Recruit and Retain: The Future of Education

Teaching the Performing Arts

If you love to perform but are not sure about making a living as a performing artist, there are some very solid career options, including ones that are based in the public school system. If you're energized by kids, like the idea of awakening their interests and talents, and are comfortable with a level of structure, you might consider completing an educator preparation program. Teaching certification can provide the the opportunity to be involved in an arts discipline in a broad way. If your specialty is theater education, for example, your career might involve everything from leading theater games and helping youth work on their diction to directing, designing sets, and costuming. You may find your personality is a good fit. It can be an asset in the teaching world to have stage presence -- sometimes teaching can feel like a performance all around!

As a prospective teacher, you will need an academic degree. You can expect preparation in both the arts discipline and the art of teaching. You won’t have to do both programs at the same time. However, in many cases, it’s an option.

Performing Arts Endorsements

Most states endorse teachers in three performance disciplines: music, drama, and dance. Music is the most deeply entrenched. Even dance education, though, is on the rise. Advancing Dance Education in the Arts (NDEO) noted 75 universities with dance education programs in 2017 ( This was an increase from 62 just a few years earlier, in 2014.

Some states combine theater and dance. In some places, English teachers teach drama; PE teachers, dance. In most cases, though, those versed in the arts can achieve stand-alone endorsements.

Music endorsements go simply by “music”. Some states, though, offer certifications in narrower music disciplines -- instrumental, vocal or combined instrumental/ vocal. It is not uncommon to have several options. A very small minority include music in broader categories like performing arts.

State-specific endorsements can impact who goes into the field. A Michigan speech credential qualifies a teacher for a broad range of courses including debate, oral interpretation, and theatre/ performance, but a guide revised in late 2018 noted that the credential actually wasn’t mandatory for theatre/ performance – teachers who had had appropriate professional development could teach this particular course.

Performance arts teaching credentials are frequently issued for all grades K-12. Sometimes they are issued for a narrower band. Drama or theater may be an all grades endorsement or a secondary endorsement.

The National Music Education Association reports that the trend has been toward increasing the grade levels music endorsements are valid for. Most commonly, they are all-grades; this includes, at minimum, K-12. States can extend the range further in either direction; early childhood instruction has become more common.

Teachers certified in other curricular areas may have lesser requirements for adding an arts endorsement.

Theater or other arts endorsements may be available as an add-on at the elementary level. North Carolina elementary school teachers, for example, can pursue a second concentration in theater in order to be qualified to carry out activities like put on school plays.

Subject Matter Preparation: Performing Arts Teacher Requirements

A performing arts teacher will need a strong foundation in the discipline itself. Often the standard is for a major or the equivalent. The specifics vary by state. The Florida K-12 dance certification requires either an approved program in dance education or 30 semester hours, with content in studio technique, creative studio studies, biomechanical analysis, and theory or history of dance. In New Jersey, certificates in the various arts can also be issued on the basis of 30 semester hours of coursework. Here the requirement is that coursework be in a coherent sequence and include at least 12 semester hours at the upper division or graduate level.

The student will likely have courses in teaching methods for both elementary and secondary learners as well as other theoretical and pedagogical coursework. One course may focus specifically on creating an inclusive curriculum (e.g. including students with disabilities in dance). Coursework may include preparation to lead or direct particular types of group or performance. An approved program will typically include multiple field experiences. Student teaching mat be required at two different grade bands.

States set varying standards with regards to the amount and type of general educator preparation. Some programs will of course go beyond the minimum. Common courses include educational psychology, education of diverse learners, classroom management, and professional responsibilities/ foundations of the educational system. Some states require coursework in areas such as literacy across the content areas.

An individual who has experience in an arts discipline but holds a bachelor’s in another field can sometimes be admitted to an alternative program. Typically the requirements are similar. Some states have alternative pathways written in state code that carry substantially different requirements. New Jersey, for example, has a technical vocational certificate that allows experienced professionals to teach subjects such as acting and theatre design and technology to high schoolers. This is distinct from the theatre and “speech arts and dramatics” teacher certifications which qualify a person for positions in "all public schools". Technical vocational certificates are unique in that they are sometimes issued to individuals who have education at less than the bachelor’s level.

Almost all states use subject assessments for teachers. There is often a pedagogical assessment as well. The National Music Education Association identified 12 states that used performance assessment. Of these, the vast majority used the edTPA. The performing arts edTPA can also be used as part of the certification process for dance or theatre.

The extent to which arts education is emphasized in policy can impact availability of programs. Although states have their own standards, a program can lead to credentialing in many. One university proclaims its theater education program is qualifying in 40 states.