We all know that teaching art is most definitely the most fun job in the school, however, it can also be the most dangerous. We’ve got all sorts of tools and machines that can burn, scratch, and cut human flesh if not used properly.
For the most part, my art department is pretty strict about our tools and student's safety.
My work BFF teaches jewelry and has the kids work with all kinds of sharp pliers, wires, and burnishing/polishing machines. She upholds a very strict no bracelets, no necklaces, no scarves policy. Also, all students need to have their hair pulled back while working, and must be wearing eye protection at all times. In fact, she’s so gung-ho about safety, she got the school to invest in an ultra-violet light bacteria-killing safety goggle-cleaning cabinet. She’s protecting her kids from their protective eye wear!
When I inherited my new room I definitely gave thought to how I would store all my “dangerous” tools (X acto knives, X acto box cutters, scissors, hot glue guns, etc.) I was able to neatly store them in clearly labeled containers in one of my cabinets. While I have the ability to lock that cabinet, I choose not to, because we also store our drawing pencils, erasers, and rulers in there, and I’d be locking and unlocking it all day long. Truthfully, there hasn’t been an issue at all- my kids are either extremely well behaved, or so uninterested in what’s actually in there that I haven’t had any of them even ask what “X acto” means.
However, for our collage fairy tales (which will be done and ready for sharing very soon!) I introduced the kids to the X acto knives, so they could make more precise, smaller cuts. I demonstrate how to use the the knives, explaining they should hold it like a pencil, and that the blade is so sharp, they don’t need to push very hard. I also explain that they must have something underneath the paper they’re cutting as not to gouge up my beautiful tables. Finally I explain that if they cut themselves, I will not allow them to go to the nurse, and I will not give them band aids. When I say this they all kind of nervously laugh and say things like, “Ms. PaintingWithBrains! You’re so mean!” But I find the threat of not helping them, and the potential for them to embarrass themselves by bleeding all over the place, causes them to work more cautiously. Don't worry, if they actually hurt themselves, of course I would help them! I don't want their teenager DNA all over the place! We haven't had any injuries thus far (*knock on wood!*) But I found this neat image today and I'm tempted to hang it somewhere in my room to put some extra fear in those young bones:
Last year, a fellow art teacher had her students work with the X acto knives, and while she was diligent about doing a final count at the end of every class to ensure they’d all been handed back in, one managed to escape. Later that day, there was an incident in one of the bathrooms. An angry student threatened to used the X acto they’d swiped to hurt another kid, and while the other kid wasn’t hurt at all (thank goodness!) it definitely made us re-evaluate how we distribute and collect the knives.
I hadn’t had any issues with my kids until one day last week when I went in for my end-of-class X acto-kinfe-count and one was missing. I announced to the students that no one would leave the room until I’d found it. None of them were fessing up to taking it, or misplacing it. The bell rang, and knowing I couldn’t actually keep them until we’d found it, I dismissed them by announcing that the project was over, everyone would get incompletes, and they’d never be using the X acto knives again. They were upset. Upset at all the ramifications of one missing X acto, and upset that they had upset me so much. They’re my liveliest group and love my class, and as soon as I raised my voice (which almost never happens) all of their demeanors changed. They were quiet and sad, they knew they’d disappointed me and they were upset. They hung their heads low and slunked out of my room with their tails between their little knobby legs.
They were my last class of the day, and after they left I spent an extra 20 minutes searching high and low for the missing X acto knife.
I found it.
It was not in the box that was labeled “X acto Knives,” where it should have been, but in the box labeled “X acto Box Cutters.” I instantly felt bad, because someone had tried to clean up- they thought they were doing the right thing, but they’d made a mistake (or maybe they were just being lazy and didn’t feel like reading?). Either way, I’d found it.
No harm, no foul.
When I had that class the next day, I announced that they could, in fact, finish their projects, and they could, in fact, use the X acto knives again, however, the borrowing and handing-in process was a-changing. Also, we spent a few minutes going over the difference between this:
And how they DO NOT LOOK THE SAME AND THEREFORE DO NOT GO IN THE SAME BIN!
After I’d found the rouge knife, I decided to go all elementary school on my kids and labeled each knife 1-25 using a masking tape tab and permanent marker. I then created a sign-out/in chart that I implemented with all 3 of my Fine Arts I classes. I keep the box of knives in the cabinet right next to my desk, where I keep all my personal things- so the kids know that going in there is a huge no-no. When the class comes in, I take out the drawer and the sign-in/out sheets and away we go!
At first I expected there to be a big backlash- most of these kids I have are freshmen, but some were seniors! A few even 18 years old! I figured they’d laugh at me and protest having to go through such a silly process, but after a little bit of complaining, they all fell right in line (literally) and waited their turn to sign out a knife. At the end of the period, I give them a 5-minute heads-up to start cleaning, and announce, “Now is the time to sign-in your knives!” They put their knives in the box, check off next to their name, and they’re outta there.
It’s been smooth sailing ever since!
There have been one or two days where I’ll be missing a knife just before the bell, check out the list, and look up to see that student still working diligently, X acto knife in-hand.
I feel that the sign-in/out lists give the students a small amount of responsibility they not only need at this age, but also want. They don’t want to be lumped together with a bunch of other kids because someone else didn’t follow directions.
My only issue now? I go through one sheet of paper per class per day (that’s 15 sheets of paper a week) for the sign-in/out process. I’m thinking about maybe getting a cheap dry-erase board in the name of saving the trees and my desk from an avalanche of weekly papers!
Also, my X acto knives all came with handy-dandy plastic caps, which are great for protecting yourself from an accidental self-inflicted stab wound, however, I find that most of my kids twist the cap off rather than just pulling it straight off. That results in a loose blade and kids running over to me worriedly shouting, "I broke it! I'm sorry!" or "The blade jumped out at me!"
"Pull don't twist!" has been a mantra as of late.
Do any of you have a system for handing out/collecting/monitoring the kids when they use “dangerous” materials like X acto knives? Any suggestions?