98 - Niles Mattier: From Teaching To Museum Education Management

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98 – Niles Mattier: From Teaching To Museum Education Management

Ashley

Niles Mattier is the Associate Manager of Teacher Services at an art museum in NYC and a freelance curriculum writer. He was previously a middle school history teacher for four years.

Listen to the episode in the podcast player below, or find it on Apple Podcast or Spotify.

From Teaching To Museum Education Management

Daphne Gomez:

Hi, Niles. Thank you so much for being here today.

Niles Mattier:

Hi. How are you, Daphne?

Daphne Gomez:

I’m so excited. There are so many teachers who are constantly reaching out to learn more about museum roles, museum education roles. So I’m just really excited to learn a little bit more about you, and I’m happy that you’re here.

Niles Mattier:

I’m so excited to be here and to share my experiences with other teachers and to chat a little bit with you.

Daphne Gomez:

Do you mind sharing a little bit about your history and education and when you were working in the public school systems?

Why Niles left the classroom

Niles Mattier:

Yeah, sure. So I was a fifth and sixth grade social studies teacher in Boston for three years and a fifth grade social studies teacher in New York City for one year. And I currently live in New York City now.

Daphne Gomez:

How long were you in the classroom before you started thinking about leaving the classroom?

Niles Mattier:

I was in the classroom for four years before I started to think about making a pivot to try something new. The pandemic definitely had a lot to do with my decision and this feeling of burnout and that I really needed a change to better my own mental health and wellbeing.

Daphne Gomez:

Where did you start really looking for different jobs outside of the classroom?

Niles Mattier:

I knew that I wanted to stay in education. It’s something that I’m really passionate about. So I knew that I didn’t want to be a formal classroom teacher, but I knew that I wasn’t going to make a complete 180 pivot and go into the private sector or anything like that.

And I actually had a really good idea that I wanted to work in museum education. So those were the kind of roles that I decided to pursue. And luckily, one came around.

Daphne Gomez:

So what did you start doing when you knew that this was the career path for you? Where did you start looking first?

How Niles started in Museum Education

Niles Mattier:

Yeah. So actually, while I was still working in the classroom last school year, I took on a part-time job just one day a week teaching an art class at museum in Brooklyn. So that way, I could start to get my feet in the door and start to see what it was like to work in a museum while I was still in the classroom. So that way, I knew that I was going to want to apply to a museum education role. So I thought it’d be a good idea to just teach one day a week art class at a museum to get a feel for it and have that to be on my resume for when I decided to pursue full-time roles in museum education.

Daphne Gomez:

For that one day a week job, did they require you to be an art teacher or just any sort of experience working with children and you were a good fit for it?

Niles Mattier:

Yeah. They didn’t require me to be an art teacher. I don’t have a formal art background. I didn’t go to art school or anything like that. But my experience as an educator really, I believe, helped me stand out. And I love drawing, painting and doing that kind of thing in my free time. So I was able to use my education background from teaching social studies in the classroom and just my love and passion for art to get that part-time job teaching an art class once a week.

Daphne Gomez:

Do you see a lot of part-time roles open up like that at museums, not just for art teaching, but maybe for even the museum education program? Are there often opportunities that teachers could explore outside of the classroom?

Niles Mattier:

Yeah, 100%. So the part-time role that I took on before I got the full-time role that I’m in now at a different museum was called a teaching artist. And actually, you can find that kind of role at many museums. And they’re usually pretty part-time. I would say a lot of museum staff is part-time, because museums need a lot of people to teach just one or two classes once or twice a week. So it’s definitely something that teachers could explore, teaching an art class if they would like at a museum part-time.

Daphne Gomez:

What about working in a museum made you know that you really wanted that to be your full-time job?

Niles Mattier:

Well, my first thing with museums was I just love to be a visitor. So I love to spend time in museums. I live in New York City. We have so many wonderful museums here. And my background, although I didn’t study art and I wasn’t an art teacher, my background is in social studies history. And I believe that has a perfect connection to museums, right? When you go into a museum, a lot of the art is based in history and from different time periods in history. So I was able to make a lot of connections with the knowledge I knew about history of different countries around the world.

