What Is the Best Degree for Becoming a High School Art Teacher?

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A career as a high school art teacher is a wonderful choice for creative individuals who enjoy working with young people, but it takes more than just talent and a passion for art to become a successful art teacher. To obtain a position as an art teacher at the secondary level, it’s critical to get the right education and training. Below, we discuss the best degrees for high school art teachers along with critical data regarding the salary and future growth of the occupation.

How Do You Become a High School Art Teacher?

Most art teacher jobs require at least a bachelor’s degree, but there are two different bachelor’s degree paths to choose from. The most direct path to becoming a high school art teacher is through obtaining a bachelor’s degree in art education. This degree path is designed specifically for those wanting to teach at the middle school and high school levels. It is a comprehensive program that includes training in both art and teaching pedagogy.

A more circuitous route includes earning a stand-alone bachelor’s degree in art. Students who choose this route must also enroll in a teacher education program that includes training in instruction and assessment.

Education For High School Art Teachers

As mentioned above, individuals choosing to earn a bachelor’s degree in art in place of an art education program must also enroll in a teaching education program. These programs combine art coursework with teaching and learning classes in areas such as:

  • Classroom management
  • Education policy and the law
  • Lesson plan creation
  • Pedagogical effectiveness in art education
  • Teaching art to students with special needs

In addition to coursework, students spend time in the classroom both observing and teaching. The culminating experience is a semester-long teaching experience in a classroom under the mentorship of an art instructor.

What Does It Take to Be a High School Art Teacher?

Graduating from a bachelor’s degree program in art or art education is just the first step for those wanting to teach art in public high schools. Graduates must apply for a teaching certificate or license, which has its own set of requirements.

The main requirement is successfully graduating from an accredited art education program or completion of a program in art and completion of a teacher preparation program. Most states require graduates to pass a basic skills exam that covers topics in art, design, mathematics, and reading. Requirements vary by state, so applicants should check licensure requirements individually. These standards are established by the National Education Association.

How to Become a High School Art Teacher Through Work Experience

Successfully graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree in art or art education is the first step in becoming an art teacher. The next step includes gaining valuable work experience. Gaining practical work experience assists art graduates in finding a position well suited to their career goals and interests. With a hands-on career such as art education, students must spend hundreds of hours in the classroom in preparation for their burgeoning careers.

Most programs require a semester-long student teaching experience near the end of the student’s academic career. Program administrators and faculty typically assist the student with placement within the school the student chooses. Most students choose schools within their local communities.

Some graduates may begin their careers as assistant teachers working alongside a fully certified art teacher. This allows the new graduate to continue to gain experience working in the classroom and earn a living while doing so. Other graduates may also volunteer to work with young people in the community to gain practical experience. This includes work at after-school programs and volunteer organizations.

Teaching art to high school students is an excellent career for creative people who love to help young students find their passion for the arts. Below, we discuss the specifics of turning that passion into a fulfilling career, along with pertinent job statistics such as job outlook, pay, and work environment.

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How Long Does It Take to Become a High School Art Teacher?

Becoming a high school art teacher takes a minimum of four years. This timeline assumes the position requires a bachelor’s degree and a valid teaching license. Like other programs, especially those conducted online, the timeline varies by individual. Those who complete the process in four years are individuals who can attend full-time.

The first two years of any academic program consist of general education courses across the liberal arts. These courses can be taken at a four-year institution or a community college. Students attending community colleges often have specific transfer degrees designed for specific majors such as art, business, math, and science. A transfer degree with a focus on art will prepare the student to enter the major sooner, and they will be more prepared when they transfer to a four-year program. At the four-year institution, students will focus on art and education courses that narrow in on content areas and skills needed to succeed on the job.

As more high school art teacher degree programs move online, students have more freedom to complete their degrees according to their own timeline. Some competency-based programs allow students to move on once they master course content, which can mean a quicker progression through the program.

Online students taking courses within a calendar-based model that follows quarters and semesters can often attend part-time so as to accommodate their personal situations that may preclude attending full-time. Generally speaking, whether in-person or online, a high school art teacher major takes 4-6 years to complete.

How to Become a High School Art Teacher Without a Degree

Alternative paths to teacher certification were originally created to fill critical openings amidst teacher shortages. Now, these alternative paths have been established and developed, and they enable individuals without a degree, or without the right degree, to become certified art teachers.

In fact, nearly 20% of public school teachers achieved certification through these alternative measures and have gone on to be outstanding educators despite not having the best degree for high school art teachers.

Within the art discipline, professional artists may qualify for positions based upon experience and expertise in the field. In these instances, the artist would develop a portfolio of their work and any other information that may prove helpful, such as teaching private art classes or lessons, volunteering at schools, etc. In many cases, these individuals still have to obtain a state license.

