Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My heart goes out to the new art teacher

Dear art teachers, this is my second post of the evening, and my other one was upbeat while this is decidedly the opposite. So please take the time to look at both! Thanks.

When you leave a job, for retirement, or a new career, or a move to a new locale, you'll be leaving behind a room that you spent a lot of time in and put your own 'stamp' on. Keep in mind that the next person who takes the job will only have what you left behind as a reflection of your teaching, your personality, your character. So this post may be kind of ugly. I'm sorry but I think it's important.

In my previous post, I showed you my new bulletin boards in my shiny classroom. But today I spent the day in my school but not in my room. Instead I was helping the new art teacher. My district hired her hired yesterday to teach art 7-12, and since we are the only two art teachers in the district, and our whole district is in one building, I'll be her mentor. But even if I wasn't assigned that 'job', I would have offered her my help anyhow.

Now I don't think there's a chance of the former art teacher reading this blog, but if she does, there's nothing I'll say here that isn't true. But it will be harsh. It certainly made me think about how I want to leave things when I go.

Here's what we found:
  • a clay room with we think 5 potter's wheels, a kiln, and giant containers/bins/pails of clay, all open, all dried out. No way to get through the room, or access the utility sink. Don't know if there is a drop of useable clay, or a glaze anywhere that is not left open and dried out.
  • An area with the supplies she ordered, all still in boxes. There were 10 boxes of plaster, 25 lbs each. Also 6 cartons of plaster bandage, each probably at least 20 lbs. What could she have planned? There were boxes of pre-stretched canvases, gessoed black, a strange choice. There were 15 mini-glue guns. There were boxes of metallic markers, silver Sharpies; and wax, and fabric dyes kit. Other odds and ends of stuff too, but a pretty unusual assortment. We wish we knew what she had planned.

  • We looked to see what materials were already in place. The room has a large cabinet with pull-out bins for supplies. Several bins each contained a mixture of: colored pencils, crayons, chalk pastels, oils pastels, dried markers with no caps, paintbrushes hardened with acrylic paints, an occasional razor blade, Exacto knives, and massive blackish-gray chalk dust covering everything. Totally filthy, gross, useless, and dangerous. Other bins contained dirty-looking fabric, yarn with hair in it, a box filled with loose (unstacked) staples mixed with screws, nails, and assorted metal pieces of non-descript stuff. Bins of dirty kiddie stickers, scraps of mangled paper, etc. The new art teacher tried to sort, but I told her to dump, dump, dump.
  • We found an old dresser drawer with sections of cardboard mailing tubes glued inside.
  • We found unclaimed artwork that was all a pitiful mess, unclaimed I assume because the craftsmanship was so poor nobody would want it.
  • We found graffiti and schlocky paintings on pretty much every wall, cabinet, and table top.
  • We found dust and dirt everywhere.
  • We found about a dozen balloons that had been covered with plaster bandage and paint (props for a play) that had been left behind for trash.
  • We found open 1/2 gal. bottles of acrylic paint, dried out.
  • A paper-cutter, covered with dirt and dried paints.
  • Two ramshackle file cabinets, with not a single file inside but instead filled with strange odds and ends of materials etc.
  • A pile of random hard cover books, covered with paint and glitter, with pictures cut and pasted, and scribbles drawn inside, totally messy and unacceptable as high school art (if you regularly have read my blog, you know I'm not opposed to altered books, but this was ridiculous).

What we didn't find:

  • A white board, a blackboard, or a white surface to use as a screen.
  • A bulletin board.
  • An Elmo or Smart Board or any projection system.
  • A teacher desk.
  • Useable clay or glazes (it didn't appear any had been ordered).
  • A lesson plan book or any sort of register.
  • Any sort of record of what had been taught in the past (if indeed ANYTHING had been taught at all...)
  • A single piece of student art worth saving.
  • The mat cutter that should have been there.
  • 4 or 5 cameras that should have been there, for the digital photo classes the new teacher will be teaching.
  • Any attempt at order for arranging the materials in the ample casework.

Please note: this school of mine, this art room, is only 10 years old, and the room looks like a dump. SO SAD.

I am so sad. First of all, I'm sad for the brand-new eager young teacher who has less than two weeks to put the room in order and establish some plans for beginning the school year. I'm sad that she will encounter resistance from kids who are not used to being given parameters, and expectations.

I'm also sad for the students, who in my elementary art room were allowed to be creative, but still learned craftsmanship, responsibility, and limits. I expected my kiddos to take care of materials, to clean up their messes, to recycle paper, to wash brushes. I expected them to be proud of their work and want to take it home. For a number of years now, the high school art teacher has been a friend to all the kids, but not a teacher. Kids were free to eat, horse around, throw clay, check their facebook accounts. There were no expectations for craftsmanship. High school artwork was not entered in area juried shows, even though there were students who are quite capable. The kids have not been given the art curriculum they deserve.

And I'm sad for the district, that has put up with this for so long.

I'm very happy for the district, to have someone willing to take the job. And for the kids, who hopefully will have opportunity and education previously denied them. And even for me, who will have a colleague who seems to actually care. But it will be a very difficult, challenging year. We spent about 6 hours working today, opening boxes, dumping bins and trays of trash. Every drawer, cabinet, tabletop, bin, etc will need to be cleaned before being refilled. So today was only a start of the work ahead. And unfortunately, I can't always be available to help, as I have my own work to do. But I'll do what I can, so she doesn't change her mind about accepting the job. We want her to want to be at our school!

Anyhow, thanks for taking the time to read this, fellow blogger-art teacher-friends. You definitely care about what you do -Thank you!!


  1. Wow. That really is sad. My art budget was cut in half this year. What I'd give for all those supplies (before they dried up or were otherwise ruined). I hope the new teacher is successful in showing the kids what art class is supposed to be like.