And when I go into a museum, it helps me really analyze the art critically and deeply, because I have so much historical context, even if I didn’t exactly have formal art training.

Daphne Gomez:

Yeah. I feel like I go into museums and I wish that I did a better job of reading all the plaques. I just rush through them. And then there are people who really sit and they absorb the information, and they’re able to make all of these great comparisons to how what they’re learning relates to other parts of history.

And it sounds like you always knew that you loved that part of being in a museum and that you’d like to probably have those conversations with other people and share that passion. Is that right?

Niles Mattier:

Yeah, for sure. Museums are so calming. And when I go into one, I can spend hours just looking around and making connections to other pieces I’ve seen in different museums. And I really like to talk about art with people. So I would go to museums with friends, family members and just spend time talking about art.

And what I really love is that it’s really up to interpretation and there’s no right or wrong answer. So it’s something that you can really invite people in to engage with, because there’s not that fear that you have to know exactly what’s going on in the painting or exactly what time period something is from. But you can just really use what you see and deduce knowledge from that.

Daphne Gomez:

So did you start talking to people who worked at museums about how to actually get your foot in the door? Because I’ve heard that it can be competitive as well.

Niles Mattier:

Yeah, it can be really competitive. And I think one of the main reasons is because when people find a really great museum job, I’ve heard that they don’t leave for a long time. And the museum that I currently work at now, there’s people that have been there 20, 30 years. So when a role opens up, they can get filled pretty quickly, because I feel like there’s not a lot of roles available.

And when there is one available, a lot of people do apply for it, for a full-time role specifically. Part-time roles open up frequently, and I think those are easier to get your foot in the door with. But to secure a full-time role at an art museum, I definitely think there was a lot of competition for that.

So something I did was, like I said, while I was still in the classroom full time, I took a part-time job, because I knew that would make me stand out on my resume for when I wanted to get a full-time role in museum education. So it definitely was tiring, because I was working six days a week and being in the classroom full time and then one day a week, on the weekends, teaching an art class. But I knew that it would really help me learn the skills I needed to get a full-time role in museum education.

Daphne Gomez:

It’s one of the trickiest parts of job hunting, is because they really want to see something on your resume that makes you stand out above potentially other teachers who are also applying for the exact same roles. So sometimes, that’s getting your foot in the door and having a part-time job, because they’re not going to ask you, “How many days a week did you do this?,” or, “How many hours total?” All they’re looking for is the name of the company or the name of the museum that you worked at, and then that makes you stand out over other people who did not have that experience.

Niles Mattier:

Yeah, 100%. And I feel like, like you were saying, having that experience on my resume did make me stand out, I believe, because there definitely were other educators who were applying for the full-time position that I have now, but maybe they didn’t have any experience on their resume teaching at a museum. And although they might have had teaching experience, right, as an educator, teaching in a classroom is very different than teaching in a gallery or an art studio. So that was a great thing that I was able to have on my resume and really speak about in the interview and things that I found more challenging about teaching in an art museum and in a studio setting and the connections I could make between teaching in the classroom as well.

Daphne Gomez:

Did you ever see volunteer opportunities at museums as well? I know what you did sounds like it was a paid part-time position, but even a once a month like a… What is it called, a docent?

Niles Mattier:

A docent.

Daphne Gomez:

Docent.

Niles Mattier:

Yeah. I did see they definitely always have volunteer docent positions available. For me specifically, I was looking to teach a class. So I was looking for a paid opportunity where I’d be teaching an art class with people who came to the museum. Whereas docents more talk about the art that is in the museum, I was actually teaching a class to people who came, different art classes from painting to weaving and other things like that.

And at first, I was a little nervous, because like I said, I don’t have a formal studio art degree or anything like that. But they really took the time to work with me and teach me the skills that I would need to teach whatever lesson was needed for that art class that day.

Daphne Gomez:

So it sounds like you did actually go and talk to some people who worked at museums even before or during the process of trying to get this full-time job, right?

How networking helped Niles in his job search

Niles Mattier:

Yeah, 100%. So what I did was I knew there was a bunch of different museums in New York City that I was interested in working at, and this is a city that’s full of really great and huge art museums, world renowned art museums. So when I was working part-time teaching that art class, there were other people who worked at that museum that did have full-time roles. And I would talk to them about if they knew any openings at different museums around the city, did they have any former colleagues that they could connect me with?

And even though there are a lot of museums in New York City, it does feel like a small community. And someone at one museum knows another person who works at a different museum, and you can really build connections and find a role by someone that you know.

Daphne Gomez:

So you went up, they were just total strangers that were working at the museum, and you just casually made conversation?

Niles Mattier:

Not a hundred percent total strangers that are working at the museum. So when I was teaching the art class one day a week, other people that worked at the museum in full-time roles, I would go to speak to them about people they knew at different museums and build the connection that way. That’s really bold to just walk into a museum that you don’t work at or have any connection to and start talking to people.

Daphne Gomez:

That’s what I was going to clarify, because I don’t recommend necessarily going into someone’s place of employment and saying, “Hey, are you busy? By the way, do you have a job opening?” But what you did was very smart because you were already working there, and so… introduce you to someone at a different museum. That’s such a smart way to get your foot in the door at a full-time position.

When you were interviewing for this part-time role, was that even competitive? And did you feel like you needed to stand out for that role?

Niles Mattier:

Yeah, when I was interviewing for the part-time role, I felt like something that was going to be a struggle was that I didn’t have that formal art background, because there were probably people who were interviewing for that part-time role that were people who had studied studio art, painting, graphic design, any kind of art, right, in their background, while I was a history education major. So I was worried about that.

But like I said, I think what really stood out was when I was able to connect social studies and history with art and really form that connection there. And I think that really helped me stand out versus maybe someone who taught science, right? They might not be able to bridge that connection as much as I was able to do with my social studies history background.

Daphne Gomez:

And do you mind sharing, when you were looking at the different types of roles for full-time positions, was there a huge change in salary either one way or the other, or is it pretty much the same salary?

Niles Mattier:

Are you talking about the salary from teaching to the full-time role or-

Daphne Gomez:

Yes.

Niles’ experience with salary and leaving the classroom

Niles Mattier:

Okay. Yeah. So actually, the salaries that I was seeing with the full-time museum education roles were comparable to teaching salaries. And I think the main reason for that is because I was teaching for four years, right? But I had some coworkers that I was talking about this transition with. And for some of them who have been teaching for 10, 15 years, it definitely would’ve been a pay cut for them, just because they had so much more experience in the field.

Daphne Gomez:

The same thing happened with me. I left teaching after three years, and I was in a higher paying district in a higher paying state, which New York is also, I believe, one of the higher paying states. I could be wrong.

Niles Mattier:

Yes, for sure. Yeah.

Daphne Gomez:

Yeah. So California’s the same way. But I left after four years and I still found out that people who were managers at Starbucks made more money than I did with my master’s and four years of teaching experience.

Niles Mattier:

Oh wow.

Daphne Gomez:

Yeah. So when you’re earlier in your career, obviously it is a lot easier. With the pay schedule for a museum, is that something that’s transparent in the same way that a pay schedule for teaching is transparent? Are you able to just look it up and see what the steps are, or is that more behind closed door once you actually get the position, like a formal company usually does?

Niles Mattier:

Actually, what was really great about looking for these roles in museum education was that, nine out of 10 times, they would post a salary in the job description, which is something I really love and I think that more companies should do, because it really just helps the interviewer and the interviewee save time when they know that the position that they’re applying for matches their requirements salary wise.

Daphne Gomez:

So you landed a… It’s a museum education management role, correct?

Niles Mattier:

Yeah. So I’m the manager of teacher services at a museum. So what that means is I oversee the teacher professional development programs at the museum. So basically, teachers from different schools around the city come into the museum and attend different workshops for professional development. They can learn different skills about guided inquiry and how to implement that in their classrooms, multimodal engagement, and a variety of different other things. And we really find that a lot of our social studies teachers come to the museum to figure out how to integrate art into their own curriculum.

Daphne Gomez:

I know that there’s so many teachers who are listening who are burned out. And the second that you hear, “Oh, I’m in charge of professional development that has to do with teachers,” you start to tense up. But for me, my happiest memory in my worst year of teaching was taking a day off and going to the Getty and getting a paid PD day to go hang out at the Getty Museum and do exactly what you’re talking about, because my district allowed us to take it as a paid professional development day to go and learn a couple of things and then come back and share what we’d learned. And it was just such a relaxing, great day, and I enjoyed it so much.

So I feel like even those people who are on the cusp of just being so burned out, this is still a good way to stay with education, but without being in an environment where you know might be potentially triggering to you if you’re leaving a negative environment.

Niles Mattier:

Yeah, 100%. And like you said, I find that the teachers that do come to the personal development workshops are so excited to be there, because they’re opt in, right? It’s not like a professional development at your school, where it’s mandatory and you’re forced to be there, right? Teachers seek out these opportunities and they choose to come.

Sometimes, they’re even paid a stipend by the museum that I work at for doing some work that we have. For example, if we’re running a professional development workshop, we’ve had times where teachers have created lesson plans for us that we then use in the museum. So teachers usually come with a very excited and positive attitude and they’re very eager to learn and to just be out of school for a day or a week, however long the professional development workshop is, and just be in a calm, quiet museum setting and learn.

What it was like for Niles to interview

Daphne Gomez:

What was the interview for this type of position? Did you have to go through a couple of different interviews?

Niles Mattier:

Yeah. I had to go through two rounds of interviews, which I think is pretty standard for a role like this. In the first round, it was really just a conversation, talking about specifically why I was interested in the role and why I was deciding to leave the classroom and what I think I could bring to the role.

And then once I passed that first round, I did have a second round interview, where I actually had to run a mock professional development workshop. So there were about four people on the interview. I had to come up with a professional development workshop and pretend like they were teachers who were attending my workshop and teach to them. And that was pretty nerve-wracking, even though I had been teaching, right, for four years and I was teaching people in the classroom every day. Teaching in an interview setting is always… can be really anxiety provoking.

Daphne Gomez:

I’ve seen so many people in this exact phase of the interview process, because they’re so overwhelmed with emotions, potentially the stress of what they’re leaving behind, the excitement, the fear that they may not get it, all of that, where their brains are just going through so much that even the prompt itself is so hard for people to understand.

The company might write something like, “Okay, we want you to create your own presentation on dogs.” And they’re like, “What does this mean, dog?” They can’t read what the words are because they’re just so overwhelmed. Did they give you a prompt or did they just say, “Whatever goes?”

Niles Mattier:

They did give me a prompt. And what I did was I actually spent a lot of time on their website, looking at other teacher professional development workshops, that they had hosts in the museum before. So I was able to get an idea what they were looking for and the things that they do at the museum, which was really, really helpful. And then I just took that and made my own spin on things. And apparently, it was enough.

Daphne Gomez:

Did they give you any feedback during or after your interview about what it was that truly made you successful in the role?

Niles Mattier:

So they actually asked me to give myself feedback, what I think went well and what I would change. And they did give a little bit of initial feedback in the same kind of way, things I did well. And they asked some follow up questions, like what I would do differently if this was the scenario and this was the scenario.

But it was actually pretty hard to tell at the end of the interview if I was going to get the role or not. I was a little unsure. They were pretty good at having a poker face, I guess you could say, where you know you would finish an interview and they’re just like, “Okay. Well, thank you for your time.” And I was like, “All right. I don’t know how this really went.” But I just stayed positive and hoped for the best, and then they sent out an email offering me the role.

Daphne Gomez:

So was there anything specifically that you were able to reflect on that you told them that you may have improved if you had a second chance?

Niles Mattier:

Yeah. Something that I really told them I wanted to improve on was engaging the audience in the conversation and dialogue a little bit more. I feel like I had a lot of experience, right, teaching children, and I feel like that’s a little easier for me when I’m in front of a group of students to ask them, “Oh, are you confused about anything? What do you not understand?”

But sometimes, I think with adults, you just assume, “Oh, they get everything. Everything’s going well.” And I really needed to take that time to stop and ask if anyone had any clarifying questions, if anyone was a little unsure about anything, if there was something that needed to be reworded and just a general pulse temperature check of the room.

Daphne Gomez:

Was this the first full-time job at a museum that you actually applied for that you ended up landing?

Niles Mattier:

No. I actually had applied to two other similar roles at museums. This was one of the ones that got back to me first. At another museum, they did offer me a second round interview, but I had already accepted the full-time role at the museum that I’m currently at now. And unfortunately, at another museum, I just didn’t get the role.

Daphne Gomez:

That’s still a pretty good success rate. I applied for museum jobs in between my job as a teacher and with the professional development trainer that I had right after I left the classroom. There was a good two months that I was applying to jobs. And I applied to a couple museum education jobs, but I did not do a really good job of translating my resume. I didn’t have anything to do with museum education on my resume, no volunteer experience, nothing that really would make me stand out above any other teachers.

Were there roles that you could tell just from your own experience working at a museum that you potentially would be more of a long shot and might not be qualified for?

Niles Mattier:

Yeah. Well, the main role people usually think of a museum is a curator, right, where people are tasked with designing an exhibition. And you really need a lot of experience working museums before you’re able to secure that role. And most people who do have roles in museum curation do have some advanced degree in art history, where they really have spent a lot of time studying art and how to really design and curate an exhibition.

So that definitely is… When people think of roles at museums, I think that’s one of the main ones they think about. But you really have to have a lot of experience with art history, working museum education before you’re able to get a role like that.

Niles shares museum roles he thinks are a good fit for teachers

Daphne Gomez:

What types of roles do you see besides the one that you have in museum education management that would be good fits for transitioning teachers?

Niles Mattier:

I need a second to think on this one. I would say roles that might be a good fit for teachers are roles where there’s some sort of partnerships with schools, right, maybe a role where you’re overseeing school trips and gallery visits and things like that, because you’re able to connect your experience that you have working with schools and working with students to then working with students when they come to visit a gallery and really create activities for them to make their gallery experience enriching.

So roles where you’re either, I would say, working with teachers like I do or roles where you work directly with students who come to the museum, because I feel like with that background of being a classroom teacher, those kind of roles would be the best fit for a former teacher.

Daphne Gomez:

What about the front desk, like customer success? I don’t know if they’re customer support or if they have other job titles, but the people who are just admissions. Is that a role that you could see a transitioning teacher working in?

Niles Mattier:

Yeah, for sure. Usually, that part of the museum is called Visitor Experience, and people who oversee that part of the museum have to just be very personable and be able to work with a lot of very different types of personalities, people that come into museums from all over the world and really be good with customer service.

And I feel like as a teacher managing 25 or 30 different personalities in a classroom every day, that really would give you some experience needed to manage the front house of a museum.

Daphne Gomez:

What about the people who tell me I get too close to the paintings because I have long arms and I talk with my hands?

Niles Mattier:

That could be a good role for transitioning teachers as well. I found, though, that most of those kind of roles in museums are often part-time, because museums usually are not open all seven days or five days of the week. They usually are only open portions of the week for a couple of hours. So I feel like those roles I’ve seen are mostly part-time for public safety.

Daphne Gomez:

So what does your day to day look like? Not every single day, do you have a group of teachers coming in and doing professional development, I assume.

Niles Mattier:

Yeah.

Niles talks about what it’s like to manage teaching at a museum

Daphne Gomez:

So what does a day to day in your job look like, especially on those days when you aren’t leading those professional developments?

Niles Mattier:

Yeah. So days when I’m not leading professional development workshops, I’m often planning for my next professional development workshops. I usually do around two to three a month. So it does take a lot of time to plan, and I usually have other folks in the museum involved in my workshops as well. For example, if I’m leading a workshop on guided inquiry, I may have one of the curators come into the workshop and give a talk to the teachers to discuss a specific exhibition and how they can talk about that exhibition in their classroom.

And additionally, I also develop curriculum for the museum. So a lot of teachers actually don’t know this, but on a lot of museum websites, you can find full lesson plans that you can use in your classroom for free. And I actually work with the museum to create a lot of that online digital curriculum as well.

Daphne Gomez:

I love that. And I feel like, because I was so used to being rushed to create five, six different resources per day, it was just constantly learning and pushing something out. And that was just the cycle for all of the years that I was in education.

When I finally left and I was in charge of giving a really big presentation in front of 200 teachers, my reaction to it, I would be very stressed out and I would be very overwhelmed. And then I would remember I actually have two weeks to dive into the subject and to create something and to practice it and to potentially reuse it time and time again and tweak it and get better at it. And I feel like that was one thing that I really appreciated, is having that space to think and create and do iterations of it.

Niles Mattier:

Yeah, 100%. The lesson plans and teacher resources and curriculum that I create for the museum website, I definitely do have deadlines that I have to meet. But it’s not like I have to make a new lesson plan every day like I would when I’m teaching in a classroom and need to have new content for the class every day. It’s really creating a really useful, fruitful, and well thought out resource that the museum is proud and happy to publish, that teachers can use and really get a lot out of for their classrooms.

So although I do have deadlines that I have to meet, it’s definitely not turning over a new lesson plan every day like you do when you’re in the classroom full time.

Daphne Gomez:

One of the questions I always like to end my interviews with, it feels like you really found the right job for you. You already knew right off the top of your head what you wanted to go into and you didn’t even really have to struggle to get into it. You have a very successful and I would say fortunate story. But it doesn’t mean that you didn’t have to overcome anything to get to where you are today. So what did you learn about yourself during the process when you were transitioning out of this career?

Niles Mattier:

Well, it definitely, like you said, was easier than some other teachers might have it when they’re trying to transition into a new role. But I did take your advice and really have to upscale and take that part-time role first and do that in order to really strengthen my resume. So that way, I was able to find full-time museum education roles.

Something that I really did learn about myself, though, is that teaching adults is very different than teaching kids. And I had mostly experience teaching kids, and now I transition to teaching adults. And I wouldn’t say that one’s better or one’s easier than the other, but they’re just really different. And the personality and energy I have when teaching fifth grade is very different than the kind of energy and vibe that I create when I’m teaching other teachers and adults. And that was something that was a little challenging to navigate at first, because you really have to read the energy of the room and really meet the teachers where they’re at.

Daphne Gomez:

I don’t know what to say. Hold on.

Niles Mattier:

Did that answer your question?

Daphne Gomez:

No, you did great. Yeah, you did great.

Niles Mattier:

Okay.

Daphne Gomez:

Well, I’m so happy for you. And thank you so much for coming on, Niles. It has been such a pleasure to get to know you and to hear your story, and I just really appreciate you coming on and sharing with the audience.

Niles Mattier:

Yeah. It was great to be here. And thank you so much for all the resources that you put out for teachers. They’re really, really helpful. And I think, honestly, your Instagram page, your LinkedIn, and all the other platforms you use to share resources with teachers and support us is really impacting a lot of teachers all over the world. So thank you so much for that.

Daphne Gomez:

Thank you for saying that. It’s been such a pleasure to meet you. And keep in touch.

Niles Mattier:

Yes, I will. Thank you.

Important Links

Mentioned in this podcast:

Step out of the classroom and into a new career, The Teacher Career Coach Course