The Sweetest Thing

Let me tell you a story…

This blog post is not my usual type of post.  It’s a bit long, there are a lot of words.  I try to avoid being too wordy in my posts.  But this one is different.  This is a story that unfolded this school year in a class that is teaching me as much as I’m teaching them.  This is the story of boys vs. girls.  A story of growing up.  A story about kids who showed me that kindness can come from the most unexpected places.

If you have the time, I think you won’t regret the read.


This year I have a lot of great classes, some are quiet, some are energetic (read: loud).  I don’t have any class that I don’t like, and that’s so nice to say, because the truth is that sometimes you get a bad combination of (otherwise good) kids who make teaching much more difficult than it needs to be.  But I have this one class that started out the year on bad ground with one another.  A group of boys in the room did not get along with a group of girls in the room, and vice versa.  They really did not like each other.

The tension led to immaturity in the form of a back and forth exchange of clay residue on one another’s clothing- nothing violent, but unacceptable.  I had to have a few talks with these kids, both individually and as larger groups.  They had to talk things out with the principal.  The conflict didn’t just disappear, but gradually I saw one person take a high road, and then another person, and I saw that they were actively ignoring one another.

I talked with one student about her goal to become a better person overall, and how this situation tested her.  She chose to stay true to her heart, which is a good heart.  She was asked, but the principal, to apologize to the boy she most disliked, and she did.  I saw her do it.  I was so proud of her.

I am also proud of the boys, who didn’t escalate the situation either.  They sat in seats facing away from the girls, and they talked about other things, not paying any attention to the girls.  A truce was reached, and the class became a calmer place to be.

Tensions resurface

Things were great.  We started painting, and eventually got to do the Color Mixing Challenge.  This is always a fun few days in class.  Read my earlier blog for details on the Challenge.  It’s a blast.

Girls teams competed against each other and against boys teams.  Kids rose to the challenge and I was so proud of the whole group.

Mikala and Andrea celebrate a successful color attempt

Things were great….until the prize ‘ceremony’.  You see, on the second day of the challenge, my kind hearted girl was the only one in her group present in class.  She had to work alone, while the other groups worked together.  She didn’t quit, but instead worked even harder to earn points for her team.  None the less, she didn’t earn enough points to ‘win’.

When teams were ranked, she complained to her group that it wasn’t fair to be ranked lower than those groups who scored more, because she worked alone for one of the two challenge days.  I didn’t respond to her complaints, but I heard them.  I believed that it wouldn’t be the right thing to do to step in and change the rules for everyone because of student absences.  Rules were in place, and I stuck to them.

Worse still, her group tied with another group, and we had to break the tie.  We did rock/paper/scissors.  Her group lost.  Things aren’t looking good. She’s a kind girl, but she is emotional and reactive at times.  This was testing her.

Z’Kirah is not camera shy!


To give out prizes, I do this:

  1. The last place group spins the ‘Wheel of Prizes‘.  Their prize is posted by their group name on the board.
  2. Next to last spins next.  They can keep what they get, or trade it for the other group’s prize.
  3. This continues until the first place group spins.  They choose from all previous prizes, or the one they spun.

This is fun, but tense, as groups must quickly decide what prize they will choose.  Additionally, a teacher must be pretty confident in her class management to allow kids to steal prizes from each other!

The Zonk

One prize on the wheel is the ‘You Owe Me $1’ prize.  If a group gets this, I cheer and say, ‘Yes!!  I’m going to be RICH!’ and tell them they owe me $1.  Disclaimer: I WILL NOT KEEP THEIR DOLLAR. But I don’t tell them that.

Right from the start, my girl is mad about her point value, and then she sees this.  I can hear her getting worked up about it, but I don’t comment on her whispered complaints.

So now the time comes for her group to spin the wheel.  Previous prizes on the wall include iMusic passes, DJ for a Day, and a piece of candy.  Her group spins……YOU OWE ME $1.  It’s too much.  She is mad.  She is ready to shut down.  I see it coming.  Holy moly, WHY did this prize come up for THIS group?!

The sweetest thing I’ve seen all year

Next up is the boys group.  Those boys that didn’t get along with those girls.  They spin.  They get a pass to get out of E/I for a day and come to hang with me and do art in the art room.  This is a good one.

They don’t debate, they don’t discuss.  They walk up to my desk with $1 and say they’re taking that prize away from the girls and trading it for their E/I pass.  The girls get the pass, the boys pay me $1.  It is the sweetest thing I’ve seen all year.  Heck, it is the sweetest thing I’ve seen in all my teaching career.  I clapped for them.  The rest of the class joined in.  The girls were stunned.

