How to Become a Philosophy Teacher


Teaching philosophy is an ancient art that continues to thrive in today’s society. For example, The Socratic Method, an approach to teaching that pivots around teachers asking thought-provoking questions that lead students to explore a concept until they discover its limits, is one of the better-known examples of the point where philosophy and teaching intersect. Nowadays, philosophy teachers are trained to instruct classes as they explore the principles behind the nature of things, often delving into topics that include logic, aesthetics, metaphysics and values.

Philosophy teachers usually focus on a subfield of one of the following main branches of philosophy: epistemology, logic, ethics, metaphysics and aesthetics. Each of the before-mentioned philosophical fields is associated with the investigation of different types of questions. For example, epistemologists ponder about knowledge and knowing, while ethicists generally ask questions regarding good versus evil, and right versus wrong.

Strengthening critical thinking skills and challenging a student’s thoughts on politics, religion, ethics and other intriguing subjects, philosophy is a discipline that generally requires an advanced degree in order to assume a teaching position. The majority of career options are found at colleges and universities. While some professors teach broad survey courses with a great deal of writing and discussion at the postsecondary level, others cover more in-depth studies of specific texts, issues and/or philosophers.

How can I become an elementary, middle or high school philosophy teacher?

With the exception of a few high schools where philosophy is offered as an elective, philosophy is not officially part of most elementary, middle or high school curriculums. While elementary and middle school teachers may, at times, lead students in philosophical discussions, the formal study of philosophy really begins to appear at the secondary school level.

For example, second graders attending Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School of Excellence located in Springfield, Massachusetts are taught philosophy several times a month by a professor from the nearby Mount Holyoke College. Classroom discussions include topics such as ethics, aesthetics, and metaphysics. The professor uses picture books as the starting point for discussion concerning philosophical issues.

Since there is rarely the need to hire full-time philosophy teachers at the high school level, most high school philosophy courses are offered by teachers who hold a bachelor’s degree with a subject specialization in another field, usually History or English, and some form of state certification. In addition to completing an accredited undergraduate degree program, K-12 teachers are expected to complete a teacher education program; obtain student-teaching experience; and satisfy state-mandated requirements for becoming a licensed and certified teacher, which may include passing applicable examinations, paying licensure fees, and submitting to a criminal background check.

Teachers with an interest in leading philosophy classes with younger students as their pupils may find that positions exist at local private schools, which follow their own guidelines for hiring teachers. For example, some private schools do not require their teachers to become licensed or certified. In regards to the few private schools that do hire philosophy teachers, a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in philosophy may suffice.

How can I become a college philosophy professor?

At two-year colleges, philosophy professors offer a wide range of courses, especially finding many opportunities to teach courses in logic and ethics. Logic courses are frequently offered as part of the first-year core curriculum, since logic is often viewed as an excellent way for students to develop their ability to reason and construct sound arguments in speech and writing. Ethics courses are more often related to career specialties that stress the promotion of ethical practices within a particular field, such as law, medicine or business, with courses ranging from ‘Public Health Ethics’ to ‘Business Ethics’ to ‘Ethical Legal Practices.friendly woman teacher

To teach philosophy at a two-year college, applicants are typically expected to hold at least a Master of Arts in Philosophy, and are often expected to hold a PhD in Philosophy. Some community and junior colleges hire applicants with a master’s degree, but for positions with the greatest competition level, possessing a doctorate degree is a must for consideration.

College philosophy professors are also expected to:

  • Demonstrate excellence in teaching and research, from being an adjunct professor to publishing course materials.
  • Stay active in the field by publishing in peer reviewed journals, attending and presenting at conferences, and applying for grants to further research goals.

How can I become a university philosophy professor?

University-level philosophy professors must hold a PhD in Philosophy. This generally means that a professor has completed several years of graduate course work in philosophy; written and passed one or more field exams demonstrating their expertise in a specific branch of philosophy; and have written and defended a dissertation on a philosophical subject.

Some university-level philosophy professors complete postdoctoral work in philosophy before obtaining their first faculty appointment. As a philosophy professor at the university level, one can expect to offer core courses in his or her area of specialization (such as logic or aesthetics) to undergraduate students, as well as more advanced courses to graduate students on topics related to his or her specific area of expertise and research. The normal course load of a university philosophy professor is four to five courses in the Fall and Spring semester.

