Yesterday, in discussing with a friend my momentary return to the classroom, she confided that she too would be teaching children's classes in art one or two days a week in the near future. She asked me to "spill my guts" about what to expect and load her down with general suggestions. In the hope that others might find themselves in similar situations sometime in the future, I've decided to share what I told her with the more general audience of fellow artists. Keep in mind, this is just off the top of my head with little or no organisation. That flies in the face of my very first and most important statement: The key to success in any such undertaking is planning. By planning I mean, make sure you have your supplies all together, your thoughts all together, and your art aides all together. And plan for contingencies. Like yesterday, if it had rained all day, I had a projector with a box of slides of my work set up in another room "just in case."
Learn to say "no" and mean it. I know, if you could say "no" you wouldn't be in such a situation, but anyway... Push the kids. They will want to stop before they've finished. Teach simple composition, foreground, middle ground, and background. Remind them they're not drawing a "car" for instance, but a "picture" of a car then point out the distinction. Plan for a vast range of abilities, pace, and attitudes. Emphasise rough draughts. Provide content inspiration, verbal, physical, environmental, audio visual, whatever... Plan your time carefully. Allow cleanup time of at least 5-10 minutes if the work is dirty and the class large. Keep the kids in their seats as much as possible. Don't expect it to be quiet except when you're talking then demand that. Anticipate the attention span for each age group...half-hour for younger kids, up to an hour for older ones. Splitting the difference, forty-five minutes is an ideal art class length for most projects and ages.
Don't go by your first name. The younger the kids are, the more you smile and praise, smile and praise, smile and praise. Older ones need more specific forms of positive feedback but then expect them to follow through with your constructive criticism, otherwise just keep giving them the same line until they do. Always take aim at a work's most grievous fault first, don't burden a kid with a half-dozen suggestions at a time. Watch for signs of resignation or frustration and know when to back off. It's only art, not brain surgery. Take pictures. The kids love that. My digital camera was a big hit. Have at least one other adult or teen help you. I had three or four teens with each class (30 kids, average) yesterday and they were a great help. If you need something, don't hesitate to ask the administration. That's what they're there for.
Arrive at least 45 minutes early to prepare. Show your own work at the beginning of class. It establishes your credentials in the minds of the kids. Be efficient in all things. Show samples of what you expect of the kids. Ask that all drawings be "approved" by you before any colour is added. Flat work should be at least 12"x18" and emphasise varying degrees of LSTPDRS--"look/listen-see-think-plan-do-refine, and sign" with all work, depending upon ages. Be flexible, think on your feet, and speak carefully in the early stages. Act confident...whether you feel it or not. There are a lot of similarities between teaching and acting. Think of the classroom, as a stage, the curtain going up as the first kid comes in, going down as the last one walks out. Anticipate both their needs and reactions to you and your instructions as much as possible (experience plays a great role in this). Learn to think like a kid. The older they get, the more differences there are between boys and girls.
Try to anticipate your students' first, "safe," trite responses to an activity, then mention that you won't accept these from the word go. Then keep pushing for the less obvious solution to the art "problem." When one of them surprises you with the quality of his or her work, be surprised and gush a little. And between classes, sit down, relax, rebuild both your stamina and enthusiasm for the next group. Take a water bottle regardless of the time of year. Talking is thirsty work. Pack a briefcase with an emergency kit--pain relief, scissors, extra pencils, erasers, a manicure set, Band-Aids, safety pins, markers, a fail-proof lesson plan or two, a spare projector bulb (assuming it's your projector), extension cord, hard candy (for energy), cough drops, travel pack of tissues, photos of your latest work, dog, and spouse--great for building rapport with kids after they finish their work but before the end of class. There's 26 years more but I think five paragraphs are enough for now. There'll be a test over all this right after you teach your first group of ten-year-olds.