The group with the heart of gold.


I talked with that girl later.  She was still emotional about what happened.  I told her the truth- what those boys did, and what they earned in return, was worth more than money could ever buy. She agreed.  I will never forget this class, and I am proud to be their teacher.

Pick Your Pleasure!

Making Choices in the Art Room

Lately, in the art rooms here at JTL, we’ve been getting quite the variety of projects.  Currently, I have a fairy house made of bark, pine cones, and dandelions in one corner and an egg carton growing Rzeżucha (a plant native to Poland) on the window sill.  Two kids are drawing, three are painting, a few have oil or chalk pastels out.  There are signs on every medium available telling kids whether it’s water or oil based (so they know if they can mix and match the mediums or not). Continue reading

Product or Process?

I’m looking back at the year so far, and wondering- where’s all the art?  I know every class is filled with art, and I know my kids have not been slacking off, so where are the piles of artworks?


Angelyn works on an adorable clay project, while Manny gets an earful.


What we remember

When I played softball as a kid, I knew I was never going to be a professional softball player.  I knew I wasn’t getting a scholarship.  I knew I wasn’t even going to try fast pitch.  I just loved playing.  I didn’t care what the score was, truthfully.  I certainly don’t look back fondly on the season we ‘won’ more than others.

No, I look back on the friendships I made, and remember the love I had for my first base position.  I remember the coaches who encouraged me, and I took with me an ability to catch, throw, and hit a ball.

What does that have to do with my art classes?

The answer is this- I enjoy the experiences we have as we learn about art as much as (more than) the finished products.  This isn’t necessarily a popular opinion to have come exhibit time, but it’s true. Continue reading



Making more than just art

This year it’s become much more evident to me just how much our students get the opportunity to do good deeds.  I think JTL has been doing a great job of showing our kids that they don’t live in a bubble, and that they can have a positive impact on their friends and community in all sorts of ways.

From the first month of school, we jumped into the game with our Kindness Rocks project, as followers of my blog will recall.

Continue reading

Scientists in the Art Room

Mad Scientists

Lately, my inner Gemini has been showing through in the art room.  Kids are coming in and I’m showing them science-y art.  Or artsy science.  I’m telling them we’re going to artists doing science.  Or scientists making art.  It doesn’t matter!  We’re having some fun.

I start the class by showing them this artwork, and asking them how they think it was made.  A feather?  I dog’s hair? A painting?  Is it the sun?  These are all guesses the kids have suggested.  When I tell them it’s made from bacteria that was painted in a petri dish, they get grossed out.  EEEwwww!!! Continue reading

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 Continue reading

Rockin’ It!

Rockin’ it on Dot Day!

If you have been following JTL Art classes for any amount of time, you’ll know that Dot Day is a tradition I and my smART partner Mrs. Shemansky have started with our kids, and we celebrate it every September 15th (or around then).  Last year we pulled out every crafty material we could find and let the kids go nuts making colorful and sculptural dots to hang in the halls.  That was great, but my gosh, by the end of the day we were SPENT!   Continue reading

Outdoor Classroom Day

A global picture of the countries participating and how many schools in each

Outdoor classroom day is being celebrated by 1 Million kids in 75 countries today!  And WE are a part of that!  JTL Art classes were officially registered as participants in today’s event.  We love exposing our kids to these fun events, and this one took our kiddos out to the trail behind JTL to complete a Photo Scavenger Hunt…. Continue reading

Color Mixing Challenge

I love a game.

Lately every lesson I teach is being made into a game.  A competition.  A table versus table bonanza.  I love everything about teaching this way.  I could go on and on about all of the wonderful things I see and teach when I structure a lesson as a game- from motivating my lazy bones students to teaching kids that there actually are winners and losers in our world.  No, everybody doesn’t get a prize.  And yet everybody lives to see another day.  But keep coming back, because the next winner may be you! Continue reading

Why I’m Giving My Students $10

If you came into the art room lately, you may have heard kids talking about whether they could afford to buy bottle caps or a balloon, or asking whether I take returns.  You may have seen kids in deep discussions about what supplies they really need and what they could live without.  You may have seen me handing back change after they handed me a dollar and thanking them for doing business with me.

So what’s the deal?  Have I started actually charging kids for their supplies?!  YES!!!!

Continue reading