10 Things in the Art Classroom That Are No Longer a Big Deal

Janice K. Johnson


The last couple of years have been crazy! We have been through so much, both in and out of the classroom, yet we have persevered. Many changes forced us to examine our teaching and priorities. Some things we once might have hyper-focused on have now become an overrated thing to let go of. We went to social media and asked YOU for one thing that used to drive you nuts, but now you let slide.

social media graphic

1. Respecting Supplies

Teaching students to respect art materials is still important. However, some supplies aren’t worth the hassle of nagging students about. For instance, have you ever had students poke at erasers or pick at them until there was nothing left? Marnie Hyland preemptively cuts all of the erasers into thirds so that they are ugly from the start!

Or, how about scrubbing those brushes and palettes correctly at the end of the period? To begin with, Erin Mohrman recommends adjusting your expectations. “Now, I just expect them to do a bad job or not at all, so I check everything at the end of the day before I leave. Saves a lot of paintbrushes!” Similarly, Natalie Elizabeth shares that she has students place their brushes in a cup of soapy water. “I used to spend so much time teaching and reteaching this. I wash them when I have time.” Washing these items ourselves allows us to have peace of mind knowing they have been cleaned correctly, adds Jim Digger.

paint palette

2. Loaning Pencils

“Can I borrow a pencil?” is a recurring and resounding question at the beginning of each class period. But, seriously? This is the one supply students need to bring to class! You may have also decided that expending energy on pencils is not worth it. Loan out those pencils, and be okay with it when they do not get returned.

If you want to ensure you will get your pencils returned, try this hack!

3. Eating in Class

There is certainly a time to reinforce the “no eating” rule in class. It’s not a great idea to have crumbs and spillable liquids around laptops on a research day or when hands are covered in clay. However, there are plenty of days when grabbing a snack or quick drink in the middle of artmaking won’t do any harm. Just remind students that if their work gets damaged due to a food accident, it’s their work and their grade! Plus, how many other art teachers out there like to snack while teaching? It’s only fair for students to snack if we are!

4. Drawing on Lined Paper

“One of my pet peeves is when kids use lined notebook paper to draw or paint on,” Ruth Pitman vents. Don’t we all? Especially when we have provided blank paper or required sketchbooks. While following directions is a valuable skill, sometimes it’s okay to accept work on lined paper if the student shows a concerted effort.

lined paper

5. Assigning Homework

When I first started teaching, I had lofty goals of assigning creative drawing prompts that had students go home with their sketchbooks and come back with amazing drawings we could critique in class and use to inform in-class projects. Reality check—if you send a sketchbook home, it probably won’t make it back. Reality check number two—if a student brings the sketchbook back and does the prompt, it probably won’t be quality work (Of course, not including the select few overachievers.).

sketchbook pile

6. Allowing Cell Phones

Looking back ten years ago, most students had cell phones and smartphones. However, they weren’t glued to them quite like they are today. We could have cell phone-free classes, and there wouldn’t be an argument. Now, cell phones can easily become a teacher’s biggest battle. For most of us, cell phones or other personal electronic devices are now a tool we require in class for students to participate. It can be easier to let students’ phone usage slide in the art room because it’s convenient. Many teachers let students have “free time” on their phones or devices when they finish an assignment early.

hands holding phone

7. Accepting Late Work

Pre-pandemic, many teachers would refuse to accept late work or accept late work with a deduction of points. Pandemic learning brought lax deadlines and grade forgiveness in the hopes that it would help all students succeed in extenuating circumstances. Now that we are back to in-person learning, students are finding adhering to due dates is a challenge. Kimberly Ans said she has given up “not accepting late work or docking marks for being late. I still have due dates, but if they need more time, no big deal.” If you rely on due dates and grades to motivate your students and are at a loss, check out Janet’s article to read about how grades can be arbitrary, inaccurate, biased, and punitive and how you can move forward. Plus, who has the time to keep track of late work point deductions?

8. Sitting Still

Abby Escobal LaPenna said she is over students sitting still! After a couple of years of sitting behind a computer screen, our students need to move more than ever. Reinforce learning by playing games or facilitating critiques where students get up and move around. Have students stand up and use their bodies to form the shapes and lines they see in an artwork or reenact the subjects in a famous sculpture. Or, just try to deprogram and encourage students to play without the presence of screens!

9. Wearing Headcoverings

Do you have a uniform policy at your school that your students love to push? Do your students prefer to wear hoodies or hats to cover their heads and faces? It can be hard to really learn who your students are when you can’t see their faces. It can be hard to teach art when writing students up or sending students out of your room for uniform compliance issues. Leslie Rowland allows students to wear hoodies for those who are cold.

10. Drawing From Photos and Tracing

Most of us probably started teaching like Margaret Capron, “insisting they draw ‘from life’ and not photos.” Margaret has loosened up over the years and now allows her students to take photos of their subject matter, print it, and draw from it. Or, maybe you were like Lana G., who was taught that tracing was cheating. While drawing from a reference photo or tracing an image isn’t inherently bad, they do not build upon a wider range of skills like observational drawing or original compositions do. Sometimes, it’s worth it to allow these practices because students love the immediate win they see and feel when they can use a photo or trace.

hands tracing animal drawing

We start with good intentions at the beginning of the year and the beginning of our teaching careers. However, once the year starts, things can get rolling a million miles an hour! We quickly realize some of our good intentions may no longer be such a big deal. We can spend our time and energy on teaching art or on whether or not we hand out pencils, let students trace, or allow snacks in our room. We hope this roundup resonates with you and encourages you to give yourself grace as you choose where to put your energy moving forward.

What else have you given up expending energy on this year?

How has this shift helped you prioritize what’s truly important?





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