Becoming a Public High School Art Teacher
I did not set out to become a teacher. If you had told me 20 years ago that I would be making my living as a teacher, I would have been shocked and confused. I was shy, not authoritative AT ALL, and frankly, I imagined that I was destined for "greater things". (Ouch! How little I knew.)
I LOVED drawing and painting, but I knew it was impossible to make a living as an artist. Therefore, after High School I completed an undergraduate degree in Environmental Science, and worked for a couple of years as a soil and water analyst. I soon discovered that I didn't want to spend the rest of my life stuck in a corporate lab, making very little money, doing something I had little passion for.
At the time, I had an artist friend that was making MORE money than me teaching adjunct (college speak for part-time instructor) at a local college... all I needed was a Master's Degree in painting to qualify for a similar position. So I started applying to grad school programs and 3 years later, I had completed a Master's Program in painting. A few things happened during my grad school training: 1) I got a couple years of experience teaching as a TA (Teaching Assistant), 2) I took out student loans (more about this in future blog posts), and 3) I met this hot grad student in the sculpture department ... oooh la la!
The crazy thing?....I knew a great deal about studio art, painting, and drawing... but I had ABSOLUTELY NO TRAINING on how to teach! It is common practice for College Departments to offer Graduate Students "Teaching Assistance" positions as part of their training. During my undergraduate experience, the TAs ran the lab, graded papers, and generally "assisted" the Professor. My 2 year's experience teaching as a "Teaching Assistant" was all teaching and no assisting! I had full grade book responsibilities, no instructional materials, and NO ONE observing or checking in on my classroom. I knew NOTHING about classroom management, curriculum, or teaching strategies. Lucky for me, at the college level where students are self-motivated and already successful as students (they've gotten this far after all), Instructors can get by and learn "on the job".
Fast forward 10 years. I'm married (remember that hot grad from the sculpture department?) with our 2nd child on the way. My husband was talented enough and (dare I say) lucky enough to land a full time position teaching at an AMAZING College. This was a FANTASTIC turn of events for us, but it also meant that I would, once again, need to shift my career goals. My part-time salary wasn't cutting it. The pool of colleges/universities I could apply to for a full-time position went from hundreds nation-wide down to the three that were within commuting distance.
Therefor, it was time to pivot. Our combined income was just over $50,000 (before taxes). We wanted to buy a house, afford child-care expenses, pay down our student loan debt, and save. The only way to stop living pay-check to pay-check, and reach these goals was to increase our income. My husband's income was locked in... no chance for mobility there. I was piecing together a working schedule each semester, and at most, I could earn $15,000 a year (before taxes). It just wasn't enough. It was time for me to make a change.
I started researching what High School teachers earn in my state and was mildly surprised to learn that as a first year teacher with a Master's Degree (in any discipline), I could expect to earn $45,000 with annual increases- at 10 years I would earn $55,000 at 15 years I would earn $59,000. I started researching what I needed to do to teach in my state. I learned that, to teach High School, you need to get certified by the state in a content area (Art for me). I also learned that there were a few different pathways to licensure. Option one: go back to school for a Degree in Education (yeah..... no. After 12 years of public school, 4 years of undergraduate school, and 3 years of graduate school... I was DONE. Plus, I wasn't about to take on more debt!) Option two: the Career Switchers program.
Most states have alternative pathways to licensure to fill the need left by a shortage of teachers. (Why is there a shortage of teachers, you ask?... well lets save that topic for another day. Hear the warning bell? Let's just say, teaching in the public school system is not for everyone.) In my state, it was a program called Career Switchers. To qualify, I had to have a bachelors degree and 5 years of work experience in my field.
I enrolled, and began a 14 week program of workshops designed to equip me for today's public school classroom. It consisted mostly of weekend workshops with titles like Human Growth and Development, Classroom Management, Teaching Strategies, Design for Effective Instruction, and the trendy Differentiated Student Instruction (to name just a few). These were designed to give us a foothold in subjects that were taught as full semester courses in a 4 year teaching program. I completed the coursework the summer of 2014 and immediately began interviewing for the upcoming school year.
I applied to every High School Art Teacher position in my area that came open (3 total), and was called to interview for all 3 of them. I was offered a position at a small school conveniently located 10 minutes from my house. I thought I had won the lottery! The time frame was tight- school was starting in just 7 days. But no worries-the tough part was over, right? I'd gotten the job. I knew how to teach (after all, I'd been teaching part-time at the college level for 10 years now). I thought I was ready.
But was I really?