How to Become a Film Teacher


A love of movies and/or a passion to create visual productions may lead an individual to earn a degree related to film studies with the intent to become an educator in the field. While some prospective teachers focus their studies on exploring the history, theory, and criticism of cinema, others concentrate on filmmaking itself. Teaching positions outside of the college and university scene are scarce, with the majority of secondary school job opportunities found in performing arts schools located in major cities in states such as California and New York.

Overall, prospective film teachers with a master’s or doctoral degree should expect a better chance of locating employment, getting hired, earning a more lucrative salary, and enjoying a higher level of job stability.

What kind of film teacher can I become?

As an aspiring film teacher, there is typically one of two different routes to take when pursuing an education to teach others in the field. They include becoming:

Someone who teaches film or cinema studies. Educators specializing in film studies are hired to teach courses that build a deeper understanding and critical thinking skills related to the field – aiming to mold the next Siskel or Ebert; future contributor of a scholarly journal like Cinema Journal; or next generation of film professors.

Typically, these teachers specialize in a specific era or type of film, and/or films from a particular nation, and generally become experts on subjects such as silent films or early talkies, Russian avant-garde films, or McCarthy-era Hollywood films.

Someone who teaches filmmaking or film production. Often accomplished in the field, schools hire teachers who generally specialize in a specific area of making or producing films, such as direction, screenwriting, motion picture editing, or cinematography.

The subsequent courses required of a film major depends on whether or not a prospective educator is interested in teaching film studies or film production.

What are the requirements to become a film teacher?

Although every teacher is expected to satisfy state- and school-specific requirements to qualify for teaching positions, many of the steps that a future film teacher takes include the following:

  1. Earn a Degree from Accredited School: In order to gain a position teaching film at a public school, all educators must have at least a bachelor’s degree. Education majors with a concentration in Film or English qualify for the position. Some schools consider film classes an English elective; therefore, often seek English and Journalism majors who have a concentration in Film and have undergone a teacher preparation program. The average curriculum for a film studies major includes courses in film history, theory and criticism, as well as the basics of film production. Some classes also explore related arts such as television, digital media and video.

Individuals may pursue Film and Education programs offered at colleges and universities (both public and private), or attend a film school, such as the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles, which grants associate, undergraduate and graduate degrees to students, including an Associate of Fine Arts in Filmmaking; Bachelor of Arts in Media Studies; Master of Fine Arts in Cinematography; and Master of Arts in Film & Media Production.

  1. Complete a Teacher Preparation Program: Prospective teachers are expected to satisfy various requirements that vary on a state-by-state basis. For example, high school teachers in New York State must complete 30 semester hours in general liberal arts and sciences; 30 semester hours of subject-specific content; 21 semester hours of  pedagogical core courses; as well as complete workshops in child abuse intervention and school violence. In order to become certified to teach in a public school, New York requires 40 days of student teaching.
  1. Gain Teaching Experience: Prospective teachers complete internships and student-teaching experiences before accepting a position at a school. The chance to work in an authentic classroom environment under the guidance of a seasoned educator provides valuable interaction between students, staff, parents and the typical school schedule. Usually lasting one or two semesters, student-teachers perform basic tasks (such as grading papers), observe classroom behavior, formulate their own lesson plan, and teach a class on their own. In the end, their performance in the classroom is assessed and evaluated.
  1. Obtain a License to Teach: All teachers in the U.S. must become certified to teach in a public school. Every state has its own guidelines that educators must fulfill before being able to accept a position, such as submitting to a criminal background check, presenting school transcripts, paying a license fee, and passing applicable examinations, such as the Praxis II content-specific exams.
  1. Earn an Advanced Degree: In order to teach film courses at the university and college level, job candidates must hold a Master’s degree for most college positions, and a PhD for university positions. An advanced degree also translates into teachers qualifying for a greater number of job opportunities and higher-paying salaries. For instance, high school teachers in New York City with the same number of years of experience as someone with a bachelor’s degree can make an average salary of about $8,800 per year more with a Master’s degree.

How can I become an elementary or middle school film teacher?

While elementary and middle school teachers may incorporate elements of media or film studies into their curriculum, there are only a few exceptions where a film studies curriculum exists at the K-6 grade levels. For this reason, there is no clear path to becoming a film studies or film production teacher at the elementary and middle school levels.

How can I become a high school film teacher?

Film classes on the high school level are limited, and are often taught as an English elective. Some high schools incorporate film studies and film production into the curriculum, but typically, both subjects are taught as part of other courses; for instance, media studies.

When Gwen Bailey began teaching film on Chicago’s South Side, she told the Christian Science Monitor that she estimated there were about one or two schools within the more than 50 public high schools in Chicago that offered film study courses at the time.

