Years ago, before I became a licensed art teacher, I was a hardworking, idealistic, naïve, conquer-the-world art education major at a state university. Back then, all I knew was that I wanted to teach art, had a million ideas, was going to make every child love art like I did, and was ready to get my hands dirty.
An education major’s college internship came last before graduation; for me, it was student teaching in art. I was assigned to two different schools – an inner city middle school, and a rural elementary school. Despite all my college courses, nothing could prepare me for the world of student teaching in art – lessons, students, parents, discipline, teachers, paperwork, and again… students. Here are the top 5 things I learned while student teaching in art (and what you should be prepared for as well):
Lesson #1: Students were hard enough to deal with, but parents were terrifying
At the inner-city middle school where I student taught, I was given a window of 10-15 minutes each day to ‘make calls.’ I didn’t know what this meant at first; it was only a short while before I realized that each day I would be calling parents to inform them of their child’s classroom behavior.
Disciplining students is tough when you’re a student teacher. Despite the dreams I had of students getting along, helping and encouraging each other and making fabulous artwork; it turned out that some kids were just mean and acted very nasty to each other. Thus, the parent calls. As a college kid, I was terrified of calling parents at home to inform them of their child’s behavior. To this day, years later, it is still something I dread doing (but now, as a parent myself, realize how important it really is).
Lesson #2: I was supposed to be the authority figure
Who knew? In my own eyes, I was still just a kid, a 21-year-old punk who had no business disciplining children, guiding anyone’s future or leading a classroom. So many times I thanked God I wasn’t assigned to student teach at a high school, since I already blended in with the middle school crowd.
When I first began student teaching, I’d look around helplessly for the cooperating teacher if there was an unruly student, out-of-hand situation or classroom issue. It began to dawn on me, after awhile, that to the students – I actually was the authority figure and needed to stop looking around for an ‘adult’ to take over, but had to step up to the plate and act like the adult I was.
Lesson #3: It was okay for some students to not like art
Every idealistic art education major has dreams of instilling a love of the arts in all their students, with every child creating masterpieces, visiting museums and earning scholarships to art school after graduation.
Realistically, this just doesn’t happen. I came across some students that simply did not care one bit about art class. And there was nothing I could do to change that. It didn’t mean I was a bad teacher; it just meant that not everyone shared my passion. And that’s okay.
Lesson #4: Student teaching took over my life
And if you are an Art Education major, it will take over yours too. It was well-advised when our professors told us that while we were student teaching, we should take leaves of absence from any jobs or responsibilities we had on the side.
The time put into being a good student teacher was enormous. They say that teachers are overpaid – well, if teachers were paid by the hour, they’d all be millionaires. Time was spent working in the classroom and other school duties, chaperoning, grading, making copies, creating worksheets and rubrics, researching standards, preparing units and lesson plans, writing research papers and evaluations for my college classes, preparing examples, working well past midnight each day, and then maybe – if there was time – sleeping a little bit.
Since teaching took over my life, good time management was absolutely crucial. Running late to work was not an option worth considering; I’d fail my classes and not graduate. I couldn’t call in sick, couldn’t be late because ‘the roads were bad’, or my car got stuck in the snow. Because of these experiences, I learned so much about responsibility, making priorities and goal-setting while student teaching.
Lesson #5: Teaching art was absolutely what I wanted to do the rest of my life
Despite all the hard work, nail-biting conferences with parents, lack of sleep, endless paperwork and constant headaches, I decided that teaching art was the one thing I was absolutely sure of. Because I student taught, I decided that being an art teacher was my place in life, my destiny.
Sure, there were some moments of tension, but there were so many more moments of learning, self-realization, confidence-building and deciding that this was who I am. I had art students and teacher mentors that made an impression on me, that I still remember today. I got to practice what I loved to do in places that encouraged me to grow and stretch my comfort zone. Being a student teacher in art was a challenge, but it’s a challenge I am thankful for every day.