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Education Directors and Museum Teachers

The Job

Education directors carry out the educational goals of a museum, zoo, botanical garden, or other similar institution. The educational goals of most of these institutions include nurturing curiosity and answering questions of visitors, regardless of age or background. Education directors work with administrators and museum or zoo boards to determine the scope of their educational programs. Large museums may offer full schedules of classes and tours, while smaller ones may only provide tours or lectures at the request of a school or other group.

Education directors plan courses to be offered through the zoo or museum. They may hire professors from local colleges or universities as well as regular educational staff members to lead tours or discussion groups. Education directors are usually responsible for training the staff members and may also work with professionals or university faculty to determine the content of a particular lecture, class, or series of lectures. They prepare course outlines and establish the credentials necessary for those who will teach the courses.

In smaller institutions the education director may do much of the teaching, lecturing, or tour leading. In zoos, the education director can arrange for small children to watch cows being milked or for the children to pet or feed smaller animals such as goats. In museums, the education director's job often depends on the museum's collection. In art museums, for example, the education director may plan programs for older children that allow them to explore parts of the collection at their own pace.

Education directors may promote their programs on local radio or television or in newspapers. They may speak to community or school groups about the museum's education department and encourage the groups to attend. Sometimes, education directors deliver lectures or offer classes away from the museum or zoo.

The education director is responsible for the budget for all educational programs. Directors prepare budgets and supervise the records of income and spending. Often, schools or other groups are charged lower rates for tours or classes at museums or zoos. Education directors work with resource coordinators to establish budgets for resource materials. These need to be updated regularly in most institutions. Even in natural history museums, where the collections may change less than in other museums, collections may need to be updated or presentations altered if new research has led to different interpretations of exhibit objects. The education director may also prepare grant proposals or help with fund-raising efforts for the museum's educational program. Once a grant has been received or a large gift has been offered to the education department, the education director plans for the best use of the funds within the department.

Education directors often work with exhibit designers to help create informative displays for visitors. They may also work with illustrators to produce illustrations or signs that enhance exhibits. Zoos, for example, often display maps near the animals to show their countries of origin.

Education directors train their teachers, other staff members, and volunteers to work with individual visitors and groups. Some volunteers may be trained to assist teachers in presentations or to help large groups on tours. It is the responsibility of the director to see that the educational program is helpful and interesting to all visitors to the museum or zoo.

Special activities planned by education directors vary widely depending on the institution. Film programs, field trips, lectures, and full-day school programs may be offered weekly, monthly, or annually. Some zoos and arboretums have ongoing tours offered daily, while others may only give tours for prearranged groups.

In larger museums, education directors may have a staff of teachers. Museum teachers may serve as docents or interpreters who interact directly with visitors. Docents also give prepared talks or provide information in a loosely structured format, asking and answering questions informally. Substantial knowledge of the exhibition's content is required, as well as sensitivity to visitor group composition and the ability to convey information to different types of audiences. Scholarly researchers, for example, have a different knowledge base and attention span than children.

Other museum teachers, such as storytellers, may be self-employed people who contract with a museum to provide special programs a few times a year. Many teachers are volunteers or part-time workers.

Education specialists are experts in a particular field, which may be education itself or an area in which the museum has large holdings, such as Asian textiles, North American fossils, or pre-Columbian pottery. Education specialists divide their time between planning programs and direct teaching. They may supervise other teachers, conduct field trips, or teach classes in local schools as part of joint programs of study between museums and schools.

Educational resource coordinators collect the education materials that are used in the educational programs. These may include slides, posters, videos, books, or materials for special projects. Educational resource coordinators prepare, purchase, catalog, and maintain all of the materials used by the education department. They sometimes have a lending library of films, videos, DVDs, books, or slides that people may borrow. Resource coordinators keep track of the circulation of materials. They may also lead tours or workshops for schoolteachers or administrators to teach them about the collection of the museum or zoo and to keep them apprised of new materials that could be used in their own classrooms.

Finally, education directors and teachers attend conventions and school meetings to promote their institution's educational program and to encourage participation in their classes or tours.

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