Thursday, July 28, 2011

How to Reach and Teach Difficult Students

some of my favorite rowdy students from long ago!

A few weeks ago, I made mention of "That Kid." If you are a teacher, you have no doubt, encountered That Kid. You know him (although it can be a she as well), he's the one who gets your nerves all grated just by walking by him in the hallway.

We all have personalities to which we are more drawn and ones which we avoid. I highly suspect that we are programmed to avoid those we dislike just as we are programmed to avoid stress. Often, That Kid, is someone who is disruptive in some form or another, avoids classwork, and spends a lot of time in the Principal's office. My experience has shown That Kid frequently has an IEP, and/or some form of an emotional disability. Frequently, That Kid suffers from instability in some for or another, be it insecurity, social status, family life and/or financial reason. Yet, it is hard to factor all of that into account when That Kid is raising hell in your classroom. But, as teachers, we have a sacred, ethical responsibility to ALL of the students we teach.

So, what do you do when you have a student whom you wish you could avoid altogether?

1. Involve the student in classroom activities.

One of the easiest ways to "win" a student over is to get him involved in the classroom community. By being a "helper" he can serve a powerful role in the classroom. These tasks can range from handing out materials to being a "classroom mentor" to another student. And, when he is helping in the classroom you have an opportunity to praise him and observe him in a positive manner. This aids you as you are able reassure yourself that there is good in him somewhere. ;)

2. Find Positive Incentives

Whenever you "punish" someone that is negative. I don't like being punished and neither does That Kid. Instead, find ways in which you can encourage positive behavior through incentives. These can range from something simple (earning a special treat) to something more complex. I've called home and arranged for parents to give students an extra hour of video game time after consecutive classes of positive behavior.

3. Find time to talk to That Kid

It is important That Kid knows that you have his best interest at heart. Frequently, That Kid, feels victimized by teachers and adults alike. Letting him know that you truly care goes a long way to forming a positive teacher-student relationship. Find time to sit down with That Kid and discuss his behavior in a manner that is constructive. Explain how you are trying to help him and ask if he has any ideas on how to the two of you can work better together. During this conversation it is important to speak to That Kid in a very conversational and adult tone; talking to him as if he is inferior won't work.

4. Discover That Kid's interests and dreams

That Kid frequently avoids working in class. This could be for any number of reasons. The important part is to narrow down that list. Find ways to discreetly identify if That Kid has any learning disabilities that might cause him to avoid work. You can do this through speaking with other teachers and carefully observing him in class. If he has learning disabilities differentiate assignments to accommodate That Kid more fully (I've had students range from color blind to totally illiterate who were That Kids).

Discover what bands, artists, interests etc. That Kid has and find a way to differentiate projects to accommodate his interests. I had a student years ago who wouldn't participate in any work who had genius level intelligence. I discovered that he really loved the Beatles. So, together, we found ways to incorporate the Beatles into his assignments. I'm not going to say that all of his projects were "amazing" or befitting his intelligence, but at least he was doing work!

5. Be Consistent

Whatever your behavior management plan, stick with it. It is important That Kid know that you will follow through on your plan. At the same time, you don't have to fulfill the plan on angry terms. Try to be as calm as possible.

6. Think Fondly of That Kid

When all else fails and That Kid is really trying your patience, start thinking of all of his redeeming qualities. Everybody has a few, and it helps to calm your nerves when you can identify the "good" points of a person even when they are behaving rudely.

You'll notice that I didn't include "talking to other teachers" in this list (other than to identify learning disabilities). My reason for this is that we all have bias, and if you have That Kid, then you don't need to know anything more "bad" about him or her. And, in all likelihood, That Kid probably acts up in all his classes. Try to observe him with fresh eyes!

