Thursday, August 30, 2012

Art Teacher Hack | Prepping paper for projects

One of the biggest and most frequently made misnomers about what I do as a high school art teacher is this: Being an art teacher is SO fun ALL the time because all art teachers ever do is draw and "make stuff" all day long with their students!!!

Wow. That could not be farther from the truth. I mean, yes my job does indeed allow me to be with my students all day and make CREATE amazing and (sometimes) fun works of art but none of that is so easily done. There is a lot "behind-the-scenes" (a WHOLE lot) that goes into getting to that point. If it looks easy? Well, perhaps it's just because I have had enough practice (read: time, energy, EFFORT) at this point to make it look easy. *shrug*

(Please note: I am not saying all of this like this to toot my horn or anything. I actually don't think I am super stellar at anything I have noted so far. As far as I am concerned, I consider myself to be a constant "work in progress" when it comes to teaching, teaching art, or being an artist.)

All of that being said, every year I teach, I learn something new to add to what I hope is wisdom that can be drawn from and applied within whatever moments that follow when it was gained. In the years leading up to this one, I have learned how very bad I am at prepping materials for too many of the projects I have attempted with my students and also the importance of attending to correct that issue and not let it go and get worse. Not acknowledging the importance and significant of preparedness has made me a really bad teacher in the not so distant past. Thankfully, I have learned from the errors of my ways.

I order everything at the beginning of the year to avoid disasters like having a budget cut happen mid-year that prevents me from ordering the required supplies for a project. This year when the supplies order came in, I did my usual sorting for storing but I tried something new: instead of just grouping materials in cabinets with labels on the outside, I actually wrote on the materials what they would be used for. Seems simple right? No-brainer? You do this already? Well, I only just figured out that this would be a good way for me to do things just this year. (Ridiculous. I KNOW.) Normally I would have grouped supplies and then put them in a cabinet and then put a label on the cabinet itself that in the long run looks like a list of general supplies with now designation of how each would be used. Once it came time to use them? They might be gone because (I can be so forgetful and disorganized - yeah, tell you something you don't know...) I would have maybe used them for something else or they would have maybe been shared with my fellow art faculty member. Pretty much, I would end up trying to do a project without the required supplies NOT because of budget cuts but because I am my own worst enemy.

Something else that has been a general issue for me for project materials prep? Cutting and portioning out materials so they are good and ready to go when I need them. Now as it happens, ordering in bulk can save big money. That is just because ordering in bulk means I am not paying for the convenience of having materials come ready-to-use. I will literally sit and calculate out prices per unit in order to determine if it is better to order a stack of correctly sized materials OR order a huge chunk/sheet of something and then portion it myself. As it happens? I usually end up ordering in bulk - which means I usually have to do a significant amount of prep work to pare down the big giant of whatever it is into workable individual portions. Kind of a pain but it is a necessary evil of the job.

Recently, as I was portioning things, I realized that some of what I was doing was ridiculous. Yes - it was good that I was counting out what I needed and then stacking them in individual piles (per class) and then labeling the piles - after all, some classes needed more than others because of the different numbers of students I have in different sections.

But then I got to thinking - something I know from experience - there is are some classes that even though they have less people, they sometimes require more materials and I am pretty restricted on extras so how to I portion that out? I don't want to just give every class the same amount? Then all the piles will look exactly the same! Or whatever if one class starts the project on one day and it takes another class two more days to start theirs. It has happened in the past and I KNOW it could happen in the future that the piles of materials somehow all end up in one pile despite my best effort to compartmentalize them.

So, I got to thinking, what about if I drew from previous working experience of being at a restaurant and portioned things this way: one big giant pile but stack them in back-forth layering in smaller groups of 5 or 10...

Doing things this way is similar to how it restaurants sometimes prep things. They will portion things out and then they will packaging them up and group them in a defined number so then they can tell at a glance how much of something just at a glance. Grouped by six? Six groups right there? You have 36 total. Need only six more? Just grab a whole bag - no need to stand there and measure and weigh things to portion them and no need to count 1-2-3... to get the six you need. Need 72? Get 12 bags! Simple and easy. And that's why I'm doing it like this now instead of the other way I was doing it.

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