Everything in my professional life is about problems and solutions. Here are a few problems and my solutions as an educator. I will of course include so-called solutions that have failed.
Problem- Students reeking of marijuana and consistently being high.
Solution- To entire class: Morning everyone, just to let you know someone smells of weed. Here is some Febreeze, please spray yourself and consider not getting high before school.
Solution- (if individual student can be confirmed) Hi (student’s name). You smell like weed. Here is some Febreeze. Do you enjoy being high at school? Are you feeling okay? Why do you smoke weed?
Overview- If the class has a community vibe the conversation about smoking before school can take place whole class. If the teacher has a relationship with the student, the conversation can occur one to one at a later time. The goal is to get the student talking about why they smoke weed. You can start to navigate other ways they can cope with the issue.
How it works long-term- Some students continue to smoke everyday. They make it upstairs, through scanning and without making eye-contact to my room where they proceed to spray themselves down. I get the opportunity to ask them how they’re doing. Each day we get to talk a little more about why they smoke weed and ways to smoke less.
Problem- Students interpreting what I say as sarcasm.
Solution- Teacher apologizes. I try to clarify the humor I was trying to convey or the honesty I was hoping to express. If the students feelings are hurt and I can read that they are, I make it clear I will not do that again.
During a personal reflection, I acknowledge that I may have been sarcastic unintentionally. Unfortunately in some situations, I am not being sarcastic but my students read what I am saying incorrectly. This has been a very frustrating experience because they have misinterpreted my comments and it is very difficult to have conflict resolution with students at that point.
Overview- At all possible moments it is important to be clear about what you say and consistent with what you say you will do. If you make a mistake admit it and move on. Students may not have the capacity to understand and move on but that is why you are the teacher and the adult in the room. Take deep breaths and realize that being a teenager is largely about learning social empathy and skills.
How it works long-term- Some students will realize you were being genuine with your apology. They will move on. Other students will be deeply hurt and take longer to forgive. Don’t give up on them!
Problem- Students want to finish a project quickly with low effort.
Solution- Be clear in what a finished project will look like. Ensure students feel successful in independently following the steps to complete the process. Show student exemplars and discuss the meaning of successful art. Use cliches, “Hard work pays off”. Remind them that time flies when you are intellectually engaged and the internal skills of perseverance will carry them far.
Overview- If the class is motivated they will do whatever it takes to complete a successful work. There will be many opportunities for troubleshooting along the way. Be prepared with reasons as to why it’s important to persevere. Give examples in adult life where this skill will come in handy.
How it works long-term- You will hear students express how long they have worked on a particular project. You will see pride in their faces when they complete a project. You will see pride when you hang their work for others to see. You will have successfully done your job as their teacher.
Being an art teacher is isolating. There is no one that can help you fix your drawing lesson that bombed. And it is rare that anyone understands the fullness of your lessons. However, there are days that are magical. Units that surprise you in their success. I knew making plaster hands would be fun, messy and even risky. I didn’t anticipate the stillness or the joy that my students would be immersed in. I didn’t anticipate a student begging me to stay another period to finish his hand. Pure joy to see my students engaged.