Sunday, October 31, 2010

Art in the trash

Sigh, I have a continuing problem in my art room that makes me want to cry and question if my school should even have an art program.
When I was hired at my current school some major information was not disclosed. Things like:
I would be teaching two nursing life skills classes each week
Five classes are taught exclusively in Spanish to primarily native Spanish speakers
That there was no art room
That the school had not had an art program in over 20 years

I've adapted to most of these challenges, I've figured out how to teach life skills students, I learned basic Spanish to ease translation, I talked my way into a "classroom" that used to be the book storage room and was storage for the school. Which brings us to undisclosed fact #4 no art program for 20 years.

I was told the year before I started that a teacher had split his time between teaching dance and art. Turns out he taught dance 3 weeks a month and put out crayons and paper once a month to teach art. It took me months at my new school to find out this info.

I was baffled to why students could not hold a paintbrush and anything having to do with painting sent some kids into tears and/or fits of rage. Projects were ripped up, tables were flipped, things were thrown and oh where there was a nightmare. I did not want to admit that I was struggling so much in this new school so it took till mid October for me to start asking around if these behavior occurred the year before.

Turns out the kids were acting out in a mix of fear, nerves and new experiences. We spent a whole year just trying out different art materials and getting used to them. Over the years the tantrums have decreased as students have become comfortable with the art materials and techniques. I can now get the kids to try new things and push themselves.

The one thing I can NOT do is get them to keep their art!

Aside from a few kids here and there, almost every child over 2nd grade throws away their art... inside the school. I have made a rule that NO art is allowed to be thrown away inside my classroom. That didn't work. The kids were throwing away their art in their classrooms. The teachers said art had to go in backpack and go home. I started finding art in the hallway trash cans and dumped outside the school. I tried holding the kids art and sending it home in bundles twice a year. In the trash. I have laid out tables full of their art at conferences for the parents to pick up...the parents want it...right, right?! WRONG!!! I have these twice yearly battles were I beg and plead the families to take the art home. After 3 years some families now take the art to shut me up and then dump everything in the large hallway trashcans. I can honestly say 15% of the parents seem happy to get their kids art and take it home. At back to school night I burst into tears when one 6th girls mom told me she had framed some of her daughters artwork.

What is going on? I can say most of the kids seem to enjoy making the art, they are happy to come to art class but they don't want to keep it. From clay projects to paintings. I can't believe 85% of the students and parents are not engaged in ANY lesson we do.

This feels like such a waste of time and materials. I think I find it particularly challenging since I buy the majority of our art supplies with my own money.

I know there is extreme value in the kids simply having the experience of making the art, and the knowledge they gain from making it. But I just don't understand...why do they, and their families not want their art!? How do I change a school and community culture. How many years can I fight using thousands of dollars of my own money!! Each time I find a project shoved in a trash can a little piece of my desire to teach art dies.

Has anyone else had this problem and have a solution?


  1. Wow-that makes me sad too. I teach art privately so I always have parents saying they can't wait to frame the pieces we create in class. As a parent, I always frame art that my kids bring home. With three kids, I can't frame and keep it all, but I have some framed permanently and some that is pinned up and rotated out. Keep on doing what you're doing though-it will make a difference to more students than you'll know one day : )

  2. Wow! So sad to read! I experience similar situations, probably not to the extent that you do... but still similar. I don't have the answer but here's my 2 cents..
    Part I: I give my students a "homework" assignment to set up a "gallery" in their home. It might be in their room, on the fridge, in the garage....dosent matter where, just somewhere where they can hang their work up ALL year. I ask them to have their parent help them but if they don't, I tell them all they have to do us use tape and hang it up. I stress that what is important is that people see it and that they can see it so they can see how they progress as artists. Part II...we discuss their galleries in class (peer pressure helps to remind them to make the gallery if they forget). They discuss in large groups, small groups, and partners what it felt like to create a gallery, if anyone at home noticed or gave feedback,etc. We talk about how to deal with criticism and negative feedback. I try to have them work from the point of view that they are educating their families about how an artist works. Some seem to really like like this.

