Monday, August 29, 2011

Choosing your Cart and Exploring your Space

Let’s pretend you’re new to a school district, and you discover that your limited on your resources.  The cart has little space, there’s no storage, and materials are all over the place.  If you’re on a cart or travel, this is a very familiar situation to you, and you still juggle what space you have.  Besides screaming (which sometimes seems like the only option when your frustrated), explore your options. 

Your Ideal Cart

When I began traveling, I set myself up on two different carts at two different schools.  Why?  They were the only options I had at the time.  Over the next year, I found which cart was best for my situation, and which one I wanted to kick over.

 I find that creating organized space helped my sanity.  For example…if you have a cart that can hold bins, fill some of the bins with items you use almost every class period, such as glue, scissors, assessment sheets, and other items you see fit.  With the materials always in the same place, I can send my student to the cart and they know exactly where the item is they’re looking for. 

                                                              (Psst...this one's my favorite!)

Leave additional space for temporary materials, such as specific lesson items, games (for students who finish early), and others items needed for the day.  I always leave two empty bins on my cart for this exact reason, and I can fill/refill when I walk by my storage closet.

Squeeze in that space for student resources, such as drawing books, art books, and art games.  Again, the students will know where it is, and where to place the items during clean up.

Create a display space on your cart.  Sometimes I walk into a room and discover the homeroom teacher has used all the chalkboard space, so I must find my own.  This is a slight irritation at first (which is understandable), but being prepared is always helpful.  If you have no way of creating space on your cart, this is where that communication word comes in handy.  Discuss with the homeroom teacher about leaving additional space on the board.   On an additional note…buy your own magnets and label them!  Magnets are one item I treasure, and lose at the same time.  I’ve been lucky with students that are helpful and return forgotten magnets before I leave for the day. 

Create a separate cubby for your personal items, such as your own pair of scissors, glue, and other materials you want for your own use.  I have a cart where I can keep materials up high in a separate basket (there will always be that child that wants to use the teacher’s materials). 

And lastly, for that cart that is bugging you to no end, here’s a suggestion.  Look at your supply budget and see if you can squeeze in a spare 250.00 for a new cart that hold all this wonderful storage I discussed in the previous paragraphs.  It was the best investment I made at my second cart school!  I now use that old, immobile metal cart as a storage cart, which holds a drying rack and resources for students who finish work early.  Best thing I ever did.

Your Storage and Space

Is your storage area a closet?  Are you left with a small drying rack and no space for other classes? Do you also share your space with other art teachers?  I sympathize, and I can also offer advice for your lack of space.

One of the schools I teach is shared with another art teacher.  Some classes are mine, the rest of the school is the second art teacher.  We get along very well because we communicate about the shared items, such as drying racks, projectors, and painting carts.  We decided to keep our consumable materials in our own space, which has made it very easy to know what we have for our own classes, without worry about missing items.  We also designated specific display areas around the school, which prevents miscommunication with showing off finished products from other classes. 

When the drying rack is overfilled and overstuffed, I communicate with the homeroom teachers about temporarily leaving materials to dry in a corner table or window area for about an hour.  This is a good amount of time for drying and makes it easy to stack projects by the end of the day.

Sculpture materials are fun to make, but a pain to store when you’re gone.  My teachers are very nice and allow me to store a plastic bin on top of their storage closets, which keep the students from tampering with them during the week.  This method has helped me, the teacher, and the students since my first year teaching, and allows me to continue creating the messy, stinky clay projects everyone loves.

Display space is always an issue because I am not at the school every day of the week.  If I know I want to display a student project in advance, I will ask the administrator for permission to use a specific space within a time frame, and I’ve always been granted the space.  Go ahead, try it and you’ll get great results and a group of kids who are proud of their work!

Don’t have space to display 3D materials?  I don’t either.  I discovered photos of the students with their projects are wonderful and much easier to hang up and take down.  Plus, the students gets to keep their picture!

