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Classroom Management: Reigning In A Rowdy Class

We all dream of the perfect group of students listening attentively to our art instruction. We dream of children working creatively, thoughtfully and perhaps above all, quietly in our classrooms. Does it happen? Sure. Does it happen all of the time? Not really.

Art room dynamics

I love the active dynamics in my art room. I enjoy seeing children engaged with their art; laughing, talking, painting, experimenting. It’s my ultimate goal each time a group of students step into the classroom; to provide and teach an art lesson that resonates with them. Art is meant to be interactive. I don’t teach an adult education watercolor class to seniors. I teach children. They should have fun.

Last week, however, my groups of older students were having a rather difficult time remembering what class they were in. Too much talking out of turn, too much fooling around, but the worst of all,  disrespect to one another and to me. I know this happens to all of us. Sometimes there is a concoction of circumstances that lead the kids to believe that forgetting their classroom manners is okay.

I understand that, but I don’t accept it.

A positive but practical approach

So here’s what I did: I asked three kids to leave art class. I felt horrible. But it was a better idea than my first reaction which was to ask the entire class to leave. I’m glad I didn’t do that. Problem with what I did was that I let my ego get the best of me. I was a little more than put out that my students weren’t acting their best. I felt they didn’t appreciate the opportunity that was given to them.

I wish I hadn’t asked those students to leave. I could have avoided it.

So when my next class came in, I asked them to sit near the front of the room so I could speak to them. I realized in the 5 minutes between my classes that I don’t reinforce my expectations as often as I should. Kids need reminders. Since I’m not into bribes, reward systems, countdown systems (for reasons only to do with time management), I just expect my students to act accordingly. So when my next group came in, I reminded them how few times they get to create art with me (just 15 times a year). I reminded them that this is art class, not art recess or free-choice time. I reminded them of all the cool projects we  have done and will still do that involves great techniques and cool supplies. They listened respectfully and we quickly moved onto the art project. They got it.

Lessons learned

My lesson in this is that I teach children. A positive, ego-less approach always works best. Reminders are helpful. Expectations need to be set high from day one and be maintained. Kids can do it. They don’t want to be disrespectful (well, most don’t.) It’s up to teachers to set the stage.

We can blame alot of things, but it’s so much easier to fix and adjust our approach. When this class comes into art next week, I will sit them down and remind them again of what my expectations are. We’ll see how it goes. Hopefully, I won’t resort to asking another kid to leave!

 Your turn

I would love to hear what your expectations are or how you would have handled this situation. I asked my DSS Facebook readers the same question and some of the responses were brilliant and others just plain funny!


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  • Tery Castrogiovanni

    I agree Patty! Sometimes I just need to stop and remind the classes what is expected in order for us to have a productive class. Do not feel guilty about removing the unruly students from your room! They needed to know that you were not putting up with their disrespect. You had probably asked them several times to reign their behavior in. I am sure after they were told to leave the rest of the class got the message ( I hope).

    • kim

      When I have given three verbal warnings to any particular student I send a (fill in the blank type) note home. I begin with “Matthew….warning….lower your voice please”…if “Matthew” gets three verbal warnings for not following the rules, I send a note home.
      Dear __________________
      Unfortunately _____________________was unable to _______________________________________________during Art class today.

      Student signature____________________________________
      Parent or Guardian signature____________________________
      Mrs. _________________M.Ed
      **print out approx. three slips of paper on one 8 1/2 x 11 yellow paper.

  • Jan

    Nice post. We all have those days or those classes. I appreciated the reminder to remind THEM of expectations. Once a year might just not be enough. jan

  • Miss

    Great post. I’ve been teaching Art almost 10 years and I still struggle at times with classroom management! Back when I was a student teacher I thought that once you get a system going for you, you’ll have perfect classes for the rest of your career! Boy, was I wrong! ha!ha! I keep waiting for that year full of perfect classes!

    I tweak things and try new techniques every year. I also follow the same philosophy of no rewards (saw an interesting TED Talk about how external motivation such as rewards scientifically just doesn’t work) so I try to model appropriate, respectful behaviour at all times and try to be consistent with my expectations and consequences. My main consequence (after a verbal reminder) is removing a student away from the class to work at a different table alone- they hate that! But I find they argue and argue about not going- it’s so frustrating and seems to get worse every year and especially worse with the older grades – Grade 8 and up. I find I have to re-visit my classroom expectations with my classes after every holiday break, just to reinforce them and remind them.

    I also agree that you had every right to send the kids out of your room. It’ll also send a message to the rest of the class. All too often, we put the blame on ourselves as teachers and the kids take no responsibility for their actions.