  3. Question:
    Do you hold an art show each year?
    Perhaps if you show the kids, parents, and community how special the artwork is (not saying you don't already), they will come to appreciate it also.

    Really make a big deal about "framing" each piece with matboard or posterboard, have refreshments, play music, and send invitations.

    YOU are the key here. These students (and parents) have no clue how lucky they are to have such a special gift in an art teacher & art program since they have not had one for so long. unfortunately, it is on your shoulders to show them how lucky they are.

    Keep at it- they will get it eventually. It seems as though some are already coming around. Focus on the positive!!


  4. This is a heartbreaking story. It's hard to fight non-existent values, but don't stop trying. I love it when I hear "I still have the sculpture I made in first grade!" or "mom framed my picture!" and I have to admit, it happens often. Most of my student art gets taken home, and often I have to fight to display it because the child is in such a rush to take it home.

    But the lack of regard for art runs deep. You have a school district that obviously hasn't shown art any great respect, having had NO program and giving you no budget for materials. I do think an art show is a good idea, maybe tied into another activity (school budget vote? concert?) so you have a ready-made audience. But along with that, you need to educate. Give parents info about how participation in the arts helps students succeed academically. There's a lot of great data out there. Give them info about CAREERS in the arts, including graphic arts. Give them info about famous actors, politicians, authors, etc who also are artists (everything from Winston Churchill to current actors). They need to learn that art is not a frill, but an integral part of education. Show them how they can learn to display art in their home, and how to save it to show their kids when they become adults. If you have a PTA or PTO organization, enlist their help. My PTA donates $$ each year to frame student art to display permanently in the school.

    Give the data to your administration as well, and continue to lobby for budget money for materials. Make sure the school understands the value of an art program, not just the parents. And while it's additional work, a great bit of PR is getting out into your local community and soliciting opportunities to display. Ask the public library, the pediatrician, the coffee shop, etc, if they are willing to host a display of student artwork, and then get the local press to come and make celebrities out of the young artists.

    Good luck! The work you post is beautiful, and deserves to be seen beyond the art room.

  5. I am so sorry to hear of your struggles. I don't know what to say since I homeschool and my kids obviously don't throw their artwork away. I will pray for your peace of mind and understanding as to what you should do.

  6. I have had two art shows a year in conjunction with the bi-yearly choir concerts. So we have tried that avenue. With our music program being canceled this year I'm on my own for the art show.

  7. I've had this problem throughout the years with many students and it has always bothered me. I teach students labeled EBD and many of their lives are quite chaotic and I'm sure bringing home art work is not always high on the list for them.
    About 5 years ago I started making websites for the classes I teach: art, reading, poetry club. I post as many projects as I can and in different formats. This year I have created a page-flip book (free using, a video using (, a podcast (free using
    All of this publishing can be a little time consuming but the rewards are worth it. Students now ask me "when I will be showcasing their work?" They also know that I will keep the work for a few days to scan it or take a picture of it and then give it back to them to take home. They love to have the original but are extremely thrilled to see it on the Internet also.
    My website as an example (new for this year)
    I have also taken advantage of some free Internet offers such as a
    free photo calendar
    free photo book
    and free canvas art
    The more ways I find to showcase their work on the Internet appears to give it more value to them.
    Oh and I also use the schools bulletin boards.
    Sorry for such a long answer. I hope something here helps you.
    You can find lots of ways to publish art work on my blog

  8. Wow, this is so so sad. I can relate somewhat. I've had students throw away their artwork before and it really feels like a slap in the face, even though i know they don't realize it makes me feel that way. They just think "oh this sucks, I'm going to throw it away" not considering the time and effort and money you put into that lesson/project. It is infuriating. Can you ask the teachers to get on board with encouraging the students to take their artwork home? For example, if the teacher doesn't mind, you can ask if she or a student helper can pass back the projects in the room. You can ask that she has the students put their artwork immediately in their cubby or backpack.
    I also agree with art shows in conjunction with other school events, sending home info (in a school wide newsletter perhaps) giving parents ideas of how to display the kids' artwork at home and why the arts are important. This is something that is going to take a change this attitude after so long without an art program. Not feeling supported is the worst : (
    Good luck, and keep posting! I really enjoy your blog!

