Confessions of a Middle School Art Teacher


Super Teacher or Real Person?

I don’t know what it is about this time of year.  I struggle.  I really do.  Students start to show their ‘true colors’, and for some those colors ain’t pretty.  I have seen and felt a change in my inner self over this past week, and it’s becoming something that is taking priority over doing the fun things I usually do to keep me excited and engaged.  My gut feeling is that this is something to hide and work through on my own, but I’m not following my gut on this one.  I’m putting it in black and white, and I’m sharing it, because I want people to see me- all sides of me.  I’m often excited, and planning, and learning and growing, but lately I’ve been struggling.

It’s like I am capable of being two different people, Super Teacher or Real Person.  Super Teacher can deal with anything, is always sensitive to the needs of students, smiles when frustrated, repeats directions as many times as it takes…you get the idea.  Real Person has a limit to how much she can take.  Real person lets her emotions sometimes factor in her decisions.  Real person picks her battles, and sometimes loses.  She doesn’t visit often (thank goodness).

So if you care to read on, please do so with an open mind.  I’m admitting some things here.  I’m sharing my troubles.  I’m being honest.

Student drama.

Many kids come to school in August with a persona that says ‘I’m happy to be here.  I’m going to behave.  I’m pleasant, you should like me.’ For many, this turns out to be the case.  But for some, around this time of year, you see that that’s not the case.  They are moody.  MOODY.  They come in with pouts firmly in place, throw their books down, and it’s like they decided before they showed up that they were not under any circumstances going to have any fun or participate willingly.

So what do I do?  Well, super teacher approaches them with a soft voice, and asks- with concern- what is wrong, what can we do to turn that frown upside down?  Super Teacher (heretofore known as ST) finds out if it’s problems at home, or if they’re sick, or if they had a fight with a friend.  ST takes the 10 minutes and gets to the bottom of it.  And there is a bottom of it.  And ST figures it out and we get on with the lesson.  But that process takes TIME.  And I don’t always have TIME.  Instead, I often have 10 other kids who are also moody, or confused, or eager to ask a question, or can’t find their project, or have an octopus stuck to their head, or….you get the idea.  The myriad of problems I face in the first ten minutes of class make it SO DANG HARD to be ST.

So here’s how it goes instead.

Bobby walks into class and throws down his books.  He keeps his back to me as I’m instructing the class.  His Chromebook is open.  I tell him and the 4 other kids with their Chromebooks open to close them and face me.  Bobby still doesn’t.  I call him out by name.  He gets mad.  I’m the bad guy who’s picking on him.

Instructions are over and kids get to work.  Bobby does nothing.  I ask him what he’s doing.  He doesn’t answer.  I ask where his work is.  He doesn’t answer.  He starts scribbling on a piece of paper.  3 kids are now asking me questions, ALL AT THE SAME TIME, and nobody cares that I’m talking to Bobby.  The phone is ringing.

So what would you do?

I find that I’m in a situation that will take 10 minutes to unravel from, and none of those 10 minutes can involve finding out whether Bobby’s dad yelled at him last night, or his girlfriend passed a note to another boy.

Instead, I get firm.  ‘Bobby, go get a pencil, get a piece of paper, and get to work. Now.’  Bobby hates me in this moment.  I don’t care. That’s a terrible thing to say, but sometimes it’s true. I have a job to do and so does he, and we are both going to do it.

So that’s not what Super Teacher would do.  But some days I encounter 3, 4, maybe 10 ‘Bobby’s, and in 42 minutes of class time, I can’t figure them all out.  I get firm.  I get stern.  I don’t take crap.  I can’t do it any other way sometimes.  Sometimes they just need to get to work.

And what’s worse, after that class walks out the door, I feel drained.  All the emotion I should have put into finding out what was bothering Bobby sits in my stomach like lead.  I carry it into the next class.  And guess what?  Here comes another Bobby walking in my room, just as the first Bobby is walking out.  We get to do this all over again!  After a day like this, I’m disheartened.  After two days, I’m tired.  Lately, it’s been 2 or 3 days a week.  These kids are moody Moody MOODY.  And it’s making ME moody!  And I hate it!!!!

I know we all have moments like these.  Sometimes the moment is just that- a moment.  Sometimes it’s a moment in time, and that moment has been going on for about a week now.

But wait

I wrote that post yesterday.  I didn’t post it, because I wondered how much I’d regret it if I did.  Today I tried something new in class.  I moved on from the drudgery (that’s what it was becoming) of a lesson that needed time to fully develop and began a whole new part of the lesson.  The project is literally about Balance, and about finding balance between seriousness and play.  We had been in the serious part of the lesson for about 3 class periods (this takes about a week and a half to do with all 9 classes due to the 6 day cycle).  I had forgotten the fun that we could and would be having.  Today we flipped the coin, and moved on to the FUN part.  We got up, moved around, experimented, talked about gross things and looked at gross art.

I feel lighter today.  I’m not so serious.  And neither are the kids.  Maybe we’ll survive this yet.  Maybe we’ll even thrive.  I just have to remember that balance isn’t just something I talk about.  It’s something that I live.  Bad days, good days.  Serious, fun.  Anger, laughter.  It’s all part of the process.


2 thoughts on “Confessions of a Middle School Art Teacher

  1. Honest self-reflection is always the fastest way to growth! That balance between RP and ST is harder to achieve on some days, isn’t it? Thanks for keeping it real and inspiring others to find ways to solve problems….

    • Thanks Mrs. Pip- I hesitated to post this, for fear that someone might read it and find out I’m not always at my best. Then what would happen?! I am so thankful for your feedback, and that you saw the benefit to posting my thoughts. Your support is always appreciated!!!

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