  • Pat Stevens

    Thank you, Patty, for bringing this topic up for discussion. I had a TERRIBLE group of 3rd graders on Friday and I lost my temper and I am so ashamed. I had to send two third grade girls (how sad) to the Discipline administrator. I feel so sorry for their classroom teacher because she is having her worst year with that class. I just cannot fathom how rude, mean and uncaring this group of kids has become. They are EIGHT YEARS OLD!! So I apologized to the whole class for yelling but at the same time I told them art class would only involve reading and writing about art if things didn’t change for the better.

    • Patty

      I know! They’re too young to have such sass! Oh well, we can only model good behavior and engage them so fast that they don’t have time to be disruptive.

    • Amy Laukhuf-Fitch

      I love all these comments and sharing our teaching trials, but please, oh please, do not resolve to “let children only read and write about art” as a punishment! I am an ELA teacher who loves the ARTS and never want reading and writing, obviously, to become a consequence….and….reading and writing about art is a cool thing to do!

      • Patty Palmer

        Totally see your point!

  • Judith Westerfield

    I’m a long time psychotherapist, short-time, long time ago elementary school teacher. I never got the hang of classroom management (read discipline)

    From both of my perspectives:

    There are consequences in society: Push the limits; Don’t follow rules; Don’t respect others or their property – you get fired from a job, thrown in jail, divorced, killed and EJECTED .

    Everyone learns differently and some of us need more than just reminders. Better to learn the lesson early than later or never at all. I think you taught a MORE important lesson than art (and I LOVE art).

    P.S. Thinking that HOW you teach determines what they learn is ego.

  • Chris

    Love this post as well. I teach a free art class at the local Y through a grant and I often remind the kids of the great opportunity they are having. Overall most are very appreciative but art classes often get taken for granted when they are viewed as free time…..LOVE THIS SIGHT AND GET MANY GREAT IDEAS!

  • RAE A REED

    Recently I sent some students back to their room, I felt bad too, but they come back much better. My 4th and 5th grades can really be difficult. It doesn’t help that there are over 30 students in these classes. I am going to have them read about artists for a few weeks until they get the idea that they need to behave in art period.
    I do think you are right that they need reminders, they are children. Sometimes I think they don’t listen because I am too patient and too nice, so they can just do whatever they want and not have any consequences. I will remind and explain, if they can’t get it, they will just read and write papers until the end of school. Its their loss.
    I am so excited to have interesting and fun art lessons. Hopefully they will get it.

  • Cheryl Trowbridge

    I experienced the same kind of behavior from my 5th graders last week! We attributed their disrespect to the excitement of Valentine’s Day, but who knows…. it could also just be hormones! I moved students to different seats to break up some of the talking and fooling around. I always feel bad for the kids (most of the class) who consistently behave their best when the same 5 students seem to steal my attention week after week! If I come up with a great solution for this, I’ll be sure to let you know!! 🙂

  • Maureen Cesari

    I think anyone who teaches art has been in this situation. I teach after school art programas at a charter school that does not offer art, music, etc. during the school day. I have classes with students in grades 3 thru 8. It is generally the 5th and 6th graders that give me the biggest problem. I often have to remind students of expectations and that I do not have a problem refunding their parents money and sending them home if they are going to be disruptive to my classroom and to their fellow students. 🙂

    • Patty

      I love this…brings the parents into the picture!

  • catherine cooper

    I too feel so ashamed of myself when I lose my temper and my thinking leading up to that point is that my students shouldn’t act like this…IT”S ART! FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! THEY SHOULD WANT TO BE HERE! And then when I came back from planet Artopia, I realize that it is very much my responibility to teach and remind them of the expectations. And yes, I seem to have the most trouble with 5th graders (although my school only goes up that far, so I don’t have any comparison). It’s the sassy attitude and back talk (like they already know everything) that really gets me. I tell myself that they act this way because it’s the way they are treated and no one expects them to be respectful (so I try to respect them and connect with them, but it’s still hard) Maybe it’s just a pre-pre-teen phase, but I find I am having to really lay down the law more and more…and again, IT”S ART…I just want to teach ART, but it’s never that simple! 🙂 Thanks for your post–it’s so good to know others are going through this too!

  • angie

    thank you for this discussion. i am also an elementary art teacher who teaches at 2 schools. 640 students at one and 924 at the other.i am 9 weeks at one, then switch. each day i have a harder time with classroom management. i find myself exasperated and raising my voice more and more. even the really good kids suffer. i hate who i am when i can’t control a classroom. many days spent crying after school and sleepless nights trying to find an answer. glad to know i’m not alone. however, sometimes i wonder if this career that i’ve invested 12 years of my life is worth the emotional toll.

