Traversing expectations for promotion from Associate to Full and from Assistant to Associate professorships often entails a rocky, time-consuming, and personally stressful process for any theatre faculty member.  For those Pre K-12 theatre artist/educators who have been hired to work specifically with, for, and on behalf of young people, the promotion and tenure process may be especially complicated by differing standards and interpretations of expectations at unit levels within theatre departments and at higher levels within colleges and universities.

Nation-wide, out of 910 US higher education institutions that offer theatre degrees, fewer than 5% (around 45) provide graduate and/or undergraduate work in Pre K-12 theatre education (in all its forms)–a Classification of Instructional Programs omitted from the National Center for Education Statistics.  Within this minority of theatre educators, at least three “perennial” associate professors were denied promotion to full professor in recent years, which raises the question: To what extent could these denials be connected with the perceived deprecation of working for and with young people within and outside theatre departments?

At the 2014 AATE conference in Denver, a group of university professors shared their ideas and experiences toward promotion.  Our initial questions were: What unique standards, if any, are required for Pre K-12 artist/educators to achieve promotion in teaching, research, and service?  What arguments have or will you make to justify your scholarly research and/or artistic direction for and with young people?  What evidence do you believe best satisfies the expectations of professors outside K-12 disciplines who sit on promotion and tenure committees?

We did not address standards unique to PreK-12 theatre education because individual job descriptions cut across a huge multiplicity of areas and our work often overlaps teaching, research, and service responsibilities.  We’re “hybrid collaborators” and all too often “second-class citizens.”  Our teaching standards often exceed those of other theatre specializations.  Our research standards (artistic work and/or publications) often blur others’ distinctions.  Our service standards are grounded in research/scholarship (e.g., devised projects with communities).  Evaluators may judge our work less on written standards and more on what we actually do (or what they think we “should” be doing).  Overall, it may be “easier” to achieve promotion from Assistant to Associate, but mystery and politics shroud promotion from Associate to Full.

Panelists offered the following advice during your years before going up for promotion:

  • Rely on your initial job description and compare criteria with newer job descriptions.

  • Establish your own 5- to 7-year goals reasonably to demonstrate and prove later how you achieved each goal.

  • Do what YOU love to do!  You know who you are, but others will want you to be someone else (without necessarily telling you orally or in writing).

  • Most importantly, find and nurture relationships with several strong allies, mentors, and champions of your work whom you can trust both within and outside your own department.

  • Strategize everything you do and the weekly time you spend on teaching, research, and service.  Find out in advance how the powers-that-be categorize what you do and get it in writing.  If your departmental chair changes, repeat the process.

  • Serve on your institution’s Promotion and Tenure committee and/or Faculty Senate in order to learn what matters most to evaluators in their language(s) and to make friends in high places and earn their respect.

  • Call on your AATE colleagues along the way to assist you.

During your promotion process, panelists offered this advice:

  • Create a brief theme of your identity (like an elevator speech) and repeat it throughout (e.g., I am “a teacher of teachers.”  I am “a risk-taking artist.”).

  • When making arguments in your narrative, address departmental and university core values in their language(s) and be aware of others’ fears.

  • Emphasize numbers (e.g., numbers of child participants or audiences reached, grant dollars won, publications, etc.).

  • Give your promotion file draft to an ally outside your discipline to read, review, and offer suggestions.  Rewrite, edit, and revise repeatedly before submission.

  • Follow written rules and policies, but be aware that written criteria may change during the promotion process after you have submitted materials because individuals interpret language with their own subjective biases.

  • Your outside evaluators are key.  Choose strong advocates wisely.  Contact your outside evaluators in advance to find out whether they are willing to serve, and then put only those who agree to serve on your list of outside evaluators for others to contact.

Although AATE does not provide guidelines for promotion and tenure, ATHE’s guidelines acknowledge that “Although theatre educators and youth theatre specialists vary greatly in their depth of knowledge and ability in any one area, the range of proficiency typically required includes” expertise in most areas of theatre production, a broad knowledge of dramatic literature and theatre history, and administrative skills, such as curriculum design.  See:


If you are interested in chairing or serving on a task force to create AATE Guidelines for Promotion and Tenure, please contact Jeanne Klein [email protected].


Jeanne Klein, a perennial Associate Professor, teaches child drama, child media psychology, and US theatre history at the University of Kansas.  Her publications and papers may be freely accessed at KU ScholarWorks

Pamela Sterling became a faculty member of Arizona State Universitys Department of Theatre in 1999, receiving tenure and promotion to Associate Professor in the Herberger College of Fine Arts School of Theatre  at Arizona State University in 2006.  She now teaches  graduate courses in Theatre for Youth, Theatre for Social Change and Playwriting, in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts School of Film, Dance and Theatre, at Arizona State University, and she is still an Associate Professor.

Cecilia Aragón (CiCi), Ph.D., is Associate Professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance and Latina/o Studies Program at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, Wyoming.  She is the Director of Latina/o Studies Program and serves as Area Head for TYA in Theatre and Dance.  Her scholarly articles and research areas include Latina/o Theatre, Indigenous Performances of the Americas, and Theatre Education.  Aragon serves as past-president of Women and Theatre Program.  She was recently appointed to the National Endowment for the Arts national review board.

Dr. Christine Tanner specializes in creating theatre and dramatic activities for and with young people. Over the last nine years at EMU, she directed a British Panto version of Pinocchio, The Bully Show, Real Friends, Who’s Capeable?, launched the “Box Theatre Company,” and wrote and directed “Walking the Dog.” She received academic fellowships both in academic service learning and with the Department of Justice through ISCIF. Tanner was also the recipient of a New Faculty Research award in 2003, Service to the University Award in 2006, and a two time recipient of the Most Valuable Professor award from EMU’s Men’s and Woman’s Basketball teams. She holds a Ph.D. from Brigham Young University where she performed in a West Coast tour of Twelfth Night and received the Most Improved Actress Award.

Joan Lazarus is a Full Professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

Robert Colby is a Full Professor at Emerson College in Boston.

Nancy Eddy is an Associate Professor at Central Michigan University.

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