“Just an Art Teacher” Isn’t Doing Us Any Justice!

Have you ever been at a dinner party, a baby shower, or at book club when a conversation erupts concerning occupations?  One guest talks about being a financial planner, another details the daily grind of some medical profession and then the spot light turns to you.  Caught, like a deer in the headlights, you mutter something along the lines of “I am just an art teacher.”  You get the standard responses “Isn’t that fun/cute/precious!”  “I bet the kids love coming to play/finger-paint/make macaroni necklaces with you!”  “Summers off!  Must be nice!  What do you do with all your free time?”  Or, even worse, the conversation segues into you helping pick out a paint chip for the bathroom.  Ugh!

When you arrive home later that evening, your mind is reeling with a thousand things you should have said. 

You do SO much more than “just teach art!”  Art teaches creativity, problem solving and application of real-life skills!  Art class combines visual literacy with cross-curricular connections in every field while also teaching life skills like empathy and meaning.  Students design and create self-portraits, paint landscapes, and draw from direct observation (and that is just in Kindergarten!).  Millions of employees in this country work in a creative field.  Want to talk about job development?  Creative minds are the future of this nation!  By the way, I rarely (if ever) use finger-paint and have not once made a macaroni necklace!  Ahhh!

As art teachers, we are VERY passionate about the arts.  We have to be.  This field is unlike any other in that it constantly needs to be advocated for, especially in the current economic downturn.  As budgets are thinning and spending is cut we, now more than ever, need to unite to keep the value of our programs clear and support strong.  You can help this cause.  I am not asking that you run for office, create a picket sign or burn your bra, I am asking that you take a few simple steps to advocate for Art Education.

3 Simple Steps to Start Advocating Today! 

Step 1: Create a goal.  Why are you teaching art?  What do you believe in?

Step 2: Stay informed.  What current research supports your goal?

Step 3: Spread the word.  Write down 2-3 sentences that sum up your goals and beliefs, with a sprinkling of hard facts and MEMORIZE IT!  The next time you are asked what you do, you will be prepared to share your insight and dazzle your peers.  We can all help to spread the world and together, we will be heard!  To learn more about advocacy check out AOE’s new Advocating for the Arts class this November. 


How do you respond when you get comments about your profession as an art teacher?

Share with us your 2-3 sentence advocacy plug in the comments!

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]https://www.theartofed.com/content/uploads/2012/07/Screen-Shot-2012-07-01-at-5.59.44-PM.png[/author_image] [author_info]Heather is a member of the AOE Team and teaches several of our online classes, and will now also be writing articles! Welcome aboard, Heather! Learn more about her on the About Page, along with our other writers! [/author_info] [/author]

Heather Crockett

Heather is AOE’s Dean of the Institution and an expert in differentiation, curriculum development, and assessment. She is a veteran teacher in the art room and at the graduate level.


  • erica

    I never would even think to say “just” in front of art teacher. I guess because I’m blessed have a mother who (though she claims she’s not an artist,)  has a deep respect  and love for the arts. My mother and I learned together, went to museums together (not that she would normally do that but she wanted to support anything I was into), went to endless ballets and shows together, and learned to talk about art together. We talked a lot about my art especially when I started taking it seriously in school. 

    To us, art is more then what hangs on a museum wall, it’s everywhere. It’s the way we interpret, react and respond to the world through creating. Art serves so many purposes, but mainly art shows us what it means to be human. We teach the most important subject in school so I never think to justify it. We teach students what it means to be human, how to express who they are, how to search for who they might become, and how to work with others in the act of expression and exploration. Art class has become the most holistic class in the whole school if you ask me. Mostly because we do have the freedom to explore what interests students. Through that exploration we can teach the core art skills, but our focus lies in higher level thinking skills, not always as easily “testable” as the state would want. I think that’s part of the reason we are not state mandated. They don’t know what to do with the arts because it doesn’t fit into any of the boxes they’ve created. When they do try to make the arts fit (I’ve seen some versions of a mastery test) their efforts are poor at best and don’t represent what we really teach, how to be human. 

    • Heather Crockett

       I love your definition of how art “shows us what it means to be human.”  What a beautiful and strong statement!

      • Litchfieldartroomerica

        I love that too! I have to give credit to my fabulous teacher whose foundation of art ed revolved around that statement, which is hers. I don’t know if I should mention her name but if you ever read this I hope you can see the awesome influence you have!

    • Deanna

      Beautifully stated.   Your passion for teaching shines through!  I will remember this as a way of describing what we do. 

    • Jessica

      This brought tears to my eyes. You are a wonderful human, and most likely, a wonderful art teacher. Thank you for this!

  • I struggle with this too. I usually do concede that my job is fun, because well, it is! But I usually say something like, “I’m glad I enjoy my job so much, because it’s a lot of hard work!” Sometimes that starts a great conversation about what teaching art really entails and what students really learn in the art room. I love when I get to tell people first hand about my job, because shortly into our conversation, they usually drop the macaroni glitter necklace assumption :). 

    • What a great segue to open the door for an in-depth discussion without sounding like you are standing on a soapbox.  I think part of the “macaroni-glitter misconception” stems from how art class has evolved over the years.  People remember what art class looked like when they were in school… and it has really changed since then.

  • Scraiger62

    It’s important to me as an art teacher  to teach my kids to invest in community. As we are blessed with talents and abilities it is our responsibility to give back to the community. Every school year we do a community service project. We were featured (in color) in the Home section of a local paper when we made Christmas ornaments for hospice patients and their families. We have made stained glass bookmarks for patients at a drug abuse rehab center. Our art work has graced the walls of an orthodontic office. This year we did international art that decorated the cafe area of a larger city’s International Street Fair. These service projects have encouraged discussion with my kids concerning good citizenship, families in crisis, and other cultures just to name a few.  Teaching art is certainly so much more than just a box of crayons.

