In a message dated 09/12/2004 1:30:03 PM Eastern Daylight Time,
I gave up my high-paying job of 17 years to teach art at my son's private
school (a decision I made after much praying). I was very excited and really
wanted to do this. I spent my entire summer planning lessons for grades preK
through 12. I was not prepared for disrespect and lack of interest in art that I
encountered--especially from my 8th graders. They are definately my most
I have some advice, although I teach K-5 for the past 13 years, I did begin
with middle school before that. I'm sure the more current middle school
teachers who have it down to a science with those 8th grade boys can jump in also
with their expertise.
I'm going to address suggestions for the behavior part first, since the tone
of the class is very vital to the sucess of the art. The art you get from
them is contingient on the expectations you set- and the behavioral ones are
You mention private school, so those parents of these "little angels" are
paying BIG BUCKS for their rude and disrespectful brats to attend. They are
vested in their child's education and probably think they are doing what's "best"
for their child, having chosen private school over public, they want "the
best" for their child. This will work to your advantage- so advice #1: GET THE
PARENT ON BOARD! First thing in every class, as soon as the students enter,
announce that you are: 1. Recording anyone's inappropriate behavior. 2.
Writing down in detail what is said and done by the child. 3. Calling each and
every student's parent(s) to report and discuss this right after school that same
day. Then proceed to do exactly this! Be consistant- don't threaten-just do
this in a matter -of-fact way.
I have another tactic- in really desperate cases, and I have NEVER seen it
fail....Arm yourself with the phone # of everyone in the class (parents' work #
, if necessary), then...GET OUT YOUR CELL PHONE! When the student misbehaves,
pull out your phone and call right then and there. You can hear a pin drop
when you do this...explain that "little Johnny" is in your class right now
doing_________ and saying___________.Then put "little Johnny" on the phone to
explain it himself to his parent.
Plan #2: Make a conference with both the child and parent together to meet
with you. Always begin the conversation with something positive about the
child. Then say that you know that both you and the parent have the same goals
for the child- to assure that their child is as successful as possible. Then
elicit ideas from the child and parent of how the child can help himself and
ideas from the parent (or insights for you about their child) to help you help
the child be successful.) Notice, this is all said in a very positive vein!
#3 BE COOL, CALM, and COLLECTED- even and especially when you don't feel it.
Never let those 13yr.olds think that they have the upper hand, or the better
of you. And, NEVER let them think you are not "all knowing", or that they
know more than you do. If they see you are upset, you are taking responsibility
for their behavior. So, carry out the above advice in a matter-of-fact manner!
Now, for the projects: For that age how about a project which utilizes their
names? Or, how about doing one with a sports theme-it's what 8th grade boys
like. They can find their sports and/or Olympic heroes in sports magazines and
base a art project around that. Or, if you have plastercraft or paper mache-
how about making an action figure (sports) of their favorite sport or action
hobby? They begin by creating an armature with pipe cleaners and cover with
aluminum foil. Staple to 8"x8" plywood bases. Add the plastercraft or newspaper
mache for final layer. Paint, add clothes- very engaging!...and, believe
me, all the kids will want to do this-no time to mis-behave!
I've invested a lot of time with my suggestions because my heart goes out to
you. Please, let us know how things are improving. And trust me..contact
with parents and very engaging projects...and you'll see an improvement!
Susan on Long Island