Due to privacy concerns and being focused on my elementary teaching internship, I haven’t posted anything on my website in a few months. However, since the first phase of that experience is done, I thought it would be a great time to share what I’ve learned.
This last few months I’ve been teaching at grades Pre-K through 5th grade at a Title 1 elementary school in Baltimore City. It’s been very challenging to navigate the variety of student needs, ages, and abilities while also creating new units, basically from scratch. My university requires a lot of lesson and unit writing and planning, which has been incredibly helpful to ground my teaching practice, but also very time consuming. It has also been time well spent because unlike other subject area, Baltimore City does not have a required curriculum to teach. We have National Visual Arts Standards that all of my lessons need to be based around, but over all these standards are very flexible. They can include almost any artist and any medium, as well all interdisciplinary connections. The result has been some really creative and meaningful units that are unique to my students, their interests, and their talents. Going forward, especially in my first year of teaching, I will still take the time to write out units in-depth so I can create and build a wide and deep variety of lessons for all my future years of teaching. Here are a few images of a few of my units. If you are interest in getting a copy of the unit, the PowerPoint presentation for each unit, and/or any handouts associated with the the art, please leave a comment or contact me!
In building units, I think about alternate or marginalized perspectives, what my students would be interested in learning, how the unit can help them build life-long skills they can take with them into the real world, and how their abilities, cultural and community assets, and prior knowledge all contribute to the unit. Tailoring the units to my students is a lot of work but it is worth it: having alternate choices and options for students with IEPs to having directions and vocabulary translated into Spanish and English, ensures that I am reaching every student. And for those early finishers? Having a safety valve is a must!
Having stated my strength in lesson and unit planning, one challenge that I need to work on is classroom management. Children really benefit from having structure, even in an art classroom. Being essentially a guest teacher in my mentor teacher’s classroom, I was hesitant at first to implement my own classroom management system. I wish I would have unrolled it earlier in my teaching experience, because once I did I saw a noticeable difference in student work, focus, and learning. Once I have my own classroom it will be different, but because what I learned:
- In a natural way, start the year or experience with expectations, classroom rules and agreements, routines, and rewards. If something doesn’t work, it’s never too late to change the system and re-invent it so it works. Continually check-in with the class about the rules and guidelines, and if possible, I really encourage you to create the rules and expectations with the students so they have agency in the classroom! This can be done at an elementary level, but I found more success in the older grades like 4th and 5th.
As a side note to this point: create a routine around students cleaning the art room. I lost track of how many crayons, pencils, markers, erasers, and pieces of paper I had to pick up off the ground or how many hours I spent sweeping and cleaning tables. With intense teacher schedules, often once class leaves and then the next class immediately enters the room without any time for you to clean even if you want to! Make it a point to always have enough time to clean-up, even if it means not getting through the entire lesson…
- Unassigned seating is a privilege! Some students need preferential seating, while other students just done work well by sitting next to each other. Having assigned seating takes all of the behavior and focus issues out of the equation by having assigned seating. Also, it can become a treat and/or incentive for classes at the end the week to get to sit next to their friends.
- Have a seating area where students can go to cool-off. Conflicts happen. Providing a safe place for students to sit and take a self-determined time out is a great way to encourage students to manage their own behavior. Having this spot be different than a “time-out” corner for punishment is important too because the safe place needs to a place they want to go.
Shout out to my mentor who I will leave unnamed, but they were incredibly receptive to my ideas, very kind in answering all of my questions, and very generous in giving me rides to and from school everyday! I couldn’t have done it without them. ❤
Looking ahead, because of the Corona virus pandemic, all the public schools in Maryland are closed at least until March 30th as a preventative measure. However, I still have to complete my secondary education experience before graduating. I was schedule to teach art in a Title 1 high school in Baltimore City but everything is very uncertain at this time. We will see what happens and I’ll let you know! Thanks for reading! ❤