With courses that bear titles such as ‘The Problem of Evil,’ ‘Truth and Value’ or ‘Feminist Epistemology,’ professors often concentrate on one or more of the following areas of philosophy that either belong to theoretical or practical philosophy:

Theoretical Philosophy 

  • Metaphysics: touches upon beliefs about reality, which includes questions about the mind, matter, and the existence of God
  • Epistemology: covers the study of beliefs about belief, and the limits of human knowledge
  • Logic: teaches the techniques of systematic reasoning 

Practical Philosophy

  • Ethics: covers the beliefs associated with the principles of human conduct, morals, and the choices that people make
  • Aesthetics: studies concerning beliefs related to the principles of beauty, cultural standards of beauty, and judgement related to the value of the arts

In addition to teaching, university philosophy professors are expected to maintain a program of research and publication, as well as supervise and mentor graduate students pursuing research in similar areas of philosophical inquiry. Additional expectations include being willing to teach at both graduate and undergraduate levels; conduct research and publish in scholarly journals or write books related to their field of expertise; as well as remain active in the field, such as attending and presenting at conferences.

Depending on the school, university professors are hired to assume full-time roles, which often place an educator on a tenure-track towards obtaining a permanent position and a higher level of job security. Other job candidates are contracted as instructors, assistant professors and associate professors – they earn less money, and in some cases, split their time between more than one schools to provide instruction.

What is the job outlook for philosophy teachers?

Student enrollment at postsecondary schools is expected to continue increasing through 2024, with philosophy courses remaining a popular choice for students looking to major in the field, fulfill core requirements, or take an ‘interesting elective.’

Philosophy professors generally find the most employment opportunities at colleges, universities and professional schools, as opposed to junior colleges and other schools offering instruction roles. In 2014, the BLS noted a total of an estimated 23,210 philosophy professors were employed with 20,460 individuals working at colleges/universities, 2,670 employed by junior colleges, and 50 obtaining jobs elsewhere.

When hiring a philosophy professor, postsecondary schools often show preference to qualified candidates when they satisfy specific requirements, such as:

  • Demonstrating competence in a specific area of need, such as analytic tradition, government and human rights, professional ethics, and political Preference is often given to professors who are able to teach areas of philosophy not covered by current continuing faculty.
  • Experience in undergraduate and/or graduate teaching for a specified number of years, such as two to three years in Philosophy and Religion Studies. Some schools prefer to hire job candidates who have experience in teaching online classes.
  • Philosophy professors with the ability to teach a broad range of courses tend to face increased employment options at postsecondary schools. Those who have dual majors, such as degrees in Philosophy and Religious Studies, are also more attractive to schools that do not have a standalone Philosophy department. Sometimes, specializing in distinct areas, such as Africana Philosophy or Ancient Greek Philosophy, can help or hurt a job candidate applying for positions at smaller schools.
  • Have the ability to teach a specified number of courses for the academic year, such as two introductory courses and courses related to distinct subjects, such as Phenomenology and Existentialist Thought or Aesthetics, as well as an advanced seminar.

What is the compensation for philosophy teachers?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salaries earned in 2014 by teachers who teach courses in philosophy (which were grouped under the umbrella of educators associated with religion and theology, and who may have also combined teaching and research as part of their job) were as follows:

  • Elementary and middle school teachers – $53,760 – $54,940
  • High school teachers – $56,310
  • Postsecondary teachers – $63,630 (median), $71,350 (mean)

The overall salaries earned by philosophy teachers are ultimately affected by a variety of factors that includes type of degree earned, years spent teaching full-time, place of employment, and geographic location. For instance, some states are known to pay philosophy professors more money than others. The BLS lists the following as offering the highest annual mean salaries on the postsecondary level: Massachusetts ($99,920), Rhode Island ($96,270), Connecticut ($91,000), New Hampshire ($87,380), and New Jersey ($85,880).

To make the most money as a philosophy teacher, pursuing a position at a college, university or professional school is considered the most lucrative – as they paid an annual mean wage of $72,080 to professors in 2014 – compared to the $66,570 earned at junior colleges and $31,310 paid to philosophy instructors at other types of schools.

In conclusion, philosophy is a subject that fascinates, and aids in the skill development for students preparing for graduate study and various career fields that include law, medicine, business, journalism, and government. Philosophy courses are known to enhance problem-solving capacities and the organization of thoughts, as well as challenges viewpoints. Professors are trained to teach a wide variety of courses at the undergraduate and graduate level with introductory courses being quite popular amongst four-year students.

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