California Art Teacher Certification and Job Requirements

In 2001, California legislators made many policy changes to the California Education Code including what would be required coursework for all students. Much to the surprise of many, visual and performing arts were included as mandatory subjects. For the last decade-plus all public schools in California have included art instruction as part of their regular curriculum.

In 2001, visual and performing arts also became core subjects in federal elementary and secondary education legislation with the No Child Left Behind Act. While many schools are now leaving that program, art still remains a subject taught in California schools. If you want to become an art teacher in California, you will find there are a few choices both in education as well as two options for credentialing. Here are the steps to get you started on the pathway to teaching:

Pursue an Education and Degree
Receive a Passing Score on State Exams
Apply for Your Credential
Continuing Your Education



Step 1. Pursue an Education and Degree

If you want to become an art teacher in California there are a few ways that you can complete your education. California requires all public school teachers to hold a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. The educational requirements that will prepare you to teach art vary depend on which grade level you plan to teach. In California, elementary school teachers will need to have a broader education than secondary school teachers. Teaching in junior high and high school require you to be proficient in a single subject area.

California has six agencies that approve educational institutions. It is important that you find a program approved by one of these agencies.

Elementary School Bachelors Degree

General coursework subject examples will include the following:

  • Introduction to education
  • History including Constitution and Government
  • Sociology
  • Philosophy (concepts and theory)
  • Human development
  • Child psychology
  • Adolescent growth and development
  • Teaching methods
  • Learning theories
  • Technology

Secondary School Bachelors Degree

If you wish to teach upper grades, your degree will have more courses that are subject focused. This means that you will be taking more art courses. The breakdown of your bachelor’s degree may look something like this:

  • 44 Units Lower Division General Education as listed above for the elementary education plus:
  • 27 Units Preparation for the Major.
  • 45 Units Requirements for the Major (art related coursework).
  • 4 Units Electives.

Alternative Route- Intern Program

California offers a District Intern Program as an alternative route to a teaching credential. This program allows you to become a teacher if you already hold a bachelors degree. With this choice you will:

  • Need to take a course in the provisions and principles of the U.S. Constitution or pass a test given by a regionally accredited college or university on the subject.
  • Complete 120 hours of training in child development and methods for teaching art in your grade level or 6 semester units of courses in the same area.
  • If you will teach in a bilingual class you will have instruction in the culture and methods of teaching to English language learners.
  • Take any other courses the district feels necessary for your training.
  • Complete an annual evaluation.

For grades 6-12 you will also have to prove your proficient in art by completing a Commission approved art preparation program or pass a test proving your subject matter competency.

Once you have completed your education you are now ready to take your exams.



Step 2. Receive a Passing Score on State Exams

The next step in the process is to take the exams necessary for the preliminary California teaching certification. You must pass the basic skills tests. In California the following tests are required:

  • CBEST – the CBEST will test your basic knowledge of writing, math, and reading.
  • CSET – tests your skills in your subject area as well as technology.
  • CTEL – this test replaces the CLAD test that many were familiar with in the past. It is a test that helps teachers with English language learners in the classroom.

To prepare for your exams, California has study guides and materials available that will assist you. Once you are confident that you are ready to take the tests, you will need to apply and schedule your appointment. Here is what you need:

  • Register Online. This will require you fill out an account and pay your fee with a credit card
  • Once you register you will have a date and place assigned for your testing



Step 3. Apply for Your Credential

Five Year Preliminary Credential

After you have successfully passed your exams, you are now ready to apply for your credential. In California, you will initially receive a Five Year Preliminary Credential. The grade level you teach will determine which credential you receive — either single subject or multiple subject.

Elementary School Teachers

To teach elementary school you will need a Multiple Subject Teaching Credential.

The Multiple Subject Teaching Credential allows you to teach any subject (including art) in a self-contained classroom like those we are all familiar with in elementary school. Multiple subject teachers can also act as a team teacher or serve in a core teaching setting.

When you are ready to apply for your credential here is a checklist of what you will need and the application form:

  • Obtain a LiveScan and a certificate of clearance.
  • Send in verification of teaching certification in California.
  • Submit your application and fee.
  • Submit all college transcripts.
  • Complete computer technology coursework
  • Submit your passing test scores of the CBEST, CSET, CTEL

Submit to:

California Commission on Teacher Credentialing
1900 Capitol Avenue
Sacramento, CA 95811-4213

Secondary School Teachers

To teach secondary level schools you will need a Single Subject Teaching Credential. If you want to teach in the middle or secondary schools in California, you will need the Single Subject Teaching Credential in Art. This credential denotes that you are proficient in your subject.

