How to Become a Drama Teacher


Teaching drama, also known as theatre arts, is a discipline often centered on flexibility and creative expressive. Drama teachers are hired to educate students on different acting styles, methods and techniques, from learning how to project their voices across a stage to conveying emotion on cue. In addition to planning lessons and assessing the performance of their classes, drama educators also teach theatre history, assist students in writing their own dramatic pieces, as well as organize and direct performance rehearsals and school plays.

In middle and high schools, drama teachers are nearly always involved in extra-curricular activities, typically holding auditions and rehearsals for plays outside of the normal school day. The minimum requirement to teach drama is a bachelor’s degree, with many earning a master’s degree to work with students on the collegiate level. However, unlike most teachers at postsecondary schools, drama teachers belong to a unique category of educators that do not necessarily need a doctorate-level degree to qualify for employment at a college or university.

How can I become an elementary school drama teacher?

With very few exceptions, elementary schools do not employ full-time drama teachers.shutterstock_272254151

While some schools may hire teachers with a background in drama to introduce young students to the basics of theatre arts (either as part of the school’s required curriculum or on an extra-curricular basis), opportunities for elementary-level drama teachers are limited outside of specialized performing arts schools.

How can I become a middle or high school drama teacher?

A selection of middle schools and many high schools employ full-time drama teachers.

At the middle and high school levels, drama teachers are responsible for introducing students to acting methods and to all of the other elements associated with launching theatrical productions (from costume and set design to lighting and direction). Students are taught how to read plays with the proper feeling and expression, as well as understand the overall genre of theatre. Role-playing and improvisation may also become part of a student’s curriculum.

In addition to producing small plays within the classroom, many drama teachers guide their students towards putting on a school production for their peers and parents. Generally, classes are assigned various duties related to acting, directing, lighting, costume design, stage design (and building), props, music and supervising the overall production. Many drama teachers are also expected to hold after-school student auditions and rehearsals, in conjunction with their regular classroom curriculum.

To become a drama teacher at a middle or high school, the following steps are typically completed by qualified job candidates:

  • A bachelor’s degree in Education with a specialization in theatre arts, or a BA in Theatre Arts. In some cases, teachers may have completed a bachelor’s degree in another discipline but have also completed a required number of courses in drama or theatre (usually at least 30 semester credit hours).
  • Completion of teacher education program. Drama majors with an interest in pursuing an education-related job must complete the necessary coursework required of future teachers, and have gained experience working with middle and high school students.
  • Certification or licensure to teach in their state. Requirements vary by state, but often include passing a criminal background test, holding a bachelor’s degree, paying applicable license fees, and passing examinations.
  • Experience working in theatre at a community or professional level is often considered highly desirable for a job candidate to demonstrate. Those who hold a master’s degree in a performing arts field may also qualify for positions offering higher pay, as well as greater job options, such as becoming a drama director at a high school with a reputable theatre arts department.

How can I become a college drama professor?

College-level drama teachers may teach courses in drama, theatre or theatre arts programs. Some college-level professors teach at schools exclusively dedicated to the performing arts (such as The Julliard School’s Acting Programs). Most drama teachers working at the college level are affiliated with a drama or theatre arts program, or department within a broader college.

To teach in a college drama program, one may or may not be expected to hold a bachelor’s degree and/or master’s degree in drama or the theatre arts. As with teaching visual arts at the post-secondary level, many college drama programs prefer to hire teachers based on their professional experience rather than formal credentials. At some colleges, part-time faculty may be hired solely on the basis of experience, while only full-time faculty is required to hold formal educational credentials. At other colleges, professional experience is the only consideration but titles may vary in this case. It is not uncommon to see faculty hired without formal academic credentials referred to as “teaching faculty” or “instructors” rather than assuming the rank of professor.