I hope this helps you to teach and reach That Kid!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Art Classroom Decor

I have had such grand plans of getting over to my new school and getting my new classroom set up. But, my summer has been busy (camp, conference planning, 2 other jobs). As a new teacher to the district, I have 2 weeks of pre-planning that begin on August 2nd. And, if my six years of previous experience have taught me anything, it's don't plan on having any time during pre-planning to work in your classroom. Is that something that is only happening in the South?

Most of my past experience is in private schools. And, what I will say is that my previous principal was very concerned that if s/he gave us time to work in our classrooms that we wouldn't do any work. . .So, his/her answer was to keep it deliberately super scheduled and it was "understood" that we had to stay after school or come in prior to pre-planning to get our rooms squared away.

What with my only having one opportunity this summer to visit my new classroom, I'm really hoping I get a bit of time during pre-planning to work. . .In any event, I'm SUPER prepared to hang out at school until after 7pm.

Fortunately (well, now at least) my previous classrooms haven't had much in the way of bulletin boards. My new classroom is the same! All of this plays out well for me, because I have quite a bit of handmade posterage that is ready to hang. I've posted these images before, but they are among the most popular on this blog. I should mention that one of these includes the infamous no-no board (this is not to re-start the discussion; if you want to add to that discussion please do so here).

SO, once again, here are my favorite art classroom posters.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Art Education Classroom and Behavior Management

Enclosed below is my behavior management plan for the 2011-2012 school year. This year, I will be teaching middle school art. The rules for my behavior management are modified and inspired by "The Essential 55" by Ron Clark. You are welcome to download use and share this plan, but please do not republish without crediting this source AND citing "The Essential 55" by Ron Clark.

After my plan, you can download editable verisons of my "conduct reflection" forms. The images for these forms come from free-for-teachers Discovery Kids clip art. You are welcome to download and use and share these forms, but please do not republish without crediting this source AND citing Discovery Kids clip-art.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Getting Ready for Fall: Free Art Education Templates

My school year begins (for me, the teacher) on August 2nd. I can't believe another year is ready to begin. It seems like yesterday I was writing about making torte for the cohort (and that was last summer).

Some of my most popular blog posts are those in which I include copies of the templates I use for lesson plans, behavior management, and assessment. Since some of us are getting ready to go back to school (and those of you who are not, will be going back all too soon) I'm re-sharing my templates with you here.

I've enclosed the templates as jpgs on this blog posting. That seems to be the preferred method for most of you. If you click on the image it *should* open on a new page and in a larger format. As always, ALL of these forms are available in downloadable (and sometimes edit-able) formats on my scribd account:

Unfortunately, I can no longer email the forms directly to you -as I have in the past. I get so many daily requests (ranging from a request to reformat the templates and resend and/or someone who just simply misunderstands how to download the form and wants an email copy) for me to keep up. I wish I had the time to keep up.

If you have an issue, you are always welcome to let me know ( but just know I many not get to you as quickly as you might like.

Art Education Lesson Plan Template

Specialist Behavior Reflection

Teacher Portion
Student Portion

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Black Girl Head Roll

I've recently written about how we, as art education bloggers, need to discuss the challenges of cultural, racial, and financial gaps present in the classroom. One of the commentors on that post, brought up an excellent point. It is awkward, challenging, and even risky to discuss race, culture and finances in relation to a difference between ourselves and others. We run the risk of making racist, unsympathetic, and misinterpreted comments. Yet, every time we type anything into the internet, we run that risk.

I've written about many things that gracious commentors have been quick to point out as being a little bit less that what one would desire. The truth is that we all make mistakes and that part of the reason we blog is to open ourselves up to the idea of others. I'm not writing this blog because I have the answers (sometimes I'm convinced I don't even know the questions!), but because I need a sense of community and feedback about what I do. . .And, I like to share; and this community gives me an avenue in which to do that. No matter if we always agree or not, no matter if I disagree with a comment, I'm always happy to have them.

crayon batik made in the much-endured trailer

I can hardly ask others to take the risk of writing about gaps between ourselves and our students if I'm not willing to participate. So, in that vein, I share with you the story of how I learned to do the "Black Girl Head Roll."