    • Patty

      I hope that discussions like this one can empower us to become better teachers. I’ve never minded the awful task of searching for ways to improve myself or my teaching to better engage with my students. Sometimes, I know it’s me…I’m distracted, I’m still thinking of how late my oldest son woke up that morning (ha!) or some other silly frustration. Occasionally my mood will spill onto my students. They’re not stupid. They pick up on my energy. My only advice is to make sure my energy is good. Kids deserve that. Now, having said that…if they still are little problem makers, then my energy changes fast!
      Hopefully, you can ask other teachers whom you admire for help. I often look at the smart, professional teachers at my school and try to learn as much as I can from their management styles. Good luck and yes, it’s worth it if you are sharing art with children. Keep creating!!!

    • Virginia

      You are not alone!! Thank you for posting that, because many times I feel very isolated since I am the only art teacher at my schools. I love teaching art and care about it too much that it creates too much stress. I am also at two schools and between dealing with the huge number of students and two administrations with very high expectations, I have finally decided it is not worth it. Next year I am going to find a job that is 9-5 and that I care less about. It breaks my heart to quit after investing 4 years of college and 4 years in the classroom, many days of tears, as well as days of joy. But it is also a huge weight off my shoulder to imagine having my nights and weekends back to focus on my friends and family rather than working my butt off for an administration who will never be satisfied. I think I will enjoy it more if teaching art is a hobby instead of my career.

      • Lynnette Saucedo

        Hello Virginia,
        Just read your post after searching Google for classroom management solutions. I was wondering if you still feel like switching careers. I was in the graphic & sign industry for 25 years and had earned my Bach. of Art Ed. in 2003 but just started sub. teaching a few mnths ago. I took a long term sub. position for art teacher on maternity leave and now I am thinking it was the wrong decision. Sooooo many students per week 17 classes avg. of 24 per class…..so much to do and the kids just think its a free for all or they grumble and tattle and wow….I studied and spent all that $$$$ to teach art to kids who don’t really care one way or another? Also for grades like satisfactory improving and excellent……what does that show the students other than this class really doesn’t count?
        If you care to share more I’m on the fence as well and need to decide what else I can do.

  • chrissybozz

    I am so glad to see it’s not just me! I have been teaching for 8 years and still have a hard time walking the line between keeping the class in ‘silent art’ and letting them talk quietly (…quietly….such a relative term for children!!) My principal observed me the other day and spoke to my 6th graders about paying attention and following directions! The are really great kids-but if they don’t even ‘behave’ when the principal is in the room, does that say something to you? I don’t have too many behaviour problems; but by the middle of the year (NOW) I start becoming depressed and unmotivated. The music and Spanish teachers complain of the same things as well-the students come to our classes with an attitude that it’s ‘just a enrichment’ and therefore we have this uphill battle with discipline! UGH! I feel that having 8 years under my belt, I should have solved this problem by now!

    • Amy

      Don’t feel too bad. I’ve been at this for over 20 years, and I still get those same feelings. It is the good days that get me through.

  • Muddy Kinzer

    Thank you for introducing this topic! I love teaching art because it’s fun! What I don’t love is bringing in the “mean art teacher” side of me to restore order. My son’s 3rd grade class easily 6-7 boys with impulse control issues, namely, an inability to listen to me for longer than 2 seconds before interrupting, talking to their seat neighbors, or deciding to paint their faces or start coloring on their own hands with chalk pastels! Last Friday for the 1st time ever, the teacher excused a student from art time. I have mixed feelings about this. Was it warranted? Yes. Did I feel good about it? No. I feel terrible that this student missed an opportunity to express himself through art, to explore a process that uses a different part of the brain than usual, and to revel in his success when he finished. I loved reading everyone’s strategies for maintaining order in the classroom, and I think I will go in next time and review expectations and then segue into silent art time if necessary. It’s a shame, though, because I don’t like to see the many punished for the behavior of the few.

    Thanks!
    Muddy

    • Patty

      Couldn’t agree more. My goal as an art teacher is to expose every student to the joys of creating art. Negative discipline sucks the energy out of the classroom so I try to avoid it at all costs. I truly believe it’s the teacher’s responsibility to set the stage for behavior no matter how difficult. I’m always trying to learn better ways and I love reading how others do it!

  • Kate Z.