Lack of space can be extremely frustrating.  With a little organization communication, and flexibility, your troubles can flip to resolutions.  I’ve been there, and I still hit snags, but we deal and push on to find ways to adapt.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Pros and Cons: Balancing the Scales of Traveling to Multiple Schools

Every job has its ups and downs, even if you feel like you’re a piece for dirt under a shoe, or left out of the important details.  With the arts and music being the first to be cut from most school districts, it appears as if we are not considered “part of the core curriculum,” when in fact…we are!

I wanted to list some pros and cons that have been faced before in many school districts.  If you have some of your own, please list them in comments!:

Negative: I’m on a cart, stuck in a closet, with no sense of space. 

Positive:  Yes, you may not have a room, and your storage closet houses your desk, but look at it this way!  A room takes much longer to set-up and take-down, or even clean up at the end of the day.

Negative:  I don’t feel like I belong with the other teachers.  They seem to cling together when talking about standard tests and classroom activities.

Positive:  It takes time to build lasting friendships with co-workers and other staff, and sometimes it may not happen the way you want!  Your job is to convince your fellow co-workers that you are worthwhile.  Talk about their students’ personalities and how it reflects in their artwork.

Negative: I keep tripping over my cart, and items keep falling off the cart! Arg!!!!

Positive: In the morning, try and leave some of the items you’re using with certain classes within their rooms…or make a trip back to your storage room (if you have allotted travelling time between classes).  That will save on the items falling off or breaking, but I can’t help you with the cart tripping…that’s just a convenient annoyance we must deal with!

Negative: The materials are too difficult to disperse in the classrooms!  The teacher just leaves no space for me!!!

Positive:  As said before:  Communication is key.  Let the homeroom teacher know you need the space, or you’ll place your items on top of their stuff. 

Negative:  No Storage for projects!!!

Positive:  True…but have you talked with the homeroom teachers about allowing some small space in their rooms to be used?  For example, the tops of closets/cabinets, or even by the window sill?  If not, talk with the administrator and ask for space in the school for certain projects that can be used temporarily.

Negative: I feel like I’m invading their room.

Positive:  True, but think of it from the homeroom teacher’s perspective…they feel like they’re invading your class as well.  This is when you work as a team.

Negative: I’m struggling with communication, I feel like I’m the last to know everything.

Positive:  Travelling from school to school?  It happens, but you can fix the important items, such as meeting dates and other important information.  Communicate with the administrators about keeping you in mind for important facts, and don’t be afraid to let them know when they’ve forgotten something.

Negative:  My car is an art storage closet!

Positive:  That can be fixed.   When ordering supplies from year to year, build up a collection of materials that can fit in your storage space, so you no longer have to carry it from school to school.

Negative:  It’s such a challenge to communicate with parents.

Positive:  I can’t lie, it is, but that doesn’t mean you stop calling them when you need to make that call.  Just find the time on another date (unless it’s urgent) and let the parent know your situation.

Negative: Disciplinary actions are hard to keep track!

Positive:  That’s another communication issue.  Discuss options with the homeroom teacher, but more importantly…call the parent!

Negative:  I always forget something at another school!!!!!

Positive:  I can’t help you there!  I do it too!  Just make sure you get to your school with enough time to pick the item up if you need to.

The list may be long, but there are also many positives to working in multiple schools, such as:

     -A chance to know the faculty at multiple schools, which is pretty nice.
     -A break from one school to the next
     -A hands-on chance to work out kinks in lesson plans
     -The district board members recognize your work and decorations more than most.
     -You brighten the students’ day when you enter the classroom
     -With good communication, you develop stronger collegiality.

