Combating “The Great Holiday Art Room Supply Heist”

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There are predictable times of the year when teachers treat the art room as their own supply closet. Before winter break is one of them. It starts off innocuous enough, with a knock on the door and a request for 25 sheets of green construction paper. Maybe you owe that teacher a favor or happen to have some perfect sun-faded green construction paper you want to get rid of anyway. Then it happens again and again except its scissors and then it’s glue and you no longer can keep track of what material is where and worry you’ll never see those supplies again. If you don’t stem it quickly, you will have no supplies by the time winter break rolls around and Santa will not be restocking your closet. There goes your holiday spirit right along with your art supplies.

I have been there my friend! I also have some suggestions for how to combat what I am going to call The Great Holiday Art Supply Room Heist.

Organize your department  If you have colleagues, meet and develop a department plan at the beginning of a school year, because we know as art teachers that borrowing isn’t only a holiday occurrence. If you make decisions alone to turn down a request for a supply, you are just sending the problem to your colleagues. This should not be a game of hot potato. You may decide collectively that the art department won’t be handing out supplies. Or maybe you have a great budget and will set aside a classroom set of scissors and markers for borrowing. In that instance, you also need to decide where teachers can pick them up and how to track the materials. One art teacher created a “community shelf” near the door where teachers could quickly and quietly pick up materials the art program made available for their colleagues.

You can also recruit your students to help as well. They know what materials you have, even where you have them. They are often the ones showing up at your door with the request. If you want to discourage The Great Holiday Art Supply Room Heist let students know art supplies are for art classes and that they can’t take materials for other teachers.

Preventative strategies  As a former art department chair, I used to write a note in my calendar. I would dust off my annual December email that would go out to all the department chairs asking them to remind their department members to plan lessons and order supplies rather than look to the art program to supply their last-minute needs. Everyone is reminded that we order the supplies we need and value our uninterrupted time teaching our lessons. Even if you are a department of one, this strategy can work for you. Work with your administration on an email that can go out to all faculty to help reign in interruptions.

Secure materials  This advice is not just for the holidays. If you make a quick trip to the office on your period off, close and lock your room. Talk to the custodians and ask them to not let others into your room. I know I have unlocked my classroom in the morning to find the room was used to make dance decorations with paint and dirty brushes left out, now dried and ruined. It’s disconcerting and shouldn’t happen.

More than one entrance to your classroom? Can’t always control who comes into your room? Locks on cabinets can be very valuable, particularly for those supplies that are most popular. I also have a cabinet with labeled totes. However,  I found it a best practice to not label the bins with scissors and glue sticks. Why make it easy for them to find those in-demand items?

Communicate  Holidays or not, I communicated with my colleagues certain ground rules. Don’t send students. See me in advance when I am available after or before school. Be polite but be firm to your fellow teachers. It’s ok to set the ground rules for what works for you on your terms. When I do give out a supply I have in excess I also tell the teacher it’s a one-time event and not to give others the illusion that my art room is a supply cabinet.

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