    Every art teacher goes through the same thing with their classes. Art class is inherently more unstructured and more chaotic than any other environment of the school. I want my students to be able to visit and talk and move around when they need to, but they need to know the limits as well. At the beginning of the year, I assign them seats. As the year progresses, I usually allow them to pick out their own seats, reminding them that this is a gift from me. If I don’t see them working, talking too much, being disrespectful, etc., they know that I will take it away, as well as the talking. I always remind them that I will treat them the way they treat me. Also, for a chatty class, I find that if I just stand in silence after letting them know that I am ready to speak- they will silence themselves after a bit. I repeat “I will not talk over all of you”. Until they are quiet, I won’t start. After a while, they know they are wasting time, and usually adjust themselves. Don’t feel bad about removing someone once in a while. I simply tell them that they are not allowed to ruin the short amount of time that we have together for the rest of the class. It just takes a few of these instances, and the class does get the message. We all go through it!!!

  • Shari

    Oh dear….this is a topic I deal with all the time. I’ve been teaching for 25 years and even though that seems long, I’ve had problems with discipline quite a bit.
    You are all not alone! It seems to be worse every year. Could that be because I’m 51? LOL

    I am constantly looking for new ways to control the classroom. Our school does a zero voice=silent, 1=softly talking, 2=conversational talking, 3=outside at play talking. I use that a lot.

    It’s great to know that I am not alone in this situation!

  • Caroline

    Wow! I am so relieved to know I am not the only one! I have taught elementary art for 11 years and I have tried numerous classroom management strategies and still never feel I am “good” at managing student behavior. This time of year is the worst!! I love my 600 plus kids, I REALLY do! But I get so exasperated with their apathy, disruptive behaviors, and the bickering between students that seems to increase in the spring. I have to remind myself what home life is like for many of my children. And that doesn’t excuse their behavior but it does make me more understanding. My overall philosophy is that preventing bad behavior is easier than correcting it. That is why I logged on today to try to rejuvenate my spirit and get inspired-to inspire them! THANKS Patty, for inspiring me!

  • Susan

    Wow! I just went through this with a few of my classes. I decided that it was time to review my classroom expectations with all my groups.What a difference it made!
    So I’ve given this some thought. I think I will try reviewing classroom expectations (5 items) with some depth(about a 5 minute talk) once a grading period. We have 4. I am also planning on a quick reminder at the start of each class., “I’d just like to remind you to be aware of….. ” and point to the poster in the front of the class.

    I still had one class that continued to be disruptive. Most of the students in that class are fine, but there are a few that seem not to care if you’re trying to give instruction to the group. I had to resort to seating them boy girl and letting them know that if they continued to take time away from my instruction and the other students in the class, then I would have to take time from them during their recess time.

    I love the idea of preventing bad behavior, so I’m hoping that the review plan will work . Wish me luck!
    Thanks for opening up this discussion.

  • Susie

    Thank you for this great discussion Patty! I am also in the same camp- my three classes of 5th graders are very rowdy and have been more disrespectful. I have my expectations posted in the room, but I have not been verbally reinforcing them. I will make sure to do it next week so that I don’t have a repeat of this week.

    I recently moved their seats around (which they had been asking me to do for a while) and I couldn’t believe all the belly-aching and grumbling I got. Is it unfair or unreasonable for me to ask that they sit by someone who is not their friend for 65 minutes, once a week? I do not want to spend tons of my time strategically positioning students on my seating chart. It’s very frustrating…. I reminded all of them that sometimes you have to sit/work with people who are not your friends- and what a great opportunity to get to know them better.

    I’m glad I’m not the only teacher who struggles with this- It sounds like something that I will always need to reinforce and keep in the forefronts of their minds. Art is a special time, only an hour a week…we want to make the most of our time together and have fun creating. Not practicing our manners.

  • Muddy Kinzer

    Hi Patty,

    I took your wonderful suggestions mixed in with some other suggestions very wise people posted on your blog and went back to my out-of-control 3rd graders with a new resolve. I reviewed my expectations for behavior:
    1) Respect Your Art Teacher (meaning mouths closed, eyes & ears open when I’m talking)
    2) Respect The Materials (meaning don’t rub chalk pastels on your arms to see what happens)
    3) Respect Yourself (meaning try your best)

    I introduced a new plan of action: 2 strikes (breaking any of the above rules twice) and you’re excused from the art class for the day. (which kind of broke my heart, but I was determined to follow through)

    And I sat back and watched with utter delight the wonderfully behaved class complete their art lesson for the day. I didn’t have to write a single child’s name down for a strike…not one!…let alone exuse anyone. I was so pleased!

    I will go into the next class and review my expectations again to keep them fresh in their mind.

    Thanks Patty for introducing this topic. It came along for me at the exact right time! You might have just saved our 3rd grade class from disaster!

    Muddy

    • Laurie

      Thank you, Muddy. I will use this approach with my 5th and 6th grade students. This first year of teaching art was a wonderful, challenging experience. These lessons and posts are so helpful. Thank you, all!
      I taught the clipper ship, barn, castle and face with lines lessons. All were great!

