Should Art Teachers Get Paid the Same as High School Physics Teachers?

Should Art Teachers Get Paid the Same as High School Physics Teachers?

While in a meeting with U.S. Department of Education’s Assistant Secretary Peter Cunningham, he posed this question to a group of teachers.

I would like to answer this question by sharing a story about a former student of mine. Daniel is an African American 3rd grade student from a low-income family who had severe language impairment (scores in the 50’s for both receptive and expressive language for those who know the numbers). As a result, he had very poor reading skills – equivalent to a preschool student. When he spoke to you, if you knew nothing else about him, you might accidentally think he was mentally challenged. As you can imagine, this child’s self esteem was negatively impacted by the fact that his basic skills were so far below his peers. Fortunately though, Daniel could produce the most amazing artwork far above anything that his peers or many adults could do. It was also discovered through testing that he had a nonverbal IQ of 140.

Here is a child whose only means of effectively expressing his superior intelligence at school is through his art. He cannot communicate effectively or perform basic academic tasks, which are necessary for him to succeed in life. As with many kids who are so far behind, Daniel also had a significant case of learned helplessness.

If you were Daniel’s art teacher, what would you teach him?

The art teacher was the one person in Daniel’s life at school who was in a position to build his confidence through a medium that he was interested and could be successful. Now, the art teacher could very easily just take on the role of building his self-esteem by giving him opportunities to draw and showcase his work to others, which is key for keeping kids engaged and attending school, BUT, she also had the opportunity to teach him some basic skills around content that he enjoyed. So the answer to Peter Cunningham’s question is YES, they should get paid the same as a high school physics teacher BUT ONLY IF the latter opportunity is taken by the teacher to improve the “whole child.”

So what do I mean by that? Fine arts teachers such as art/music/PE/etc are in a unique position to teach fundamental skills that support the whole child within a content area that is interesting and have low amounts of academic stressors such as reading and math. These fundamental skills that I speak of are essential for students to be successful in all areas of their learning: listening comprehension, speaking, social communication, problem solving, and learning how to think. These skills can also be easily adapted to any content area and individualized to meet student needs.

As a Speech Language Pathologist, I look forward to my students’ time in these “extra” classes because it gives them more opportunities to learn communication skills through fun interactive experiences that are not structured around an academic task that can be stressful and difficult.

How can policymakers encourage accountability measures for fine arts teachers?

Accountability measures are necessary for fine arts teachers to ensure they are teaching their content area but steps can be taken to ensure they are also providing language and thinking facilitation techniques in their classroom. Teachers could incorporate the common core standards for speaking, listening, and language into their curriculums with teacher evaluations that reflect accountability for these skills. Administrators could incorporate the common core goals into the art teacher observation rubrics.

Another way might be to incorporate something like the Habits of Mind into the extra content areas and teacher evaluation systems. “Habits of Mind are the dispositions we employ when confronted with problems, the solutions to which are not immediately apparent.” Habits of Mind are categorized into 16 dispositions such as Striving for Accuracy, Thinking and Communicating with Clarity and Precision, Persisting, etc.

In this scenario, art teachers’ evaluations may include a portfolio, demonstrating their methods used in teaching these dispositions to their students and citing anecdotal evidence/student work of growth achieved as a result of these dispositions. Evaluators could also look for evidence of Habits of Mind techniques through careful observation and student interview.

With these suggestions, I would posit an affirmative response to Mr. Cunningham. Yes, we should pay art teachers the same as physics teachers so long as they are held accountable for teaching the “whole child.” They can achieve this by inspiring and building confidence through art while also teaching fundamental communication, social, and thinking skills within their content area.

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