If you've read here before, you know that during the 2006-2007 school year I worked in a very racially and culturally diverse environment. This environment was compounded by issues from the school district at-large, which during the 2007-2008 school year lost it's accreditation through SACS. The school was not financially diverse, but over 1/2 of the school population qualified for free breakfast and lunch. For nearly ALL of my students this meant the only meals they received at all were during the school-day and were free.

I was raised in an upper-middle class environment by two very caring people. We weren't rich as my father began a new business (which is now doing great) during the recession of the 1980s, and because of that I was well aware that most everyone I knew was "better-off" financially than me. Yet, still, I wanted for nothing.

I have 3 younger siblings and we all attended award-winning public schools; all of which were predominately white. My brother's graduating class had such a large percentage of "gifted" students that it was tossed out of the averages when the state test scores were averaged (because it was such an anomaly). All of my siblings and myself went on to attend large, well-respected public Universities. Today, my brother is a "molecular architect" working on his PhD, my sister works as a child-specialist advocating for serious ill children in a prominent hospital in Georgia, and my youngest brother is finishing up his last year in college and is studying ecology and has completed two National Outdoor Leadership courses and has traveled to 5 of the 7 continents.

It is important you know the above because when you compare my background to those of my (then) students, you can already see a gap. The school I worked at was 78% black, 15% hispanic, 6% white, and 2% Asian/Pacific Islander. You should also know that prior to the 1996 Olympics the city of Atlanta decided to relocate Public Housing to outside of the city, in an attempt to mask the large numbers of impoverished persons living in Atlanta. They relocated these people into the school district in which I worked. And, while, all of that happened 10 years prior to my working in the district, this relocation meant that a large number of the students I taught were children of relocated persons (who were already impoverished at the time of their forced move).

a project we did about "diversity." Notice how the student had difficulty finding other races represented in magazine articles. Can you imagine how frustrating it must be to have so few references to someone who looks like you must be?

For the first 1/2 of the school year the entire school was in a series of trailers located on the grounds of another school. My school was "new," but the building wasn't finished at the time the school year began. My "trailer" was the furthest trailer from "civilization" and the point at which students would try to "escape" from school. There was also a neighborhood pervert who hung out in a tree just off of the school grounds and would hungrily watch my students. I called to report him several times, but as he was sitting in a tree off the school grounds not much could be done.

I'm not going to lie, I did use that creep as a strong argument for staying on campus when I reprimanded those attempting to skip out.

My only materials were crayons and paper. I had no sink and no easy access to water. I also had no "call button" with which to alert someone that I needed help. AAnd, y'all I NEEDED HELP all the time! The school leaders weren't good, in fact one is gone from the county all together. Fortunately, the football coach, also white, had the trailer next to me. He had a similar upbringing to me, and was a semi-new teacher like me. We bonded over a mutual sense of culture shock and he kept an eye out for me. I was assaulted physically by students more than once. Nothing long-term damaging, but it felt good to have another adult witness the madness.

The first day of school the students got into a huge crayon fight (new crayons were broken into bits and hurled at one another). Instead of this being funny, those "hit" were highly offended and "disrepected" and a physical altercation had begun. I had been taught by the school district officials to not get involved in fights, to let the kids duke it out, and call for help. But, out there in the last trailer of civilization, how was I to call for help before more kids got entangled in the brawl?

I shrieked for everyone to stop in my high-pitched white-lady manner and that illicited no response. I tried to get to the students fighting and the non-fighting students locked arms to prevent me from getting to them (I guess it was entertaining?). I finally ended up crawling over tables in a skirt and heels and jumped from the tables into the fray and stopped the fight the way I knew how. I may be a white-lady but all the neighborhood kids growing up were boys; I know how to scrap.