      Hope I can contribute more next year, to help others.
      Laurie

  • kathy brazil

    I agree. We should not “loose it”. I have a group of 1st grade students and 7th in my art class that are very disrespectful. I will remind them of my expectations, again, this week. Maybe I do need to send a few to the office!!! I have sent e-mails home but it doesn’t seem to help. I do allow students to talk and socialize in my class but they seem to have a difficult time in separating “fun” from being productive while having fun. They must be totally silent in their other classes and when they come here to art, they can’t seem to stop talking because I allow conversations as long as they are being productive.

  • Ashlyn

    I have just loved every post I have sifted through so far! I am about to finish my degree in art education and have found this blog ever so helpful. It is fantastic to know there are resources (and people) out there who have the same issues I will most likely face. Good entry on classroom management!

  • Jennifer

    This is my first year teaching art but not my first year teaching. I almost every class remind my students that i need about 5 minutes of therr time to get started and then they can talk quietly during “art lab.” When I have over active talkers especially 2-5 I will say, “That’s okay. I’ll wait.” then I’ll sit down and stare at my offenders. I’m almost always start my class standing in front near the white board. A fee times I’ve had a class that just refuses to settle down…so I just walk to the back of the room at sit at my desk. I remind the student once they are ready to listen I’ll conduct class. I think just the sheer act of ignoring them confuses the a bit. Anyways these are my passive ways to regain control.

    I find that sending students out doesn’t really work. Many of my students feel that it is the only “respectfully” way out when in front of their peers to disengage themselves with confrontation.

  • Dorine

    I’ve enjoyed scrolling through your website and reading the posts. Thanks for your generosity in sharing so many of your ideas. I have a website and haven’t posted in ages… life got in the way again. I work as both an art therapist and and teacher for the last 25 years in Israel. I love the 3 R’s… I think I’ll make a poster for my classroom tonight! Thanks again…

  • Annette

    Hi I’ve just discovered your blog and love the colourful work I’ve been an art teacher for over twenty years
    and of course am still learning new approaches Yes I agree to set the bar high and that it is a special time I also often start the year talking about what an art room full of artists would like and feel like, there are some great pictures of artists working, and of course it is always very quiet and everyone is focussed. I have a set of art rules relating to respecting ones work and the work of others ,caring for tools and so on as well as different procedures for cleaning up to keep that as peaceful as possible I find the art rules work very well and the children rarely break them Of course the room does get noisy but I use a bell and also have a timer and set the task of working with attention without speaking for 5 minutes as a challenge and this works well

  • Laurie B.

    I have been an art teacher for 25 years in an urban public school and I still struggle with at least a few rowdy, disruptive students in some of my art classes every day. I give 3 warnings and them put them in the time-out seat. Some times if I think they can regain their self control I let them rejoin the group. In extreme cases, some times I have to have a students removed from the room by an administrator. For classes that are too noisy sometimes we have 5 minutes of silence, during which I play music, classical or jazz. Instrumental music works best for me. I have some very soothing Indian music that works well, too. Sometimes music can sooth the savage beast! I’ve just got to remember all of the good students, who do sit and listen and want to learn and make art. Something else to try is to turn out the lights, make everyone sit down, and wait until they get quiet. Review your expectations with them. Then turn on the lights and start again.

    I call parents and e-mail parents of students who have been in time-out. Usually that works for a while, but sometimes it doesn’t. I am still learning every day and remain open to new approaches. I love reading about the struggles and successes that other art teachers have, and I love Deep Space Sparkle! Thank you for putting your time and effort into such a worthwhile cause. You keep me inspired to try new things.

  • Connie b.

    I am glad to hear that I am not alone in class management issues. It seems each class has their “off” days.

    One thing I have tried with success is to explain how good class behavior affect a classes ability to have a fun art class. There are two scenarios – the first is: the kids come in , listen to the lesson, do their art work, clean up and then go back to their class. The second one is: the kids come in noisy so I have to wait. I start teaching the lesson but it gets noisy so I have to wait, I teach some more and it gets noisy so I have to wait…(you get the idea). After presenting the two scenarios I ask them which one they get to do more art in. They pick the first. I tell them that I really enjoy teaching kids who choose scenario one. We get to talk about interesting things and do interesting art projects. Then I tell them that I do not like to teach classes that pick the second scenario it makes my stomach tight and I feel very tense and tired after that class leaves. I tell them that most kids don’t like that type of class either. After explaining this as I teach all I do is tell them “oh, oh. I think we’re slipping into scenario two” and 90% of the time they straighten up.