For the most part, the majority of secondary school film teachers are hired to teach at high schools devoted to the arts. For example, at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (a performing arts high school in Astoria, Queens under the umbrella of the New York City Department of Education), the film and media studies studio offers students an opportunity to learn about video production, film theory, and the film industry. However, such programs, even at the high school level, are rare. Film Studies is an elective that many traditional high school budgets cannot accommodate.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary that high school film teachers were paid in 2014 was $56,310. Since film studies courses are rarely available at the typical high school, interested students may seek instruction during a summer program offered at a university, when applicable. For example, film teachers at UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television teach on-campus summer sessions that high school students may take for college credit. Typically earning a higher salary, these teachers get the opportunity to guide high schoolers with an interest in pursuing film as a career when job openings are scarce.

How can I become a college film professor?

Colleges and universities that offer film degrees hire teachers to teach courses as part of their arts or communications curriculum, or classes within a dedicated film program. Film degrees are also awarded to those studying various aspects of film, such as theory, screenwriting, directing, and cinematography. Many film majors concentrate their studies to specialize in a specific area.

At liberal arts colleges, film studies or cinema studies courses may be offered as part of another program, or on their own. For example, a growing number of literary studies departments offer courses in film studies. In this case, films are studied using many of the same tools traditionally used in the study of novels and other literary genres.

College professors are typically hired by individual academic departments. Their expected qualifications vary depending on school requirements and the types of film studies courses he or she is applying to teach. Film studies or cinema studies professors typically hold a Master of Arts, and more often than not, a PhD in Film Studies or a related discipline.

Many Media Studies and Communication Studies programs also offer courses in film history, contemporary film, and global cinema. There are also a growing number of undergraduate film studies or cinema studies programs. At some liberal arts colleges, and at most fine arts colleges, however, students have an opportunity to study film production. In this case, the focus is on learning how to make films, and in many cases, to make videos and other screen-based forms of media. Film production students are expected to take a range of courses from screenwriting and direction, to cinematography and editing.

College film production professors typically hold at least a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Fine Arts, and may hold Master of Arts or Master of Fine Arts degree, and/or a PhD. In the case of film production, a major qualification is also having a successful track record of production as a filmmaker, and the ability to teach specific filmmaking skills. In addition, film production professors are expected to have industry experience and connections.

How can I become a university film professor? 

At the university level, film studies also fall into two categories: film (or cinema) studies and film production professors. To qualify for most positions as a film professor in a given department at a university, a teacher should possess a terminal degree specifically relevant to a department’s needs. For example, a professor with a PhD in Film History is hired by a university to hold classes centered on movie analysis, give lectures, and challenge students to view films in terms of the social and cultural aspects of its day and the present time. Small discussion groups often take place, typically led by a graduate student.

Film studies or cinema studies professors must hold a PhD in Film Studies to teach on the university level – typically completing graduate-level coursework in film studies or a related discipline; passing written field exams; and presenting a dissertation on a topic in film studies. Film studies professors must have a history of publishing books and articles related to the film studies field, or in the case of new hires, they must demonstrate the potential to do so.

By contrast, film production professors typically hold a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, and may hold a graduate degree. Many are hired because they are considered accomplished filmmakers, and have a history of making films and receiving distinguished accolades for their work in the form of showings at major film festivals, such as Festival de Cannes or Sundance. Both film studies and film production professors are expected to teach students at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

A job candidate with technical training and the ability to instruct students on the use and operation of film or video editing equipment and software, cameras, lighting equipment, and other relevant resources increase their chances of qualifying for more employment opportunities.

University professors vie for competitive tenure-stream positions, which provide the highest level of job security and salaries for film teachers. In addition to teaching classes, tenure-stream faculty also focus on staying relevant in the field. Possessing a terminal degree is a must for consideration, and hiring committees also seek candidates who actively present at scholarly conferences, have published articles in journals, and/or produce noteworthy creative work.

Tenure-stream faculty are hired as an assistant (or probationary professors), and must spend five or six years at this level before qualifying for a review for promotion and tenure. Those who have demonstrated an exemplary teaching record, department participation, and have produced scholarly/creative work are often promoted to associate professor. In another five years, faculty can apply for promotion to full professor by review.

Salaries for tenure-stream faculty typically range from about $40,000 for a starting assistant professor employed at a small public school to more than $150,000 for a full professor teaching at an elite private university.

The majority of film teachers that universities hire are part- or full-time temporary or adjunct instructors or lecturers. While many educators possess a more traditional academic background, it is not uncommon to see an industry expert earn a spot as a part-time faculty member at a university. Depending on a specific school and notoriety of a job candidate, salaries for film teachers can range from less than $1,000 per course to more than $60,000 per year. Luminaries in the industry can command the highest salaries within a film department.

The primary duties of film teachers in a college and university setting include:

  • Serving as an advisor for students, meeting during regular office hours
  • Maintaining accurate, up-to-date grade and attendance records
  • Monitoring academic progress of students
  • Developing daily lesson plans
  • Remaining current in the field

In addition to participating in various school functions, film education faculty is also expected to be present at instructional seminars, as well as in-service training sessions.

In conclusion, film teachers are hired to educate students seeking a deeper understanding of cinema, in addition to exploring other aspects of film history and critiques of film-making techniques. Film educators also guide students with an interest in pursuing film-making and film production as a career. For the most part, a master’s degree or doctoral degree is required to qualify for most post-secondary school positions and higher-paying job opportunities.

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