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Teaching Photography as a career?

kelly hicks , Sep 25, 2007; 05:37 p.m.

I've been contemplating a career change for quite some time. I've had to wrestle with the fact that I enjoy photography and would like a career that involves around it. However, I'm not really interested in developing a photography business. I would rather teach about photography history, darkroom work, photoshop, and archiving. I would like to mentor and help others in their art. This is coming from someone that's been in the tech industry for 10 years. I'm a late chicken at 37, but would like to have an opportunity to do something that I care about. I'm in the stages now of asking other educators about what their likes/dislikes are and how they got their start. Do you like what you do? How hard is it to get a job in the field on a college or high school level?

Responses

Jeffrey Blake Adams , Sep 25, 2007; 09:54 p.m.

Typically, the "photography" schools hire based on career gravitas, which draws more students. General colleges, comm colleges, etc, often hire if you have a teaching certifcate for that state and they need you for the curricula. J

Ellis Vener , Sep 26, 2007; 12:27 a.m.

Just as a guide I think you need to really know 4X to 10X more than you teach to teach anything but especially photography, well. And you have to have a talent and a passion for teaching.

Ric Johnson , Sep 26, 2007; 02:22 p.m.

See if there are any adult ed classes taught nearby that teach the areas that you think (and know) you can teach. And then ask if they need more instructors.

John Tonai , Sep 26, 2007; 05:56 p.m.

(Warning-long post)

Kelly,

You mentioned a career change, so I will start off with the more traditional teaching positions.

As a college photo instructor for the past 12 years, I have some basic knowledge of the profession. The simple,and yet horribly unsatisfying answer is: it depends. You first need to be minimally qualified academically.

If you want to teach at the college level, there are several standards. For a full-time position, most 4-year colleges require a terminal degree. For photography that means an MFA. For photo history, that can mean a PhD. Part-time positions can found that just require a BA or BFA or career experience. This is mainly because of accreditation requirements. They have some leeway if your are extremely qualified in other areas and they have enough professors who have the terminal degree. But that is usually reserved for world famous photographers they are trying to recruit to teach at the school.

Trade schools and community (junior) colleges may just require a BA or BFA and a teaching certificate for full- or part-time employment. But at least here in California, full-time positions are rarer than hen's teeth (to borrow your "late chicken" description).

Most public high schools require the teacher to have gone through an education program with a specialty in art and they need to obtain a teaching certificate. (Unfortunately, that's why many photo teachers know painting and drawing and not photography-they don't need to actually know about photography.)

Private high schools can hire whomever they choose. My first teaching job was at a private high school. I was working on my undergraduate degree at the time but was a working photographer (and their track coach).

So, once you attain the minimum qualification level is it easy to find a job? It depends.(Sorry) Are you willing to move to a different state? Do you have any special qualifications/skills that might be useful? Most schools now require Photoshop skills as well as traditional darkroom. They want to cover all bases. However, some schools are completely converting to digital. Do you know it cold? Also, many want supplemental knowledge such as Flash, web site construction, alternative processes, video, etc.

At this point, I don't want you to be overwhelmed. I decided to go into teaching photography when I was 30 (a mere spring chicken). I was going to be a history teacher, but decided that I needed to teach what I was passionate about. So I got my MA in Visual Art because I had absolutely no college art classes except an alternative process photo class and then earned my MFA in Photography. So it is possible to do it. I know of someone who was originally an aerospace scientist who, at the age of 45, decided to become a photography professor.

If you really want to teach photography I would check out the Society for Photographic Education (SPE) www.spenational.org. There are regional branches that the website can direct you to. They all will be having their regional conferences in the next month or two. There you can network and pick their brains to your heart's content. Members also have access to job listings for high schools and colleges. Other listings for college jobs are, "The Chronicle of Higher Education" and "College Art Association".

There aren't a lot of jobs out there for teaching photography. If you just go by the odds, teaching photography is an extreme long shot. A lot of people want to teach, but there aren't a lot of jobs available. But, getting a teaching job isn't all about numbers. Sometimes it is all about luck combined with a special skill that they need, other times it is your teaching style that fits in with the school. And still other times, you are just in the right place at the right time.

Other teaching alternatives, although not probably viable fill-time incomes are: teaching at community center, youth centers, adult ed, extension classes, and through local camera stores. I you just have the desire and ability to teach, these can be good training grounds to develop your style and to check out the profession. Just make sure that you know your stuff before you try to teach it to someone else.

John

Suzy Leme , Sep 22, 2011; 06:45 p.m.

Hi there!
I am pretty sure that if you teach in the traditional setting then you will need to get a degree of some sort. I do know that there are many photo teacher jobs out there since it is such a unique field. Hope you achieve your dreams!

Suzy

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