When I finally figured out what the real deal was, and asked the kid to explain his drawing, I was vindicated….and got no apology from anyone. Thanks, folks. (BTW, I was having the kids draw from “American Gothic.” The pattern on the lady’s dress has circles with dots inside the circles.)


  17. Pingback: Games in the Art Room: TAG the Art Game | Art Teachers Hate Glitter

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