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The 5 REAL Reasons I Became an Art Teacher

Education is a hot topic. There are teacher shortages everywhere. Teachers are either underpaid or overpaid depending on who you talk to. Teachers do too much, or they do too little. One thing is for certain, we will always need teachers and we need good ones.

Honestly, being a teacher was not on my radar in my first four years of college. I went to college with a dream of becoming an animator and working at Nickelodeon or some other big animation company. A year after graduating, I had to shift gears and be more realistic. I decided to go back to school for three more years to become an art teacher. I ended up teaching for the last eight years.

What made me decide to go into education? Most teachers will say they do it for the love of kids and to help those kids reach their potential. My teacher peers would often talk about that coveted "Ah Ha!" moment that students get when things finally click. Or it's been their life passion to be a teacher and teaching is in their blood. None of that is why I chose to be a teacher. It was not my passion or my dream, and I certainly didn't get fired up over students getting all Ah-Ha'd.

Even though these reasons don't all align with the martyr mentality others have for educators, it doesn't mean I was a bad teacher. I loved teaching, I loved the students, and I loved the job. These are simply my initial reasons to switch gears from a reluctant aspiring animator to a successful art educator.

Reason 1: That Steady Paycheck

I needed money and I wanted a paycheck I could rely on. After my first round of college, I did some contract work as an animator, but nothing to live off of. There didn't seem to be full-time positions for a recently graduated animator in the Midwest and I had no idea how to get into the world of freelance or entrepreneurship. Throughout college, I worked different part-time jobs and restaurant jobs for tips. There would be great nights and there would be slow nights.

Being a teacher meant I would get a steady paycheck, even though people said teachers were paid less than they should be. If it was above $30K I felt like I could live off it. I grew up pretty poor, so it seemed like a lot of money.

Reason 2: Daily and Yearly Schedule

As I previously mentioned, I did a lot of part-time and restaurant work. These jobs often happened in the evenings and weekends. I wanted to have that steady M-F day job schedule. That meant I could do other life things on weekends or evenings (Not realizing I wouldn't do anything because I'd be so drained from teaching).

Also, the built-in breaks during the year! Winter break and summer vacation sounded like a dream. To non-teachers, these breaks do sound amazing. What I failed to realize is that these are generally the most expensive times to travel, and I'd be too busy catching up on lesson plans and grading to want to go anywhere during the school year, even during those built-in breaks. They are more like recovery and mental health breaks. The long summer breaks can be nice though, unless you are signing up for more teacher training or extra coursework to get ahead in the next school year.

Reason 3: Job Locations

When I wanted to be an animator, people kept advising me to move to California. The only way I'd get a job in the industry is if I already lived where the industry is. There weren't many animation job prospects in Minnesota, but the leap to California was much more daunting.

I knew there were schools everywhere, so landing a job as a credentialed art teacher would be much easier. I wasn't afraid of moving for a job but I was afraid of moving before having a job. I also knew I eventually wanted to move south for warmer weather, but crowded and expensive California did not appeal to me.

I was right. When I needed a teaching job, I would almost instantly get one. I worked in Minnesota for three years right after graduation. Then I moved to Texas without a job offer but was quickly hired as an art teacher in a school that wasn't ideal. When that didn't work out and I was out of options (a.k.a. money), I found the best teaching position in New Mexico and stayed there for five years. If I want to go back into teaching, I know there will be jobs for me in my area.

Reason 4: Artistic Exploration

During art school, people would ask me what my main focus was, my medium of choice, or my artistic style. What specific type of art am I going to stick with and master? It was tough to pick just one thing I liked doing. Along with animation, I explored filmmaking, graphic design, drawing, painting, wood sculpture, printmaking, and ceramics. I was a multi-talented artist who wanted to explore a bit of everything. Sticking with one thing seemed boring.

As an art teacher, I knew I could explore all sorts of art materials and techniques while I shared that knowledge with the students. I could teach the students things I previously learned throughout art classes in college, and I could continuously learn new techniques to show them. I only had to be at least one step ahead of them in understating the content. If I got bored with a medium, I could move on and show them something different. Getting paid to play with a huge variety of art supplies was extremely appealing.

Reason 5: I Like People

I remember sitting in a hot stuffy office doing frame-by-frame cell animation on the computer for hours and thinking, wow, this is boring. I didn't realize how much lonely computer work animation would be. This was right before I applied to go back to school to teach. I decided I didn't want to be doing computer work alone day in and day out. I wanted to be around the energy and buzz of people. It's also one reason I enjoyed being a waitress so much.

Being a teacher meant interacting with a bunch of different people in a bunch of different daily situations. It could keep me mentally stimulated and fulfilled. Every day would be different and I wouldn't get bored. After eight years, this was still true, but it ended up burning me out.

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