By the time I got things calmed down (as much as it was going to happen), it was time to go. The students all dashed for the door of the trailer and hauled out. As I was left with the epic mess of the crayon fight to clean up, I started wondering what I had got myself into. When I found fresh, human urine in one of the chairs; I cried. What the hell had I gotten myself into?

My eventual "new classroom" (look Ma, no crayon fights!)

I had started the year knowing there was going to be a culture and racial gap between myself and my students. And, I thought that any attempt to look and/or behave as if I knew something about their culture was going to be offensive. I mean, no one wants some geeky white lady to start trying to talk like she knows anything about the 'hood, right?

Well, yes and no. I was grew up to value school and most of my classmates had similar values. We were also taught to "avoid fighting" and taught that true respect is earned, not demanded.

Well, my students didn't know any of that. To them, respect was something you demanded, and if you didn't get your due, you did something -usually painful- to demonstrate that you were owed that respect. I can hardly blame them as this is how a majority of their parents behaved (based on what I witnessed). This bizarre to me definition of respect continued in strange ways. Once, when I called home to report a student who was being a little too aggressive her mother told me: "I told her, 'Baby Girl, you gots to go and get your revenge!'" And, this concept was very common thinking for many of my students. In their line of thinking, sometimes people needed a good beating just to stay in line.

I mean, y'all, I can't say I haven't thought that before. . .

Community projects: working on a cathedral

The first half of the school year continued in much the same way as my first day had gone. The students would act however they wanted, I had no ability to control them, and sometimes someone would get hurt. I felt like such a failure. I cried every night. Once I got my head out of my butt, I started looking around, and I noticed that NONE of the black teachers had the issues I did. Honestly, some of it could have been due to the fact that they were black, but I would say nearly 90% of it was due to something else. The black teachers were going about classroom management in an entirely different manner. They were loud, they sometimes shouted, and while they often sounded crazy angry (to me) the students sometimes chuckled like they were being good-naturedly teased.

I decided I would try to get in touch with my "inner black girl." I tried talking to students in the same manner, but mostly they laughed at me. I was sometimes called racist, and I'm a lot of things but not racist. This continued until a the technology teacher, a very nice black lady named Ms. Thompson, saw me floudering while trying to emulate the black teachers.

Ms. Thompson waited until the students were dismissed and said: "Little white girl? Little white girl come here. I'm going to teach you how to do the black girl head roll."

And, she did. After that, Ms. Thompson would give me small hints and tips about how to have "swagger," and how to "get down." She LOVED laughing at my worst attempts, but was always really kind about it.

At some point during these lessons something occurred to me. I wasn't being racist to try and emulate a culture to which my students responded. I was still me, and my core values at their deepest point, were very similar to the students. I, too, wanted everyone to respect me, and I, too, had a hard time understanding that it must be earned, not demanded. Most of my students came from a culture that was raucously loud, community-driven, joyful, proud, and enduring. I'm 100% down with celebrating that, aren't you?

My students were never going to responded to quiet cajoling because very few people they admired spoke in that manner. I had to be loud so that my students knew I meant business, and if I could make it humorous, well then, that was better. Saying something like, "Please stop telling me what to do, it is very disrespectful," relayed very little to my students. If anything at all, it told them I was being disrespected, but was too "weak" to do anything about it. When, what I wanted them to do was simply shut their mouths. So instead, I would put my hands on my hips and say: "Young man, once you go to college and are grown you can speak to me like that. Until then, shut your mouth."

Once I got in touch with my "inner black girl" things improved quite a bit. But, the other half of getting control of my students was reading "The Essential 55" by Ron Clark. These rules are meant to teach communal respect and extend to the teacher. My students LOVED enforcing rules on me when I broke them (sometimes on purpose, just to see if they would catch it). I venture to say that once I used my new schema for school and employed the "Essential 55," I was running a tighter ship that a few of the seasoned teachers at the school.

