12 Things I Learned Teaching Art For 12 Weeks

I write to you today from the comfort of my home...

So warm.

So cozy.

So many tissues...

I’m sick.

I’ve missed two days of work in a row and I feel guilty; guilty because although my brain still works, my body is just not having it. When you’re a substitute teacher, having to ask for help by way of asking for a substitute teacher, feels redundant.

So as I lay in bed mentally intact yet physically exhausted, I’ve had some time to reflect on my last twelve weeks as a substitute Art teacher.

Mind you, my primary subject is music. Not being New York State certified to teach my own subject, yet being allowed to teach long-term for a maternity leave placement in a private school system has me feeling all the feels. Here’s just a glimpse of what I have learned as I reflect upon the last twelve weeks…


What Humility Feels Like

What a way to begin a list...

Can’t say I didn’t try to teach the kiddos how to Art (verbs), but looking back, part of me feels as though I could have done more to enrich their Fine Arts experience. For those that may have been struggling, I look back and ask myself: where did it go wrong? How could I have helped greater in order to assist them in creating something amazing, thus ultimately receiving a passing grade?

Let Life Surprise You

This has slowly but surely turned into a mantra I have seamlessly reverted back to this entire year. If you told me a year ago that I would continue to teach at this school in several different fields – and love it – I would laugh in disbelief. This school has provided so many enriching experiences and I am forever indebted.

Speaking of enriching experiences…

Endless Learning

From firsthand experience, you never stop learning the older you get! Along with letting life surprise me, I have stepped out of my comfort zone in a multitude of ways. From re-teaching myself how to Computer Graphics (yep, I just made that a verb) since my Myspace photo editing days (yep, that was a thing) to getting creative with how to assemble a copper mobile project, and soon to be teaching English and getting middle schoolers situated with their midterm that corresponds with the Social Studies department…

I am learning and I am learning a lot and have I mentioned that I love what I do?

Music and Art are Brother & Sister

No, I am not typing all loopy while on medication… I’m serious!

This may go without saying, but it never resonated with me until having to teach the Nine Principles of Design how Music and Art go hand in hand. The concepts of movement, balance, rhythm, pattern, unity… and this is just scratching the surface! Is this band land or is this band land?

The Importance of Technology in the Classroom

Just when I thought I knew it all and was all caught up… WRONG!

This was my first (and certainly not last) experience using Office365. If I could go back and implement everything in OneDrive and OneNote, I would have been more selfish and continued asking for help on even the smallest tricks of the trade.

Love, Patience, and Understanding

If I were to write a letter to twenty-five year old me, it would begin as follows…

Dearest Elissa May:

Don’t be so uptight.


Your twenty-six year-old self <3

PS: Let the kiddos listen to music, chillax, have fun making their art, and enjoy being with their friends. This may be the student’s only chance during the entire day. You never know what each individual has going on outside of these halls. But sure enough, no matter how much they are chatting away, it may look like they’re not getting work done, but look away and look back two seconds later and BAM it’s done! I may have over-embellished on the “Shhhhh…” one too many unnecessary times. Loosen up, girl! It’ll be great!

PPS: LOOK AT THOSE SHOES! Get it, girl. Okay thank you, that’s all I had to get off my chest.

Life Lessons

On the contrary, there were definitely instances throughout the course year – thus far – that something just comes out of a kiddo’s mouth that is either or all of the following: unnecessary, self-doubting, foolish, unthoughtful, and negative.

My cohort (the actual art teacher) had said it best during an after-school visit:

“Let’s talk about life for a second…”

How brilliant! In attempts to not be so strict or uptight, this allows for a more light approach while getting your point across. Where has this mentor been all my life?

Saying No

Some students carry a natural ability to create absolutely insane art pieces. Others need for you to hold their hand. I firmly believe that this is the case for every single teacher teaching students and – well – every single human being on the face of this decaying planet. After this experience, there comes a point where you have to put your foot down and say no. No, you may not have a third, new zip lock bag full of arts supplies. No, I cannot give an extension on an assignment from first quarter because it’s second quarter and there is absolutely no way that we can turn back time and change your grade to passing. No, I cannot be here after school, but how about tomorrow because life has me running everywhere? No, I don’t have any paper towels (sorry).

Teaching Philosophies

Prior to this long-term substitute teaching placement, my teaching philosophies were all aloof with no set-in-stone answers to what I firmly instill in and outside of the classroom. However, I have learned to gravitated toward different approaches that I have tried that has set a positive response in my classroom.

Everyone teaches in their own way. I don’t believe two people teach in the exact same way. I know that my teaching philosophies are not set in stone and are always subject to change (adult learner here, people). This point has allowed for me – essentially – to learn a bit more about myself as an educator. I am so grateful for that.

Selfless vs Selfish

What does this mean?

Selfless: Giving up time to assist a student when all you want (and sometimes need) is to be home in order to gain your sanity back before running out the door the next morning, doing it all over again…

Selfish: Knowing when to give in and ask for help. This may not seem like a huge deal, but seeing that I am a very reserved person when it comes to asking for assistance, this needed to make the list. I’m stubborn and always try to figure it out for myself. But sometimes, knowing when to give in and ask for help can save you, your sanity, and your lesson plans for the day. So if you are anything like me, just ask.

Take Care

Of your body and mind, that is! Because each of my respective positions are long-term yet temporary, I cannot afford to miss a day. Of course, if I needed to (hello Monday and Tuesday), I could do so but sometimes all it took during the thick of it all was leaving a little early…

Last term, my schedule allowed for me to have two planning periods at the end of the day… For the days that I felt like absolute garbage, this allowed for me to go home and rest so I could feel well enough to teach the next morning. The times I promised students that I would be after school then leave early, I would leave a sticky note on my classroom door apologizing for the inconvenience and I’d check in with them the next school day. Take it from me & my horrific immune system: if you’re not feeling well, go home.

Get To Know Your Students | Let Your Students Get To Know You

Being a brick wall is potentially the worst thing you could exude to your students. Let them know that you, too, are a human being with a heart, soul, and feelings. I let my art students know that we were in this together and that everything was going to be great, re-instilling in them that as long as you try your best, there is absolutely no way that you can fail.

Even the silly little life stories allowed for lighthearted times. Applying them someway, shape, or form to the task at hand, even greater!


My last day as a substitute art teacher ended in my computer graphics kiddos saying "see you later," my first studio art class making me a "we'll miss you" card with a bunch of my silly sayings all around, and my second studio art class ended my experience with a standing ovation and round of applause before hiking their seats back up on the tables and leaving.

I'm not crying, you're crying.

Next up: seventh grade English for another teacher on maternity leave. Alongside, I’ll be continuing to manage concert evenings in ticketing & sales for the Rochester Philharmonic. I applied to grad school; another seemingly plausible cause of my immune system shutting down Sunday. My private woodwinds studio is up to eleven students. In between, I am continuing to apply to other graduate schools, memorize a reed book for an upcoming production in March, and lastly, writing here on the collective.

Let Life Surprise You.


#Rochester #Education #Adulting #SelfCare