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How to Become an Art Teacher

If you have a passion for art that you want to share with others, consider a career as an art teacher. Through helping students unleash their creativity and develop an appreciation of art, you can do more than empower talented artists—you can pass on valuable life skills. Art education can foster the development of skills in problem-solving, perseverance, non-verbal communication, and the ability to receive constructive feedback.

Read on to learn more about this rewarding career, including education requirements and salary and career outlook.

Art Education Job Description

Art educators teach the different forms of visual arts to students at the elementary, middle, and secondary levels. They may teach in a single school or travel from school to school within a district. Instruction tends to be generalized at the elementary level and grows increasingly specialized at the middle and secondary levels.

Although you may personally specialize in one form of art, such as ceramics, you will teach students a variety of art forms. Your classes and teaching methods will vary widely depending on the age level of your students.

Art teachers work in public and private schools and enjoy the autonomy of a self-designed classroom. You may teach art to a specific population of students or at a secondary school level. As reported by the U.S. Department of Education, the Arts in Education national program strives to offer all students art education, even those with disabilities. Therefore, art teachers may elect to work with special education students such as those with autism, activity deficit disorder, or other learning disabilities. Art teachers can also assist gifted children to express themselves through their artwork.

Art teachers play a special role in students’ lives and there are certain qualities standout art instructors possess. Creativity, of course, is essential – not just for creating art, but in designing lessons that appeal to different learning styles. Patience and empathy are also important in that not every person is born with innate artistic abilities, but excellent art teachers see hidden potential in all students and help bring that out.

Teaching Art to Elementary Students

Teaching art to elementary students can be rewarding because all students are exposed to art programs as opposed to opting into classes in the upper grades. Elementary art teachers have the opportunity to impact students along a wider spectrum of artistic interest and ability levels. Curriculum is focused on basic elements of art including drawing, painting, and crafts. Often, elementary art teachers rotate between classes at one school or sometimes teach at multiple schools. Elementary students are at an exciting age for learning about artistic expression because they approach creative learning with an openness, being at the early end of their creative development.

Teaching Art in Secondary School

While art coursework for younger students tends to be general, secondary art courses become more specialized and increase in complexity as students progress. The middle-school age to early high school art courses (grades 7-10) might still be general, but each course could offer specific units on mediums such as drawing, sculpture, graphic design, or photography. Then, in the upper-level courses for high school juniors and seniors, you might teach full courses on one medium. Because art courses are often elective, students at the secondary level can choose whether or not to register. If they’ve already developed their skills and interest in elementary school, they will be more likely to take art coursework in middle and high school.

Teaching Art in Postsecondary School

Postsecondary art teachers work with college students, from community colleges to four-year institutions. At the college level, you are most likely teaching students who are interested in art as an academic course of study. While some students might have excellent skills in art, they might not be interested in majoring or minoring in this area, while others are interested in pursuing art degrees.

More advanced college coursework offers a more specific focus on subject matter, as well as smaller classes. At this level students are more likely to be declared art majors or minors. Most postsecondary art courses focus on a specific medium that progresses in complexity with each level. For example, an introductory course on graphic design might introduce the basic tools and principles of design, whereas an advanced course would focus on one specific area of the medium (e.g., animation, website design, or typography). College-level art teachers also might help students think about the “business” of art and how they can make a career out of their craft.

Art Education Licensing Requirements

All 50 states require that public school teachers be licensed. Private school art teachers don’t have to be licensed, but many private schools require it. Licensing requires a bachelor’s degree of education from an approved teacher education program, a student teaching internship and a passing score on a competency test, typically the Praxis exam or the National Evaluation Series (NES).

Specific tests can vary by state. Beyond the standard teacher certification exam, art teachers usually need to pass an additional subject-specific competency test such as the Praxis II: Art Content Knowledge Exam. The specific requirements can vary by state, though, so you’ll want to verify specific licensing requirements in the state you intend to teach. As a teacher, you’ll need to continuously participate in approved professional development to maintain an active teaching license. Like initial exams, requirements vary by state.

College art teachers, however, have different requirements and don’t necessarily need a degree in education. At the college level, art teachers are often experienced practicing artists who are experts in a specific medium. For many community college art courses, art teachers are hired on a temporary and part-time basis as adjunct faculty. You may need a master’s in art to qualify for such positions, but in some cases, length and quality of experience might be enough.

Four-year institutions also hire adjunct faculty with master’s degrees, however, there are typically more rigorous requirements for full-time teaching, such as a Master of Fine Art (MFA) or a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Art Education, Fine Arts, or Art History. Teaching full-time at a four-year institution also requires a rigorous output of research and/or art production to fulfill tenure requirements.

Art Education Career Outlook

A 2017 study by the American Association for Employment in Education found that the supply of art teachers is relatively balanced with demand. However, you can still find a lucrative art teaching position in certain states.

The salaries of art teachers often depend on the level of education you plan to teach. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for elementary school teachers in 2018 was $57,980, whereas high school teachers made a median salary of $60,320. Postsecondary art and music teachers, on the other hand, make a mean annual wage of $82,560 (BLS, 2018).

