by Maureen Meyer

Let’s talk about the upcoming job season. It may seem early, but that is the way we like it. You don’t want to be scrambling for an interview the next day at the last minute. Maybe you are ready for a change, concerned about art positions being cut, or your spouse is being relocated. Whatever the reason you may be job hunting, let’s chat about art education portfolios.

I write from experience as a job seeker, as someone involved in hiring at schools, and from my experience as a graphic designer.  I have landed jobs successfully five times over my teaching career. In my job searches, I never “knew someone” or pulled any strings to land the interview or the job. Later in my career, I was on the other side of the desk as a senior teacher and department chair. Lastly, my schooling and work in graphic design give me some insights into how a teacher can best present themselves in print and online.

What is meant by an Art Teacher Portfolio?

An Art teacher Portfolio is a tool for visually showcasing yourself as an art education professional. It may be physical or digital. Some schools will expect you to have a portfolio and ask you to see it. Some schools, particularly if they haven’t hired an art teacher in some time, may not know to expect one, but that will not deter you from sharing yours. You can use your art portfolio to complement your interview questions. For example, if an interviewer asks how you incorporate writing into your art curriculum, you can show them artist statements your students have written from your portfolio.

Digital or Physical?

   Your portfolio can be either a physical or digital portfolio. It is not a website, though. I think having a website is a very good idea, and in some competitive situations, it is necessary, which I will discuss later. I would recommend a black binder with plastic sleeves or something similar to what a photographer might use to show photos. Both work fine, allowing you to open and move pages around for future updates.

If you choose to present your portfolio digitally, I recommend an iPad or tablet with a portfolio app. I caution applicants not to rely on internet connections and be sure images load quickly. Schools are becoming more internet-enabled by the day, but it’s still no guarantee, and summer time is a big time for hiring and system maintenance. Be sure your iPad is fully charged and ready to go.

Whatever platform you use, do not decorate it or approach it like a scrapbook. No fancy lettering or illustrations. Some teachers feel they need to play up the “kid” element, but your audience is not children but rather professional educators. Your portfolio should look professional. It’s about the content it contains. Your creativity is in your work, not in the presentation mode. Look for creating unity in your portfolio. You want the formatting and fonts to be consistent throughout. Please spell check and have someone with skills proofread your resume and all your written content.

I was involved in an interview in which the candidate, when asked about her teaching portfolio, pulled out photographs that were still in the drugstore envelope (yes, I am dating myself) and scattered them on the table. I suspect she was done as a candidate right then and there in the hiring committee’s eyes. Don’t neglect your art education portfolio.

What is inside?

You should have a Professional section. In that section, include your resume, teaching philosophy, examples of formally written lesson plans, and photographs of student samples. You can also include examples of original worksheets, assessment tools, or any other material that complements the lesson you created.

  A word about the lessons. As you pick your lessons, consider lessons that show how you use technology, literacy components, and interdisciplinary approaches. Those lessons can and should be varied for the job requirements. If, for example, the position requires teaching Art I and Graphic Design, be sure that what you highlight in your portfolio lessons is appropriate for Art I and Graphic Design. If the position includes teaching Ceramics, include a clay lesson. Each lesson should follow the same lesson plan design, and photographs of the lesson should be displayed if possible. If not, a sample you make. Your portfolio will be flexible enough to allow you to remove and add pictures easily. The lesson plan format should be consistent across lessons and include state standards.

It’s also good to include photographs of student displays, art shows, competitions, etc. You may also include photographs or any visuals (newspaper articles, for example) of clubs, extracurricular activities, contests your students won, etc.

The next section is Personal Artwork. Show examples of your own artwork. It’s to your advantage to show a breadth of media expertise. Don’t show anything that could remotely be offensive or off-putting. Schools are very conservative places, and you need to show you can be both creative yet professional.

Lastly, have a Document section. This includes three letters of recommendation, a physical teaching certificate, and an academic transcript(s). I have extra copies tucked behind the sleeve. You could also include other documents, such as a parent or student letter of praise or an observation write-up.

Wait, what about the website? 

As I mentioned earlier, I think having a website is a very good idea and necessary in competitive situations. If you have had some near misses with jobs, been through a season or two without getting hired, and don’t have a website, I strongly recommend adding this element if you have not. It should be professional looking, load quickly, and the content should be concise. There are good portfolio sites; some are even free or free to a point. If you don’t have the skills, I think it is money well spent to hire someone to do one if you lack the skills—the same with your resume. Your resume should point employers to your website, but it usually does not act as your teaching portfolio. Your website can be a first introduction and a place they can revisit. Feel free to visit my portfolio (serving my dual roles as art educator and graphic designer) here.

The last bit of advice

My last advice to all of you is to find time to document what is happening in your classroom. Take lots of photographs. Take photographs of work in progress. Take finished examples. Take photographs of displays. Take photographs of every extra way you helped at the school- the backdrop to the theater set, the poster for the school play, and the time your student won a gold key at the Scholastic Awards. That documentation is so good for your portfolio and your career at large. I had surprises in my career and personal life that led to unexpected job hunts: a marriage proposal, a surprise baby, and a school district split in two, for example. Good luck!

Maureen Meyer is an art educator, graphic designer, and founder of My Art Lesson. She is available for freelance work, including resume crafting (both content and design), interview coaching, and portfolio website design (using Portfolio Box). Send her a message at