Parent’s night: A survival guide for new art teachers (and anyone who ever gets nervous)

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I have a confession. I still get a little nervous on parents’ night. For a profession built on public speaking, it’s a terrible thing to be hit with a sudden case of stage fright.  How do we manage? While we can’t prevent nervousness, we can make sure we feel prepared and have systems to rely on. There is also nothing wrong with admitting to parents how intimidating it is to face a roomful of adults when you’re used to middle or high schoolers.

Also, realize that while the open house may be the first time a parent meets you, your relationship starts much earlier. Do you send home any letters or forms for parents to fill out?  These types of letters help introduce yourself, provide an overview of the school year, and inform parents of rules and procedures.  A letter sent out before Open House means you won’t have to go into as much detail in your presentation because parents will have already had a chance to familiarize themselves with how your classroom is run.  You can also use your letter as the basis for your presentation.

Decide your content

My first suggestion is to create an outline of what you want to cover. You probably want to cover the curriculum, daily routines, late assignment policies, etc. As both a parent and a teacher, I’ve learned that teachers’ and parents’ agendas don’t always align. What do parents want to get out of the night? Homework expectations, grading policies, ideas on how they can help their child succeed in your class, and a general sense that their child’s art teacher is a fair teacher and a caring human are tops on most parents’ lists. So, make time to touch on all those topics.

I create a slide show, as many teachers do. Use the slide shows to highlight topics only, don’t write everything you want to say on the slide. Sometimes my slide may simply show the classroom sink and that prompts me to talk about cleaning expectations  As art teachers, we have a very visual subject, so take advantage of that! I run through samples of projects they will be making over the year. If you are a new teacher lacking a file filled with student samples, it’s fine to show examples from other teachers or samples you find on the internet. With my slides, I share a little about all the skills they are acquiring through the project from brainstorming to finished product. Pace yourself. If you have ten minutes and eight slides you could spend one minute on each slide and reserve two minutes for questions. Practice what you will say once or twice in advance.

Hope for the best, prepare for the wost

Be sure you run through the logistics of presenting in all the classrooms you will be using. Hopefully, you are using the equipment daily and feel comfortable. Always have in mind how you could manage if you didn’t have the technology available. Hope for the best, while preparing for the worst.  For example, when the bulb blew in my projector, I pivoted and gave a tour of the room to my parents in my Ceramic class. I showed them examples of the project they were doing in class, the materials and tools they were learning to use, and the studio habits and routines their children had already mastered.

Be human

On top of everything else, be sure to smile and make a joke or two. Let them leave with the sense you love the subject matter, care for their children, enjoy the age group you teach, and have set reasonable and achievable expectations for their children. Share a little about yourself. You might consider sharing your journey to becoming a teacher or what you do when you are not in the classroom (hobbies, travel, etc).

Plan an activity

Most of us feel learning is best when it’s hands-on. There is nothing wrong with giving your parents a taste of what it is like to be in your class. Have parents try a bell ringer you use in class, or look for examples of texture in the classroom, etc. One year I handed out half a sheet of paper with a few prompts parents could use as conversation starters with teens about what they were doing in art class. Afterward, parents could write a summary of what their child said, sign, and give the student to return to me. If it made it back to me, their child received extra credit and I received some feedback about what students were absorbing about class content. This was a well-loved activity on all fronts. Another teacher has the students leave their sketchbooks that day and the parents can look through them and are encouraged to leave a note to their child as well.

Dress for success

Some teachers will dress up quite a bit for parents’ night.  As I grew more confident in my teaching, I felt less of the need to dress up. Instead, I aimed for what is termed “business casual attire” these days. No jeans or t-shirts but slacks, a top, and maybe a blazer would be my likely outfit. Often, after a day spent around material and media I would make a point of changing between school and parent’s night.  Decide if you’ll have time to go home or if you’ll stay at the school. Plan your dinner, etc.

Special Considerations for the art department

For our new teachers, here is a tip. Don’t forget the display cases around the school as well as your own classroom. Administrators are looking for the school to look its best and they will often approach you about filling those display cabinets! Art teachers often start their year with quick projects with parents’ night in mind. You can also use Parent’s night as a way to advertise your future exhibits and shows. It can also be a good time to introduce Artsonia and collect the needed parental permission slips. I also use Parent’s night to go over supplies needed in the art room and let parents know materials they might have on hand they may consider donating. For my Ceramics class, I let them know I can use those plastic shopping bags they might otherwise toss or recycle. Extra sketchbooks are always appreciated by my Art I students.

Remember, Parent’s night is just the beginning of relationships that will evolve all year, and possibly over several years. You can’t fit everything in one night but you can leave a positive impression on your students’ parents which is a good start.  I wish I could say was immune to those butterflies even after all the years but truly they still can strike. Now I just imagine my students are sitting in front of me, take a deep breath and start my slide show.

Do you have any winning strategies for parent’s night? Share in the comments below.

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