With an eye on creativity and an emphasis on technique, becoming an elementary, middle or high school art teacher can be a rewarding career for a visual artist. In addition to encouraging children to express themselves and explore different materials, art teachers help their students understand shapes, color, texture and art history. If that sounds like a great way to spend your days, here's how you can leverage your creativity and new degree to get your first job teaching art.
1. Nurture your talent for art and knack for inspiring others
Being an art teacher requires in-depth knowledge and study of visual arts.
"The important part of being an art teacher is that you have the studio skills," says Rande Blank, director of the Masters of Arts in Teaching (MAT) in Visual Arts Education at University of the Arts in Philadelphia. "If you are talented, you should take coursework that would give you the information you need to be able to teach."
Blank’s program focuses on five specific areas: painting, drawing, printmaking, ceramics and photography. That’s all complemented by an emphasis on being tech-savvy — students become proficient in programs like Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and even basic coding skills.
“Even though that may not be in line with what an art teacher might teach, having knowledge of that tech area is important," Blank explains.
In addition to having artistic talent, you need to have the skills to be a great teacher, including how to:
- Develop lesson plans
- Set up and manage a classroom
- Be organized
- Understand educational theory
"The students that I see who are the most successful have both an organizational standpoint and are artists themselves, which is hard," said Roxanne Schroeder-Arce, director of UTeach Fine Arts Education at The University of Texas at Austin.
In addition to having creativity and expertise, Schroeder-Arce says that teachers must also be "really invested in inspiring others to follow in that endeavor of being an artist and exploring the arts."
2. Understand your state's art teacher requirements
Depending on where you live and want to teach, you may have to meet different certification and coursework requirements. The website ArtTeacherEDU.org explains the certification process for art teachers on a state-by-state basis. Expect requirements such as:
- Demonstrated passion for art
- Bachelor's degree (or master's degree, depending on the school)
- Specific coursework with an art focus
- State certification program
Before Blank accepted a job at the University of the Arts, she worked as an elementary and middle school art teacher.
"It's called a teacher preparation program," she says. "[T]he universities and colleges out there have teacher preparation programs that are accredited with their states, and then the state certifies [the teachers]. But by completing a teacher preparation program, you'll be doing all the right requirements to get there."
3. Immerse yourself in the experience as a student art teacher
While it's essential to obtain the necessary education and licensing, aspiring art teachers should go the extra mile to stand out from other job applicants. Many seasoned teachers emphasize how important it is to receive on-the-job training through student teaching alongside a certified teacher.
"They need that practical experience with someone who is mentoring them," says Schroeder-Arce. "They can really get feedback on the work that they're doing and how they're engaging with students, both from a methodology standpoint and also a theoretical space."
Your student teaching experience will teach you the best techniques for say, making pinch pots with third-graders, but being in a classroom will also give you a real-world opportunity to work alongside a teacher who can also show you how to quell clay fights.
4. Understand classroom management
With paint, scissors and pencils in motion, art rooms can get hectic and classroom management is critical. "It's very important that [visual arts] teachers are prepared to organize a classroom and work with young people in an organized way," says Schroeder-Arce. "These teachers need to have the experience and someone guiding them to think about not only, 'How do I want to create art?' but, 'How do I work with young people?' It can be very challenging."
Deciding whether you want to teach art to elementary, middle school or high school students will have a big impact on which kinds of classroom management skills will be most important. For elementary students, you'll need to be more hands on with students who haven't developed their fine motor skills. With older students, though potentially more independent and skilled, you may also have issues of emotional withdrawal and lack of interest.
Being a teacher is also different in elementary schools than middle and high schools. In elementary schools, you may have additional responsibilities like recess and bus monitoring. They also usually have shorter classes with fewer breaks than middle and high schools with block scheduling.
Though many teachers know the kinds of students they're interested in teaching, sometimes that changes as they do their student teaching. Some states also offer a K-12 certification so you can change grade levels as needed.
5. Prepare for the interview with a full portfolio
- Studio work
- Lesson plans
- Your art teacher resume
- A cover letter that sums up your philosophy on teaching art
- Photo documentation of your time in the classroom
"[Prospective teachers] also should have a website that is an electronic portfolio," says Blank. "In addition to that, they may want to bring a smaller portfolio or have a website of just their artwork. In many cases, when they are interviewing, it's not just the principal of the school and the vice principal — it could be another art teacher, it could be another discipline's teacher. Being able to view their actual body of work could be very important."
Starting your career as an art teacher is an exciting milestone. These five tips can help you successfully prepare for the role and land an art teacher job that inspires your creativity and lets you open the world of art to others. Ready to get going? Use LiveCareer's Resume Builder and Cover Letter Builder to get off to a strong start with your application documents.