Small Scraps

Small Scraps: Frustrations, Funnies, & Fabulous Praise

“But what if we don’t want to do that?”

I had a 3rd grader ask me this absurd question after I introduced a lesson the other day. As in, I don’t want to do this lesson, what else do you have lined up for me? I can’t tell you how many times I have students ask me versions of this question. Since when did it become optional to do the lesson the teacher is teaching?

I have a particular 2nd grade class that always argues over who is at the end of the line. It’s usually the same three students. It doesn’t matter where I place them in line or how I call them to line up, the moment my back is turned, these students are at the end of the line, pushing and arguing over who gets to be at the end. Finally, determined to resolve the problem once and for all, I asked the classroom teacher if she has a specific line “ender”, my intention, of course, was to be able to say, “so-and-so is the line ender, problem solved.” The teacher replied to me, “We do… it changes every week… I don’t know who it is this week… I guess I could check…” So, you have classroom jobs but don’t actually check to make sure they are being done? Actually, that explains a lot. I now understand why I have so many difficulties with your class. Thank you.

The other day, while my 4th graders were working on coil pots, one girl came up to me for help and complained that working with clay was ruining her manicure. Her friend responded, “Well, you know we have art on Tuesdays, you should have waited.” Meanwhile, I’m thinking, “For real? You’re 9! Maybe 10. What are you doing getting professional manicures? Go get dirty. You have plenty of time to worry about your nails when you’re a teenager.” I’ve never had a manicure. Why? Because I work with clay and paint on a daily basis. Shortly after we convinced pretty-nail-girl to work the clay herself, the friend asked me, “why did you decide to become an art teacher?” “Because I like to work with my hands and get dirty,” I replied. Pretty-nail-girl sneered a little.

We give 6th grade assessments in our county. All students participate, and then we’re asked to submit a random sampling of the work (chosen by someone else). We’re not allowed to assist the students with their work, so you can imagine the range of work that gets done. At the end of the assessment, I watch as students turn in their projects, and I often cringe and think, “Ooh, I hope they don’t pick yours. Were you not even listening to the requirements?” And every year, without fail, the students who were the least successful are the students who are randomly selected. It pains me to send in their work when I know that there are so many stronger pieces that could have been chosen. So. Many.

The work is then scored and the data is used to assess… something. I’m not really sure of the details. I just know that the data is used for something. They used to score each school and each teacher based on these assessments, but they stopped doing that. Thank goodness, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling embarrassed when I submit photos of the poorly crafted work. I want to amend my submission with, “But wait! Look at all this good work that was made. Wouldn’t you rather assess this?” Welcome to the state of education today.

Lately, I find that bad behavior is being brushed off and explained away with excuses (by classroom teachers and administration alike). “Well, we’ve been having a lot of snow days lately, so you should expect the students to be off.” “Well, keep in mind it’s the week before break, so you should understand that the classes are going to be squirrely.” Well, this is our (1st)(2nd)(3rd) full week of school since (snow days)(break) so you can imagine the students are struggling.”

Whatever happened to accountability? If you keep explaining away bad behavior, when do students actually learn how to behave? If we don’t hold them accountable for their behavior, ever, why would they choose to behave? It’s getting pretty aggravating.

A 2nd grade class was cleaning up, and one girl noticed that there wasn’t much work for the Floor Cleaners to do since there wasn’t any mess. She explained, “it’s not like someone gave birth under the table.” Huh? Say what now? Okay then…

I was talking to my art teacher cohort’s long term substitute today. She’s subbed long-term for me in the past, as well as for other art teachers, even though it isn’t her field. Today she kept going on about how much work is involved in teaching art (not in a complaining way, but in an understanding, sympathetic way). She compared it to what regular classroom teachers do, “anyone can photocopy a math worksheet, but what you art teachers have to do for prep is unbelievable, and physical, all the lifting, bending, paper cutting… there’s so much prep work involved.” She’s great, for so many reasons, and we always appreciate the extra mile she goes for us. I sometimes wish we could get regular classroom teachers or administration to fill-in for us for a week. What an eye opener that would be, am I right?


