How to Become an Art Teacher


Becoming an art teacher is a somewhat unique endeavor that may overlap with other paths leading to becoming an educator. The type of degree program and training that an individual is expected to complete in order to teach art and art appreciation depends on the educational level of his or her prospective students. For the most part, students complete required and elective coursework that touches upon design, drawing, English, History and Education.

Art education degree programs introduce students to theoretical and practical knowledge of art theory, color theory, design, art history, as well as subjects related to the art world. The majority of art teachers are expected to demonstrate a proficiency in various styles, subjects and basic skills, such as watercolor, charcoal and oil painting. Within the college and university setting, art educators are often hired to focus on one specific medium – from pottery to figure drawing.

The requirements and education level required to teach art depends upon the work environment and subject matter being taught. Prospective art teachers are introduced to a range of art concepts, which they must learn how to tailor according to grade level and ability to create a more specialized curriculum for students.

How can I become an elementary or middle school level art teacher?

The art curriculum in grades K-8 is broad, and not as concentrated as in high school and college. 

Elementary school art teachers introduce students to basic skills in drawing, painting and crafts. Art teachers at this level adjust their curriculum to match the age and motor skill levels of their students. For example, educators of first graders are busy delivering a great deal of hands-on assistance, while art teachers for the fifth grade may spend their day explaining color theory to their students. Overall, K-5 art classes are meant to fuel an interest in art, and give students a creative outlet where they can express themselves through visual art.shutterstock_251298049

In the typical elementary school environment, art teachers usually travel from class-to-class, generally providing art lessons to students once or twice a week. 

Middle school art teachers continue to build upon the basic skills learned in elementary school. Students typically work on assignments that cover more advanced elements, such as texture, shapes and perspective. Art history is also introduced at this level. Middle school art teachers usually have a separate classroom where students visit as part of their regular class schedule.

To teach art at a public elementary or middle school, most states require teaching candidates to:

  • Earn at least a bachelor’s degree in Art, Education, or Art Education.
  • Complete a teacher education program.
  • Spend one to two semesters in a K-12 art classroom setting, learning how to plan lessons, oversee art projects, and how to fairly grade artwork under the direction of an experienced art teacher.
  • Gain certification to teach in their state. 

The job prospects for art teachers in elementary schools vary greatly according to factors associated with individual schools and districts. During the past decade, the U.S. Department of Education has noted the impact of budget cuts on arts education, which has led to fewer visual arts classes being offered in elementary schools. In an attempt to reverse the loss, many states have been restoring funding for arts education, as seen in school district efforts in Portland, Dallas and Chicago. Other efforts push for increased arts in schools, such as the widely adopted movement called STEAM (STEM + Art/Design), which was started by the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) to encourage integration of Art + Design within K-20 education.

How can I become a high school art teacher?

Nearly all high schools offer some form of art education, and by this level, most students can elect to enroll in a variety of courses. As a result, high school art teachers are free to introduce more advanced topics (such as art and color theory), as well as a wider range of materials and media. Often taught in a classroom or workshop setting, high school art teachers are able to offer an array of 2-D, 3-D and digital art classes to supplement a student’s education, such as ceramics, photography, computer animation, and video production.

To teach art at the public high school level, job candidates must:

  • Possess at least a bachelor’s degree ideally in Art Education, or double major in Art and Education.
  • Complete a teacher education program.
  • Experience one to two semesters of student-teaching in a high school art classroom under the guidance of a seasoned art teacher.
  • Become certified to teach in their state of residence.

Other credentials, including a Master of Fine Arts or a MA in Art Education, are also commonplace (and preferred by some schools) for art teachers to have when teaching high schoolers.

How can I become a college or university art teacher?

While elementary, middle and high school teachers are typically certified teachers who enjoy working with students in a creative setting, a high percentage of art teachers at the college and university levels are practicing artists who show and sell their work. They often supplement their income by teaching at a school. Therefore, on the post-secondary level, one’s reputation as an artist is sometimes just as important as one’s educational background. However, a master’s or doctorate degree is still required of most college-level and post-secondary art teachers.

To teach art at the college or university level, job candidates must:

  • Earn a degree in Visual Arts or Fine Arts – most community colleges and universities require a master’s degree, while some junior colleges may accept a bachelor’s degree for adjunct openings. A concentration in a specific medium, such as graphic design, is often desired or required by potential employers.
  • Have at least several years of professional artist experience related to the medium in which they intend to teach.
  • Possess a portfolio containing samples of artwork.

Certification and licensure is not required by every college or university to teach art.

The type of courses an art professor teaches is generally dependent on his or her expertise. Therefore, an individual with formal training in painting, drawing, sculpture or digital media often teaches classes according to his or her background. At smaller colleges, faculty members are typically expected to instruct students in more than one medium (such as drawing and painting, or photography and animation). Previous teaching experience is typically desired or required, as well as a history of creative production (like having a track record of exhibition).

