How to Become a History Teacher
If you are considering becoming a history teacher, you likely have plenty of questions about the type of education you need, the salary you might earn, and the jobs you might take. This page will help you understand the steps required to become a history teacher and common positions history teachers take.
What Does a History Teacher Do?
History teachers teach facts and the significance of past events to help students understand how history is relevant to the present. Great history teachers bring the past to life through stories and learning experiences that inspire their students to want to know more.
A history degree may provide knowledge, but it’s the teacher’s passion for the subject and their creativity in bringing events to life that engages students, provokes curiosity, generates questions, and inspires them to love learning.
A history teacher also has the opportunity to help students understand the patterns and narratives of past events so they gain a perspective that will help them successfully tackle important political and social changes.
On a practical level, history teachers design lessons, deliver lectures, create assignments, grade papers, and assess student knowledge and understanding. They stay abreast of the current news and discuss how current happenings relate to historical events. As Robert Penn Warren said, “History cannot give us a program for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves, and of our common humanity, so that we can better face the future.”
Career Outlook and Salary for History Teachers
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in May 2018 high school history teachers earned a median annual salary of $60,320, with employment projected to grow 8 percent from 2016 to 2026, which is about as fast as the average growth for all occupations. Post-secondary history teachers earned a median salary of $74,590.
Requirements to Become a History Teacher
Becoming a history teacher requires meeting specific requirements in education, certification, and licensing, as required by your specific state.
In general, history teachers in public schools are required to hold a bachelor’s degree in history or education and complete a supervised period of student teaching. However, the requirements vary by location.
Many teachers choose to complete a master’s degree to earn a higher salary or to open the door to additional opportunities. History majors often specialize in subjects, geographic regions, or a specific period of time that interest them, such as American history, world history, military history, ancient history, and more. All states require that teachers pass one or more competency tests, such as the Praxis Series, in their subject area.
Teacher Certification & License
The terms licensure, license, certificate, and certification can lead to confusion. It’s important to understand that certification/certificate and licensure/license are not the same. In other words, a certificate is not a license.
Each state sets its own requirements for licensing. A state license grants an individual permission to perform a specific job within the state. In this case, the license allows an individual to teach history.
To qualify for licensure, teachers are usually required to complete a period of supervised teaching. Student teaching is typically part of a bachelor’s degree in most education programs.
Some states use the term “certified” to indicate teachers who have reached the base requirement for professional certification that is needed to teach. Teachers may choose to pursue different certifications based on a specific subject, level of education, or specialized experience.
You may hear the term “teacher certification” used to refer to the process that prospective teachers go through to earn credentials from a recognized authoritative source, such as the government, an institution of higher education, or a private entity. Once you’ve completed the required degree, exams, and specified criteria, you can become licensed to teach in the state to which you’ve applied.
Some states participate in teaching credential reciprocity agreements, which means that a state will recognize the teaching credentials issued from another state. For example, Kansas has a reciprocity agreement with the neighboring state of Missouri (as well as other states), so individuals approved to teach in Missouri can accept a teaching job in Kansas with little difficulty or delay.
The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) and the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC) are organizations that represent professional standards boards that certify teachers who meet rigorous standards to make teacher mobility across state lines easier.
Can you get a different degree and still teach history?
If you hold a degree in another area, such as business, but decide you’d like to teach history, you can do that. You may need to take some history classes, and you’ll have to take the education courses required to teach. All states require that teachers pass an assessment in their subject area. Many states utilize Praxis exams, which test knowledge in a specific area.
Jobs and Job Description
As a history teacher, you have a wide range of jobs available to you at various academic levels and types of schools, as well as several alternative positions.
Elementary school teachers can teach a range of grade levels. In some districts, kindergarten through eighth grade are considered elementary. In others, it may encompass kindergarten through fifth grade, with the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades considered middle school.
Elementary teachers provide education in basic academics, including history and social development. They manage their classroom, implement school procedures, plan lessons, assign homework, grade student work, and evaluate students’ academic work and their ability to communicate and work in groups.
High school history teachers provide classroom instruction in history, building upon the knowledge learned in earlier grades. They help students understand the significance of historical events and teach them to analyze events and recognize how they impact the present critically. In many schools, the history teacher is also a social studies teacher. In fact, history teachers may teach civics and economics, as well as oversee study halls and supervise after-school activities.
