What Does an Adaptive Arts Teacher Do?

Adaptive arts teachers are trained to bring music, dance, theater, and other art forms into the lives of students with disabilities through educational experiences. Not to be confused with music or expressive-arts therapists, who use engagement with the arts to achieve specific cognitive or behavioral goals, adaptive arts teachers seek to broadly enrich and expand their students' knowledge, skills, and interest in the arts.

Using their training in one or more art forms, their training as arts educators, and their core knowledge of a broad range of disabilities—intellectual, emotional, orthopedic, visual, and auditory—adaptive teachers establish inclusive learning environments for students who learn, communicate, behave, or use their bodies differently than many of their peers.

They do this by expanding the playing field: providing multiple pathways for a student's expressions and actions, presenting information in a range of formats and media, and engaging a student's interest in a host of ways. They also use a wide range of assessment tools to measure and understand their students' learning and development as artists, including observations, checklists, rubrics, tests, and performance tasks. Ultimately, adaptive arts teachers aim to create learning environments in which students of all abilities can thrive.

Adaptive Arts Teacher at a Glance

Career Path
In order to work as an adaptive arts teacher, most employers require an undergraduate major in the art form (as a practitioner), in education, or in special education. Teacher licensure is desirable, and a master's degree is often preferred. While many train and plan to become adaptive arts teachers from the get-go, occasionally a sensitive and flexible arts teacher finds that she is particularly comfortable with teaching students with disabilities. That teacher may wish to become an adaptive arts teacher and can do so by seeking training and education in teaching students with special needs.
 
Adaptive teachers usually work several part-time positions, and can advance by finding full-time positions, by building a strong reputation for their private studios, or by taking on the leadership of entire school departments or education programs as a program director at a private school that serves children with disabilities.
Finding Work

There are four main settings in which adaptive arts teachers usually work: private studios, community arts and after-school programs, private schools, and public schools. Many special-education websites feature job listings, including the National Association of Special Education Teachers and the National Association of Private Special Education Centers.

Professional Skills
  • Teaching
  • Creating and adjusting a curriculum
  • Knowledge and understanding of various special needs populations
  • Patience
  • Empathy
  • Organizational skills
Interpersonal Skills

Above all, adaptive teachers must cultivate patience and flexibility, as there is great variation in the learning needs of students with disabilities. Equally vital is a genuine desire to work with differently abled students.

Work Life

Often, adaptive arts teachers combine part-time teaching positions in several settings rather than working a single full-time job. As such, a certain amount of daily travel is usually a necessary part of the career. Each week, a typical adaptive arts teacher might work at multiple schools for one to three days, lead after-school programs on a few afternoons, and run a private studio in the free hours between. Working in a school setting tends to mean standard and fixed hours, while working out of a private practice requires some flexibility in scheduling. For adaptive arts teachers, no two schedules are alike.