Tomorrow is the first day of school for my art teacher friends. We went out to coffee this morning to catch up. Honestly, I had no idea that they were headed back to their classrooms tomorrow. I knew it was this week but tomorrow feels so sudden. I feel a little bit guilty because I am not feeling the anxiety of back-to-school. I understand how they must be feeling. The putting the classroom in order, prepping of lesson plans, and anxiety dreams that come along with getting ready for new classes of students. This time of year is hard on teachers.
All teachers are stressed this time of year. But I have to do a shout out to my band of brothers and sisters, the art teachers! Art teachers have a unique set of stresses.
We often have so many classes of students that it takes at least a month to learn most of the kid's names. My first year of teaching, I had over 1000 students. I worked at the largest elementary school in Alabama and more than half of the classrooms were in portables. My desk and supplies were in a hallway that I shared with the 4th grade safety patrol and I carried a bag of paper on my right shoulder and a crate with other supplies on my left hip. There were too many stairs for an art cart. My students had art every two weeks and I had 13 classes at each grade level. So, I only taught 2 lessons a week, over and over and over and over again. I definitely perfected each of my lessons after testing them multiple times. Those Friday classes sure were lucky! I'll be honest, I did not know all of my student's names by the end of the year.
We are also isolated and misunderstood. In all of the schools that I have worked in it was only me and one other art teacher, if I was lucky. Administrators admit during goal setting and reviews that they do not know much about our subject area or assessing art. Classroom teachers see us more as babysitters than equal colleagues. We are the art supply keepers who teachers and staff only come to see if they need to "borrow" paper, paint, or brushes. In reality, we often barely have enough money to even supply our own projects, yet we smile and say "sure" to our down the hall neighbors because we want kids to have every opportunity to create. We are often left on our own to find parent volunteers, donations, and support. And when it come to scheduling, we are usually last ones to be considered and the last ones to know what our future holds for the year.
Our schedule can make or break our school year, which can make or break our sanity. Imagine setting up a classroom for a painting lesson; 30 brushes out with a paint set in between each pair of students, bowls of water on each table, and paper laid out and ready to go. The slideshow is set to the opening slide and chairs are neatly placed under the table for easy maneuvering. The class comes in excited to learn and everything is ready for them. This kind of preparation takes at least 10 minutes.
So now imagine setting up the second class of the day for a painting lesson; first class is walking out the door after washing hands, you are running around the room putting wet paintings away, wiping water and paint off of the tables and pushing in chairs, the next class is lined up in the hallway where the teacher is watching you impatiently, and the first period teacher has yet to arrive to pick up her class so you quickly walk them down the hallway to meet them while said teacher and class wait for you. The class comes in excited to learn and everything is definitely NOT ready for them.
Our art schedules are often created with no passing or prep time built in. Students are adaptable and actually love cleaning and setting up for their work, but the schedule is also usually only built with 45 minute class periods, so then students spend almost half of that time prepping and cleaning instead of creating. The Portland tax payers are not paying $35 a year for students to clean up an art room, they are paying so that students can actually learn about and practice art.
So, to my friends, who are entering their classrooms tomorrow, I wish you a school year with smiling and happy students, mountains of art supplies and volunteer helpers, supportive administrators and colleagues, and your best schedule ever!