    As the year goes on this looses a bit of its magic, but I find it is still a good place to start. Kids need to know the consequences of their behavior on not only each other, but the teacher too!

    I have also explained that I love to be a relaxed teacher. It is a much more enjoyable class, but if a class decides by their behavior that they need a strict teacher I can be that too. “Strict teacher” mode means there is zero talking in art even when they are working on their projects and I am not teaching. If they talk once (and it’s not something like “pass the glue”) I send them out of the room for a few minutes until they are ready to try again. I have only resorted to “strict teacher” maybe 5 days total this year and that’s teaching 600+ students. The classes really stepped up and we all enjoyed art much better after that.

    No system is fool-proof, but these things have worked with a good deal of success for me.

    • Patty Palmer

      These are great suggestions. I feel this is how I enforce my “mood” as well. Thanks for adding this!

  • Carie

    I am not a teacher.

    I am a parent, who volunteers to teach art 2x/month for three grades (2,3,5). (Thankful for your site Patty, for all the wonderful ideas!!).

    I love teaching art…so much that I’ve considered going back to get certified, but then, who would hire me as most art has been cut here in Arizona…but that’s another story =)

    I’m looking for classroom management tips – I find that it is rather chaotic when I go into these classrooms. Each teacher has her own way of quieting down her class…do I copy that? (Have to remember each way) Or do I come up with my own strategy? I feel overwhelmed, that I can hardly get through explaining what we’re going to do, and everyone becomes very chatty…or they decide to run around…or paint their hands…or think they know what we’re doing next and just start doing it…

    Any suggestions from you veterans would be very much appreciated.
    Thanks and Happy New Year!

    • Patty Palmer

      Hi Carie,
      Here’s a tip (I’ve learned this the hard way!), when you step into a classroom you are the teacher. Don’t apologize for being a parent volunteer. Decide what strategies work for you and your behavior threshold and be very, very consistent about it. It’s up to you to take charge so go ahead and adopt a style you like.
      And by the way, I started out as a parent volunteer. My Principal liked what I did she created a position for me! Good luck!

  • Paige Eynon

    I have been teaching art for 5 years, and like everyone else here, have experienced the ups and downs of managing my art room. I think you have to try everything, and see what works. What may work one year, may not work the next. What may work with one class, may not work with the next. Remember, we are teaching little humans, not machines. That is the beauty of our job.

    I only send kids out of class when they hurt another student. My number two rules are be safe and be kind. I spend time going over expectations throughout the year, and when I have problem behavior, I stop the lesson and remind them of the expectations. Most kids want to do well, I find. If they are out of control, everyone stops and puts their heads down until they calm down. I remind them art is a privilege, and they have to earn it.
    Last week I had a class that was out of control with the papier mache, so I told them they had to earn it back during their next art class during drawing time. I don’t believe punishing students by reading or writing about art is a good idea…what is that saying to them?
    I have a break chair for students who cannot control themselves. They have to take a break and think about how they can change their behavior. I also have 3 separate desks for students who need a “better learning” space.
    It’s a hard job, it’s easy to burn out, but we are the teachers of creativity and expression of the next generation. I refuse to let the problem behaviors stress me out, it’s a part of the job we have to learn to make the best of. In fact, I see it as an opportunity to teach the students a better way to handle themselves.
    I love this website and the projects, thank you for sharing with all of us!

  • Christine Natale

    My ideas –

    Divide and Conquer

    In a class of 30, take the 5 rowdiest kids and make them the team leaders. Tell the class that you will only show the leaders what to do and then they have to show their teams (of 5 each). Seat the remaining students at tables of 5 and ask them to wait for their team leader. If necessary, have a one page “quiz” or brainteaser for them to work on while waiting. Turn your back on the rest of the class while you “secretly” demonstrate the project to the team leaders. Then have the leaders bring the materials and instructions to their team. Reward for the best team’s work? More art, of course! Have some additional related projects in baggies for those children to take home with them.

    Be More Than Prepared!

    Yes, I know that you have spent hours working out what you want to do with the kids and how to do it. But be prepared to the point of not having to explain very much, if at all, but rather to be able to DEMONSTRATE the project/ idea, especially with the older kids. Children are quickly bored with days full of seemingly endless explanations. Get to the DOING as quickly as possible with as few words as possible. If you can, have several models of the project done to successive points of completion, to show how it should look as it goes along. Art is seeing and doing!

    Maybe go so far as to declare it a SILENT class and even you must MIME everything, including questions and answers. Well, OK, maybe a difficult question can be written down.

    If you MUST start with an explanation, try to find something that can occupy the student’s hands while they listen – a small piece of modeling clay or beeswax or a simple string project. Give a piece of paper and a pencil and ask them to draw your portrait as they listen! (Don’t even TRY to be egotistically affected by the results!)

