Whether it’s your first year as an art teacher or you’re experienced at teaching art to teens, beginning a new year of art classes can be intimidating for anyone. Teenagers can be difficult to teach at times, seeming to challenge every rule. They can be disruptive, hardheaded, and occasionally even rude.
But so can anyone.
You see, the first step in teaching art to teens is to understand that they are people. They are also people who are making a big transition. They are between childhood and adulthood and this can be one of the scariest, most difficult times they’ll ever go through. The amount of pressure on them is something new, as they are getting their first taste of being a mature adult.
The truth is, teenagers want to be understood, trusted, and taken seriously. The key to working with teenagers is to understand them as much as possible.
It’s important to know that teenagers are in what’s called the ‘dialectic stage’. This means they have moved past simply wanting to ask questions about things. Now, they want to understand the world around them. They want to see new ideas applied and demonstrated. They want to know exactly what’s expected of them and they want to see everything that’s being taught modeled so that they can truly understand it.
Teenagers, like every person, all have differing personalities. Some can simply be easy to work with and you’ll come across others that are a little more difficult. In this article, we’ll dive into the top ten tips for teaching art to teens.
When you meet your class, the first step is to introduce yourself. Be open and honest, telling them who you are and what your background is. Answer your students’ questions and be genuine with them. Then it’s time to start to get to know your art class. Have each teen introduce himself or herself, and take notes on their interests. Do you have anything in common? Try to take notes of those things so that you can connect with them. Teens enjoy building relationships and that starts the very first day they walk into your art class.
Art class is met with an array of differing emotions from teens. Some teenagers will love the idea of expressing themselves through art, while others require more encouragement to see the benefits that come from art classes. The key to unlocking their creativity is to find projects they can relate to. At this stage, teenagers are learning about themselves and they are also very interested in learning about the world around them. Look in your community, online and around you to find art projects that your students will connect with. This is they key to unlocking and keeping their interest. All Art Eye Deer art lessons have been created by experienced art teachers using tried and proven methods, specifically with teens in mind.
Inevitably, you will have teens in your class who have never been in an art class before. On the other hand, you’ll more than likely have students who’ve been in art at least once before. You’ve got to work with them individually to discuss their work and encourage growth. You are going to want to encourage all of your students to grow in their art but teens are going to need more of a one-on-one approach, especially when it comes to feedback. If you have a student who shows particular strengths, work with them to hone in on those strengths. Also, work on their weaknesses. If you have a student who is struggling, work alongside them to see how you can break through whatever the issue may be. The act of working alongside a teen student can help build their confidence so they can get past their weaknesses and build upon their strengths.
No matter what age group you’re working with, you’re going to want to ensure that your classroom is well organised and prepared. Teens are different than other age groups, though. They are a very fast paced group! For this reason, you’ll want to make sure your classroom is ready to work. You should also spend time developing policies and rules for your classroom so that you don’t have to come up with them on the spot or worry about remembering them in the future. On day one, be prepared to tell your students how clean up will be handled, as well as your policy on talking while doing art. Giving your teen students these detailed policies will make class much more smooth! They know what to expect every day when they come into your classroom and you are able to keep things going along without having to stop for minor disruptions or questions.
As we’ve said, teenagers are a notoriously fast paced age group to work with. When they get bored or when they have idle time, they are going to get loud and disruptive. Most of those negative behaviours, that teens tend to be associated with, happen when they don’t have anything to do. Fortunately, art is an easy subject to accommodate boredom! It’s very easy to have your teen students working on two or three projects at a time. This will ensure that they have plenty to do and practice, plus it will cut down on the classroom distractions. Idle teens tend to get in trouble, it’s just the way they are designed. When you keep them busy with art, however, you give them a purpose and a challenge. You give them a reason to work and when they’re done, they’ll feel proud about their accomplishments.
For teachers of all subjects, it’s so easy to reply to messages, pay online bills, grade papers, or do other things when your students are busy. In the case of teens, however, it benefits you to spend these times getting to know your students. There will always be a disruptive kid. A class clown. A teacher’s pet. A negative teen. It doesn’t matter. Embrace them all! Forge relationships with them all! This lets them know that you value them and those little conversations can spark big creativity. Building relationships with your teen art students is critical to having a better class altogether. You’ll be surprised to find that class is better managed and the students are more engaged when you’ve worked on building relationships with them.
Teens are really great at picking out unauthentic people. They can just sense when you’re not being yourself. Always be honest and up front with teen students. When you’re honest, you’d be surprised at the conversations you’ll share. Being open and up front about a mistake that you’ve made might lead a teen student to reflect on something they’ve done. Showing them that you’re willing to work to find answers might lead them to feel more inclined to show initiative in the future. Teens are highly perceptive and your influence can make a big impact in their lives. Plus, being honest with your teen students encourages them to also be honest with you. Their honesty with you and with themselves is so important to self expression in art. Encourage them to be honest about their feelings and help them develop ways to transfer those feelings into their artwork. You’ll be giving them an outlet they can use for the rest of their lives!
When you’re teaching art to teens, you’ve got to remember that you’re the teacher. You are in a position of authority. You are not in the role of trying to fit in, be cool, or be best friends with your students. Of course, you want to build a relationship with them, but you want to establish that you are the teacher and the authority figure. With that said, you should never feel afraid to say no to a student. Saying no reinforces that you are in charge, but it also puts the teen in a position to contemplate their own thoughts and actions. Saying no to teenagers is important, but always remember to be fair. Saying no also establishes boundaries. Yes, you want to build relationships, but you want to keep the line between teacher and student crystal clear. Saying no is a clear indicator of that line!
You will have some teen students who always share their art with you and then you’ll have other teen students who are shy about showing off their work. As the teacher you should always be open about sharing your own art. It shows your student that you’ve done the work too and that you enjoy creating art. Make art alongside them so they know you’ll never ask them to do anything you wouldn’t do. Show them your final creations to encourage them to share theirs. Discuss your artwork and answer their questions. Showing your teen students your own creations of art could lead to big conversations and even breakthroughs! You can show your teen students artworks that you created in college, including paintings and sculptures, or you could even show them art you’ve worked on in your own time. Sit in class and work on art while they’re working, see what happens!
At the end of the day, teenagers are teenagers. They can be tough. They can be critical. They can seem like they know it all. You’ve got to remember the role you play in their lives. Why do you love art? Share that with them! Teens can be demanding and difficult, there’s just no way around it. At the end of the day, you can’t take it personally. Don’t be scared by words or actions from a teenager. Odds are, they don’t even realise they did or said something hurtful. Yes, some teens will do this on purpose. If that happens, consider why it happened. Was your student mad? Sad? Frustrated? Consider their feelings and move along. Don’t burden yourself too heavily when you’re working with teens. Give yourself plenty of breaks outside of the classroom and don’t try to volunteer for every little thing. If you’re working with teenagers, you’re going to need to give yourself a break when you can.
Working with teenagers is not as bad as some make it sound. The truth is that working with teenagers can be highly rewarding and fulfilling. When you help mould a teen into a young adult, that is a special thing. You are in the unique position to shape these young people in ways that will impact them for the rest of their lives. You can give them an outlet for self expression. You’ll have the unique opportunity to see teens express themselves with different mediums and that gives you a special glimpse into their soul. Working with teenagers doesn’t have to be a nightmare at all. When you know what to expect and you understand how teens think, you can truly stir and awaken their emotions. Just remember that teens want to be treated as adults, as respected human beings and they often do better when they receive this treatment. Also remember that you’ve got to be very organised and structured to help them. When you give them just a little bit of guidance, teens can truly transform before your eyes!