Surveying the State of Art Education (Ep. 210)

Every year, the Art of Education University conducts a nationwide survey to take the pulse of the art education world. Today, Tim talks to AOEU Senior Editor Megan Dehner about the 2020 State of Art Education survey and its results. Listen as they discuss their biggest surprises, biggest concerns, and reasons to be optimistic about the state of art education.  Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education University, and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz. Now, one of the cool things about working for the Art of Education is the fact that the website draws in teachers from all over the country. And that allows us to take a pulse on how things are going for art teachers everywhere.

For the past two years, 2018, 2019, we have conducted a huge survey of kindergarten through 12th-grade art teachers in the United States. And our goal is to share with everyone what it means to be an art teacher here in the 21st century. And for 2020, we did it again. We had a couple of thousand art educators representing each of the 50 States answered questions about everything related to art ed.

The survey results were published on March 3rd, on the AOEU website, and you can read them and download the full report there on the website. We’ll make sure we link to that for you. But today we’re going to use this podcast episode to dive into those survey results.

Megan Dehner, AOEU’s Senior Editor, was in charge of the survey, and she and I will spend some time going over the parts of the survey and the results that we found most interesting. And she is ready now, so we’re going to go ahead and dive in. All right, Megan Dehner is joining me now. Megan, how are you today?

I am wonderful, Tim. How are you?

Tim: I’m doing great. I am happy that you are back on the show.

Megan: Thank you.

Tim: You were just here last month, talking about the release of our flex curriculum. And now you’re back this month to talk about the state of art education survey-

Megan: And you’re back.

Tim: … which is also super exciting. I guess, to begin with, can you just give us a background on the state of art education survey, what it is, and why we do it?

Megan: Sure thing. This year, in 2020, is our third year of taking this survey. And it started in 2018. It was a survey that we pushed out through our magazine, and also social media. To have teachers take the survey and see what kind of data we got, see what kind of responses we got. All three years, it’s been pretty consistent, about between 1,500 and 2,000 responses. It just gives us a really comprehensive picture on what art education looks like across the US.

We are all in our own classrooms and sometimes our worlds get pretty narrow, and we don’t really realize that there are so many art teachers and art educators either feeling the same way that we do, or there’s other perspectives and things going on. So, it’s really an awesome way for us to get a comprehensive view of art teachers everywhere, and then be able to share that out to everyone, even if they didn’t take the survey. That they can then use to maybe not feel so alone, to then maybe understand other things going on outside of their own classroom.

And it also, here at AOEU, helps us identify how we can best support the art teachers that we love so much. If we know that there is a lot of support needed, for example, behavior management, and I’m sure we’ll talk about that, we want to be able to give our teachers those resources. It really does a lot of things. It gives us great data and a comprehensive view. It allows us to share with our teachers that they’re not alone. And then it also allows us to better support our teachers.

Tim: Yeah. That’s cool. Now, I wanted to ask you, you mentioned how this third year, I know changes happen every year, what are the new things on the survey? What kind of changes were made this time around?

Megan: Sure. There wasn’t a lot of drastic change, we just added a few questions. One specifically about burnout, teacher burnout, and how they feel in their classroom. And it was really interesting to see their feedback. Once again, I’m sure we’ll talk about it. And then also we wanted to ask teachers their curriculum resources.

We know that there’s a big need for teachers to feel supported in what they put in front of their students. And so, we wanted to get better feedback from all of our audience about that, rather than our smaller social media chats, and whatnot. So, there were a couple of curriculum resource questions, and then burnout questions. And the answers were fascinating.

Tim: Yeah, I’m excited to talk about those. One other question, real quick though, was there particular topics that you were trying to learn more about, or ones that we didn’t have enough information on?

Megan: Totally. Like art teacher mental health was something… That burnout, that idea-

Tim: Yeah, fits in there, right?

Megan: That fits in there. And also teacher retention, how long you’re staying in the profession, and how many teachers responded, and how many years they had been teaching. And just topic interest in resources, we hear… I mean, across the nation, it’s so interesting, and we’ll talk about it. I keep feeling like I keep putting out the carrot.

But what teachers outside of their art curriculum are really interested in learning about, that’s what we’ve run into I find out more about. And also compare the data from the past two years. So, now that we have three years of this survey to look at, it’s even more fascinating to see what does and what doesn’t change.

