Becoming an Elementary Art Teacher: Job Description & Salary Info

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Learn about an elementary art teacher's job duties, salary, education and licensure requirements. Get straight talk about the pros and cons of being an elementary art teacher to determine if this is the right career for you.
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An Elementary Art Teacher Career: Pros and Cons

Teaching art to the youngest of students may sound like an exciting career. Check out the pros and cons below to help you decide if a career as an elementary art teacher is the right choice for you.

Pros of Becoming an Elementary Art Teacher
Above-average salary (median pay around $8,000 higher than national average for all occupations)*
Rewarding career teaching young children to appreciate art*
Time off during summer and other school breaks*
Possibility of increased job security with tenure (after probationary period of 2-5 years)**

Cons of Becoming an Elementary Art Teacher
Some regions have surplus of teachers (employment declines projected in the Northeast)*
State licensing is required*
After-hours work is often necessary*
Budget deficits could result in art program cuts*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Various state websites for educators

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Elementary art teachers introduce young children to the world of art and inspire them to develop their creativity. Students are instructed in use of a variety of mediums, including paints, pencils, clay, chalk and pastels, to produce a finished art piece that demonstrates knowledge of a certain technique or theory. Based on information found in recent job postings, elementary art teachers are expected to plan a curriculum that adheres to state and federal educational standards. They are also expected to create and maintain strong relationships with parents and students.

Elementary art teachers are often called upon to work long hours when attending parent-teacher conferences and school activities, in addition to grading assignments at home. Interacting with students and witnessing a love of art emerge can be rewarding, but if students are not performing up to standards, teachers can be held responsible. Stress can also occur when supplies and resources are not sufficient because of budget cutbacks. Art teachers typically do not work when students are on break, which can be a nice perk of the job.

Employment Growth and Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of non-special education elementary teachers was predicted to increase by 12% from 2012-2022. Schools may only employ one or two art teachers, so less of those specialized positions will be available, and competition may be fierce. Budget cuts can also sometimes involve reducing or eliminating art programs. However, the BLS recognizes that most states have tenure laws that provide teachers with some job security.

Salaries for art teachers depend on the region where they teach and their level of expertise. As of May 2014, the BLS estimated that the median salary of non-special education elementary teachers was $54,120, with the bottom ten percent earning just over $36,000 and the top ten percent receiving wages of almost $84,000.

What are the Requirements?

Elementary art teachers usually need to possess a bachelor's degree in elementary education to gain employment at a public school, although some states may allow someone with a bachelor's degree in an art-related field to become a teacher. While pursuing an elementary education degree, aspiring art teachers not only need to complete coursework focusing on classroom instruction and child development, but should also take classes in art history and studio techniques for a variety of mediums, including painting, illustration and sculpture. An elementary education degree can usually be completed in four years. During the final year in the program, you'll complete a student-teaching internship in a classroom, gaining valuable experience instructing real students.

Licensing

Obtaining a teaching certificate or license is required before art teachers are allowed to work in a public school. Every state has its own requirements, but generally, elementary school teachers have to complete a bachelor's degree program, gain supervised teaching hours and pass an examination. Some states require certification in content areas, including art, so additional tests and coursework may be necessary. After obtaining your teaching license, you'll most likely have to take continuing education courses to keep your license current.

Some states offer certification paths for prospective teachers who hold a bachelor's degree in a non-education area of study, such as art. However, additional coursework in elementary education will be required, and you'll need to gain teaching experience working with a licensed teacher.

Skills Needed

Elementary art teachers should possess skills in classroom management and know how to pull kids into a project or discussion by making it interesting and fun. Other skills and characteristics an art teacher should possess include:

  • Enthusiasm and a high energy level
  • Creativity
  • Advanced art talents
  • Excellent communication ability
  • Understanding and patience

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers advertising for elementary art teachers typically look for candidates with a minimum of a bachelor's degree in education or art, in addition to experience creating a curriculum plan that includes practical art, art theory and art history. Below are actual job postings found in April 2012 that should give you some idea of what it takes to get a job as an art teacher.

  • A charter school in Colorado was seeking an art teacher at the elementary level to build relationships with students and parents, create a curriculum and expose students to art through various techniques and academic approaches. The teacher needed to be dedicated to following all school policies and state regulations. A state teaching license or bachelor's degree and a passing score on the PLACE or Praxis test was required.
  • A school in New York wanted to hire an elementary school art teacher with a bachelor's degree and at least two years of teaching experience, preferably in art education. A master's degree and state teacher certification in art were desirable. The candidate was expected to have knowledge in areas of design and art history and would create curriculum plans and instruct students on these topics.
  • A school district in Pennsylvania was looking for an elementary art teacher with state certification in K-12 art education and knowledge of classroom management techniques, standards-based education, student evaluation methods and curriculum design. Candidates had to provide proof of Praxis exam scores.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Although not required to gain employment as an elementary art teacher, a master's degree in education or art could give you an advantage over candidates with only a bachelor's degree. Keeping up with new trends by taking courses in art and classroom instruction will not only satisfy continuing education licensing requirements, but will also provide you with fresh ideas and new methods to keep your students engaged. Some school districts may need art teachers to teach other subjects, so gaining experience in other types of classroom environments could be beneficial.

Another way to stand out among other art teachers is to gain voluntary certification through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which offers a credential in Art/Early and Middle Childhood for visual arts teachers of students ages 3-12. As part of the rigorous certification process, candidates must submit a portfolio and demonstrate excellence in nine areas, such as curriculum and instruction, instructional resources and technology, and knowledge of students as learners.

Joining a professional organization could also be quite valuable and might open up opportunities to network with other professionals. The National Art Education Association informs art educators about resources available, sponsors conferences, offers professional development and provides mentoring. Individual states also have art teacher associations to support the teaching professionals working in their state.

Other Careers to Consider

Fine Artist

If you have a passion for art but find that the education and licensing requirements to become a teacher are too complicated and time-consuming, you might consider becoming an artist and selling your work. Artists work with a variety of mediums and produce finished products to sell online or in stores or galleries. Some artists work for publications, advertising agencies or other commercial entities. A high school diploma may be all that is necessary, but taking art classes or pursuing an art degree could be beneficial and help you gain valuable experience. Jobs for fine artists were projected to increase by only eight percent during the 2010-2020 decade, based on data from the BLS, but the salaries in this field were decent. The average yearly salary for fine artists was measured at over $53,000 as of May 2011, with pay ranging from approximately $19,000-$90,000.

Self-Enrichment Teacher

If teaching art is still your career goal, but you don't want to pursue an education degree, you might be interested in working as a self-enrichment teacher. No educational requirements are specified by the BLS, but many employers prefer to hire teachers who have knowledge and experience in art related areas. As a self-enrichment teacher, you could teach art in a community or recreation center, in special school programs or at a church. The BLS projected 21% growth in employment of self-enrichment teachers from 2010-2020, which was slightly higher than the 17% anticipated increase for elementary teachers during that same time period. However, self-enrichment educators earned a little over $41,000 in average annual wages as of May 2011, which was lower than many art-related occupations.

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