  2. Crossing my fingers the new teacher stays. sounds like she's needed!

  3. I totally feel for that teacher. I have encountered messes like that at new schools I have taught at. It is absolutely amazing how messy and wasteful some people can be. I also have had to go in with new rules and structure. My first job it was hard because the old teacher was beloved by all the kids and they didn't want her to go. I had different rules and ways of doing things so it was really hard to adjust. But after the first year, the kids got used to me and started to like me. Tell her it will be a short, difficult time and then once the room is all in order and procedures set, the kids will get used to the "new art room". Is there any way that other teachers in the district could donate some supplies that are usable?

  4. Thanks, ladies. Yes, Marcia, we're finding her some stuff. We have a small staff, who are very supportive of each other and welcoming to new staff. Meanwhile, I'm packing her up some buckets filled with colored pencils, tube watercolors, sponges, etc. A kindergarten teacher has already donated a bunch of Crayola markers. And I'm advocating for the new teacher to be able to order/purchase materials. Seems to me, as a salary step-1 new teacher, replacing a top salary-step teacher of 23 years, that the district will be saving a LOT of money on her salary and should be able to fork over a few hundred dollars for a rolling white board and some charcoal, good drawing paper, decent brushes, oil and chalk pastels, a broom, etc. I've been around long enough that I'm not afraid to speak on her behalf. Plus, if my room isn't ready I'm still OK, since I know where everything is, and since the kids pretty well know what to expect from me. So I'm going to use my time to get in there with her armed with rubber gloves, my trusty old overalls, sponges, cleaner, and some can-do spirit.

  5. Uff-Da! I have traveled through many art rooms as a previous traveling art teacher in my district, and I feel and know the pain of weird, unused, garbage and left over junk from years before. I have deemed myself an official "dumper," don't weigh me down, I gotta teach some great art!!!

  6. Phyl, you are an angel mentoring this teacher- It surprises me that the school principal hadn't checked on the condition of the room. I had to teach, and mark and report the art work at a high school one year for 2 weeks. What was a shock was the lack of organisation- no filing a pug mill jammed with dry clay and students bored out of their brains. They were absolutely delighted to have me there. It was no wonder the student numbers had been dropping off at the higher levels. I teach at a primary school.We are required to have everything tidy and benches cleared etc at the end of each term 10 weeks for the cleaners to have a thorough cleaning and with a wonderful head cleaner we were afraid not to. It certainly helps to start the year off frewsh clean and tidy. Believe me your efforts will be well rewarded. Cheers and enjoy your new school year- We are heading towards the end of - exhibitions , reports in the next 10 weeks or so.
    Cheryl H Perth Australia

  7. The principal has her hands full unfortunately, but I believe knows the room condition. The custodians/cleaners will LOVE the new art teacher - they have not been able to appropriately clean in that room for a long time and they will bend over backwards for the new art teacher, because they like being able to do their job well and have pride in keeping the rooms nicely.

  8. I'm so glad that teacher is gone. "Those types" of art teachers give the rest of us a bad reputation as "most people" believe us to be slackers anyway. A new art teacher will turn this mess around and add to your quality art program. YAY for you. It may take some time but the hard part is sorting through the left overs. The kids are lucky to finally have quality art instruction. Geez.
    I'm so glad you posted this even though this art teacher might read it. It needs to be read by all of us.

  9. I can feel her (and your) pain... I've been there. I took my first job after a middle school art teacher transferred to an elementary position. She did strictly marker, oil pastel, and acrylic paint. So, I had a TON of that stuff. I found bags of old terra cotta clay in the basement of the school after making friends with the custodians. I had them drag it all up stairs (in unopened boxes)and I opened them all and reconstituted the clay to use! It was hard work and required me to buy alot of new stuff (some with found money and some with my own money). THe kids were so hard to win over to my way of doing things and my expectations which were clearly higher than hers. I worked there for 7 years and loved it! The first year was hard but I stuck with it and with no mentor or help. Bless you for helping her!

  10. I student taught under a high school teacher a lot like that. She showed up to work late everyday I was there, and left as soon as she was able. Everything fell on me. I cleaned a corner of the room for a space to myself and I was able to create some kind of order within the room. I was so happy to finally bring the students something of a curriculum. I left that place so happy, but many of the students wished I wasn't going. Sad face :(

  11. Becca Ruth, It's absolutely awful that a teacher like that was allowed to have a student teacher. The college should do a better job of checking to make sure placements are appropriate. How do they expect you to learn and to be prepared for a job if you are placed under a teacher like that? Hard to believe her principal allowed her to have a student teacher. I went to a workshop last year - a forum between art student teachers and potential cooperating teachers. I was getting a student teacher the next semester and wanted the students' perspective. The one thing that really stood out was having a PLACE of their own in the room. So I took their advice and got my custodians to dig up a little bitty desk for her and put it in my room for the time she was there. I think it really was important to her and definitely made a difference for her to have a space that was her own.

  12. I feel like crying after reading this post! How sad for those children! They have been cheated out of a wonderful life changing experience...art brings such joy and they were short changed. Sad, sad, sad! I am so glad you helped the new teacher and hopefully set the tone for her year. I wish her the best!

  13. That room sounded almost identical to the room I got this year (also my first year of teaching, k-8th grades). I probably threw away 25 big black garbage bags of junk, not to mention the things that would not fit in bags. Oh, and there were mice living in the storage closet. The room was filthy! My art room is unrecognizable from what it was at the beginning of the summer. Hooray!

  14. Mice! Oh my gosh, I'm rodent-phobic. I'd have left on the spot I think, because I'd be too afraid to be in a room with mice.

    Congrats on getting it all cleaned up!