How to Become an Anthropology Teacher


whip2Anyone who has watched an Indiana Jones film is already familiar with one of the more prevalent stereotypes of the anthropologist—a bookish researcher who spends part of his or her year working on a university campus but unlike most scholars, periodically goes on wild and often dangerous adventures, usually in foreign and exotic locations. However, in reality, few anthropologists actually dig up ancient tombs or dodge falling boulders as part of their job. Additionally, only a fraction of anthropologists are also archaeologists, like Dr. Jones.

The American Anthropology Association identifies anthropology’s four major branches as archaeology, linguistics, sociocultural and physical (or biological). If there is any truth in the Indian Jones stereotype, it is that most anthropologists do spend part of their time teaching and writing, while engaging in fieldwork, when applicable. The fieldwork of the average anthropologist may or may not be located in an exotic or foreign location. In fact, in the 21st-century, anthropologists work increasingly closer to home and often carry out fieldwork online.

What are the four major branches of anthropology?

Educators, who major in or pursue careers teaching anthropology, typically specialize in one of the four major branches of the field shown below:

Archaeology: Professors, who specialize in the study of human activity, as evidenced through the discovery and analysis of material items that represent a culture, are trained to teach students about the artifacts, biofacts, cultural landscapes, architecture and other elements associated with an archeological record. In addition to classroom lectures and assigning term papers, university professors may also organize field trips and hands-on activities for their classes.

Linguistics: Professors who have studied how language has an influence on social life, teaches their students the correlation between language and social identity, cultural beliefs, representation in the world, and group membership. Professors may spend time conducting research and in the field, such as documenting endangered languages.

Sociocultural: Cultural anthropology professors study the origins of social relationships amongst humans as they pertain to various cultures. In addition to teaching in a classroom, it is not common for professors of this field to occasionally participate in archaeological digs – sometimes, advising, supervising and organizing similar experiences for their students.

Physical (biological): Aspiring educators with an interest in science and people may choose to specialize in physical (or biological) anthropology to learn how to teach others about the biological and behavioral concepts related to human beings, non-human primates, and mankind’s extinct ancestors. In addition to teaching future anthropologists, a professor’s knowledge in this field may also steach students majoring in biology, primatology, and forensics.

How can I become an anthropology teacher for high schools?

While teachers at all levels of the school system explore subjects that are informed by the insights of anthropologists, there are a few anthropology courses offered prior to the collegiate level. In some school districts, anthropology is available at high schools as a senior-level elective, but there is no clear pathway to becoming an anthropology teacher in this context.

Teachers who do offer anthropology courses at the high school level have typically completed coursework for a subject specialization in a related field. Most often, this means a qualified candidate has satisfied the following requirements:

  • A bachelor’s degree in anthropology, history or a social science discipline, where undergraduate majors are exposed to topics related to archaeology, biological anthropology, linguistics, and cultural anthropology
  • A teacher education program, including an internship or student-teaching experience within a high school environment
  • A license and certification to teach at a public school in their state
  • A master’s degree, as required by some states
  • Continuing education credits to maintain a valid teaching license

How can I become a college anthropology professor?

While many colleges offer anthropology courses, not all college anthropology programs are able to offer students an opportunity to pursue all of anthropology’s four major branches. Some colleges also offer anthropology courses in an applied context, such as a forensic science program, and thanks to television shows with forensic themes, like CSI, forensic anthropology is now a widely recognized and increasingly popular college program. Anyone who hopes to teach anthropology at a two-year college, junior college or community college must hold at least a master’s degree in anthropology and in most cases, a PhD in anthropology.

In some cases, a job candidate for a community college position may hold a bachelor’s degree in history, anthropology or archeology in addition to a master’s in sociology, biological sciences, forensic sciences, genetics or paleontology. Those with only a bachelor’s degree in the field are often hired to lead classes as an intern, or assume assistant teaching positions.

All job candidates must demonstrate the ability to teach on the college level, and meet the qualifications to teach in a specific college environment, which varies according to state and school guidelines. Many times, anthropology majors have also participated in hands-on research by participating in summer programs, digs, and travel abroad experiences associated with archeology, paleontology, and ethnographic research.

