In preparing for this brave, new school year, I’ve been reflecting a lot about my years of teaching. As my anxiety rises in step to every shiny new ed app, I’ve been trying to distill what I’ve learned as a teacher and how kids best seem to learn from me. As a couple main principles came to mind (keeping things simple, fostering enthusiasm) I also started to jot down other tidbits, kind of how I would tell them to a younger me or new art teacher. I picked 22 as this is the start of my 22nd year (modeling on Kevin Kelly’s 68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice). These are my pedagogical opinions solely, from the perspective of an elementary art room:

Keep everything (procedures, workspaces, rules) as simple as possible; no one thrives with unnecessary complications.

Enthusiasm is perhaps the most important teaching tool of all; sharing yours and being able to tap into theirs.

Kindergarteners will occasionally pee on your stools and floor.

Clean-up is a key part of the lesson, not just because of the immediate mess but because kids need to practice leaving the room/school/world just as good or better for those coming next.

Get used to kids telling you that you’re so nice, you should be a “real” teacher.

Get used to kids telling you that you’re so good, you should be a “real” artist.

When a student says they want to be an artist, remind them that they already are.

Trying is more important than talent.

No one ever reads the art-terminology posters.

Humor is perhaps the second most important teaching tool; no joke!

Grades are 100% useless for improving young artists’ skills, understanding or abilities.

The art room doesn’t have to be a dumping ground for oatmeal containers and toilet paper tubes.

Bring doodling materials to staff meetings.

Be ever helpful to building service workers, secretaries and other teachers and staff.

The most engaging lesson ever still only momentarily distracts from students’ main passion, socializing.

If you really want to perk them up with tried-and-true technology, hand them big squishy mineral clumps (clay).

There are the papier-mâché enthusiasts and those who would rather die than touch the stuff.

Don’t teach splatter painting, they already know.

Have how-to-draw books available, some kids need to copy or trace to feel a sense of accomplishment.

A student who shows you what looks like scribbles but then tells you all about them for ten minutes is every bit the awesome creative thinker and maker.

Students seem less willing to take creative chances than they were 20 years ago.

The old chestnut about how artists can turn their “mistakes” into something better is true but only frustrates kids further; they just want a dang new sheet of paper.

And number 23 (out of 22): sometimes you do your best work by staying within the parameters, and sometimes you need to color outside the lines.

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