Tim: Yeah, that is interesting. Cool. Now, I had a great time diving into the survey, seeing all the results. And so, just so everybody who’s listening knows, I gave Megan some homework. I put together some superlatives. Some of the best and the worst of the survey, just by topic. And that will guide our discussion for the podcast here. So, hopefully, it’ll be enjoyable. Let’s start with our first one. Megan, what did you think was the most exciting results from the survey?

Megan: Some people might think of this as more of a negative, but there are 65% of the teachers that took the survey are the only art educator in their building. And why that may seem like, well, they don’t have any support. They don’t have anybody, they’re all alone. I thought to myself, “Wow, what a big impact one person, then, can have.”

And so, that idea of an art teacher being a leader within their building, if they’re the only one, then they are really the leader when it comes to art education. And if we can help empower that one teacher, wow, we could change that whole school world. So, when I thought about the most exciting, well, it probably a lot of times is only for that sole art teacher, I know that there’s so much power and potential in that.

Tim: Yep. Potential was exactly the word I was thinking of there. There’s so much you can do if you are running a program on your own. And if you can-

Megan: You get along great with yourself.

Tim: Exactly. If you can look at that positively, then I think that’s a really good thing. Now, for me, the most exciting was the average annual supply budget, almost $2,000. I didn’t know.

Megan: For real.

Tim: I thought that was so cool because I feel like so many teachers have… I have $300 for the year, for my 500 students. And teachers talking about, like, “I have a dollar and four cents per student for the whole year.” You hear so much about that. And then when you look, the average supply budget is almost $2,000.

You can teach a really good curriculum with $2,000. And that also makes me a little jealous of whichever teacher have like, oh, $11,000, that are really pulling that average up. I think it’s cool, because that was way more than I thought it was going to be for an average budget. So, I think that-

Megan: Absolutely. And that has gone up-

Tim: Very interesting.

Megan: … every year, about $150 each.

Tim: Nice. Nice. Okay. So, yeah, we’re on the right track there. Now, on the flip side, I want to talk about what was the most worrisome. Now, for me, the one that jumped out to me, the PD, professional development provided by the district, that was not good.

Less than a quarter of people, less than one fourth say that they’re actually getting personalized and relevant PD. That’s not great. And then the second thing was that 40% of teachers feel burnt out at least once per week. I don’t know. That doesn’t seem sustainable to me. What seemed worrisome to you?

Megan: I am totally with you on the burnout. And that is why we asked that question, because it’s something that I know I’ve felt, I know you’ve felt. And it’s something that we know is out there, and so we wanted to actually pinpoint what that looks like. I think that’s really scary. And I know that, okay, art teachers probably feel burned out, but all teachers probably feel that. We’re just a little representation of that. So, once a week, almost 30%?

Tim: Yeah, it’s tough.

Megan: And think of that impact that it has on the student environment, and the other… And we’re doing our best. It’s not that we want to feel burned out, it’s just happening. And so, that was my most worrisome, for a start. But it also made me really glad that we did ask the question, because I had a feeling that the feedback would be strong.

Tim: I think that’s something that we probably need to look at, moving forward. Like, how do we support those teachers who are feeling burnout? Like, what can we do to help? Because, I guess, again, that is worrisome. All right. Moving on, which answer did you find most surprising in the survey?

Megan: For me, personally, and this is me, Megan, not for everyone else, but was that older 50% of our teachers do not fundraise, or say that they don’t. And I always felt like, well, everybody’s fundraising. Everybody’s posting on social media that they used such and such company, or that they got their PTO to donate X, Y, Z, you know?

I always felt like, “Oh my gosh, I should be doing this. I should be making sure that I can provide as much as I can, opportunities for fundraising.” And it turns out that it was a weird FOMO thing. I was surprised that it was over 50% don’t.

And then it goes back to a lot of teachers that maybe say that there’s not funding for X, Y, Z. Well, then if they’re not trying to fund it… It was just a weird, interesting twist for me. So, for me, personally, it was they do not fundraise.

Tim: That one caught my attention too. Maybe it’s the secret $2,000 budgets that everybody has.

Megan: Right. They’re like, “I don’t need it. Whatever.”

Tim: For me, the most surprising was the amount of people who wanted to learn more about social-emotional learning.

Megan: Totally.

Tim: 51% of people said that that was a topic they needed to learn more about. I’m not surprised that that made the list, but the fact that 51% of people said that’s what they want to learn more, that number really jumped out at me. So…

Megan: Right. And going back to… And I don’t think we’ll talk about, but behavior management, for the third year in a row, was the biggest struggle, by almost 60% of our teachers. So, I think there’s totally a direct correlation between the need for support about social emotional learning and the fact that behavior management is the biggest struggle. There’s such a connection there.

