How to Become a Social Science Teacher


The social sciences is comprised of a variety of disciplines and subject areas meant to educate individuals on various areas of society-related studies, and can include curriculums devoted to sociology, history, political science, anthropology, economics, and geography. The social sciences sees educators and researchers use both quantitative and qualitative research methods and studies to explore and introduce questions and issues about people, culture, and politics.

Most social science teachers are experts in a more narrowly defined field, but there are some exceptions, such as those who teach wide-ranging material in what is known as ‘social studies’ in elementary, middle and high school classrooms. Since the field is wide-ranging, aspiring teachers tend to encounter an abundance of job opportunities at all levels of education.

How can I become an elementary social science teacher?

At the elementary school level, the social sciences are taught as part of the social studies curriculum which includes history, geography, and touches upon the most basic exploration of fields such as political science, sociology, and anthropology. Since all elementary school teachers are expected to cover the social studies curriculum, they may or may not hold a degree in a social science discipline.

All teachers at this level must complete at least a bachelor’s degree, typically completing at least one course on how to teach social studies at the elementary school level as part of their teacher training. Additionally, graduates seeking employment within a public school system must finish a teacher education program, including a semester or two of student-teaching experience.

Public school elementary school teachers must also be licensed to teach in their state of residence by completing a licensure process that differs for every state. Oftentimes, aspiring educators are expected to submit to a criminal background check, hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution and pass applicable exams, as part of the process.

How can I become a middle school social science teacher?

At the middle school level, social science is also taught as part of the social studies curriculum. Along with English Language Arts and Mathematics, Social Studies is a required middle school subject, which makes it a common specialization for middle school teachers. Classroom topics typically touch upon varied reading material, tests and assignments related to the government, public policy, and current events.shutterstock_199495031

As is the case at the elementary school level, the middle school social studies curriculum covers a wide range of social science areas, including history, geography, and occasionally political science and sociology. Middle school social studies teachers must hold at least a bachelor’s degree (usually in education or have completed the required credits to earn a specialization in another social science discipline such as history, political science or sociology).

Middle school social studies teachers must also:

  • Complete a teacher education program
  • Undergo student-teaching experience or internship
  • Become licensed and certified to teach in their state
  • Earn a master’s degree, when required by state
  • Complete professional development activities to stay current in the field

Depending on their state of residence, aspiring teachers must fulfil specific requirements in order to earn their credentials, which range from passing specific examinations to following particular guidelines to keep a valid teaching license. For instance, to teach Social Studies in North Carolina, certified teachers are required to pass the nationally recognized Praxis II® Content Area Assessment, in addition to the Praxis Core examinations that all K-12 teachers take, whereas the state of Florida administers their own line of testing called the Florida Teacher Certification Examinations (FTCE).

What is required to become a high school social science teacher?

By high school, the social studies curriculum is replaced by several specific social science subjects, including History, Geography, Global Studies, Economics and Sociology. Many high school social science teachers are trained to cover required subjects in a field such as history, as well as elective subjects in economics or sociology. For this reason, teachers at this level often hold more than one subject specialization.

Social science high school teachers usually complete the following steps:

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree. Social science teachers have typically completed a bachelor’s degree, or at least a specified number of college or university courses in their subject specialization (usually at least 30 credit semester hours).  During their studies, they have completed coursework related to geography, economics and political science.
  • Complete a teacher education program. All educators must take specific courses that prepare an individual to maintain a classroom using the appropriate teaching methods and build an understanding regarding the psychology and brain development of children.
  • Spend time as a student teacher. One to two semesters are generally devoted to completing a student-teaching experience (or internship), which allows an individual to gain valuable exposure within a high school classroom environment. Under the guidance of seasoned educators; students learn how to plan lessons; interact with classrooms, parents and other staff; and eventually teach their own class.
  • Become licensed and certified to teach. All states require teachers seeking employment at a public school to have satisfied specific requirements for obtaining a teaching license. For example, in North Carolina, teachers must pass the Praxis II® Content Area Assessment in both Social Studies: Content Knowledge and PLT: Grades 7-12 to earn a Secondary Education Certification, and become certified to teach Social Studies, Anthropology, Economics, Geography, History, Political Science, and Sociology.
  • Earn a master’s degree. While some states require certified teachers to obtain a graduate degree, other educators earn a master’s degree to improve their qualifications, as well as increase their chances of qualifying for higher-paying jobs.

How can I become a college or university social science professor?

At the college level, social science professors are typically affiliated with a department related to their specific discipline (such as economics, sociology, psychology or geography). College social science professors hold at least a master’s degree, and more often than not, possess a PhD in their discipline. Professors may offer courses to students pursuing degrees in their respective fields, or teach courses to students enrolled in applied degree programs or taking an elective outside of their core requirements.

