Thursday, August 18, 2011

New Job Jitters

I am a part of the TeacherArtExchange list serve through Getty and I sent out an email earlier today asking for advice. It dawned on me that there is an entire community of art teachers in the blogosphere, so I thought I'd post it here too and see what you all think. also, I hope my crazy mug shot caught everyone's attention! :)

After working at a small, private, Catholic, elementary and middle
school for three years, I am starting in September at one of the five
public middle schools in my city! I am super excited as I have been
trying to get my foot in the door for years, and am really thankful
for this opportunity to keep growing as a teacher.

I will be transitioning from about 250 kids, grades 2-8, to upwards of
600 middle school aged kids. I'm nervous to say the least. I know I
have been hired because I (appear to) know what I am doing, but with
no curriculum in place to follow, just the MA state frameworks as
guidelines (which I've basically taught to in the past) I have to
start from scratch again and I'm a little overwhelmed. Aside from an
introductory name design or mandala, I need to start organizing some
units and/or lessons and nail down what supplies I have to work with.

Does anyone have any advice for organizing a middle school curriculum?
What materials (and brands) are a must have for a successful program?
More over, does anyone have any advice for a first year, part time,
middle school art teacher (whose going back to school part time

Feel free to leave a comment!


  1. I've got a lot of experience (35 years teaching, and over 20 of those years including middle school age) but in order to give any advice, you need to first answer a question: how often will you see the kids, and how long are the class periods? I mean, the planning is very different for once or twice a week than it is for daily art. Here in NY art is mandated for 20weeks minimum in middle school and I currently teach my 6th graders on a 2 days out of 6 cycle, but then they have art every day for 1/2 a year in the 7th grade with the secondary art teacher. Big difference for planning. Does this middle school include 6/7/8? and will you see all of them or what? What have they had in the past? I can't imagine 600 kids for a part-time position - yikes.

    In the meantime, I'll assume you have grading responsibility, so I'd set clear expectations for them, in particular deadlines for handing work in and some sort of self-reflection form that they get used to filling out for every completed assignment. Being able to self-evaluate and express themselves reflectively is an important tool. Then schedule critique sessions where you make sure that if a student makes a negative critical statement that is required to balance it with a positive, and get them used to critical thinking as an important part of the art-making process. This will make grading easier for you too.

    And remember that the middle school student is a unique animal ("hormones with legs") and embrace this, and be prepared to love them to pieces but also be firm. They have the capability and will to do some sophisticated, in-depth stuff in art, but are still kids at heart and will be willing to prance down the hall in silly masks or sing-along to Disney videos. I remember a group of 7th graders who came to art from French class, where they were taught songs with the color names. As they sat painting color wheels in art, they burst into the color song (in French) spontaneously and it was adorable to watch them sing as they painted.

    ANYHOW - I'll check back to see if you've added that info about scheduling and and then hopefully can help you with some suggestions re: supplies/tried-and-true lessons.

  2. I have not been given a finalized schedule, but from my understanding, I will see grades 6, 7, and 8 once a week for 50 minutes, all school year.

  3. Yikes, that's not much time for kids that age. It's hard to do really long-term stuff when you only see them once a week, and hard to spend time on critique sessions (or videos, or extensive demos, discussions, direct instruction, etc) when you want their time to be hands-on. Good luck!

    Here are some things I like doing w/my 7th/8th graders when I taught them: my favorite, color wheel stuff - there's so many things you can do from painting color wheels in creative ways to doing things with limited combos - monochromatic, complementary etc;

    Do contour line drawing from observation - I love doing "right brain" exercises with them;

    Graph enlarging (we've enlarged photos, seed packages, candy wrappers, etc. but for the limited time you have a fun idea for them to learn the process is to find a really cool image (but don't show it to the kids), scan a copy and cut it into squares that are numbered (keep a good copy and record of who has what square), and have each kid enlarge one small square to maybe a 12" square. Use paint, markers, colored pencils, whatever you want for color. Then assemble all the squares to re-create the original image in mural size. Fun. I have the kids do the graph copying UPSIDE DOWN to encourage right brain activity and it's really successful. Or graph CD covers.

    Our 6th graders study Egypt so we learn hieroglyphics, and I've had the kids make a cartouche of their names, or we've made giant mummy cases on Kraft paper w/oil pastels, or many other variations. I do a very liberal "around the world" theme w/6th graders and we make "passports" to keep track of their work.When they learn about the Middle Ages we've made shields.

    I do perspective words with my 6th graders, and the 7th graders liked doing futuristic street scenes.

    How about some printmaking activities?

    Think about if there are artists you'd really like them to learn about, that will grab them from the get-go and that will be fun to teach. Learning about the origins of man? Do cave painting sitting under the tables (I do this w/4th graders, but I'd bet the 6th graders would love it). Studying Michelangelo? Tape paper to the undersides of tables to draw.

    I've gone on too long - but hopefully something I wrote will be of some use for you. Keep us posted!

  4. Hi Sarah!
    I teach elementary art in West Hartford CT. I can relate to your fears of transitioning from private to public, I did the same 6 years ago. I was surprised to read that Quincy doesn't have an art curriculum in place. when I taught in MA at the Catholic school that was the case and it was freeing in some senses but also as a new teacher quite daunting. We follow a DBAE curriculum here that is constantly being looked at and revised. Although I do not teach Middle School I see everything the teachers do at regular intervals both through my 14 year old son who attends school here and staff pd. In all three grades gaining a really good grasp on perspective and color theory seems to be focus. They work both realistically and abstractly both in 2d and 3d studying a wide range of artists as reference. As Phyl said in a previous post, I am surprised that you only see them once a week. That is our schedule at the elem. level and it is fine but it takes forever to finish some projects (esp with holidays and snow days) and having them retain the info from week to week is somewhat lost. Can you have them do research projects? Having them keep sketchbooks or folders to do independent work in between classes might help them move forward faster and stay connected. Can't do that at my level but I know Avery's teachers do in MS. I will try to come up with a list of projects to send you. I am also going back to school for my Masters. Start my first painting class on Wednesday, the night before school starts. Really excited!!!! Good luck next week...and BTW your closet looks great! Liz S.

  5. Thanks Phyl and Liz! I am definitely feeling more confident now knowing what I have to work with. I have also started to brainstorm some subjects, techniques and artists to feature. All I will need to do is plug it in from here!

    @Liz- I have not had new teacher orientation, but when I asked in my interview if there were particular lessons or content to cover each term, I was told that I can teach what I want, as long as it is within the frameworks... Cleaning out the closet, I found more specific standards, circa 1990 or so, as well as some old lessons (that I most likely won't use specifically, but I now know the content)

    Thanks again ladies!