Art Teacher Certification


As Pablo Picasso once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” Throughout childhood, art is a powerful means of expression, a way to expand both imagination and coordination, and a method of learning about the world. A caring, creative art teacher is one of a child’s greatest hopes for keeping this inner artist alive.

However, not just anyone can simply be an art teacher. In order to ensure that teachers are qualified to reap the rewards of a career as an art teacher, they must complete the appropriate certification process.

What is Art Teacher Certification?

An art teacher certification indicates that a teacher has met a set of requirements to show that he or she is qualified to help students express their creativity through art projects appropriate for their age group. Additionally, art teachers must have a certain base knowledge in order to educate their students about self-expression, influential artists, and a variety of mediums and techniques.

Teachers can become certified through a rigorous process where candidates must complete teacher education programs, and sometimes must pass exams. For example, in many (but not all) states, art teacher candidates must pass the Praxis II: Art Content Knowledge exam.

The Effect of Art Education on Students

Research conducted by Dr. Shirley Brice Heath of Stanford University for Carnegie Foundation for The Advancement of Teaching between 1987 and 1998 found that children working in the arts for at least three hours on three days of each week throughout at least one full year were:

  • 4 times more likely to have been recognized for academic achievement
  • Being elected to class office within their schools more than 3 times as often
  • 4 times more likely to participate in a math and science fair
  • 3 times more likely to win an award for school attendance
  • 4 times more likely to win an award for writing an essay or poem

Because certification requirements are different for each state, prospective teachers can learn more about their state’s requirements here.

Why an Art Teacher is Important

As a certified art teacher, you have the ability to help develop a student’s way of looking at the world. Through art, children learn to measure things against each other visually and perceive relationships. If you have a passion for art and the desire to share this passion, consider becoming certified as an art teacher. This passion, coupled with knowledge of art techniques and terminology, will foster an inspiring, motivating learning environment that encourages students to create, use their imaginations, and stretch the limits of their talent.

Being Prepared for the Classroom

To prepare for your art teacher certification, which in turn prepares you for the classroom, you will begin by studying the theories of artistic development. By learning how a student develops throughout school and expresses that development through art, you will have the tools to teach students of varying ages, with different learning abilities, and from a variety of backgrounds.

Art teacher certification will also prepare you for all the practicalities that you will need to know as an art teacher. For example, you will learn the differences between hard and soft sketching pencils, what you should use to clean a brush that has been used in oil painting, how to ventilate a pottery kiln, and the difference between tint and hue. Additionally, you will learn how to evaluate art based on elements like color, space, and proportion.

Using D.A.I.J to Critique Students’ Artwork

Teachers around the country use the D.A.I.J. system (describe, analyze, interpret, judge) to evaluate students’ artwork:

  • Describe: Describe the facts of the piece without judgment. What does the art look like? Are the colors bright or muted? Is it realistic or abstract?
  • Analyze: How are the facts from the ‘describe’ step related? Where does your eye go first? How do the colors work together? Does the piece appear balanced?
  • Interpret: There are no ‘right’ answers to this step. How does the piece make you feel? Does it remind you of anything?
  • Judge: Do you think this piece succeeds in its intention, or is there still work to do? Art teachers will need to be careful to judge carefully when dealing with students.

Where Does Art Inspiration Come From?

Teachers around the country use the D.A.I.J. system (describe, analyze, interpret, judge) to evaluate students’ artwork:

  • Observation
  • Memory
  • Imagination

Art classes are extremely beneficial for very young children. Beyond helping them express themselves and learn about their environments, art can help children with basic skills like following directions and using writing utensils.

Students learn about themselves and their environment through careful observation. At the preschool/kindergarten level, art is very intertwined with all other school subjects, as it is one of the best ways for young kids to learn. Art class will help them practice their shapes, colors, counting and reading. For example, many preschool art teachers utilize the popular book ‘Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See’ from story time in art projects. By having preschoolers choose a color and an animal to draw, they can stretch their imaginations within the confines of a pattern they know and love.

Art for students at this age should be designed to get children learning through experience. Projects should be designed to stimulate their senses, their imaginations, and their sense of accomplishment. Hands-on projects like finger painting, stringing beads to make a necklace, and gluing pieces of colored paper together into a mosaic are designed to stimulate imagination and creativity.