    Relate, Relate, Relate

    Is the project that you are bringing directly related to the main history, geography or literature lessons being studied concurrently? Try to meet with the class teachers and/ or ask them to e-mail you their lesson plan outline so that you can make your art project relevant to the time period the children are working with. If that is completely impossible, try to make it relevant to the seasons and the local environment and to (positive) current events, local, national or international that the children may be interested in. Relate the visual arts to music, poetry, stories, biographies, historical time periods. Try to get a real idea of how the children in your school district live. Are there cultural influences that can be drawn on? Bring in a local jazz saxophonist or classical guitarist. Introduce the musician with a short biography and have him or her play or sing. Then have the children draw the musician or paint, model or collage how the piece of music made them feel or what kinds of images it called forth. This can be done with any kind of stimulus that the children experience on a daily basis. Help them experience the many ways that making art can be a bridge between themselves and their community and environment.

    There are many ways of making fairly simple but lovely art pieces based on mathematics, especially geometry and other sciences as well. Try to elicit what interests and excites your students and relate your art projects as much as possible to those things.

    Art example – Leroy Neiman’s sports paintings – how does one paint movement, especially exciting, fast sports movement?? Try it with simple materials! Take photos of people moving and look at the results – what can be seen in that “blurry” image?

    Food – look at paintings done in the Renaissance and a bit later where the portrait or other image is make up of food! Using foods the children eat at home or enjoy, do collages trying to make faces or other images from magazine photos and advertisements.

    Hip hop or other popular music (they must choose ones with no profanities, if at all possible). Play the song and have them do a painting, drawing or collage of what it means to them.

    Read (or preferably tell) a story, especially an emotionally packed but age appropriate one and have them paint, draw, model or collage an illustration of it. Do the same with a really good and relevant poem. Even better if you can get them to bring in a poem they wrote themselves. OR do it backward and bring in some great prints and let them choose one to write a poem about.

    What is an Artist?

    If time would permit, show a movie or parts of a movie about the life of an artist – the Kirk Douglas ones about Michaelangelo and Van Gogh are superb! Show how the artist is the revolutionary, the rebel, the troublemaker – the one who is out to change the world by showing it a new vision of itself! The Fauves – how one art critic went at the paintings in their first exhibit with a knife because he found them so outrageous. Try to introduce each class with a very short but condensed biography of an artist, focusing on his or her struggles and tribulations. With older classes, bring in how artists were hunted down in Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and many other places when their work did not agree with the government propaganda. Also, how art has been used AS propaganda and how dangerous that can be. Show the point and purpose of real art and how even simple student projects are stepping stones in learning materials and techniques which every student could use later in life to make a statement of her or his own.

    Make cards with many different emotional and emotionally potent words or phrases. Have each student draw a card (unseen) and paint, draw, model or collage something expressing that word or phrase.

    • Cori Nelson

      Lots of great ideas, Christine…thank you!

  • Jen

    I to am a parent volunteer turned art teacher. I love my job and working with the kids. I often remind them art is fun and unlike their regular classes my class is a bit more relaxed. Talking is aloud but at reasonable levels as they are making art. That I should not hear whole conversations from the other side of the room. I will not talk over them and they must be quite as I give instructions. The sooner I’m done the sooner they can get started. I hate sending kids out of the class room but I have had to do this. Sadly, it happens sometimes. Last year, with my third grade class they were just awful one week. They following week was Valentine’s and I was doing heart shaped animals in my classes. An easy project, but one that aloud creativity and freedom for the students. They got to cut, glue, use colored papers, draw with oil pastels or makers. I showed all classes some examples just to get ideas flowing. All classes were excited. In this 3rd grade class a I gave them the assignment but with the catch due to their behavior the week before. I gave them manila paper and crayons and told them they had to do the exact same project with out the fun. No cutting, no glue, no fun color papers, no markers or oil pastels. If they wanted red animal bodies they had to color red (crayon) heart bodies. They would ask to use scissors, I would say no because scissors are fun and they don’t want to have fun. Can we use markers, no markers are fun. I explained that if they acted out in one class the next art class project would be again be a great fun project with little to none fun art materials. I knew I could not take art away as a whole, it not only punished them but also their class teacher, so I had to come up with something else. They hated this and would behave. After most classes they would ask if they would have real art the following week. I did this only once and to only one class.