College-bound theatre professors increase their attractiveness as a job candidate, and qualify for a wider scope of employment opportunities when they are able to demonstrate the following:

  • A master’s degree, preferably a Master of Fine Arts in Theatre, MA in Theatre Education, or similar degree.
  • Teaching experience that includes the ability to teach courses related to specified instructional areas, such as theatre history, musical theatre and stage production.
  • Recent experience in the field, which shows the ability to produce, direct and/or write high quality work for theater productions.

How can I become a university drama professor?

Drama and theatre arts programs at universities across the U.S. offer programs for students looking to pursue a career in the arts, and those interested in taking an elective associated with the fine arts. On the college level, expectations for theater arts faculty, especially part-timers, are typically different than they are in regards to most other arts and science disciplines. While some university drama or theatre arts professors hold PhDs, most do not since there are few institutions where one can obtain a PhD in theatre arts. For example, Yale University is one of the few universities in North America that offers a DFA or Doctor of Fine Arts in Theatre.

With few exceptions, the terminal degree in the theatre arts field is a Master of Fine Arts in Theatre. In many cases, however, a combination of education and experience is still preferred in a qualified job candidate. As such, faculty, even at top-ranked theatre schools, such as the Yale School of Drama, may hold a Bachelor of Fine Arts in theatre. In the case of part-time faculty, universities have been known to hire drama teachers who demonstrate an outstanding track record of achievement in the theatre field, and have no formal education in the field.

Once hired, professors of drama or theatre arts are expected to teach courses in their area of specialization (from acting to stage direction), participate in the governance of their program, and continue to stay active in their profession as actors, directors, set designers, or in some other capacity related to the theatre arts.

What is the job outlook for drama teachers?

Higher paying job opportunities for drama teachers are generally found at colleges, universities and professionals schools, which employed 71,050 of the 97,500 postsecondary teachers representing art, music and drama in 2014. Junior colleges hired 18,970 teachers within this category, followed by performing arts companies, technical and trade schools, and other schools of instruction.

Employment opportunities for drama teachers outside of the higher education environment are expected to show above average growth in school districts situated in rural areas and inner cities. High schools in the West and South are also anticipated to welcome increased student enrollment, which translates into an escalating demand to hire more teachers across the board, including those who teach theatre arts.

Every year, the U.S. Department of Education releases a listing of teacher shortages for grades K-12, which identifies the states and districts in need of hiring educators to fill subject- and grade level positions. The department noted the following states for experiencing a statewide shortage of drama teachers for the 2015/2016 academic year: Idaho (Drama for grades 6-12), California (English/Drama/Humanities), Arkansas (Drama/Speech), and Colorado (Art/Music/Drama). Educators who live in these areas, or who are willing to relocate, can take advantage of the increased job prospects available in the above-mentioned states.

What is the compensation for drama teachers?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) groups theatre arts teachers into a category of educators that combines professional that teach art, music and drama. According to the BLS, those who taught drama or theatre arts in 2014 earned the following average salaries:

  • Elementary and middle school teachers – $53,760 – $54,940
  • High school teachers – $56,310
  • Postsecondary teachers – $75,350

Drama teachers employed at colleges, universities and professional schools earned the highest salaries, taking home an annual mean wage of $76,350 in 2014. Other top-paying industries for professors and instructors associated with theatre arts that same year included junior colleges ($75,460), performing arts companies ($67,650), and other types of schools ($66,260).

The BLS also shows differential pay for drama professors that takes place when teachers reside in a certain geographic location, as some states are known for offering higher salaries than others. For example, in 2014, the following states (with their annual mean salaries listed) paid the most to drama teachers employed in postsecondary schools:  New York ($111,960), California ($89,290), Maryland ($86,540), Connecticut ($84,470), and Massachusetts ($84,440).

In conclusion, individuals who enter the education field to teach drama or theatre arts often enjoy a certain level of flexibility, where experience in the field means just as much (if not more than) educational credentials. Even at the college and university level, professors are not required to hold a PhD to qualify for a teaching position. When interviewing a pool of candidates for an open position, it is not uncommon for schools and employers to hire a theater arts instructor or teacher that possesses the most experience and clout within the creative arts industry.

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