First Day Tips for Art Teachers
It's August...have the teacher nightmares started yet?
15 years into my teaching career and I still have these, but if you are a new teacher there is light at the end of the tunnel because I have far less of them than I used to! They used to really rattle me, but now they are just a funny reminder that the school year is around the corner. Just the word Classroom Management makes my stress levels go up, the truth is I don't like being an authoritarian in my classroom- it is the art room for heaven's sake!
But I have found over the years that it is true that the first few weeks of school do set the tone for the year so it is important to set up your classroom and procedures so the year goes smoothly! But it doesn't need to be complicated and you can easily set up a positive environment on the first day!
Tip 1: Greet the students at the door
I heard this in my teacher training and I wondered if it was necessary. I can now say that YES! This is the best tip I have, that is why it is #1. Greeting students at the door lets them know who is in charge of the class- YOU, that they are in the right place (sometimes students realize while you talk to them that they are in fact in the wrong room!), and that they cannot hide in the crowd in this class, that you want to know them and they are expected to participate.
I suggest standing inside the room rather than in the hallway, let the students cross the threshold and be there to greet them. I like to have music softly playing in the background so they get the sense they are entering a different kind of class.
I look them in the eye and say "Hi, What is your name?" If I can't understand them I ask them to repeat it, then I say "So nice to meet you _______, I'm Ms. S welcome to the class /or so glad you're here" then I give them a colored card (more on this in Tip 2) that matches their seating arrangement and tell them to get started on the assignment on the board (more on this in Tip 3). If there are returning students I greet them and ask them if they did anything artistic over the summer.
It takes time, but this is important. A line will form at the door, but that is fine, don't let it make you rush, take time with each student.
If a student is late, do not mention it on the first day, just greet them as you did the others (the first week is not the week to worry about tardies).
Some students might try to sneak by you into the room (that has happened to me) but just approach them and ask them their name and follow the script.
It might be awkward at first but most kids like being greeted and acknowledged by name right away in a class.
Tip 2: Assign seats on the first day
Having assigned seats signals to your students that you control the classroom environment, it lets them know that you will know where they are each day, and that you care about making the room environment predictable and safe.
First week seating assignments are not written in stone, you can change them the following week or the following day if you need to. Also you can decide to ease up on assigned seating later in the year.
You do not need an up to date roster to assign seats on the first day of school. All you need are colored index cards. Choose a color for each table in your classroom and simply tape down one of the cards onto the table with clear packing tape. Then count the seats at that table, that is how many cards of that color you will hand out on the first day of school.
Then sort out the cards so that each color you pull from your stack when you greet students at the door is a different color. Friends typically walk in together so you can separate them right away--don't think of this as mean, I met my best friend in 8th grade because of assigned seating! It will help minimize disruptions the first week too.
When students walk in greet them then hand them the card, tell them to find the table with that color card on it and to sit in any seat. It's that easy!
Tip 3: Have an easy activity on the board when they walk in
You don't want students sitting there doing nothing while you greet incoming students and you also want to send the signal that in your class students will always be working.
You can either write a list of questions on the board for students to answer about themselves on the card you gave them or you can have the list on a slide on the projector or SMART Board. I like to ask very simple questions that are not overly personal and a couple of silly questions like a "would you rather" or "what kind of animal would you transform into if you could be any animal" or "Is a hot dog a sandwich? Is cereal a soup? Explain your reasoning." I like to also include a fun non intimidating drawing prompt like "draw your mood as an emoji" or "create a decorative boarder around your card." I also ask what they are most excited to learn this year in art class.
I also leave out blank copy paper and colorful markers and no.2 pencils in caddy on all the tables so they can sketch for fun.
This is such a great way to get to know a little about them on Day 1 and you can use these cards as Equity Cards throughout the year for calling on students after they have had time to partner share and are given warning you will be using this strategy ( I never cold call on students, but after a partner share students will be ready to give a response).
I also ask student to make a name tent out of copy paper to help me learn their names.
Tip 4: Take the time for introductions!
I introduce myself to my students but I keep it simple and focused on info that relates to the class. I like to share how to pronounce my name but I offer Ms.S as an option and most students call me this. I also share about my interests in art and how I will share them in upcoming lessons, where I went to school/taught before and what I studied I encourage upperclassmen to ask me about college if they are interested in studying art or education. I also share the WHY behind becoming a teacher and something fun like my love of matcha tea or aerial dance. I like to keep this very brief. I also include some related images on a slide to accompany this introduction.
Then I ask the students to introduce themselves to the person seated next to them. I ask them to share their name, their answer to the silly question on the card and then to try to find one thing in common with each other.
After they have time to share I ask if anyone found out something interesting they have in common with their partner and usually a few students are willing to share with the group.
Tip 5: Do an easy fun art activity
I like to do Handshake Drawings on the first day. This activity is simple and silly and only requires colored markers and copy paper.
Students work in partners or a group of 3 and choose one marker to work with. They all hold on to the marker at the same time when they draw.
Each student will think of an animal to draw but they won't tell their partner(s) they will begin drawing together with the one marker, it will be a bit of give and take as they draw.
I like to say that like a handshake you can't be too aggressive (break your bones handshake) or too passive (dead fish handshake) but be alert and give and take in the process.
Students will begin laughing immediately and the drawings come out quite cute! Ask students to name the creatures they created. As they work you can walk around and laugh right along with them. See a video of Handshake Drawing here.
At the end of the activity have them stack up their name tents, cards and drawings and put them in a paper clip. That way you can sort through them to do attendance and add names to your seating chart. I like to pass back the name tents each day on the first week, it really helps me learn the names.
Bonus Tip: Marking Chair Positions
I like to use Avery Round Labels to mark the floor underneath where I want the chairs to be for instruction (when looking at slideshows). This helps me not have to argue with students who move their chairs to face away from the board. It also gives students a cue that they are in the position to learn new info. During the studio work time I let them move the chairs but they must return them to the proper position (over the dot) before the end of class.
My Favorite Classroom Management Book
Tools For Teaching: Discipline, Instruction, Motivation by Fred Jones is a must have especially for new teachers! I re-read chapters of this book every year and the illustrations are hilariously on point :)
My Favorite Products for Classroom Management:
I'm a high school/middle school art teacher with 16 years of experience. I'm here to help art teachers free up more time and space in their lives through lesson ideas and ready to go content rich, engaging curriculum.