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If I want to teach art to children with disabilities, is it preferable to seek a degree in Art Education, Special Education, or both?

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Marco’s Answer

Hi!



I would most definitely focus on getting your degree in education/special ed. An art degree is geared more towards art professionals not specifically special education.


Getting both wouldn't hurt, however you will be more marketable with an education degree rather an a specialized degree in one area.



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Ken’s Answer

This really depends upon you and how this career area relates to you as an individual. If you follow my answer to your other question, you will have a process through which you will be able to answer this question also and be able to get valuable information from people accessible at you location.

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Ellen’s Answer

Hi Sarah!

So nice to hear about a young person who wants to be an art teacher, and who wants to work in the Special Education Field. Congrats, you have a wonderful, stimulating and rewarding career ahead of you.


Your question is a really good one. I had an undergrad degree in art/art history and a graduate degree in Art Education. As an art teacher in Middle School, I often had SPED students, either on their own, with an aide, or as a group from a self contained class with aides. The students ranged from really independent to needing one on one instruction (usually with the help of an aide). I differentiated my lessons to accommodate these students, which often stimulated my creativity. I enjoyed working with these students, but at times, I wished I knew more about how to further help them from a SPED standpoint.


My experience was fairly typical in large school districts. There are few art teachers or art classes dedicated to SPED students, (although there are larger districts with certain centers for SPED students, such as centers for students on the Autism spectrum) and often you are pretty much left on your own with these students. You'll get their IEP's, maybe a session with their case manager, but often not much more. The idea of administrators is often that art doesn't "really count", or is a just good enrichment experience ("They'll have fun!") for these students, or the idea of "What could go wrong in the art class?" and so on, so often you do not get the classroom support you need at times.


Not an ideal situation, but there it is. I found I got better in teaching the SPED population as I got more experience. I also learned who to go to in the SPED department at my school for help or advice. I will say that some of my favorite memories of the classroom often involve my SPED students. I had one Aspergers student who came up to me after each and every class to say "Thank you for teaching me today Ms. Rosenthal". What a kid! ( I often wished I had recorded him saying that, to play on other days when I was feeling overwhelmed.)


So, to go back to your question, if you have the stamina for it, I'd say both. It would be a winning combination that would enhance your job prospects and would be of real value to SPED students. Either get an undergraduate degree in art education AND a masters degree in SPED, or vice versa. My school district/county required teachers to have a bachelors and a masters degree, so that would be an ideal situation for you to think about. You might see if there is an art education program that would allow you to double major in both.


Another route you might think about, which I know several art teachers have done, is to think about a degree in Art Therapy. Art Therapists work with various populations in nursing homes, hospitals, as well as in schools and use art as a vehicle to deal with psychological issues. I met several art teachers with a degree in art education plus a degree in Art Therapy. They worked mostly in Elementary schools and were very successful in working with a variety of SPED students. So that might also be worth looking into.


Best wishes! I hope this helps.

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Lashay’s Answer

Hello Sarah Leah: Great question! I would recommend majoring in Special Education and minoring in Art. If on the other hand you are a natural artist and have paintings all over your room and enjoy buying art supplies and have come close to selling or actually did sell some pieces, I would recommend majoring in art as your natural talent could become a livelihood for you and you could still help others on the side. I have seen artists, Carpenters, and musicians provide therapy to clients in an outpatient facility using their skills. I hope this helps! Good luck in your studies.

Lashay recommends the following next steps:

Option #1: Major in Art and volunteer or intern children with with disabilities.
Option #2: Major in Education with a focus on children with developmental challenges. Minor I'm Art.
Speak with academic advisor to get clarification for options at your institution.
Volunteer and internships for hands on experience in either field.
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