Paint drips build upon paint drips, blue ink spills and clay dots abound in my middle school classroom. Teaching art has been one of the richest experiences of my life, despite the stress. The students are funny, joyful, enthusiastic, (sometimes a bit clumsy,) and grateful for the opportunity to create. The truth is that the kids make it all worthwhile; all the heartache, the criticism, the demands of administration, the "Apache Blackhawk Helicopter Parents;" the things that can crush you if you let them.

Tuesday morning, after  I sacrificed yet
another prep-period to a faculty meeting and was nearly late to my first class, I felt absolutely sick with the weight of extra responsibilities. Documentation, paperwork, testing, lost instructional time due to events and fundraisers, the list goes on. When I got to my classroom after that meeting, I knew I needed to make a u-turn in my thinking. Mentally, I made an enormous effort to FOCUS on the positive and FORGET about all the rest. So, I said a prayer and heartily welcomed my students into the classroom.

Later that day, a student started loudly complaining when his group was not dismissed due to the fact they had not cleaned up. I told him he would be the last person to leave because of his bad attitude, and that complaining is toxic!

Choosing to dwell on things outside of our control is stressful, and we all know how unhealthy that is. Stress causes cortisol levels in the brain to rise as well as blood pressure.

"Cortisol has been shown to damage and kill cells in the hippocampus (the brain area responsible for your episodic memory) and there is robust evidence that chronic stress causes premature brain aging." www.youramazingbrain.org

It is so easy to fall into the trap of complaining, and I am as guilty as anyone. Sometimes I wonder if the "educational powers that be" realize they have created such a pressure cooker for teachers. I am finding that it is getting more and more difficult to have a good attitude.

However, art teachers are lucky - we have a built-in source of inspiration and encouragement. Who can wallow in negativity while 30 kids are swirling paint, giddy with the joy of creating something beautiful?

During a demonstration at the beginning of a 7th grade class, I attempted to spray a bit of water on clay coils to keep them moist. The water spritzer would not work, so I playfully pretended to spray the kids. They all laughed and one boy said, "Do it again!" So, I squeezed the handle one more time .... the reaction was priceless. The cursed water sprayer worked that time, the kids got spritzed, and the class made a delighted sound like, "Whoooooaaaa!" as if they were on a roller coaster. Unforgettable!

Despite everything the truth remains; there is beauty even in spills. 


These photos were taken of paint trays in my classroom. I use these trays to transport cups of paint and ink to individual tables. At the end of the day, the trays are stacked one above another with the cups of paint like little pillars between the layers. The bottoms of the trays cover the cups below and serve to keep the paints from drying out. After a week or two, the trays look pretty interesting! (The cups are cleaned individual yogurt or applesauce containers - my mom still saves them for me!)

article by: Mrs. Anna Nichols

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