Sunday, March 4, 2012

My kingdom for a classroom...

First of all, I know there are tons of Art teachers who have been teaching for years from a cart. I honestly don't know how you all have done it for so long. To say it's exhausting might easily be the grandest understatement I've ever made.

I've had amazing support from the parents at my school, though. I shied away from painting with my young artists for the first month, uncertain how to organize and manage all of the materials and set up/clean up involved in such an endeavor. I must say that, with the help of my awesome parent volunteers, I've become quite the art cart painting pro. I still carefully plan each lesson with regard to materials and how to manage them in the time (40 min) and space available, but the thought of setting up a class of 24 students to paint in what essentially turns into 10-15 minutes by the time set-up and clean-up are factored in, doesn't terrify me anymore.

As I predicted, my organization skills have improved to a degree that shocks even me (though you wouldn't know it by looking at my "desk"...the other Specials teachers and I share an office space in what was a science lab in its former life.)
My corner of the Specials office. I sit on the other side with
my back to the shelves. This was taken a while back,
so there's even more stuff now.
I must admit, though, that in spite of this cart business not yet driving me to a thumb-sucking fetal position, I would do nearly anything to have a classroom again. Art requires SPACE, and that's one thing I don't have.

I feel so limited in the projects that I do with my kids...everything has to be portable. I do actually paint quite often, but I stay far away from materials-intensive collage or anything else that requires small pieces and lots of clean-up. I papier-mached with my 6th graders last semester, and I don't think I'll be doing that again until I have a classroom.

3rd grade students working on still life drawings in
preparation for Matisse-inspired Fauvist collages.
Drawing classes are definitely the easiest logistically,
though it was tricky to find a suitable location in each
class to set up the still life. 
The most frustrating part of cart teaching is that I feel like it takes so much longer to complete projects. Something that should take 2 or 3 classes at most ends up taking 4 or 5, because of set-up and clean-up. I also generally use one full class to introduce a topic, including artist and art history background, which I would normally just do at the start of a studio class in which all materials are set up and ready for use as soon as students walk in and sit down.

I've found that there are more discipline problems when the students stay in their own classroom, as well. Anyone else feel that way? It's like walking into someone else's home and telling them to stop what they're doing, forget how things normally work in their home, and do things your way for a while. Oh, and by the way, I'm going to need to rearrange all of your furniture first; but don't worry, I'll put it back. I miss being able to define my own space, set up the desks/tables in a way that is efficient for art-making, have things available if students need additional materials or if a few finish early, and not having to set up and clean up the entire room six times a day. 
A completed Fauvist still life collage. 5 classes =
1. Background on Matisse and the Fauvists,
2. Drawing the still life (and discussing line quality,
composition, etc.), 3. Coloring the still life
(crayons/colored pencils - some students started
this in class 2), 4. Dividing the background
space and painting, 5. Adding pattern to
background (crayons/colored pencils) and cutting
out/pasting still life to background.  

I forget things now and then, too, haha. I have a couple of students in each class who know where my office is and where I keep things, so when I walk out without the extra pastels or glue sticks I meant to put on the cart, I just send someone back for them.

I'll stop complaining now. :)  I really am so grateful to be able to continue teaching Art...that's something that was very uncertain last year when all but about 40 Art teachers in my county were laid off (there were over 200). And at least I won't have a classroom to pack up this year.
If there are any cart teachers still reading this, I'd love to know how you manage the materials and time. I'm doing okay, but I'm never opposed to suggestions!


  1. I am a third year teacher on a cart for the first time. It is the beginning of week 2 and I am already pulling my hair out! Do you rearrange furniture when students are in rows? How do dyou keep your supplies seperate from the students' personal supplies? Any advise would be appreciated. I am having a really rough start to the year!

    1. Hi Mrs. White,

      I actually have a classroom again this year, and oddly enough I'm having to get used to it! The switch you have to flip in your brain works both ways apparently. To answer your questions, the only time I rearranged desks was for painting or when students had to share supplies (like pastels, watercolors, etc). The older students caught on pretty quickly and were good about just moving their desks back at the end of class.

      The biggest change I had to make in how I taught was that about half of my class was given over to set up and clean up. There was just no way around it. Our schools (I work for a charter system) require parents to volunteer a certain number of hours, so I really used parents a lot! Any time I painted or had materials-intensive classes with K-2, I scheduled volunteers in advance. And if they didn't show, I always had a back-up plan. (I eventually got smart and double/triple-booked.) My classes were 40 minutes, and when we painted it would take 15 minutes to get all the paints set out and smocks on the kids. Then another five or so for me to give instructions. That left about 10-15 minutes for the students to actually paint, leaving 10 minutes for a mad rush cleaning spree. And then running off to the next class, of course! Whew.

      As far as materials, with K-2, who had their own pencils, crayons, and markers, I arranged with the teachers beforehand to use those classroom supplies. That way I didn't lose my stuff. No one minded this at all. If they started running out, I shared mine. I took things like construction paper crayons, pastels, paint, etc. With older students, I required them to use their own pencils (they have them right in their desks after need to take and lose mine). And when I did take things like Sharpies or colored pencils, I had everything in baggies or boxes and counted out. You really have to be a stickler about counting everything as it comes back to you. I still lost some things, but not too much. The Mr. Sketch scented watercolor markers tended to walk away, but most of them eventually turned back up (guilty consciences ;).

      I also spent a lot of time on procedures for EVERYTHING so students knew exactly what I was giving them and in what condition, and they knew that's how I expected it to be returned. The chalk pastels, for instance, were in two trays, shared between two students. (So I had 12 sets.) Every single class, before giving them out, I reminded students that they were NOT TO SHARE with another pair of students. Their pastels had to stay in their two trays. Otherwise, we'd end up with trays missing colors or having too many of a color. And I just made sure I was the one who put them back in the box, keeping each pair of pastel trays together, so that when I passed them out the next time the set was complete. I hope that makes sense.

      As I said, it's all about keeping everything organized. It took me a few weeks to settle into it and find a rhythm, but I did, and I know you will, too. I'd love to know how it goes for you! It's not an ideal teaching situation by any means, but it's doable.

      One last bit of advice: Make the teachers your friends! Try to leave their room as you found it, and they'll be pleasantly surprised and more cooperative when you DO have to move things around for a class. (I completely rearranged one teacher's class for painting, and she nearly passed out when she came in in the middle of class and saw it. She was shocked when I had everything back in place and spotless before I left. But she never worried again about anything I did to her classroom while I was there.)

      Best of luck!!