While qualified candidates may be asked to teach in more than one area of specialization, most anthropology professors are hired to deliver courses in a specific field (such as sociocultural anthropology or physical anthropology). College anthropology professors who teach courses in forensic science, which are usually archaeologists or physical anthropologists, may also be expected to hold a combination of education and work experience, such as demonstrating experience working as part of a forensic investigation team.

How can I become a university anthropology professor?

University-level anthropology professors must hold a PhD in anthropology. With few exceptions, they have been hired to teach exclusively in a single branch of anthropology (such as linguistics or cultural anthropology). This generally means that they have completed several years of graduate coursework in anthropology, written and passed one or more field exams demonstrating their expertise their area or areas of specialization within anthropology, and have written and defended a dissertation. Historically, anthropology dissertations were expected to be based on observations made during an extended period of fieldwork.

While the discipline continues to evolve, to this day, most doctoral students in anthropology spend anywhere from a few months to a few years carrying out some form of fieldwork. For example, archaeology students may spend several years working on a single excavation while linguistic anthropology students may spend six months or several years immersed in another language and observing how it is used and how it circulates.

Whatever the focus, it is typically assumed than anyone with a PhD in anthropology has a history of fieldwork and is therefore qualified to recruit, train and supervise graduate students engaged in similar pursuits. Once hired, anthropology professors are expected to continue engaging in fieldwork, to teach and supervise students at the undergraduate and/or graduate levels, and to regularly present their research at conferences in the field, such as the annual meeting of the American Anthropology Association, as well as to publish their research in reputed journals, such as American Anthropologist.

What is the job outlook for anthropology teachers?

Although the employment of anthropologists is expected to grow 4 percent, from 2014 to 2024, the numbers reflect a slower than average need to fill positions related to the study of human life, history and culture. Therefore, the need to hire educators to train future anthropologists is also low. Additionally, the type of research that PhD-prepared professors can conduct is often dependent on funding that many school and government budgets cannot afford; thus, affecting the rate of employment growth in anthropologists and anthropology professors who want to combine research and teaching students.

Since nearly all educators trained in anthropology obtain employment on the collegiate level, competition for jobs related to academics is high. Job security is further threatened by fewer universities offering tenure to their professors, and the lack of education positons available for those who do not have an advanced degree in anthropology.

A greater number of job opportunities and higher-paying positions are found at colleges and universities who have gained notoriety for their anthropology and archeology departments, including the leading programs for PhD in anthropology, such as Stanford University, Duke University, Florida State University, Harvard University, Rutgers University, Michigan State University, New York University, and University of New Mexico.

On other campuses, where departments of anthropology are not prevalent, professors obtain positions in research laboratories at universities, where they work with individual students, write scholarly articles, and pen textbooks for the field. According to Boston University’s Department of Arts & Sciences, a number of academic anthropologists also find careers in other departments or university programs, such as schools of medicine, epidemiology, public health, cultural studies, linguistics, cognitive psychology, and ethnic studies.

Overall, job prospects are best for candidates who hold a doctorate degree; demonstrate widespread activity related to anthropological or archeological fieldwork on their resume; have published in reputable journals; presented at prestigious conferences; and are well-versed in quantitative and qualitative research methods related to the field.

What is the compensation for anthropology teachers?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salaries of anthropology teachers in 2014 (including those who also taught archeology, and/or combined teaching and research as part of their job) were as follows:

  • High school teachers (in rare cases) – $56,310
  • Postsecondary teachers – $74,750

The amount of money that an anthropology teacher or professor earns is affected by their place of employment, years of experience, educational background, and also, geographic location. For instance, the BLS reported that the following states (with annual mean salaries) paid the highest salaries to anthropology teachers at postsecondary schools: Massachusetts ($115,120), Oregon ($103,280), Michigan ($93,710), New Jersey ($93,490), and New York ($91,170).

Out of the 6,100 anthropology and archeology professors employed in 2014, colleges, universities and professional school employed the greatest number – paying an average salary of $82,920 to 5,030 professors. Junior colleges employed the second-highest number of educators trained in anthropological studies – 1,070 professors earned $74,370 annually in 2014. 

In conclusion, becoming a teacher or professor that specializes in the field of anthropology is rewarding for an individual with an interest in studying human life and culture. However, the number of available jobs in academics is not as plentiful as with other primary core subjects, such as math, English and the sciences. Those who earn an advanced degree and have completed substantial research, fieldwork or published pieces typically face an increased chance of gaining employment at a college or university.

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