How to Become a History Teacher


Like English and Mathematics, History is a core subject found in nearly all elementary, middle, and high schools. At the elementary and middle school levels, history is typically taught under the more general heading of social studies. Students attending high school, college, and university levels generally encounter history as a separate discipline.

At more advanced levels, history courses focus on specific regions and time periods, such as 19th-century American history and 20th century British history, or focus on specific historical issues or topics, such as women’s history or the history of science and technology. With such an expansive field, those who choose to major in the subject and pursue a career as a history teacher, typically find plenty of job opportunities related to academics.

How can I become an elementary or middle school history teacher?

At the elementary level, all classroom teachers teach history as part of the required social studies curriculum. In most U.S. schools, the curriculum focuses primarily on learning about American history. History is a subject that goes beyond learning old facts about the nation, as it assists elementary school students in understanding how the world operates and the appropriate behaviors needed to function in today’s society. Knowing the past allows students to understand the realities of the present.antique books

By the time a student advances to middle school, he or she is expected to possess a basic understanding of governmental structures, and to have learned about key moments in U.S. history, such as the Boston Tea Party and the Great Depression.

Unlike teachers at the secondary and postsecondary level, educators in an elementary school classroom are not required to hold a degree in history.

Instead, individuals with an interest in teaching history and social studies to elementary school students must complete the following:

  • A bachelor’s degree in education (with or without a concentration in history), or major in history and complete the required teacher education coursework. Most elementary school teachers have completed one or more courses in teaching social studies as part of their teacher-training program.
  • Complete a student-teaching experience or internship
  • Pass applicable examinations and complete the state-mandated licensure process
  • Become licensed and certified to teach in their state of residence
  • Maintain a valid teaching license by fulfilling continuing education credit requirements

While history is typically still offered as part of the social studies curriculum at most middle schools, there are many learning institutions employing full-time history teachers to fill open positions.

Middle school social studies teachers typically complete the following steps:

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree program in history or another social studies concentration; or have majored in education with a concentration in history.
  • Have completed a teacher-training program, including a student-teaching experience or internship, which introduces aspiring educators to the dynamics of teaching middle school-aged children.
  • Pass state-mandated examinations and have completed the application process to obtain a teaching license.
  • Satisfy all of the requirements to gain a license or certification to teach in their state, which varies on a state-by-state basis.

The history curriculum at the middle school level typically expands to include ancient and world histories, while continuing to advance a students’ understanding of (and appreciation for) U.S. history. Teachers also touch upon local, state and regional history, which may cover Native Americans and the way that early pioneers lived. U.S. history at this level typically focuses on early explorers, the Thirteen Colonies, and various wars (such as the Revolutionary War and Civil War). Common world history topics often include the Vietnam War, the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, and the building of the Egyptian pyramids. Teachers often use biographies, textbooks, assign book reports, and utilize visual media to introduce material in class.

How can I become a high school history teacher?

At the high school level, the social studies curriculum expands to include specific courses in history, geography, and sometimes sociology and related fields. While high school history courses typically include world history courses, U.S. history continues to be a mainstay of the curriculum. By the high school level, teachers may spend an entire semester exploring a single period of American history. Students, especially at the senior level, are also introduced to research methods in history, including how to access historical resources online.

The high school curriculum of many schools blends national and worldwide history, and often touches upon additional subjects related to the subject and social studies, from economics to timeline-specific milestones, such as the Industrial Revolution, the Cold War, and the Civil Rights Movement.

High school history teachers often lead students on school trips to historic sites, and depending on the learning institution (and school budget), may even offer opportunities for travel-related experiences, such as studying abroad. A high school history teacher generally holds a bachelor’s degree in history, has completed a teacher-training program, and gained licensure to teach in their state of residence.

The typical path to becoming a high school history teacher includes the following steps:

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree. History teachers for the high school level are expected to have at least a bachelor’s degree (preferably in history or social studies), and have completed a teacher education program. During this time, high school-bound history teachers are trained to deliver standardized subject matter, as well as prepare students to handle college-level social studies. Student-teaching experience (or an internship) is most often completed before a degree is earned.
  • Complete applicable exams. High school teachers are expected to pass state-mandated examinations, which tests the basic skills of an aspiring educator, as well as their knowledge of the content area they wish to teach.
  • Get a license or become certified to teach history. Educators may complete specific certification and licensing requirements for high school teachers according to state of residence, which varies. For example, the state of Illinois requires high school history teachers to have majored in the subject or completed 32 semester hours in the content area; or complete 24 semester hours in content courses and then pass relevant content area tests.
  • Earn a master’s degree. Some states require their high school educators to earn a master’s degree after becoming certified to teach. Other teachers decide to pursue an advanced degree as a way to increase their chances for getting a promotion and earning a higher salary.
  • Pursue professional development opportunities. In order to maintain a valid teaching license, history teachers must fulfill continuing education requirements, as set by their state of residence. This may also include staying in line with the technological advancements that include using multimedia resources, such as interactive history lessons, digital photo archives, and film libraries.