And, even at the private school I had a black student who would frequently back-talk me. I took him out in the hallway and unleashed "inner black girl" on him and he responded so quick. After we worked out our differences there in the hallway he even said "Wow, Ms. J. you're like my Grandma!" haha!!

I hope this is just the first time I share how I handle and hurdle gaps between my students and myself. I also hope that I haven't been offensive, and if something I've written has offended you, it was unintentional and I would appreciate you letting me know, so we can discuss it.


I've jumped on the Pinterest train. After hearing so much about it on the Getty Art Education listserv, I was piqued. . . But, truthfully, it was my sister's cajoling that got me to join.

When I went to register, I was put on a "waiting list." Now, honestly, I just think this "waiting list" stuff is just great PR. It gets you thinking, "Wow, this is so popular, I have to wait." I don't do waiting very well. Haha! Well, that is putting it mildly. Anyway, I had my sister "invite" me using my email address and I was able to register "immediately."

I was reading over on Mr. E's page about his love of Pinterest, too. I have to say, I find Pinterest very easy to use, very intuitive and just like Mr. E, I find it a great way to "Pin" projects I really want to do eventually. I also really like that it automatically embeds the URL of the item you "Pin," so if you end up doing the project a bajillion years later and have forgotten who to credit, you can easily find that.

You can see my Pin Boards at

So, darlings, are you Pinteresting? If so, please, please, please, add me a friend (name, Amy Johnson or artfulartsyamy and email; I'd love to share with you and to see how you are using it. If you need an invite to Pinterest, just email me at artful.artsy.amy@gmail and I will get on it!

Friday, July 15, 2011


First and foremost: Have any of you ventured out to see "Midnight in Paris" at your local movie theater? If not, you have GOT to run out and see while it is still in theaters. I don't watch too much T.V., hadn't seen a promo, and ended up seeing it on a hot day wherein I really just wanted the escape of the heavily AC'd theater. I saw that it was advertised as a typical Woody Allen film about how people relate etc. etc. and had Paris as a very romantic backdrop.

And, well, the film IS all of that with one minor exception. The protagonist, played by Owen Wilson, is a writer who accidentally ends up slipping back into 1920's Paris. While there he meets Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein (and her partner, Alice), Pablo Picasso, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Fitzgerald, Salvador Dali, and Man Ray. . .For a few minutes he slips further and meets Monet, Degas, and Toulouse-Lautrec. Yeah, I actually gasped out loud when I figured out someone was Dali. It was such a fantastic treat. Please, do go and see it.

And, in another recommendation is a mixed request. This Fall -well in 2 weeks really- I begin my work at my new school. My new school is a very different environment from my homogeneous private school experience. The student body reflects a wide range of diversity culturally, ethnically, and monetarily. Also later this Fall, I will be presenting a workshop at my local Art Education Conference about creating and participating in collaborative online art education communities. As I mull both of these important topics (well, in my life at least), I'm struck by one thought: Our online community doesn't reflect much diversity other than the fact that all of us art education bloggers live in a variety of different places.

We don't talk about the challenges of diversity, culture, and various financial issues bring into our classrooms. Well, at least not, as a major theme. And, if I look at myself at the very least, I see a long range of projects that aren't particularly diverse and do not address the interests and backgrounds of a diverse set of learners.

Knowing the little I do about what my Fall is due to bring, this a is a major issue. It leaves me in a place wherein I am doing research about creating a more diverse set of lesson plans, behavior management etc. etc. When I think about what we can do as bloggers it is simple, we can work more to introduce such hard topics as culture and race into our writing. I don't mean just introducing lessons that reach out to different cultures (although that is good and I want that too). I mean more writing about how to overcome the challenges we face when we come from a different culture than our students, and what we do to bridge the gap (if one even exists).

The other thing I think we can do as bloggers is to encourage our colleagues to blog as well. We can't change who we are, what our interest are, and where we teach. And, a vast lot of us, teach in environments that are similar to how we grew up and/or what we relate to. . . I think we need a more present voice of those who teach in environment vastly different than our own. I think that this will help us to grow and it will open our eyes to addressing concerns of which we aren't even yet aware?