Like most teachers, history teachers create lesson plans, create learning experiences, deliver academic lectures, grade papers, give exams, and assess student performance.
Postsecondary education refers to education beyond high school. College history teachers educate postsecondary students about human history. They foster critical thinking, problem-solving, and awareness of how historical events shape today’s social and political climate. Some college history teachers also conduct research.
Alternative Jobs for History/Social Studies Degree Holder
Many history graduates become historians, specializing in a specific area or time period. You’ll find history graduates serving as tour guides at historical landmarks, research analysts, archivists, curators, or museum conservators. Others choose to utilize their research skills and experience as writers.
Teaching at a Public versus Private or Charter School
Teaching jobs are available in both the public and private sectors. Public schools are funded by taxpayers, so the law requires that public schools admit all students, without discrimination. They require specified credentials for teachers, including specific degrees.
Private schools charge tuition and have a selective admissions process. Because they don’t receive tax dollars, the government holds less power over their day-to-day administration. Teachers may not have the same requirements as teachers in the public school system. In a private school, class sizes may be smaller, but salaries also tend to be lower.
Charter schools don’t face all of the same government regulations that traditional public schools do; however, they are accountable for upholding their charters, which includes academic achievement, financial management, and organizational structure.
While public schools are accredited by the state’s board of education, charter schools are accredited by a private board. They have the same state academic standards, but often have greater flexibility in establishing their curriculum. Some, but not all, states require charter schools to hire teachers with state credentials.
Degree Programs for History Education
The path to becoming a history teacher often starts with a bachelor’s degree, but many history teachers seek advanced degrees. Each type of degree you may obtain in your path to become a history teacher is outlined in the following section.
Your first step to becoming a history teacher is likely to earn a bachelor’s degree in history or history education. This requires a minimum of 30 credit hours in history and the completion of a teacher preparation program, including student teaching at the grade level(s) you wish to be licensed in. Once you pass the exams required for your state, you can apply for a license to teach.
Some states (not all) require a master’s degree to teach or renew a teaching certificate. Even if a master’s degree isn’t required, a master’s in education or in an academic subject area can provide a higher salary and additional professional opportunities. Additionally, a master’s degree will help you gain a greater depth of knowledge that will add value to your professional life.
If you want to teach at the postsecondary level, you may choose to pursue a Ph.D. in history, a Ph.D. in education, or an Ed.D. Each of these doctorates focuses on higher learning, but has different requirements and can lead to different jobs.
Students who earn a Ph.D. in history are often employed on the tenure track at four-year or two-year colleges. They teach classes, compile, analyze, and interpret historical information from various archives and artifacts, and conduct research to present at conferences. If they don’t pursue an academic career, they’re likely to work for government agencies or museums.
A Ph.D. in education focuses on advancing knowledge as an educator and conducting research to enhance the field of education.
Most people who earn an Ed. D take positions in administration or as a district-wide leader. Ed. D programs typically focus on solving problems in the educational system and the application of knowledge to systems of learning.
Today, online programs have become an accepted part of the education system, and there are many accredited online classes and degree programs for those pursuing a degree in history. It’s not surprising that students find the idea of earning an online history degree appealing. The flexibility and convenience offered by online programs are a huge benefit for those who want a college degree, but need to continue to work.
On-campus courses require regular attendance in a classroom with the instructor, but most online courses are asynchronous, meaning the students and instructors don’t have to be online at the same time. Online students can progress at their own pace, but the trade-off for their flexibility is that students must be motivated, organized, and self-disciplined.
Online programs aren’t right for everyone. Students who worry that they’ll miss the face-to-face interactions and relationships with other students and instructors in a traditional on-campus setting may consider looking for programs that include live-streaming lectures with real-time interactions through a collaborative online environment.
Professional organizations for history teachers function as advocates for teaching history. Many organizations sponsor conferences, provide opportunities for professional development and advancement, and offer networking connections to other educators.
Some of the key organizations for history teachers include:
- World History Association
- American Historical Association
- National Council for History Education
- National Council for the Social Studies
- Society for History Education, Inc.
- Organization of American Historians
- The Organization of Educational Historians
History teachers, instructors, professors, and future history teachers may find the following online resources useful.
As Harry S Truman said, “Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.” As a history teacher, you’re in a position to help guide and shape the young minds that can make those changes.
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