When you are ready to apply for your credential here is a checklist and application form:

  • Obtain a LiveScan and a certificate of clearance.
  • Send in verification of teaching certification in California.
  • Submit your application and fee.
  • Submit all college transcripts.
  • Complete computer technology coursework
  • Submit your passing test scores of the CBEST, CSE, CSET
    • Subtest I 140
    • 141 Subtest II

Submit to:

California Commission on Teacher Credentialing
1900 Capitol Avenue
Sacramento, CA 95811-4213

For more information visit: California State Department of Education

Clear Credential

The next phase of your credential program is obtaining a clear credential. You have five years to clear your preliminary credential. In order to obtain a clear credential in California here are two possible options for both single and multiple subject credentials:

Option 1: Complete your educational program that includes a Teacher Induction Program with a through a California school district, county educational office, or college. You will need to submit your application through your program sponsor.

Option 2: If option one is deeded to be unavailable to you, then you may be able to complete a Commission-approved Clear Credential Teacher Preparation Program (previously called a fifth year program) at an accredited California college or university.

Option 3: If you are certified by the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards in a qualifying subject you will be able to apply for a clear credential.

All clear credential submissions must be completed online.



Step 4. Continuing Your Education

For art teachers in K-12, at one point the state of California required 150 hours of continuing education. While they still have that requirement, proof of your participation is somewhat less stringent and only requires your signature at this time. One way to maximize your continuing education credits is to add to your credentials. Holders of Single Subject Teaching Credentials may have one or more subjects added to their credential as a supplementary authorization.

This added credential – particularly with art – may be a great addition as it can help prepare you to teach other subjects in the event of budget cuts at your school when programs are scaled back. The arts tend to be one of the first programs that are looked at when budgets are tight. Adding to your teaching credentials with a secondary subject could be a great way to maximize your chances of employment.


California Art Teacher Salaries

According to the National Education Association, the average starting salary for teachers in California (as of 2011) is $41,259, which is significantly higher than the national average of $36,141.

The California Department of Labor does not provide data on art teacher salaries as a separate unit, but tracks salaries for elementary, middle, and secondary school teachers as larger categories. The department reports the following annual mean wages and employment numbers as of May 2013:

Occupation title EmploymentAnnual mean wage
Elementary School Teachers23,840$49,720
Middle School Teachers12,830$50,300
Secondary School Teachers15,920$51,540

However, teacher salaries can vary significantly by location. A sample of the median salaries and employment figures as reported by the California Department of Labor for some major cities appears below (note that not all locations track all categories):

Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, CA Metropolitan Division

Elementary School Teachers32,620$72,360
Middle School Teachers11,010$67,270
Secondary School Teachers24,450$69,270


Elementary School Teachers3,860$67,890
Middle School Teachers1,660$64,150
Secondary School Teachers3,520$69,600


Elementary School Teachers420$65,020
Middle School TeachersNot Released$77,810
Secondary School TeachersNot Released$63,650


San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA
Elementary School Teachers15,000$69,250
Middle School Teachers5,390$67,980
Secondary School Teachers11,270$69,990


Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Goleta, CA
Elementary School Teachers2,150$68,540
Middle School Teachers210$49,910

The state’s salary schedules vary by school district. According to the California Department of Education, the average lowest salary offered in the state as of the 2012-2013 school year was $40,329, while the average highest was $79,279. The average salary overall was $69,435. A detailed breakdown by school district is available here.

Further information on postsecondary art, drama, and music teacher salaries throughout the state can be found in the following table provided by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. The state employs more of these kinds of teachers than any other.

Area Name
Annual Median Salary
Bakersfield-Delano CA
Fresno CA
Estimate Not Released
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale CA Metropolitan Division
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana CA
Napa CA
Oakland-Fremont-Hayward CA Metropolitan Division
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario CA
Estimate Not Released
Sacramento--Arden-Arcade--Roseville CA
Estimate Not Released
San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos CA
Estimate Not Released
San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont CA
San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City CA Metropolitan Division
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara CA

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