Tim: Yep, exactly. That all ties together. Okay. Next up, I want to know… Well, I’m going to go first, because I’m actually really curious about this. But-

Megan: Go for it.

Tim: What you’re curious to know more about. And, for me, that was the level of choice in the classroom. I think that was a five. Has that been consistent with the last few years?

Megan: Yes.

Tim: Like, part of the plan, as far as how much choice people offer?

Megan: Yes.

Tim: I’m always fascinated by that, especially if you spend time on social media. Because you feel like you’re either teaching step-by-step discipline-based art education, or it’s like 100% choice, and there’s nothing between. But in reality… Social media is not real life. In reality, people are in the middle. Some people offer a little bit of choice, some people offer a lot of choice, and then just all falls in the middle. I think a huge majority are right in the middle.

I guess what I’m curious to know is how people define choice. Because some people were like, “Oh, I let the kids pick out which color of paint they wanted to use.” And then other people are like, “That’s not choice.” So, I’m very curious to know how people define that. But I think it is interesting, too, to realize that we’re not at those two extremes, and most people are in the middle offering some kind of a choice to their kids.

Megan: Right. And maybe, moving forward, it would be beneficial to say, “Choice to me is allowing full spectrum.” Or, “I have stations.” Or, “Choice to me is allowing my students a prompt.” Or something like that we could probably break down. But I did think it was…

And also, it made me feel better that I felt like I was always in between. Like, “No, I do offer choice. And I don’t. And I do.” It proves that we’re all doing our best in trying to make sure that our students feel supported, but yet also have some freedom.

Tim: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that’s what I talk about all the time on this podcast, right? You do what works for you, you do what works for your students. You know what works best in your classroom. What about you, though? What were you curious to learn more, that you wanted to know more about?

Megan: Well, for the third year in a row, painting and drawing were the mediums that teachers were most comfortable teaching. Again, it’s all about me, right? Not really. But I find it really interesting. Maybe I’m curious to know more about myself that those are actually what I don’t feel as comfortable teaching.

Tim: Interesting.

Megan: Or it doesn’t get me jazzed as much as some of the other mediums. And so, I just thought that was interesting. Like, “Oh, I didn’t put those as my first choices.” And so, what I think is interesting, though, is when people do look, when teachers do look at this data, they do and they don’t see themselves in the results. And that’s what’s so enlightening for themselves in their teaching. I mean, this is not just for us to look at and gab about right now. This is for us to be able to share so teachers can do a little self-check of-

Tim: Yeah, absolutely.

Megan: … their current situation. And also their current outlook in their classrooms.

Tim: Yeah, for sure. That’s a good way to think about it. Now, I wanted to ask you, also, what was better than expected in the survey, and what was worse than expected? Let’s start with better.

One answer that I saw, that I was like, “Whoa, that’s really good,” two-thirds of teachers feel supported by the colleagues in their building. I was like, “That is a great number.” I did not think it would be that high, but it was really good to see that two-thirds of people felt supported. What about you?

Megan: Yes, that was also, I had that same… In my homework, that’s what I marked as also my better than expected. Because, I mean, if it’s true that around 65% of teachers are the sole educator in their building, that they feel supported by the other teachers that aren’t in art, out of the art classroom, that they feel supported by them, awesome.

That is just so cool, that they know that there are people they can talk to, that value what art teachers are doing in their classroom. And just feel at home when they’re at work. So, I loved that number, and I thought it would be lower. That’s why I thought that, yeah.

Tim: That’s really cool. Now, I guess that ties into what I was thinking though, about worse than expected. That 65% that you mentioned, and that we talked about earlier. And I did not feel great about that. I think you may have turned around my thinking on that, but when I wrote this down, that was my worse than expected.

I really wish more teachers had connections with colleagues and people to run ideas off of on a regular base. All the benefits that come with teaching with other people. But you maybe have convinced me, like you said, the power and potential of a regular program can be a good thing. So, maybe it’s not as bad as I thought at first glance.

Megan: Sure.

Tim: What about you? What was worse than expected for you?

Megan: One of our extra questions… Or new question, not extra. But new questions was about curriculum funding. I thought it would be less than this, but the highest number of 39% said that there is no funding for their curriculum. And I was really shocked by that, thinking, “Well, that means that teachers are making their own, getting it from-

Tim: Yeah, getting all their resources online.