The type of school you teach at can also affect your salary. For example, private school teacher salaries are generally lower than those of public schools (BLS, 2018).

As with other teaching specialties, art teachers will find the most job opportunities if they are geographically mobile and willing to consider positions in rural or less desirable school districts. If you’re looking for the highest possible salary as an art teacher, the following states pay postsecondary art teachers the highest salaries (BLS, 2018):

  • California
  • District of Columbia
  • New York
  • Massachusetts
  • Connecticut

Art Education Degrees

To teach in grades K-12, you only need a bachelor’s, but to set yourself up for promotions or a salary increase, a master’s is ideal. To teach art at the college level, however, a master’s is a minimum requirement, and in most cases at four-year colleges or universities, you’ll need a terminal degree such as a Master of Fine Arts or a doctorate.

Bachelor’s Degrees in Art Education

All states require that K-12 public school teachers earn at least a bachelor’s degree, and most require the completion of a bachelor’s in education with a concentration in art. While private school teachers don’t necessarily need the same credentials as public school teachers, most private schools follow the same credentialing guidelines including the requirement of a bachelor’s degree.

Bachelor’s in education programs vary on how they integrate the subject matter into the degree. In some cases, you would pursue a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Education and then major in art education. In other cases, typically within art or design-focused programs or schools, you’ll earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) or a BA in Art Education. Regardless of how the program is structured, the degree should prepare you for state certification.

If you already have a bachelor’s in a non-education degree, you might be able to find a position within a private school where state requirements don’t necessarily apply. But most public school teachers need a degree (whether a bachelor’s or master’s) specifically in education. There is an exception in some states with a teacher shortage. Texas, Missouri, Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Mississippi offer emergency teacher certification which is designed to fast-track qualified people to fill teaching positions.

Acceptance requirements for a bachelor’s in education degree vary, but most require proof of high school graduation or a GED, a strong ACT or SAT score, college application which includes a strong personal essay, and background check clearance. You’ll need to check specific program requirements for each school.


The curriculum for an art teacher is designed to assist the aspiring educator to teach their area of expertise. Teachers use art as a medium for education that is guided by learning theories and educational research.

The History of Art

Art history depicts the social changes and events that influenced the great artists of their time. Historical works of art also provide a glimpse into the cultural influences, dramatic events, and the issues of an era. The examination of the history of artists reveals the significance of the contributions that they made and the societal confluence of their day.

Methods of Teaching

In this class, you’ll typically learn about the theories that guide you to select the appropriate method of teaching and adapt the teaching technique for individual learners.

Child Psychology and Development

This class may explore the cognitive, mental and emotional aspects of children and adolescents as it pertains to education. As an art teacher, you may be expected to identify common learning disabilities in your students and adapt the classroom as necessary – this class should prepare you for dealing with those issues.

Art Curriculum and Instruction

The construction of course planning, learning materials, and curriculum is guided by learning theories, education research and conceptual frameworks for education. You may explore the need for the design of a rational sequence in classroom activities and assignments that allow students to build knowledge from previous lessons. Curriculum design is constructed by the appropriateness of learners, their level of ability and may be adapted for individual students with special needs.

Designing a curriculum with intentional, reflective choices allows you to achieve the goals and objectives you have selected for the class. Using learning theories to construct activities that are integral to the course experience may help students identify and approach their goals.

Evaluation and Assessment

In this class, you may learn how to implement your curriculum design and evaluate the success of the course or activity.

Your program may include a teaching practicum that will provide you with real-world experience in a functioning classroom. A project may include the designing of your course or activity, implementing the plan in the classroom, and evaluating the results through learning theories and evaluation tools.

Master’s Degrees in Art Education

Art teachers with master’s degrees often make higher salaries in a K-12 setting and can also teach at the community college level. While master’s program acceptance requirements vary, most programs require you have a bachelor’s degree (many prefer you have a degree in teaching and/or art), the completion of a certain number of undergraduate studio art hours in specific types of courses, a strong undergraduate GPA, passing scores on the state’s educator exam, strong standardized test scores (typically Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), but sometimes the Miller Analogies Test (MAT)), an application including a personal statement, and letters of recommendation.


While the titles and specific focus of courses will vary by program, the following are examples of courses you might find in a master’s in art education program.

Contemporary Issues, Theories, and Concepts in Art Education

This course serves as a foundation of art education in the broad sense. It highlights trends in practice and theories both domestically and globally in art education. It also provides an overview of research in the field of art education.

Curriculum and Assessment in Art Education

This course usually provides an introduction to techniques and processes to develop strong curricula and assessment strategies.

Leadership in Teaching

Because master’s programs are geared towards creating leaders in the field, you will often find leadership in education courses that focus on school reform and politics as it relates to education and teaching. In some programs, there might also be an advocacy and policy focus in such courses.

Graduation Requirements

Most graduate programs require between 30-36 credit hours of coursework (at three credit hours per course), which takes between 18 months and two years to complete full-time. Many require at least 15 of those credits be core courses and some also require at least one research course outside of the core curriculum.