Some social scientists teaching at the college level are affiliated with applied degree programs in education, or social work, but again, with few exceptions, they have also completed at least a master’s degree and in most cases, a PhD in their discipline. In most applied degree programs, relevant work experience (such as serving as a social worker or classroom teacher) is also considered desirable or required to teach at a community college or similar institution.

At the university level, professors may teach at a social science college associated with a larger university, as seen in Florida State University’s College of Social Sciences and Public Policy, which has six academic departments and 17 interdisciplinary programs, centers and institutes for students seeking a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degree. Other professors are hired to join a department as an expert in a field to teach the following:

  • Psychology: Professors often split their time teaching and conducting research on the study of the human brain and its behaviors, and cover topics from normal brain development to abnormal psychology and mental illnesses.
  • Government: Covering all major forms of government, professors often come in contact with students interested in teaching, entering public office, attending law school or working in government after graduation.
  • History and Geography: Professors specializing in the study of populations, cultural geography and mapping methods often teach a blend of core classes and electives.
  • Economics: Professors guide future financial analysts and economists, as they study financial systems in societies, including analysis and major theories.
  • Sociology and Anthropology: Professors plan lessons, lectures and assignments related to the study of how humans interact in societies, and often teach students majoring in library science, law, and advanced levels of sociology.

While the social science disciplines often overlap, each one is distinct and has its own set of degree requirements. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see some historians focusing on economic history, whereas human geographers may investigate research questions that touch upon topics related to sociology. What is common across the social sciences, however, is that in order to teach in courses at the university level, a professor is nearly always expected to have completed a PhD in the discipline in question.

Regardless of the subject in question, anyone who has a PhD in a social science discipline has typically completed graduate-level course work in their field; written field exams in their areas of expertise; and have written and defended a dissertation on a topic related to their specialization. Qualified professors are also expected to have already published, or have demonstrated the potential to publish scholarly books or articles in top-ranked social science journals, which include the likes of the American Journal of Sociology and American Economic Review.

Social science professors are also expected to apply for relevant grants to support their research endeavors, to teach courses in their discipline at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and to recruit, supervisor and mentor graduate students.

What is the job outlook for social science teachers?

Since the social science discipline is wide-ranging and plays a role in many other fields of study, job opportunities at all levels are abundant for those trained to teach concepts associated with history, economics, government, geography, civic ideals and current events.

Many factors come into play to determine the job prospects of a new graduate or seasoned educator of the social science discipline, which includes grade level, subject taught, geographic location and place of employment. For example, inner city and rural communities often have more job openings than suburban areas for high school teachers. Additional job opportunities come as a result of an increasing number of retiring teachers projected to occur through 2022. Geographically, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects increased student enrollment in the South and West, which increases the need to hire more educators to teach K-12 social studies.

Every year, the U.S. Department of Education shares nationwide listings of teacher shortages annually, which identify the states and school districts in need of hiring K-12 educators capable of filling positions associated with specific subjects. For example, the following states were highlighted as experiencing a shortage of social science and social studies teachers for the 2015/2016 academic year: Virginia (History and Social Sciences for secondary schools), West Virginia (for grades 5-9), and both Tennessee and South Dakota for grades 7-12.

Some qualities in a social studies and social science educator also make them a more attractive job candidate and generally qualify them for a greater number of job openings, such as many years of teaching experience, an advanced degree, multiple certifications, or possessing specialty skills (such as being able to teach non-native English speakers or special needs students).

What is the compensation for social science teachers?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salaries earned in 2014 by teachers who taught the social sciences (including those who combined teaching and research as part of their occupation) were as follows:

  • Elementary and middle school teachers – $53,760 – $54,940
  • High school teachers – $56,310
  • Postsecondary teachers – $65,320

The overall salary that a social sciences teacher makes is affected by the educational credentials, years of experience, place of employment, and geographic location of an educator. For instance, the BLS pinpoints the following states (with annual mean salaries) as being the highest-paying locations for social sciences teachers on the postsecondary level: California ($106,570), Rhode Island ($92,900), New York ($91,770), Kentucky ($88,760), and Minnesota ($83,320).

Place of employment plays a role in the amount of money that a social sciences teacher earns, most notably seen on the postsecondary level. The BLS cites that social science professors make more when employed at a junior college than at colleges, universities and professional schools, earning an annual mean wage of $86,230 compared to $71,940.

In conclusion, social science teachers play an important role in building a K-12 student’s understanding of people, history and geography, while professors in the field educate students preparing for a myriad of careers in public service, research, teaching, law and many other areas of employment. Job prospects are high at all levels of education with more wide-ranging opportunities to teach awaiting those with an advanced degree and more years of experience.

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