And finally…why do you stay with your job? The wonderful look on the students’ faces when art class begins.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Juggling the Schedule

I am discovering that nothing in the teaching profession stays the same.  Since my first year of teaching, my schedule for all three schools changed slightly to accommodate most involved.  This year, I have a new challenge.  Previously, I had only taught grades K-3 on the cart, but this year, I will be handling 4th and 6th grade.  In my curriculum at my home base school (a.k.a. the “classroom school”), my upper grades use different materials and learn more experimental methods, processes and manipulation than the younger grades do.  The challenge I will come across this year is space, but with open communication, I hope to have a year with awesome new learning experiences!

This key word I use in the travelling/cart situations is communication.  Without an open dialogue with all co-workers involved, miscommunication runs amuck.  Here are a few tips to cover your tracks with your schedule and keeping an open dialogue with your co-workers involved:

1.       Discuss your projects with the homeroom teachers.  You may discover that some of your projects may cross their own curriculum!  I enjoy cross-curricular units because I notice the students’ enjoyment in creating a project related to what they had learned in science, math, or even a story they recently shared. 

2.       Inform the homeroom teachers when there will be any messy projects, such as sculpture clay or painting.  This way, the homeroom teacher can put away any materials he/she do not want messy.  Let’s face it, you can’t keep a workspace 100% clean! 

3.       Ask if there’s a chance to leave space for the cart to enter the room.  In some situations, you may not be able to fit the cart into the room due to lack of space, but even if there’s an empty spot on a table for materials, any little gesture helps.   Homeroom teachers have also been very helpful in allowing storage containers to remain in their rooms throughout the week, which really helped save on space.
4.       Check in advance if there are students with modifications, such as special needs, English-language learning, or other adaptations needed for students in the classroom.  It is important to not always depend on others to bring this information to you, but it is important to be sure you meet the needs of all students in your classroom…even if it’s not your room! 

Every classroom is different, and no schedule stays the same.  On top of instructing your classes and juggling materials, you also need to be aware of other responsibilities, such as recess, morning/afternoon duties, or lunch patrol.  This is another arena to communicate with your co-workers!  I have moments where I have to choose between washing brushes or running outside for duty, and when those moments arise, notify your co-workers!  Something will always be worked out!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Nice Introduction into the World of the Travelling Art Teacher

In 2007, I began my teaching career as a travelling art teacher in an elementary K-8 school district in the south suburbs of Chicago.  Like any first year teacher, I was excited about developing a curriculum, meeting new faces, and sharing new imaginative project ideas with my students.  I am now in my 5th year of teaching, and I learned many tricks of balancing time, materials, storage, and other random mishaps with travelling and being on a cart.  I have been blessed with having a room at my home-base school, which I share with two music teachers who travel by cart.  Two days out of the week, I travel to other schools, where I am on the cart entering classrooms and using cafeteria space. 

Unfortunately, as much as we all would like to have a nice, spacious room with plenty of storage, the “specials” teachers are the first to lose their space. Some reasons have been growing numbers of attendance, or needs for other services (such as English-Language and Reading programs).   I have been attempting to research the effects of classroom management and creativity on being on a cart vs. having a classroom.  In my findings, I had found this quote:

In the U.S., every school district has its own schedule, but generally, art teachers have their students less than one hour per week.  A significant number of art teachers do not have an art room with a sink, but have to take a cart from room to room. At least 40% of the elementary school children in the U.S. do not have a specialist art teacher.  In many cases, art is taught by the classroom art teacher or a volunteer that often lacks teaching preparation in art education (Bartel, 2008).”

Since 2008, that percentage has grown due to economic cuts, and many “specials” teachers who once had rooms are now on carts.  In many cases, the arts were cut out of the curriculum because of budget shortages.  In these times, we not only have to be the advocate for the arts in our schools, but we must be there for the students to foster their creativity and imagination.  I will be focusing on ways to help balance travelling, classroom, and cart situations.  I would like to invite anyone who is in similar situations to share their stories and insight as well throughout the month within the blog.  We are here to support each other, and I hope I can help with some tips to help you begin your school year.