Have you ever gone to school feeling like teaching is a chore rather than a passion? Then this post is for you. Having been in the profession for the best part of twenty years, I love my job now, probably more than I did when I took those first, tentative steps into the classroom. So how do you stay ‘fresh’ when you’ve taught the same project over and over, and how do you look forward to seeing those young faces every single day of the teaching year? The answer is simpler than you think, but you have to learn to switch off, say no, and treat every day like it’s interview day. Dress well, smell good, smile more and take a tip from one who knows – you have to think what you want, into being. This blog post explores some ideas for keeping art teaching fresh.
The UK has one of the highest retirement ages (1), with a fifth of teachers planning to leave the profession within five years (2). How can you ensure longevity in the classroom, and ensure that your retirement is a happy one when you look back on your career? I firmly believe that self-preservation is key. Sleep is vastly underrated and switching off with an audio book can help us to unwind and focus our attention on something else. Having a life outside of the classroom, going to that ‘gig’, watching a ‘show’, and I don’t mean ‘once in a blue moon’, is essential. To become good at anything takes practice and that includes being kind to yourself and taking these opportunities.
Sure, the mortgage needs paying and the bills won’t take care of themselves, but choose to work on your own terms. In the UK, the number of teachers has continued to fall, whilst the number of pupils continues to grow (3). It is therefore more important than ever that we reach out to our colleagues with a kind word or deed, and have a relaxed, unhurried lunch break, maybe followed by a short stroll in the fresh air, with a friend. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Well that’s because it is. Give more because you want to, and not because you have to. Put on that after school club or offer to help with the school play, but on your terms, when you have a space in your schedule and not because you can’t say no.
Outside of lessons, crank up the music, throw open the windows and keep the door wide open. Be a promoter – keep inviting the kids in, all of the kids, not just the ‘good’ ones. Show the young people you really do want them there. Show them you’re a nice person and you want them to do well. This does wonders for your teacher – pupil relationships and magically they will start to come, because they respect you.
Turn your classroom into a contemporary gallery space with a program of changing student work. Show off their work in the head’s office, the foyer and the school office; promote your subject, after all, art is meant to be seen. Brighten someone else’s day, as well as your own, and watch the compliments come rolling in.
Invite the students in, give them choices as to the direction of the scheme, and watch how your interest in what you are teaching, perks up. Be fluid – allow some lessons to develop in unexpected directions. Don’t allow teaching programs to restrain but promote creativity; you can always adjust the paperwork later. Do a ‘collab’ with another department to share the workload and make new, unexpected connections. Keep it ‘fresh’.
Plan ahead and go to that major exhibition; you can’t bring new ideas into the classroom if you are stale yourself. ‘Kill two birds with one stone ‘ – conduct some research, whilst feeding your own creativity and watch the results filter through to your teaching. Plan a new project, based on your visit. Encourage your students to go at half term, with their folks. Organise a residential, or a day visit and get your students away from school and looking at art. Work outside, plan schemes around the seasons, the weather, the great outdoors, just get them out of the classroom.
Get your students to do it. Peer & self-assessment is a wonderful and extremely useful tool; and more than that, they actually like doing it. Mark less often, but ensure quality and detailed feedback when you do. Instead, give oral feedback in lessons then ask them to write down what you said. You should not be working harder than them. Workload is still the biggest reason why teachers leave the profession (4). Set an independent homework project over several weeks and give yourself ‘a breather’, whilst encouraging them to become more self-motivated. Offer rewards to tease out the best results. You’re showing young people how to teach themselves.
Get the kids involved – really ‘push’ that one child prodigy. Get the students to enter that competition, promote that local event for youngsters, and keep art ‘fresh’ for them and you. Pick up the phone and connect with a local school, share resources and exchange ideas. Bolster your nearby colleagues and improve your own satisfaction, in doing so. And start early – how satisfying is it to watch a young person’s creativity grow and develop, from an unsure eleven-year-old to a confident older teenager and beyond? Introduce those unheard of artists and ‘wow’ yourself at the same time; Art doesn’t stand still, nor should you. They learn, you learn.
Talking of learning, you’re a lifelong learner, right? Or why else did you choose this career path? So, make sure you are one; teach yourself those new skills, go on that ‘killer’ laser-printing course. Don’t utter those famous words, ‘I’m too busy’; remember what I said, make it happen.
As an eternal optimist, I really believe you are what you do. After a good night’s rest, it’s easier to walk into work wearing a smile and making that joke. Imagine your head teacher is standing in the corner of your room and deliver your best lesson. Foster strong, respectful relationships with the kids. They look up to us for how to behave, let’s show them our best. Take pride in yourself. Turn others’ frowns into smiles and show understanding when teen emotions run high. Take an interest in the lives of the children in your care; you may be the only one. Laugh often with colleagues, with pupils, and most of all, at yourself. Remaining ‘fresh’, long-term, is as much about maintaining a positive outlook, as it is about making those changes.
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