In regards to obtaining a teaching credential, some private schools do not require their staff to possess a license and certification as a job prerequisite.

How can I become a college or university history professor?

At the college and university level, history is a popular subject taught at liberal arts institutions. College professors typically hold a PhD in History, but when teaching at a two-year junior college or community college, educators can be hired with a master’s degree in history. At smaller colleges, it is not uncommon for history professors to teach specific courses within their field, especially when students are expected to fulfill a general education requirement in history.

In some cases, college history professors may concentrate on a specific era or timeline (like the Industrial Revolution), and teach history-focused courses in the context of other departments, such as an environmental history course for an environmental studies program, or the history of feminism for the women’s studies department.

Unlike history teachers in K-12 schools, postsecondary teachers enjoy a higher level of flexibility concerning instructional methods. With fewer worries over classroom management, procedural responsibilities and standardized testing than grade school teachers, postsecondary teachers spend the bulk of their time preparing and delivering lectures, giving instructions for assignments, grading term papers, and meeting with students during designated office hours.

University professors complete doctoral programs to obtain a PhD in History, which generally take six to eight years to complete – depending on the time it takes to write a dissertation, and whether a student earns a master’s degree in history. Overall, university professors have typically completed several years of graduate-level coursework in history; one or more field exams in an area of specialization (such as Medieval French history or early 20th-century U.S. history); and written a dissertation on a specific topic related to their period and regional specialization.

Some students conduct postdoctoral research lasting an additional two years before applying for a faculty or adjunct position at a university. Ultimately, the goal of a university professor is to secure a permanent position, also referred to as tenure. Competition to achieve tenure is high at most postsecondary schools.

University professors increase their chances of a tenure-track position by:

  • Conducting research that advances the overall knowledge of history
  • Publishing original research in academic journals and books
  • Presenting at conferences and leading discussions at workshops
  • Serving as an academic advisor

While there are some exceptions, at most universities, especially large research institutions, history professors are hired to teach courses in a specific region and era. In addition to teaching courses in their area of specialization, supervising graduate students and participating in the governance of their department and university is expected.

What is the job outlook for history teachers?

History is a subject in school that examines the events and lives of people from the past, which allows individuals to learn more about their world and environment in the present. In educational circles, there are some who believe the importance of teaching history has lost its status due to the computer and digital world. A decreased interest observed in students has led to decreased numbers in qualified educators for the subject, especially in high schools. Therefore, employment prospects are relatively decent for history majors seeking a teaching job.

Geographic location also has a significant effect on the number of available jobs for history teachers. For example, the West and the South are expected to experience increasing numbers in student population, thus creating more job openings for all educators, including history teachers. Urban and rural communities are also in need to hire more teachers to hard-to-fill subjects in secondary schools. The U.S. Department of Education also identifies states experiencing teacher shortages by subject, and for the 2015/2016 academic year, Idaho was a state noted for having a need to hire history teachers for grades 6-12, while Nebraska lacked enough history teachers to fill positions for grades 9-12.

History teachers with advanced degrees and a scholarly reputation in the field have a better chance of qualifying for higher-paying jobs. Participation in conferences, publications, and professional associations for educators and history teachers (such as the American Federation of Teachers, National Council for History Education, and American Historical Association) can also increase a job candidate’s appeal with a particular school. Employers, especially those associated with colleges and universities prefer to hire individuals who are active in the field.

Other attributes that increase a job candidate’s chances of getting hired:

  • Holding dual master’s degrees, meaning they are able to teach more than one subject
  • Demonstrating a specialty, such as being bi-lingual or having the ability to teach high school students with special needs
  • Having experience with distance learning or teaching, as many two-year institutions prefer applicants who can teach an online class

What is the compensation for history teachers?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that history teachers earned the following median salaries in 2014 (including those who combined research and teaching as an occupation):

  • Elementary and middle school teachers – $53,760 – $54,940
  • High school teachers – $56,310
  • Postsecondary teachers – $66,840

The overall salary of history teachers is determined by their place of employment, years of experience, educational background, and geographic location. Certain states pay their history teachers a higher annual mean salary than others, as seen in the following 2014 statistics for top-paying locations for the occupation, as reported by the BLS: California ($92,340), Massachusetts ($92,050), Michigan ($89,780), Connecticut ($88,540), and Oregon ($88,500).

The BLS also identified the top-two, highest-paying industries for history teachers as being colleges, universities and professional schools (hiring 17,300 educators and paying an annual salary of $76,060 in 2014) and junior colleges (hiring 6,250 history teachers and paying $67,180 annually that same year). Overall, educators with advanced degrees stand to make the most money within the field.

In conclusion, history is a subject comprised of many different topics that offer a wide range of employment opportunities for teachers, especially those who wish to become an expert within a certain niche. Those who earn an advanced degree can teach at a postsecondary school, while high schools across the nation are in need of history teachers, and hire educators with at least a bachelor’s degree in the field.

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