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How Much Money Does a High School Art Teacher Make?

While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not track salaries for art teachers specifically, we can glean great insight from tracking the salaries of high school teachers as a collective group regardless of discipline or subject. As of May 2020, the median salary for high school teachers was $62,870 annually. Compared to the median salary for all occupations ($41,950), secondary teaching jobs pay significantly more. The lowest 10 percent earn around $41,330 a year, compared to the highest 10 percent that earn, on average, $102,130. When looking at the public and private sectors, public secondary teachers earn a median salary of $63,400, and their private school counterparts earn $58,550.

The ubiquitous nature of teaching means that salary levels have a great amount of variance when analyzed on a national scale. The top five highest-paying states for high school teachers are:

  • New York ($88,890)
  • California ($86,900)
  • Massachusetts ($84,130)
  • New Jersey ($78,900)
  • Connecticut ($78,510)

It is important to note that while these states pay high salaries, the consistency of pay is not uniform across the entire state and varies by region.

Urban areas consistently pay more across most occupations. Secondary teaching is no different. BLS reports that the Napa, Fresno, Santa Cruz, Stockton, and San Jose metro areas rank as the top five highest-paying cities in the United States, ranging in pay from $99,170 to $92,500. In fact, nine out of the top 10 highest-paying metro areas are in California. New York, the only non-California metro area on the list ranks eighth with a median salary of $91,390.

Top-paying non-metropolitan areas include:

  • Massachusetts non-metro ($83,460)
  • Connecticut non-metro ($76,970)
  • Central East New York non-metro ($74,030)
  • Western Washington non-metro ($73,020)
  • North Coast California non-metro ($70,720)

What Is the Job Outlook for High School Art Teachers?

For those searching for how to become a high school art teacher, the industry is expected to grow by eight percent during the 10-year period from 2020-2030. The demand will be driven by workers changing careers and current teachers retiring. Moreover, rising student enrollment will also increase the demand for high school art teachers.

Employment growth is predicated on state and local budgets for public school teachers, which may increase or preclude growth. Should state and local governments face budget shortfalls, growth may be stalled and positions may be cut. Conversely, increased education budgets may precipitate growth. The eight-percent forecast matches the overall growth rate for all other occupations tracked by the BLS.

Art teachers with master’s degrees should experience increased employment opportunities due to their education level. Those willing to work in densely populated urban areas should also experience increased employment opportunities.

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What Art Education Associations Can Current and Prospective Teachers Join?

The National Art Education Association (NAEA) – the largest of all art education associations, the NAEA serves art educators at all levels in 50 states and over 25 foreign countries. In addition, the association boasts a student membership of 54,000 who are members of the National Art Society. The Association’s mission is to facilitate creative growth and innovation in art education and to advocate for faculty members and the teaching of the arts. In addition to the national association, art teachers can join their state organizations to get involved at the local level.

The NAEA provides several member benefits, such as professional networking, professional development, advocacy, and multiple conferences. Members also receive a free subscription to Art Education, the widely published journal for art teachers that serves as the standard for the occupation.

What Is the Work Environment Like for High School Art Teachers?

Approximately 82% of secondary art teachers work in public high schools. The work environment varies greatly depending on the location and demographics of the school. Art teachers may face stressful work environments depending on factors such as class size, technology, and supply levels. Art teachers spend most of their days providing direct instruction to students in the classroom to all secondary grade levels. Many art teachers express a high level of occupational satisfaction due to the creative freedom they have to teach art. Moreover, students tend to enjoy art instruction and can be more engaged with art content compared to other subjects.

What Is the Typical Day like for a High School Art Teacher?

High school art teachers generally work during normal school hours when students are in the building. That means early morning hours with days ending in the late afternoons. The bulk of their days are spent providing art instruction to their students. Occasionally they meet with individual students and parents both before and after the school day. They also attend staff meetings and training. Evenings and weekends are spent grading work and developing new lesson plans.

Many art teachers also serve their institutions and schools in other capacities such as club advisors, where student meetings and events occur before and after the traditional school day. Art teachers may work a traditional 10-month school year with a two-month summer break. As year-round school schedules become increasingly normal, art teachers will work for about 10 consecutive weeks followed by a three to four week break.

Conclusion – Best Path for Becoming a High School Art Teacher

The best degree for high school art teachers will combine instruction in teaching pedagogy and various art mediums. Currently, the most direct path to a high school art teacher college degree is enrolling in a secondary teaching program with an emphasis on art instruction. As mentioned, there are multiple pathways to a career as a high school art teacher that provide excellent preparation leading to an impactful and fruitful career.

BDP Staff
February 2022

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This concludes our article on what is the best degree path for becoming a high school art teacher.

Brenda Rufener
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