  • Mary Lou

    Very nice ideas! I have had horrible classes in the past two weeks due to inconsistencies such as late openings, snow days, etc. I tried similar approaches and they worked on most classes but I have a first year teacher next to me whose class is out of control, (mostly after lunch which is when they have Art).
    Yesterday I reviewed the expectations and they were ok for a while then reverted back to talking out loud, ignoring my requests, and generally being disrespectful. I changed most of the class to yellow (we have a color change system green, yellow, red, blue) and I’ve decided to write up the two girls who totally ignored my requests to be quiet. It is so frustrating! My next class was fine. Go figure.

  • pennsyltuky@icloud.com

    I had one second grade class that just would not quiet down for me to intro the lesson. I told them I’d wait and stood waiting. This often does work, but not that day. After a few minutes I noticed about half the students were sitting quietly waiting for art to begin. So I took art supplies to those students and individually showed them what to do. The rest of the class soon caught on and quieted down. I just felt sorry for the students that were behaving and yet were missing out on art because of the disrespectful ones!

  • Z

    This is my first year teaching and I’m only 3 weeks into the school year. It seems as if the expectations for my class are the same as all the homeroom teachers because I have a standard classroom setup unlike PE or computer class. Students come to my class to do everything they don’t do in their homeroom classes, including fist fighting. I had 4 fights in one day and by the end of the week I lost it. My lack of good classroom management is to blame, but I’ve read so many techniques and tried so many things already in such a short period of time. I did notice some of my kids turn things around in my class because I took my time to talk to them one-on-one, but I don’t have the time to do that with all my problem kids. I also have kids that seem to have no shame because when being reprimanded one-on-one they laugh in my face. When they don’t look at me I see it as a good sign because they know they did something wrong and that they should correct it. Those are the kids I’ve reached and I notice they are more mindful of their behavior in my class. I use the non-verbal and verbal cues that their teachers use and they act like I’m not really a teacher. One of them asked today if I was a real teacher or just a substitute. It’s week 4! I have been told by administrators to do progress tracking logs and to have a reward system, but when you teach a whole school, it’s hard to do. I have kids asking if I give treats to good kids. I’m already working with limited art supplies (construction paper, color pencils, and crayons) and anything else that we’ve done in class has been coming out of my pocket or my own studio, granted some of the paper and card stock I’ve been using was donated to me by a good friend and it is really just collecting dust in storage so I’m trying to get rid of it at school. I feel like teaching elementary art is the hardest to teach because so much time and prep work go into making a successful lesson. I can write a good lesson plan. The hard part is prepping enough material to make the lesson plan a success. I’m glad I found this blog and all these comments. I’m glad to know that I am not alone and also able to see what works for other art teachers instead of what works for regular classroom teachers.

  • Debbie Locklear

    I have been teaching art for 15 years, I have severe depression, anxiety , insomnia and Restless leg syndrome. I am running out of supplies and I’ve spent a ton of my own money.my budget is 400 which is just a dollar per child. I work until 7 almost every night and still get all negative comments, things taken out of context that make me look ridiculous, over exaggerations ( the students were standing in their chairs) on my walkthroughs. The principal and assistant know nothing about art and have admitted it. I love the good kids , they are the ones who keep me here. I have horrific 5th graders.one of them threatens the others , lunges out of his seat, yells profanity and this is elementary. I have tried rewards, incentives, etc… the students here have no consequences. I am sitting here now wondering how I am going to make it through tomorrow with the worst class of 5th graders I’ve ever had in my life. These kids are so troubled that the only thing that will keep them calm is writing.

  • Deb Locklear

    My 5th graders were so disrespectful last year I had to hire a lawyer.. I’m resigning this year.

  • Ari

    Kids are just dieing to express themselves. All day long teachers are preaching. “Sit in your seat, be quiet, listen, be respectful”… but what about them? Kids have so many feelings and expressions that are just suppressed all day. If they are a chatty class, that’s who they are. I find the chatty classes don’t get less done if I continue the lessons through chatting….they actually finish more than classes who are “better” I find. Just totally keep your cool. I also most always make general statements to the class rather than singleing a student out. Then if it is continual
    I give 3 chances…and I say their not in trouble but whatever is happening is not working…so they can take a break….I have a table set up with music books, etc they can read. So it’s not punishment it’s cool down. Of course I will get upset and so may they, but i always make sure to say “your not in trouble but this isn’t working right? And we don’t feel good right? So this is what we have to do”. I also try to really chose being angry to make points instead of it overcoming me. Be an actress!

  • Dawon Webb

    I would start passing out class work. Then, lay out some rules.

  • Marilyn Washburn

    I loved this article so much…I’m struggling with a particular group of 5th graders and truly want things to turn in a positive direction with them. I only get to see them for a 40 minute session every other week!
    When you set your expectations and communicate those to your students, what methods do you use when those expectations aren’t met? What consequences do you put in place? I truly appreciate your guidance and sharing your experiences!

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