The First Day of Art Class


In bridge, if I have a weak hand, I do not get the bid and I cannot name the trump, but I do get to play first.  If I have an Ace, I play it on the first round rather than have it trumped on the next round.  A first year teacher may not have a strong hand, but starting with an ace is the best strategy.  Start with something that you feel confident and at ease with. Teach something you have done many times, but remember how it felt to do it first time as a student. Rehearse it.

A good first impression has several advantages.  You and they will come to expect higher quality standards from each other.  You are less likely to be depressed and apologetic.  Students will expect to learn new things. Everybody likes learning from an expert.

Many students come to first day with pent up anticipation. They are motivated to dive in and learn new things. Use this energy, good intentions, and excitement by giving them challenging but not too difficult hands-on practice work immediately when they enter the room.  They can do some skill practice that will help them excel and surprise themselves on their first project. 

Interrupt the work soon enough to spend some time to discuss class behavior expectations.  Start with essential details of classroom management and expectations of mutual respect. Later, if things start to get chaotic, the use of reminder questions sounds less bossy than shouting out demands for expectations that have not been previously mentioned. Reinforce this and add needed items every day until good management and behavior is habitual.  Repeat the things that need repeating getting quieter instead of louder. Consider reminder questions instead of demands. Establish the routines needed for the habit of getting to work as they come into class. This avoids the tendency to waste time and get rowdy. See rituals.

If the class requires homework, be sure to assign something to be finished before the second session.  Keep it small and simple at first, but make it obvious that you are giving points for those who do it.  Those who forget can get one chance to earn the points, but they have to do half again as much work for the same points. To combat the problem of slip shod low quality homework give them a rubric that gives more points for quality work, effort, and creativity.

Being an artist and being an art teacher means perpetual homework. As artists, we have learned that our subconscious mind is always working on our current or next studio project. Our minds have learned to do it when we are doing other tasks. When we get into the studio we are ready to materialize our ideas. We know about sketching, journal writing, and other things we need to do in preparation.

Teaching is also creative. Our studio is the classroom. As teachers we get ready to put the lessons into action by planning. Our homework has been to prepare our own minds by thinking things through, by questioning, by making sketches, by making lists, by reading, by journal writing, by noticing things, by looking for ideas, by practicing skills, and so on.

Our students may not understand the creative processes that we take for granted. They may need class work to prepare them for the unique homework that prepares them for a future class work assignment. They should expect to show up with ideas and inspiration because the teacher has been dropping hints and asking questions relating to the upcoming assignments. Students learn this creative homework by practicing it in class. In class they have start making lists of ideas, but they expect to add to them whenever they think of more. Maybe they have formed teams and given each other tasks. They have practiced phrasing questions that get the imaginations, memories, and observations going. They have started a sketchbook and a journal where they put things down that they notice in their surroundings that they might need in the next projects. I would avoid all copy work because it does not teach much about the ability to think creatively and artistically.

End the period with an interesting art question or two for reflection and contemplation. What was learned or practiced that day?  Why did we do what we did today? Ask them to find art related things in their everyday routines and surroundings. Remind them where to look for the instructions to get started when they come back to class.  Ask them what to think about, look for, imagine, and/or remember in order to get better ideas for upcoming assignments.  As the teacher, follow up on these things and they will begin to think like artists.  They will begin teach themselves. You will love your job as art facilitator.

  All rights reserved.  You are encouraged to provide links to this page, but to make printed copies or to include as part of another web site, you must have permission. 

Please send comments about your experiences related to the ideas on this page.

Contact the author to send comments about this article or requests for permission to make copies.   Teachers may make one copy for their own personal use.  

2003 Marvin Bartel, Ed.D.,  emeritus professor of art,  Goshen College
updated: 7-2005

photos 2001 Marvin Bartel

Links to more teaching ideas from Marvin Bartel: