When I was in college, I was encouraged by my professors to join the National Art Education Association or NAEA. At the time, I wasn’t all that interested in joining. Because membership was discounted for students, though, I chose to give it a go. I remember thinking I had just spent several years learning about teaching. Why would I need to learn even more? I thought I knew all I needed to know to be a rock star art teacher.
I have now been teaching for 16 years, and I have continued to maintain my membership over all these years. I have a hard time relating to the young twenty-something me who thought it was of little use. It turns out being a member of the NAEA is hugely important.
After graduation, I was excited to get a job teaching at the elementary level. I taught art from a cart at five different schools. I knew teaching was going to be challenging, but this was so much more difficult than I had expected! I realized I really needed the support of other art teachers to be successful. Over the years, I learned so much from these teachers. I wouldn’t be the teacher I am today without their guidance and mentorship.
Let’s face it. Sometimes it’s lonely being an art teacher. Even if you are lucky enough to teach in a school that supports the arts, you likely feel a bit isolated. Teaching art is unique. The challenges that we face each day differ from those of other teachers.
There is no reason art teachers should feel left alone to deal with the trials of the job. Your local art education association is there to help you. I have made great friends through my involvement in my state’s chapter of the NAEA. I know that these teachers understand what I need. They also usually have great, practical advice.
Most state associations have professional development conferences each year. This is as real as it gets: professional development by and for art educators. In Virginia, where I live, the annual conference takes place each fall. This conference is one of my main sources for art-specific professional development. It is always well attended, and I return to my classroom each year with a bunch of exciting new ideas.
Most local associations hold other events as well. These are unique to each locality. In my area, my local association organizes an art teacher juried show, a mini-conference, and a student art show.
In many (but not all) states, membership to the NAEA affords you membership to your local chapter. Basically, when you join one, you join both. That means if you join your local art education association, you gain access to all the benefits of NAEA membership.
These benefits are numerous, including eligibility to attend the annual national conference, a wide variety of online resources, art education periodicals, eligibility for art education awards, access to a variety of grants, and summer professional development opportunities such as Summer Vision. Whew! That’s a lot for dues of around $100 or less a year! In addition to everything else they provide, the NAEA also leads art education research and advocacy efforts.
In the early years of my teaching career, I attended the state conferences, and that was about it. I found them helpful, and it was great to spend time with other art teachers.
After several years of attending conferences, however, I found myself wanting to get more involved. At first, I began volunteering at conferences. This is a great way to get involved without the commitment of holding an office. There is always a need for people to help out at the registration desk.
I also began presenting at conferences. Presenting is a great way to help other teachers grow and contribute to the profession. It can be scary at first (I know it was for me), so I recommend beginning by co-presenting with friends. There is no rule that says you have to do it alone!
I eventually decided to run for a local office on my association board. I now have served in a variety of different leadership roles over the past several years and have loved it. Through these experiences, I have learned many new skills and met many amazing educators.
My experiences as an association member and leader have opened many doors for me and set me on a path to leadership. I am not alone. In a recent state board meeting, I was speaking to a senior board member about her experience serving over the years. She credits much of her success as an educator, and later as a supervisor of educators, to her membership and service to the association. She went on to say the connections she made and the leadership skills she gained were integral to her success.
This year is my 17th year teaching. I now cannot imagine teaching art without being involved in my professional organization. We art teachers are a unique bunch. We face unique challenges in our classrooms every day. Those challenges seem much bigger when you have to solve them alone. By becoming involved in our local associations, we can provide support for each other, and learn in the process.
Are you a member of your professional art education association?
Why do you think it is important to be a member of your local art education association?