Finally, when I look through my cache of art education bloggers, I would say at least 85% of us have blogs that address the needs -primarily- of the elementary art room. We need to encourage those teaching in older age ranges to participate in this community. I secretly think that the strongest force is elementary because those elementary kiddos finish projects quick and elementary art teachers need a huge battery of projects! :)

Does any of this make sense and/or does any of this resonante with you?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Asserting Art

Tact, subtlety, and withholding have never been talents of mine. When I was a child, my frankness often caused me a lot of pain, anguish, and friends. I -famously- one time told the most popular girl at my middle school: "I like your hair cut so much. It looked so stringy and dirty all the time when it was long." Oops. As I've aged, I've learned to hold back a bit more, much to my detriment. The older I get, the more I realize I just need to be my frank self. Sure, there are moments, when keeping your mouth shut is best, but the true test of maturity (for me) is to know when those moments are and when they are not.

I say all of this because it seems like the whole world (myself included) has a hard time understanding that your right to swing your fist stops at my face.

As an artist/creative person, do you ever get tired of constantly having to prove and/or validate your existence, career, chosen path, and passions? And sometimes, this is even to other artists?

I was at a dinner party years ago at a colleague's very fancy downtown apartment. We have known each other for years, and while we have never been close friends, we have found ourselves consistently in one another's social circles for a long time. She, and many of the other people at the party, work in the visual aesthetics industry and are amoung the social climbers of the Atlanta social scene. She asked what I had been up to, and I replied that I was still teaching art. To which her eyes grew very big and she said: "Wow. Still?! But, you're studying to do something more right? You don't just want to be a teacher?"

I'm southern. So, while i'm appallingly frank, I also know that when you are a guest in someone else's home, you never (NEVER) make an untoward comment or action towards them. And, as such, I kept my mouth shut. Luckily, my date that night is even more frank than I am, and is not southern. My colleague got quite a mouthful!

Year later this comment still haunts me. And, it has very little to do with my colleague. Honestly, I think she was just verbalizing a nasty little "opinionated truth": Celebrating and pursuing art for the sake of art is questionable at best.

As teachers, we teach art because we love art. Art has been a lifetime study for us, and it will continue long after we retire. I think we have to struggle to find the intersection of celebrating art and being seen as professionals.

Look, we all know that we are professionals. But, for whatever reason, everyone else can't seem to wrap their heads around this fact. I think some of this has to do with how Western society categories pursuits. So many people take their hobbies and put them into cottage industries and/or find ways of making their hobbies financially viable. Truthfully, I think that is beyond awesome. Yet, it also can be a rub.

As an illustrator, my friends are constantly telling me about the some-what hair-brained schemes they have for me to "make more money off of art." It is sooo hard for them to understand that I am primarily just interestd in making the art. It would be great to make money from it, but marketing and selling items takes time away from art making. . .And, I don't have enough time for art-making as it is.

I don't know what the answer is. My gut tells me that we need to always strive to be as professional as possible. . And my heart tells me we need to bring some of our frankness to the table when our passions are questioned. For instance, what if -all those years ago- I had asked my colleague: "Well, don't you think it is important to have quality, talented artists who teach art? Didn't you have a phenomenal art teacher who made you want to pursue the aesthetic industry? I do serve an important role, and I love it." There. not rude, not rude at all, but still assertive and clear!

In closing, I have to leave you with this hilarious story one of my cohort members (we're still hanging out long after graduation -yay!) told me this week. A wildlife photographer attended a fancy dinner at a colleagues home. The colleague having seen the photographer's pictures said: "Wow these are wonderful photographs; you must have a great camera." The photographer said nothing and finished his meal with gusto and then said: "Wow that was a wonderful meal; you must have a great oven."

Happy 4th everyone!