Megan: … random sources, on the internet.” And that they really aren’t getting the support that they need because in order for students to succeed, they need an awesome teacher. That’s what art teachers are. And then they need a strong curriculum that the teachers feel really excited about. And so, I feel like that number was like, “Oh.”

I wonder also, too, if there is confusion between… I think there’s confusion between curriculum and materials. And I think, sometimes, teachers… I know that they know the difference, but I don’t think that they know they can ask for the funding of the difference.

When it comes to going to their district, sure there’s certain funding for materials, but when it comes to curriculum for them, there are sometimes other ways and other bands of funding, that they just don’t know to ask for.

So, that’s something that I was like, “Whoa, almost 40% think that there’s no money for them.” But maybe there is, and there’s just not the right way of asking it. Or no one’s told them because they thought they didn’t need it. So…

Tim: Yeah. I, for about a… What? A decade, I’m embarrassed to say, I didn’t know that separate money existed in school, and it’s for things like professional development. And then I finally asked to, I believe go to a conference, and my assistant principal was just like, “Yeah, I’m so happy you asked. All right, we have all this money for you.”

Megan: I know.

Tim: I was like, “How did I not know this?” Anyway, if you’re listening to this and you’re not aware that professional development money exists, it’s worth asking about. It may happen in your district, it may not, but it’s worth asking about. Sorry, though, what were you going to say?

Megan: I was just going to say, for example, like a lot of districts have pushed for literacy, or STEAM funding. Well, if you can advocate for yourself and say what kind of support you give in your art classroom for literacy, what kind of STEAM learning are you doing? You can get in on that funding.

Those are the types of things, I think, teachers aren’t realizing. That I didn’t know when I was in that… No one tells you when you graduate, that you should look for these things. So, just wanted to add that.

Tim: Cool. All right. We are up against it with time, so let’s wrap it up here. The last question, what did you think on the survey was most worth celebrating?

Megan: Well, again, I’m going to switch the narrative around here, Tim. The 45% of teachers wanted improvement of their professional development. And so, normally, you would think, “Wow, that’s like almost half of teachers who are sitting in professional development with their eyes glazed over.” Right?

Tim: Yes.

Megan: Well, I thought of that as, that shows the impact we can have at AOEU by supporting our art teachers. There are almost half of our teachers who feel, who want what we spend our heart and souls on. And so, that’s what I was that, “Yes, this means we can keep doing what we’re doing. That’s why we’re going to do the survey again next year, for 2021.” So, those types of things, that’s what got me jazzed.

Tim: Yeah, I think that’s really cool. I would just say, for me, it was really uplifting, at the end of the survey, to read about people’s biggest joys as an art teacher.

Megan: Totally.

Tim: Because you worry a little bit about people being on their own, and you worry about classroom management. And all these things stress you out. But then, at the end, you’re reminded of why we do what we do, because people are talking about, “I love sharing my passion with my students. I love when the light bulb clicks for kids. I love seeing kids develop year after year, and get better and better. And grow as artists, and as people.” And you’re like, “Yes.”

Megan: “Yay.”

Tim: Like, “This is why we do what we do.”

Megan: Absolutely.

Tim: And so, being able to read that at the end is, like I said, really uplifting and it’s definitely something that’s worth celebrating.

Megan: That’s really nice.

Tim: Cool. All right. Well, Megan, thank you so much for coming on the podcast again, going through this great survey. And, yeah, we’ll have to have you back on again, hopefully soon.

Megan: Sounds great, Tim. Thanks.

Tim: Now, before we go, I want to talk to you really briefly about the Art of Education University. If you just need one graduate course, if you want to earn a master’s degree, or anything in between, make sure you check out courses from the Art of Education University. We offer over 20 online courses, including eight hands-on studio courses that are designed to help art teachers at every stage of their professional career.

Now, whether you’re looking to develop a new art curriculum, get help with classroom fundamentals, incorporate new technology, or even just brush up on your own art making, we have the course for you. See what’s available, what interests you, and what you may want to sign up for, at

Okay, that will do it for us. Feel free to download the survey results from the AOEU website. As promised, we’ll link to that in the show notes. And feel free to reach out and share with me anything that you found interesting, or exciting, or worth celebrating. I would love to hear from you.

Art Ed Radio is produced by the Art of Education University, with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Thank you for listening, and we will talk to you again next week.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.