Archaeology Teacher Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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An archaeology teacher's average salary is around $80,000. Is it worth more than a decade of higher education? See real job descriptions and get the truth about this career's prospects to find out if becoming an archaeology teacher is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of an Archaeology Teacher Career

Archaeology teachers do not lead lives as glamorous as Indiana Jones. They are more likely to investigate ancient trash than swashbuckle their way to treasures. But they do enjoy a lot of freedom in their work, the intellectual stimulation of campus life and the hands-on challenge of excavation. Read on for the pros and cons of this fascinating career.

Pros of Being an Archaeology Teacher
Sharing expertise with students and colleagues can be gratifying*
Fieldwork provides opportunities to travel and make exciting discoveries**
Most college teaching jobs offer considerable autonomy and flexibility*
Better than average job growth for post-secondary teachers overall, 19% for 2012-2022*
Average wage for post-secondary archaeology teachers of $81,410*

Cons of Being an Archaeology Teacher
An anthropology Ph.D., the degree most archaeology teachers hold, takes on average 9.6 years to earn**
Keen competition for more secure, better paid jobs on the tenure track*
Fieldwork can involve long, possibly uncomfortable, stretches away from home*
Juggling teaching, research and writing demands can mean heavy workloads and potential for stress*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **National Science Foundation.

Essential Career Information

Archaeology is the study of the material remains of human activity to understand our history. It is intellectual detective work: finding and interpreting clues to how people lived in the past. Archaeology teaching careers often include both teaching about this detective work and physically doing it.

Job Description

During the academic year, archaeology teachers spend time giving lectures and seminars, advising students, and serving on academic and administrative committees. During summers and holidays, they focus on their own research in the field or lab. They write a lot, publishing their findings in scholarly journals or books and submitting grant applications for research funds. They attend academic conferences and follow the latest scholarship to stay current in their field.

An archaeology teacher needs to be a meticulous scientist and puzzle solver. It is equally important to be a good writer and speaker to communicate effectively with students and colleagues. Finally, you need to be self-motivated, organized and adaptable, because you might spend eight months of the year shuttling among an office, lab and classroom and the other four at a remote archaeological site.

Specializations

Since archaeology encompasses the entire human past, wherever humans have lived, there are far-ranging specializations. Two basic divisions are prehistoric archaeology (before written records) and historical archaeology (studying literate cultures). Specialties can be topical or regional, or both, and include classical archaeology (Ancient Greece and Rome), urban archaeology and underwater archaeology. As scientific means of study and excavation grow more sophisticated, archaeologists can also specialize by method, such as paleoethnobotany or geographic information systems (GIS).

Salary Info and Job Outlook

While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists an average salary for anthropology and archaeology teachers of $81,410, earnings vary considerably by where you are on the tenure track as a professor or if you are off the tenure track altogether as an instructor or lecturer. The American Anthropological Association (AAA) found that in 2010-2011, median wages were $86,000 for full professors, $65,000 for associate professors, $55,000 for assistant professors and $40,000 for instructors.

Job growth for post-secondary teachers in general, according to the BLS, should be 19% from 2012 to 2022, faster than the national average. But aspiring professors be warned: it is jobs off the tenure track that are gaining ground, while competition for tenure-track positions grows. According to the most recent data from the AAA, only 52% of anthropology faculty were full-time professors. Nearly 20% were part-time instructors, who often lack benefits and are paid on a course-per-course basis.

Educational Requirements

To teach archaeology at a four-year college or university typically requires a Ph.D. At two-year colleges, you may be able to teach with a master's degree. While some topics lend themselves to degrees in the Classics, history, art history or area studies, more than 75% of archaeology teachers earn a Ph.D. in anthropology. Most Ph.D. programs include a few years of coursework, comprehensive exams and completion of a book-length dissertation based on field research. Master's programs, which normally take 1-2 years of full-time study, are comprised of coursework and a research project or thesis. Most graduate programs require language study related to your area of research.

Before embarking on a long degree program, it is a good idea to attend an archaeological field school, volunteer at a museum or find an internship to make sure you are passionate about archaeology. Archaeological societies, museums and college anthropology departments can advise you on opportunities.

What Employers are Looking For

Academic positions are defined by level and specializations. Hiring committees look for strong recommendations, evidence of successful teaching and published or publishable research that dazzles colleagues and wins grants. Here is a sampling of real job listings from professional archeology organizations posted in March 2012:

  • A public university in Oklahoma sought an associate or full professor for an endowed chair appointment. Requirements were a Ph.D. and research focused on the Southern Plains or a nearby region. Public outreach and working with archaeologists outside the academy featured prominently in this job.
  • A public university in Utah advertised a tenure-track position at the assistant or beginning associate professor level. A Ph.D. was required, plus four publications. Desired specialties were expertise in evolutionary models, knowledge of techniques like ceramics analysis and GIS and research based in western North America.
  • A private four-year college in upstate New York had a one-year opening for a visiting assistant or associate professor. They were not seeking a geographical specialization, but did require a Ph.D. and ability to teach introductory and upper-level courses in anthropology and methodology of archaeologists.
  • A public university in Ohio advertised for a non-tenure track associate lecturer on a renewable annual contract. Applicants needed a Ph.D. and broad expertise in New World archaeology, including experience working in the local area. Also sought was a strong record of teaching, field school management and helping students participate in advanced research.

Standing Out in the Field

Volunteering, interning and attending field schools are not only good ways to test your commitment to archaeology, but also to distinguish yourself as an aspiring archaeologist. Many field schools are run by colleges or universities. They last about 5-8 weeks and feature supervised excavation, cleaning and cataloging objects, and lectures. Normally room and board, but not travel, is provided for an enrollment fee. Students as young as 16 may apply and many programs grant academic credits. Opportunities exist throughout the U.S., Europe and the Middle East. Archaeological societies and anthropology departments can provide more information.

Joining an archaeological society is also a good way to get to know the field and its practitioners. There are several national societies with a wide range of programs and publications to keep you informed of the latest developments. There are also many state and local organizations where you can network with professional and aspiring archaeologists closer to home.

Alternative Career Paths

If you love archaeology, but are daunted by the time it takes to get a Ph.D., there is plenty of work for archaeologists outside of academia. However, if the thought of sharing your love of history with others is what appeals to you about this field, there are teaching opportunities that don't require years of higher education.

Anthropologist or Archaeologist

Cultural resource management firms, government agencies and others employ archaeologists to make sure building and development projects do not damage sites or artifacts protected by preservation laws. Museums need archaeologists to take care of their collections and offer educational programming.

The average annual salary of anthropologists and archaeologists as a group, $58,000 according to the BLS in 2010, is lower than for those who teach. But the educational requirements are less steep and the job outlook is brighter. Working on a site crew normally requires only a bachelor's degree and some experience in excavation. To do supervisory or administrative work you'll typically need a master's degree. The employment growth predicted by the BLS for anthropologists and archaeologists is very high, 28% for 2008-2018.

K-12 Teacher

Teaching social sciences at a pre-collegiate level is another option if spreading knowledge about the human past appeals to you, but a decade-plus of higher education doesn't. Archaeology is not a stand-alone subject in K-12 education, but in many schools archaeological topics are included under history and social studies.

Social sciences teachers generally need a bachelor's degree and, in public schools, a state license. The BLS expects employment of K-12 teachers to grow by 13%, about the national average, from 2008-2018. The average salary of high school teachers, the highest paid of K-12 teachers, was about $56,000 2010, according to the BLS.

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