11 thoughts on “Small Scraps: Frustrations, Funnies, & Fabulous Praise

  1. I’m a middle school art teacher and as I read each paragraph, I heard myself saying “Yep”, “mmmmhmmm”, “Preach it, sista!”, “Seriously!”, and “You got that right!” in my head. So nice to know I’m not alone…


  2. yvonne decordova says:

    1. “This is school and your assignment isn’t a choice. You can choose not to do your work and earn a zero, but there isn’t ever another choice.”
    2. “I’m (art teacher) assigning Marybeth to be the line end position, because she isn’t fighting for the job.” If you are fighting for a job you may not have a job.
    3. “If you have an issue doing your project, I can call your mother. She can provide you with gloves or stop paying for manicures.”
    4. Send the weak pieces home, immediately, along with a very brief note explaining what the assignment was and encouraging parents to reinforce the need to listen to instructions. You might even ask the parents to have the student repeat the assignment at home and send in the improvement.
    5. “I require 100% percent. I am waiting.” I repeat this when the class is off, which usually means the teacher is off. I’ll have a class repeat a procedure until they do it right and I mean everyone does it right. I start with entering my room. They don’t even walk in if they aren’t lined up correctly. Which means standing still, facing forward, mouths closed, one square from the wall. If they won’t do it, we practice walking in the hallway like responsible students until they do. I’ve had classes miss a whole periods, because they needed to practice how to stand in line or walk in line. It’s a whole new class the next week. They enter quietly and go to their seats to listen to instructions. It’s usually a whole new class because the class room teacher was embarassed. Of course this is the standard of practice at my school and I have the adminstrations complete support in this practice. They feel silly trying to justify why their class is behaving badly, when I’m able to turn it around in a single period. It follows that they choose to do the work to correct it. It doesn’t hurt that I’m 50 and most of the classroom teachers are much younger than I am. I do tend to present with an air of authority. If you don’t feel it, fake it. Fake it long enough and you will feel it. Its all in the posture. Try the wonder woman pose, head high, hands on hips, feet hip width apart. It’s almost impossible to argue with someone in this stance.


    • Thanks for your input, but I wasn’t looking for advice. I actually have a well managed classroom. And we have fun too. This is a humor blog that makes generalizations and exaggerations. It’s a judgement free zone, and a safe place to vent and commiserate with other art teachers. No one comes here for advice, especially advice of the unsolicited kind.

      In regards to your #5 point, I can only assume that you have never had a class of 28 students in which 10 of them are high needs and require additional support in EVERY classroom, yet they are not receiving it. Students who have such severe ADHD or are autistic, and are actually incapable of standing still or sitting quietly because they can’t even control their own bodies. Or maybe you have and you’ve magically been able to whip them into shape as well, in which case, kudos to you. Maybe you should write a book about it.


      • Yvonne says:

        Rude much? You put it out here, so why do you find support offensive? I do have a few years of experience on you, so I try to help any teacher who describes a situation like you do. I thought the point of any blog was to vent and to share solutions. I have all the issues you’ve listed in an inner city school next the the getto and many more. And by the way I’m the teacher that students run to when they see me out of school. Do bother replying. I”ll not be following your blog any longer.


    • Steph Brooks says:

      Yvonne, you may find the Art Teacher FB group a better fit and a place to espouse your expertise. This blog has always been a place for humor and sharing the idiosyncrasies of a art teacher that make us tilt our head, questioning like a cute puppy. Enjoy!


  3. Ann says:

    I love when I spend time introducing a new lesson, brainstorming with the class, and doing an exciting kick-ass demo with kids oohing and ahing, chomping at the bit to get started…….and one kid pipes up, “do we HAVE to?” Argh!!!!! Drives me nuts! No, you don’t HAVE to do anything, you can just sit there with your finger up your nose waiting for the class to end ๐Ÿ˜œ


  4. This whole post is my life.

    The random comment your 2nd grader said reminded me of one of my kinders one day. We were painting and she sniffed the paint and said, ” this paint smells like wine.” Whoa. ๐Ÿ˜‰


  5. sallie says:

    I often say, “You may have an opinion, but you may not have a choice. This is not Burger King where you can have it your way, but rather a monarchy, and I am your art queen. When your name is on the door, you may choose any project you like. In the meantime, how about you try it, because you won’t know if you like it until you try.”


  6. I love to read your blog as you have such a great way of writing about the unique experiences of being an art teacher! Even after 20 years of teaching, every day is still filled with the “what?” “really?” “no way!” tidbits that put a smile on my face – thanks for posting what so many of us wish we could say with such expression ๐Ÿ™‚


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