Elementary School

A certified art teacher at an elementary school will focus on teaching students how to separate what they see into lines, shapes and colors, then piece it back together on paper to create an artistic representation. At this age, students can start learning about perspective, color mixing, ratios and depth perception, and putting them into practice. In this way, elementary school art also teaches students a lot about math and geometry. To further increase the incorporation between art and other subjects, the certified art teacher may hand out assignments on written pieces of paper to exercise the students’ reading, comprehension and direction-following abilities.

A certified art teacher can help his or her elementary school students improve on their projects through relaxed, positive conversations about brushstrokes, use of color, texture and emphasis. For example, the teacher may ask “What is happening in this picture?” or “I see that you chose to color this horse red. Why is that?” A teacher should never tell an elementary school student that his or her work of art is “wrong,” but can instead lead a discussion about why the child made certain choices, and what he or she could do next time.

Middle School

In addition to painting and drawing projects, middle school art students are generally ready to move onto more involved techniques, like sculpture or photography. Because they are old enough to be trusted with the responsibility of long-term projects that may require time out of class (taking pictures outdoors and developing them in a darkroom, for example), art teachers are often rewarded with thoughtful, deliberate student submissions.

At this age, art lessons can be linked to the students’ other subjects by taking the students through the history of each technique – when and where it was first utilized, the artists who made it famous, and other facts that art teachers will know after becoming certified.

A teacher should make middle school art class difficult enough to challenge the limits of students’ abilities, but broad enough to avoid frustration and encourage confidence. Whether they’re sculpting or painting, an art teacher should encourage students to practice their skills while actively using their imaginations.

High School

In many high schools, students have the option of electing to take a specialty class in the visual arts, like photography, ceramics, or graphic design. Teaching one of these classes gives the certified art teacher an opportunity to connect with students through art on a deeper level. Beyond the ability to spend much more time on individual projects and instruction, teachers can use these specialty arts courses to incorporate reading, writing, history and technology.

At this age level, certified art teachers can encourage creativity and critical thinking by resisting the urge to demonstrate a technique for students (barring safety concerns). It is usually more effective to allow the students to try something for themselves first after listening carefully to a step-by-step explanation.

Art teacher certification will explore ways to help high school students discover new ways of looking at their art. Because students have a tendency to keep their eyes glued to their paper while drawing, for example, the teacher may have them draw a bowl of fruit with the paper upside down. This way, the students will concentrate more on their lines, shading and ratios rather than focusing on the way that they think fruit should look.

How to critique honestly

A certified art teacher may at times feel frustrated by the overwhelming task of critiquing students’ art in order to encourage improvement. While some students have more natural artistic talent, art teachers enjoy the freedom to grade based on enthusiasm and effort rather than “correctness.” When critiquing students’ work, teachers should begin by pointing out the positive, and using questions to encourage students to develop more complexity from there.

For example, comments like: "This part looks really interesting. What do you think you can do to make this other part as interesting?" or "I see that you’ve started shading the side of your vase. Do you think that shading it even deeper would help it to look most three-dimensional?” By asking positive, thought-provoking questions, an art teacher will not only encourage more thoughtful, mature work from students, but will eventually find the students asking themselves these same questions.

Importance of Art Education

Studies have shown that art helps to create well-rounded, intelligent individuals. A 2005 report by the Rand Corporation states that the visual arts "can connect people more deeply to the world and open them to new ways of seeing.” This connection can then lead to an increased interest in and understanding of traditional academic disciplines. By implication, art education can lead to an increase in traditional intelligence and academic success. Art classes can improve students’ critical thinking skills, self-esteem and patience – all qualities that can help them improve in their other classes.

In contrast to students’ other classes, art classes often offer a reprieve from stress and rote memorization. They give students a chance to relax their minds and work with their hands in the middle of a loud, busy school day. Art teachers can help guide students toward their best work by offering gentle suggestions, a non-judgmental, spacious working environment, and creative freedom.

How to Become Certified as an Art Teacher?

Art teachers are creative, nurturing individuals who are passionate about letting their students experiment with ways to express themselves visually. They must demonstrate an understanding of the scope of art over the years, influential artists and their works, and how art affects cultures around the world.

If you’re interested in becoming a certified art teacher, find your state’s certification requirements here.