Final projects for master’s programs often vary and there might be different options within the same program. Culminating projects include original research leading to a final thesis (similar to a dissertation), a longer academic paper that doesn’t include original research, or a practicum or internship with a final summary and reflection. Many programs typically have specific requirements depending on the degree, but some programs allow students to choose which final project to complete.

Doctorate Degrees in Art Education

If you’re interested in teaching art at a four-year college or university, entering into administration or leadership in arts education, or conducting research in the field, you will need to complete a doctorate. You will need a master’s degree to continue on to doctoral candidacy, though some doctoral programs include a track where you will achieve your master’s while pursuing your doctorate.

Other entry requirements tend to vary by program, but can include a strong GRE or Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) score, letters of recommendation from academic advisors, samples and examples of your recent creative work, scholarly writing samples, records demonstrating your years of experience related to the program, and a personal statement. Many doctoral programs also require an in-person interview for final candidates.


Doctoral students might expect to take the foundational courses mentioned in the master’s section, but they can expect to dig even deeper and wider into the topic through courses such as the following:

Foundations of Educational Research

Because doctoral programs prepare students to create original research, this course provides an overview and introduction to educational research. In addition to the foundational course, doctoral students also typically have requirements for various research methodology courses.

Research in Arts Education

Because research in arts education can be distinct from education research writ large, this course will hone in on the specifics of research in the field.

Current/Contemporary Issues in Art Education

Many programs include a course like this to give a broad view of art education, typically as it relates to contemporary society. This course also provides a foundation in contemporary theories in art education.

Graduation Requirements

Doctorates typically require between 30-60 additional credits in addition to the master’s degree and usually require several research courses. Initial coursework can take between two to three years to complete. Once coursework is completed, you’ll need to complete a dissertation which is an extensive research project that requires approval at each stage of development from a panel of faculty with one primary dissertation advisor reading drafts throughout. The stages include: dissertation proposal, data collection and research, and a dissertation defense. The entire completion of a Ph.D. often depends on the pace of your dissertation process, but usually takes between four to six years to complete.

Online Art Teacher Degree Programs

Whether you are an art educator already working in the classroom or a working artist looking to become an educator, there is likely an online art education program to meet your needs.

Using a variety of technologies including email, live chats, discussion forums, and Web-based courses accessible at any time, online art education programs deliver the same content as traditional, campus-based programs, but in a more flexible format.

Most online art education programs include courses on art history and the philosophy and pedagogy of art education, as well as studio electives in various art disciplines. Many also require a student teaching practicum and/or a comprehensive studio project. It’s possible to complete an online art education degree in as little as two years.

To ensure a program meets established national standards, look for accreditation by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design and/or the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. Also, make sure the program you choose has strong student support services.

Art Education Trends

Despite perceptions that schools are cutting arts education programs, art instruction has seen a resurgence in an effort to create well-rounded students.

A recent study by the National Assessment of Educational Progress found that the frequency of music and visual arts instruction among eighth-grade students attending schools where such instruction was offered held steady between 2008 and 2016.

In fact, art has shifted into a more important role in recent years. With more teachers focusing on art in common core courses, students are often asked to read, write, and report on art subjects during other classes (NAEA, 2018). Art education teachers may also now create lesson plans that focus on instruction that is twofold, focusing on history and painting, for example.

Useful Resources

  • National Art Education Association: The NAEA is the primary professional organization for visual arts educators. Their website includes tools and resources for educators and resources for advocacy and research. Their annual events are a great way to connect with others in the field.
  • Arts Education Partnership: This is a coalition of organizations committed to advocating for arts education through policy, research, and advancing practice in the field. Their site offers a search engine for research and policy around arts education and they have a biweekly newsletter called ArtsEd Digest.
  • Americans for the Arts: Americans for the Arts is an advocacy organization with a mission to connect everyone to the “transformative power of the arts.” Their site offers a variety of resources including their ARTSblog, a job bank, a newsroom, and research. They also offer professional development opportunities.
  • The Kennedy Center ARTSEDGE: The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is one of the premier performing arts centers in the country. Their educational media arm is ARTSEDGE that provides resources and materials for communities to engage with art in their communities.
  • Education Closet: This is the website for the Online Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM. Their site provides curriculum development resources and an extensive online library. Additionally, they offer free workshops, more extensive training, and an annual conference which you can participate in online.
  • National Gallery of Art: Not only one of the country’s most important museums, the National Gallery of Art also provides educational resources online and on-site.
  • Project Zero: Out of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Project Zero has a mission to advance research in arts education and beyond. The website is a great resource for contemporary research in various areas of the field.
  • Science & Arts Gateway for Education (SAGE): SAGE’s clearinghouse provides lesson planning and other learning resources under a variety of STEAM topics.
  • The Inspired Classroom: This STEAM-focused blog-cum-online community offers resources around social-emotional artistic learning (SEAL) as well as professional development opportunities.
  • Museum of Modern Art (MoMA): The famous Museum of Modern Art offers resources and professional development opportunities (including online courses) for K-12 teachers. The MoMA Learning site is also an excellent resource to download resources to modify for your own lessons.
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