Art professors often enjoy flexible schedules, but are expected to keep office hours and teach classes on campus. During class, they demonstrate and explain artistic techniques; deliver lectures regarding topics of art history and technique; and facilitate classroom discussions and artwork critiques. Collegiate art teachers assist their students in not only developing their artistic techniques, but also shed light on how to market their work, as well as transition into a creative profession after graduation, if so desired.

In addition to supervising students’ creative work, studio art professors provide “critiques” of their students’ work in progress once or twice a semester. Studio art professors are also expected to keep producing work in their artistic medium and to exhibit their work in galleries and museums on a national and international level.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the employment of postsecondary teachers (including art teachers) to grow 19 percent through 2022, which is a faster rate than the average for all other occupations in the United States. However, job prospects for art professors are largely competitive, and it’s oftentimes difficult to get hired as a full time employee. It’s even more challenging to get tenure, which translates into solid job security. It can take up to seven years to move up the ranks in tenure-track positions at a college or university.

Where else can an art teacher work?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) identifies the leading industries with the highest levels of employment for art teachers as colleges/universities/professional schools; junior colleges; technical and trade schools. However, art teachers can also find employment at summer camps, daycare centers, the YMCA, and after-school programs that offer art classes. Adult learning centers and some senior centers also hire professionals to teach art to their residents.

In addition to regular art teachers, many U.S. states have established artists-in-schools programs. These programs, coordinated by organizations such as the Ohio Alliance for Arts Education and similar organizations across the nation, create opportunities for practicing visual and performing artists to work in schools. The programs provide artists with additional income while bringing students in contact with skills professionals in the arts.

Visiting artists may offer one-day workshops or establish semester- or year-long relationships with a single school. While visiting artists are not required to be certified teachers, they must agree to specific terms and like all school workers, undergo a security clearance.

Art educators may also teach classes online, typically delivering lectures and demonstrating art techniques through online video platforms. Students taking an online class often post their work to receive feedback and arouse discussion. The majority of online art instructors work as adjunct professors at colleges, teaching on a contract basis.

What are the certification requirements for art teachers?

Art teachers employed within a public K-12 school are trained to work with students attending kindergarten through secondary school, and must obtain a license or certification in order to qualify for a job position in the U.S. The certification process varies by state, but generally involves applicants passing basic skills tests in reading and math, as well as demonstrating competency in art, design and media. When teaching art at the college level (or accepting a K-12 position at a private school), a teacher does not require certification.

What is the compensation for art teachers, and are there benefits?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salaries earned in 2014 for the below occupations in art education are as follows:

  • Elementary and middle school teachers – $53,090 – $53,430
  • High school teachers – $55,050
  • Postsecondary teachers – $62,830

Factors, such as years of experience, level of expertise, place of employment and geographic location, ultimately affect the overall salaries of art teachers. For example, the BLS identifies the following states (with annual mean salaries) as being the top-paying locations for postsecondary art teachers: New York ($111,960), California ($89,290), Maryland ($86,540), Connecticut ($84,470), and Massachusetts ($84,440).

At the primary and secondary levels of education, art teachers have varying levels of health insurance and 401(k) benefits, which varies on a state, district and school basis. Many art teachers are also eligible for student loan forgiveness, especially when accepting a position at a rural or urban school in the greatest need to hire art educators. Since most professors are not hired as full-time employees, benefits and job security are an issue.

What are professional development options for art teachers?

Art techniques and tools are constantly expanding, which sees many art teachers in need of updating their knowledge and skills. For instance, digital art media is becoming more prevalent within the K-12 art curriculum. Additionally, continuing education classes are required of art teachers employed within a K-12 school system, as they must renew their certification according to state guidelines. Art teachers often take classes through local community colleges and universities, as well as fulfil these requirements online.

Art teachers that attend conventions and conferences are able to stay current with the latest trends and developments throughout the industry.

For example, the National Art Education Association (NAEA) holds an annual national convention that invites art teachers to learn about new advances in the field, network with other art educators, as well as take continuing education classes. The following professional associations for art teachers not only aid educators in locating employment opportunities, but also serve as a valuable resource for networking and career development: the Arts Education Partnership, Association of Teaching Artists, and College Art Association.

In conclusion, art teachers of K-12 students are primarily responsible for guiding and nurturing their students’ level of creative expression, as well as introducing their classes to a range of art concepts, techniques and mediums. As professors at colleges and universities, most teachers typically concentrate on a specialization within the field, such as graphic design or ceramics, and often guide students with an interest in pursuing art as a career. Prospective teachers with advanced degrees qualify for a wider range of job opportunities and positions that pay a higher salary, such as teaching at a university.

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