here is Shelly next to one of her original paintings
An award winning veteran teacher, Mrs. Shelly Bailey recently switched from teaching elementary art to teaching middle and high school art in a new school district. Teaching a single middle school class every afternoon (after teaching at the neighboring high school most of the day), she was at her wits' end trying to figure out how to deal with multiple issues. There were behavior problems as well as a culture shift in the school with new administration. She was also the "new teacher" trying to teach art to kids who had never even had an art class. Here is the first part of her story about how the TAB philosophy (Teaching For Artistic Behavior) helped her create a passion for art in her students (and keep her sanity!) 

Dear Art Friends, 

Before I began doing TAB teaching, I began to research. I was not dying to start something new, mind you. 

However, I was struggling. 

"Hmmmm," you say? Yes, hard to imagine a middle school art teacher with any struggles, right? I say this tongue in cheek. Discipline is an issue in any visual art production oriented class. We just have a lot going on. If you don’t have seriously strong and understood rules, an art class can get very out of hand. But, combine that with hormones, being a part time teacher who only teaches one class a day, and lack of discipline support from administration... let’s be real here; I was miserable. 

This blog is to help real life teachers like yourself. I don’t want to sugarcoat this. I had large issues that I didn’t know how to fix with my standard way of teaching. I have been in art education for 22 years. I should be able to say, "I have done and seen it all and I am an expert." Right? 


Times continue to change, as do students, attitudes, technology, and parents. Not all in a bad way, either. I mean wow... Pinterest has changed my life. :) We do, however, see an evolution in the classroom. Students are so technologically plugged in. That is such an amazing thing. I am from the generation of pay-phones and libraries. If you were late coming home from your designated time you were grounded. My phone conversations consisted of stretching the phone cord as far as I could get it into the kitchen pantry; sitting in the dark while I gossiped with my friends on the phone until my mom or dad opened the door and blinded me with the lights and told me to get off. 

When I was feeling rebellious I’d go down to the basement, but dad would keep picking up the phone as my “cue” to get off. If I ignored it, he systematically beat on the flooring overhead with his foot. However, if it escaped my teenage mind I would get the dreaded pick up, with him screaming my name on the line to hang up and that he needed to use the phone... mortal embarrassment! Kids are a little more oblivious of embarrassment these days. They can cut you down quicker than you can think of a snappy comeback. Fear doesn’t seem to be in their vocabulary. 

I say, "fear," because I had a healthy dose of that growing up. It was bred out of respect for my elders. I did not want to experience the wrath that could and would ensue.

Hence my dilemma. 

We had a turnover of all administration in the entire front office. Things were in chaos. Rules were unclear or constantly changing. Not only did the kids seem to be running things, faculty members were always angry and put out. 

So, in the midst of this craziness and misery I decided that I was a smart woman! If you allow negativity to feed into your spirit it can overcome you. Open the door a crack and it can quickly become a gaping cavern. Misery loves company! 

I had to break the pattern. I visually saw myself in a pit and I found the ladder to climb out. 

photo from Shelly's video, "Tabs Choice Learning"

I had heard about TAB teaching before. But, like most of us who think of student-driven art, my brain went to, “Oh, heck no!! I mean, I need to teach them things, right?" I pride myself on organized chaos. A TAB classroom just sounded like a room full of puppies; super cute and adorable for about 5 minutes, then you can’t keep them in one spot or stop them from barking or biting each other. Anyone else out there experience puppy behavior? 

photo from Shelly's video, Tabs Choice Learning
So, after deep thought and contemplation, this is what I came up with. My kids didn’t understand art. Most of them had never even had art in elementary school. They just got a part time art teacher in my district two years ago so the program there is in the baby stages of development. What my kids knew about art was what they had taught themselves or seen on t.v. They literally wanted to draw rainbows, write their initials, and fill up a piece of paper with hearts or cartoons. Sigh... this is every art teacher’s worst nightmare. 
To add insult to injury, I was their last class of the day. 

They were spent. They wanted to go outside and play. “Isn’t art supposed to be about playing?" they’d say. "Why do we have to sit here and listen to you talk to us? Why do we have to follow you step by step?" 

I would reply, "Because I said so." Sheesh... that sounded like my parents talking. I heard so much, “I don’t want to do this” and “I don’t like art” more than I ever had in my life!

"Wow!" I said to myself, "Is it me? Do I need to stop teaching? Have I lost my touch?"

Then it hit me. They don’t know HOW to create! 

photo from Shelly's video, Tabs Choice Learning

What is creativity? Ask them to think outside of the box and they ask me, "What box? Huh? What do you mean?"

But, more importantly, I finally understood what these particular students needed. Are you ready for the magic word? The word that changed my life? 


Oh gracious, I had lost my ever loving mind. Giving middle school kids control is crazy. 

I thought, "They will surely fire me over this one!"

But then I went back to the awesomeness of me. Yes, I say awesomeness! Because I forgot momentarily that I am awesome. So are you!

I am educated. I have two degrees. I show my art professionally. I am 42 years old (doesn’t that mean by default I have some life experience brilliance?). I have raised 4 children. Wait stop….what? I have raised children!!!! Ding Ding Ding…..It was so simple I felt stupid. 

How many times had I convinced my children to do things I knew they didn’t want to do? I made it always sound like it was their idea! Brilliant! So I presented TAB to my students this way. 
"Boys and girls, I am about to change our room around. Don’t mind the mess for the next week. We are about to start a new kind of art. The kind you will get to control!"
Okay...right then their interest was caught. Students replied, “What did you say Mrs. Bailey?!"  
"Yes you heard me right. But right now, I can’t talk about it. When I get the room ready then I will tell you in detail."

I organized my room into pods. Drawing, Printmaking, Architecture, Clay, Sculpture and Mask Making, Digital Media and Photography, Art History, Resource Center, Painting, Collage, and Fiber Arts. I pushed desks together and put supplies in close proximity to these areas. I created binders with "How To’s" and explanations. They also included sample completed lessons. I spent hours and days compiling information. 

photo from Shelly's video, "Tabs Choice Learning"

I pulled up everything I could find on TAB teaching. I borrowed and revamped other teacher plans and documents. I must have made 8,000 labels and collected as many containers as I could find to put various supplies in. I basically turned my supply closet inside out. 

My kids were mesmerized and couldn’t wait to find out what I was doing and what they were about to do. 

So the play began... at least that is what my students thought was about to occur!

To be continued in Part II... 

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