    On a side note: I am a fan of finger painting . Yesterday in my day care art classes we added texture to the feathers on owls we were making with fingers and paint. The kids loved it and the owls look really good. I do a finger painting lesson once a year. Usually strategically placed after the state standardized testing week. One year several of my students fingered painted a tornado on a path of rampage. Tornado activity is common here, but we had not had a recent one.  I was seriously becoming concerned about the mental health of my students until I realized we had just been through testing. The painted rampage was  reflecting the stress of  prolonged testing. Finger painting in art was/is an emotional release for them and I am happy to provide it.  Art a window to the soul?  The Mind? The heart?  Soooo much more than a box of crayons!


    • As I was reading your post, I could visualize the tornadoes after prolonged testing.  Your students craved a creative, hands-on, expressive outlet!  Thank you for sharing your insight.

    • Melanie R.

      I love this so much! I would love to find a community service project for my art classes or art club. Do you do this school wide (all of your grade levels) or do you have a certain grade level for the service projects you do? I just love this so much!

  • I love this post.  I have never been ashamed or timid of my job/career choice.  I have always been proud to be a little different and I kind of enjoy watching people figure out how to respond to the idea that I teach elementary art.  I either get the finger painting and underwater basket weaving or I get ‘glad someone wants to do it’.  Both responses make me chuckle and I often go on to explain how kids learn critical thinking skills, problem solving, perseverance and so forth.  Most times this will spur them to ask more questions either to know more or to challenge the idea that kids can learn critical thinking skills in art.  I am always happy and ready to provide examples and explanations to inform/defend what I do.  I love what I do – I am proud to do it.  Art advocacy is needed – keep spreading the wonderfulness fellow art teachers!!!

  • KH

    I’m 23 and just finished my first year of teaching art.  Many of my friends went to college to learn a profession that would make them money, but I pursued my passion for art, knowing that although I may never end up a rich accountant, my life would be fulfilling.  And it is.  And now when I get together with my friends, they seem to hate the profession they’ve only been in for a few years.  It’s boring, or frustrating, or passionless, and they generally don’t like to talk about work.  I’m the “lucky one” (although my Master’s degree at 22 was definitely the result of hard work, not “luck”) who loves their job and makes a difference in the world.  So contrary to this post, I’m fortunate to have the job everybody else respects.  

    • I love how you put such a positive spin on your career. You are a role model for your friends, and deserve to be one!

  • Maria

    A teacher of 25 years of elementary art teaching. How I respond is, and my face is serious but not angry, “What do you mean?” Well you have summers off. “I work on plans with my students that further enhance their comprehension of design elements in conjunction with the 4 cores”. Then they stare–deer in headlights. They have no clue what to say because first they did not expect any response beyond, “oh yes” but I mention design elements. Most people have no clue what those are. Jessica you are right on the money. It starts with us….each of us to spread the positive word and empower ourselves to kill the myths. Students love coming to us because hands on learning…is really the only way to learn.

  • Cathy

    I haven’t said that “I am just an art teacher” but on the other hand, when I have told others that I teach art, many times I gather that they are thinking to themselves “oh, JUST an art teacher” (the “craft” lady, etc.) I sense this when speaking with not only the general public but also teachers in other academic areas. Frustrating, but something we all deal with.

    What has been working for me this past school year was to ‘prove’ to my school that art just isn’t about “crafts”. I show other teachers and my administrator by example that my art teaching job, even though it is part-time, is a viable and a very professional part of the school. How we ‘carry’ ourselves during the school day speaks volumes. 

    I also had the opportunity this past school year to long-term sub for 3 months teaching middle school language arts and reading. Many of my lessons were creative and engaging for the students. In one reading class we created origami books for a unit on poetry and in another language arts class we went to the computer lab and created a Wordle project related to the theme for that unit. I shared these lessons with the other middle school teachers and they were very impressed (and a little surprised I think!) that the “art teacher” could pull something off like that in another class.

    And yep, my summer is spent planning ahead for the next school year, improving on my art lessons from the past and finding volunteer opportunities for my middle school art club. My 5th grade daughter loves art so it is fun testing out new art project ideas on her! 

    • Keep surprising them, and keep working hard, Cathy! You will do great things. Thanks for sharing your insight.

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  • Ms. C

    Um…who the hell says “I’m JUST an art teacher” about themselves? Why would anyone pre-qualify themselves or their career in the negative? No one I know (okay, maybe if they are working at Subway). And if someone even dares to say any of that crap to me, I have perfected a quizzical and somewhat irritated, condescending facial expression so I don’t need to start swearing at them. I’m completely too busy to “defend” art, teaching or the combination. If anyone pushes it (they do so very subliminally, it starts out sounding like a compliment), I tell them it’s the best and hardest job I’ve ever had and then invite them to attempt it for one hour, never mind 34 years. Hmmmm, perhaps this is why no one attempts that bs with me.

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  • Lorlee

    I say after spending 21 years in print and advertising design I have found the best job in the world..teaching art to children. I love teaching them about the masters, art history and then giving them the tools to be creative, think outside the box and use in either a career or for a relaxing hobby to escape a hectic career, day or share in the future.

  • Sara

    I have never been ashamed of my job, only of the ampunt of money I make compared to my peers.