  9. This is a sad story. There have been many many great ideas posted in the comments but I wanted to share what I do with my students. We talk about mistakes and artwork that is considered "not good" will actually help you.

    I do two things that really work.

    1. I keep an art portfolio for each student in the class and we frequently pull it out, look at it, critique it, have OTHERS talk about whats good about the artwork. This seems to build the students confidence and in turn they take pride in their work and WANT to take it home.

    2. I sell my students work. I go out the the dollar store and buy cheap frames. I set up an Art Auction and sell the students art work to the parents. This ensures that the student takes their work home. This also build pride in the student. Hopefully if treated like a real working artist, they will care more about what they make.

    This is not to say that ALL artwork is sold, but chose a few that are really great and sell it back to the parents. Then use the money for an art event, buy art materials or whatever else you need for your classroom.

    Best of luck,
    Keep at it,



    Creative Art Lessons

  10. Wow! I'm so sorry. Art in the trash IS an ugly problem. I've only had that problem with teachers - just two - but they threw away their students' art. It broke my heart and the kids' hearts. The teachers were witchy and talking to them didn't do much good, so I talked about it with the kids and told them to tell their parents what happened. About the supplies - STOP SPENDING YOUR OWN MONEY ON SUPPLIES. I've had great success using to get supplies for my students. The general public, foundations and companies are unbelieveably generous! Try it.

  11. I have decided to give the older students the option of leaving a piece of their art as a memento of their presence in the school. They used to throw it away but it seems not to be problem so much. I have been teaching at the school 10 years so that helps. The best ever project if you can afford to do it to have graduation canvases made by the school leavers- These are so highly prized that they worked hard to have the right to have one that they can paint- They pay for the canvases themselves and they are displayed when they leave our school at the age of 13. Check out my blog.
    The Principal actually wants to purchase students art works and have a gallery in the front office. That might be good incentive if you can get the boss on your side.

  12. i realize i'm a little late on the discussion but thought i'd throw my two cents's awesome that so many colleagues are rallying around this topic (which i face too at the end of every semester!) my opinion about why this is happening assumes that your students may have some things in common with mine... it's not that students aren't proud of their work but they just don't have a safe, secure, consistent place to keep art at home. They move often, they share space, they don't have boxes of memorabilia or photos. what little personal space they may have comes at a premium. So instead I think they feel comfortable leaving it in my hands and I have TONS of examples for the following year.

  13. Someone might have already said this - don't have time to read the entire post! I have the same problem - I try to get them to think a bit about their action by saying, "So what I am teaching you is TRASH? I take that personally!" Also, not letting them walk out the door with the artwork in hand, but collecting it and giving it to the teacher to put in their Thursday folders.
    One day I visited a former student who was now a high schooler and when I looked in her room was so encouraged! There were all of her elementary and junior high art projects on her wall. I too wanted to cry! I think the parent also needs to value art and creativity so the child knows, this is an important part of life!~

  14. I find I have this problem more in the upper grades like jr. high. I will put their art in a portfolio throughout the year and at the end of school they have to take home a letter to their parents explaining the time and energy used to make this art collection, get their parents to sign it and bring it back, saying they at least saw it before it went in the trash, then if it goes in the trash at home, I don't know about it.

  15. I think you're doing a fabulous job of keeping at it and not giving up! Bless you for all that you do! Teaching students (and families) to value something they never had before is a challenge. You must have such great enthusiasm to have gotten this far. I like the idea of the end of the year art show. I have used April or May (just after March and Youth Art Month) to be a good time to have an art show. You'll have so many more pieces by then.

    An activity you can do all year is to get students to bring in articles, brochures and such on art that's worth millions of dollars was found in someone's attic, antique store, etc. Any time you get the kids looking at art and asking questions helps them find answers about valuing art. Any time you can get kids looking at anything differently with new eyes is always a good thing.

    Keep up the great job you're doing! You're setting their world on fire! :)

  16. Happens with me all the time. I don't even bother trying anymore. I just ask them not to wad it up so I can stack more of it in the recycle bin and I dump it myself. I'm sorry to say I have just given up so I think long and hard about what materials I want to use and how much I'm going to spend.