Why investing in Atlanta’s Creative Youth Should Also Include an Investment in Atlanta’s Arts Educators
By: Elisabeth Herrera-Very for C4
Atlanta is known for it’s vibrant, diverse, expanding arts community. From the amazing street art adorning our neighborhoods to blockbuster film projects; we have so much art to celebrate. Atlanta seems like a likely place to invest in the future of it’s arts community, however, the accessibility of arts education for Atlanta’s youth tells a different story. Wouldn’t it make sense to grow our own artists within the educational institutions we already have established? Wouldn’t more arts programming in our public schools add only greatness to our already robust arts scene? A greater emphasis on the arts sounds like an amazing idea but for that to happen we need to invest in supports for our arts educators.
All students in Georgia do not have equal access to a quality education in the arts. Data collected by the Georgia Council for the Arts (2015) show that nearly 40% of Georgia’s youth do not have access to high quality visual arts education, this means that students are being taught by a person who is not certified to teach visual arts, and 19% of those students do not have access to visual arts education at all. Arts disciplines such as theater arts have an even lower amount of high quality teachers in the field with 76% of Georgia’s youth going without any access to theater programs in their school (Bell, 2015, p. 17). One may ask, why don’t schools hire more arts educators? Historically, arts have been undervalued in public schools with little to no investment in growing arts programs, however, a more pressing problem is having access to high quality arts educators to fill those vacancies in the event that a school or district decides to invest in the arts. Keeping high quality educators in the field is problematic due to ever increasing teacher turnover.
In Georgia, like across our nation, teacher turnover is high. The Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education stated in it’s Top Ten Issues to Watch in 2019 report that 13% of Georgia’s teachers leave the profession after only one year and 44% of teachers leave the field by their fifth year (GPEE, 2019, p.24). This high level of teacher turnover costs our public schools over 2 billion dollars every year (Phillips, 2015, para. 3). Many factors contribute to this alarming rate of attrition (teachers leaving the field) but the lack of supports for teachers is high on the list of reasons. The findings from GADOE’s “Georgia’s Teacher Dropout Crisis” survey (2015) show that one of the main reasons teachers leave the field in Georgia is the lack of professional development (Owens, 2015, p.4).
As a visual arts teacher, I have spent the past near decade working in a variety of metro-Atlanta districts serving traditionally underserved populations. I have seen first-hand how the lack of supports for teachers affect the success of students. With pay freezes and furloughs, high-stakes testing, and general apathy or disregard towards the profession by the public it isn’t hard to see why so many people choose to leave the field. This is especially problematic in the fields of fine arts. So many principals do not have an understanding of what we do and so many school districts see us as extraneous additions to the curriculum. When a trained professional is treated as one of the least important members of the staff it is hard to maintain morale. In the majority of metro-Atlanta districts arts teachers exist on an island of isolation. Being the only art teacher in a school can be lonely; there is no one to bounce ideas off of, no one who speaks the language of the arts fluently, and sadly, no room to grow. Sitting on the lowest rung of the ladder year after year is exhausting and disheartening. Upon sharing my findings with a group at C4 one member stated that her husband had been a theater teacher but chose to leave the field. She stated matter of factly “…and he was such a good teacher”. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. Those of us who have a true passion for teaching in the arts are often crushed by the lack of supports or lack of access to supports.
I share these findings with the intent of sparking conversation in regard to what we value about the arts in Atlanta and the correlation between growing our artists and supporting our arts educators. Investing in Atlanta’s creative industries means investing in the educators who nurture and facilitate the growth of those creatives. We have all turned to someone to learn something new at some point in our life and those experts in their field supported us. Now it’s our turn to support those who teach in the arts because without their expertise our vibrant arts community will fade and for some of our most creative kiddos, their most effective means of communication with their world will cease to grow.
- Bell, A. (2015). Arts Education in Georgia: Public School Data and Principal Perspectives. Retrieved April 15, 2019, from https://www.georgia.org/sites/default/files/wp-uploads/2018/07/Arts-Education-Research-Report.pdf
- Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education (2019). Top Ten Issues to Watch in 2019. Retrieved April 15, 2019, from http://www.gpee.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/GPEE-Top-Ten-2019-Final_1-7-19.pd
- Owens, S. J. (2015). Georgia’sTeacher Dropout Crisis A Look at Why Nearly Half of Georgia Public School Teachers are Leaving the Profession. Retrieved April 15, 2019, from https://www.gadoe.org/External-Affairs-and-Policy/communications/Documents/Teacher%20Survey%20Results.pdf
- Phillips, O. (2015, March 30). Revolving Door Of Teachers Costs Schools Billions Every Year. Retrieved April 15, 2019, from https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2015/03/30/395322012/the-hidden-costs-of-teacher-turnover