Becoming a Social Sciences Teacher: Job Description & Salary Info

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A social sciences teacher's average salary at the middle and high school level is around $59,000. Is it worth the educational and licensing requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a social sciences teacher is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Social Sciences Teacher

Social sciences, or social studies, teachers work in public and private schools, instructing in such subjects as history, civics and government, economics, and geography. Here is a list of pros and cons about becoming a teacher.

PROS of a Social Sciences Teaching Career
Help students enhance their desire for knowledge*
Two months off over the summer plus holidays*
Tenure, which can often be obtained in three years, provides some job security*
Social science teachers contribute to a civic education and to creating a well-informed citizenry**

CONS of a Social Sciences Teaching Career
Social sciences may not be as in demand as subjects such as math, science, and bilingual education*
Education requirements and credentials vary by state, but can require up to six years of higher education and initial licensing plus regular re-licensing*
Many schools suffer from poor equipment and facilities and overcrowding*
Stress of dealing with unruly or uninterested students*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **National Council for the Social Studies.

Career Info

Job Description

Although elementary schools offer social sciences as part of their curricula, most social science teachers work at the secondary level. Topics may vary from state-to-state, but generally include history, government, geography, sociology, and anthropology. According to the curriculum standards of the National Council for the Social Studies, a social sciences program can include study in culture, diversity, the environment, distribution, consumption, technology and civic practices.

Like teachers in general, social sciences teachers spend their time devising daily lesson plans and executing them, preparing and grading assignments and tests, and monitoring the overall performance of individual students. They also maintain order among students and meet with colleagues and parents outside classroom hours. As school funding and resources allow, they use the Internet and educational software in their lessons and handle the administrative side of their work by computer.

Salary Information and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary for high school teachers in general was close to $59,000, as of May 2014; middle school teachers earned close to $58,000. Private schools tend to pay less than public schools, although they may offer benefits like free or low-cost housing. Meanwhile, postsecondary teachers specializing in social sciences earned about $79,000.

The BLS forecasted a 6% job growth for kindergarten to 12th grade teachers in general from 2012-2022. However, prospects were not as good for teaching social sciences, compared to subjects more in demand, such as math or science. Job opportunities across fields are more abundant in rural areas and inner cities. A 19% employment growth was projected for postsecondary teachers overall during the same timeframe.

In many states, public school teachers can gain a measure of job security through tenure. While not guaranteeing lifetime employment, earning tenure does means that teachers cannot be fired without cause and due process. Normally teachers are eligible for tenure after a probationary period of three years. Postsecondary teachers can achieve tenure in about 7 years.

Education Requirements

Earning a bachelor's degree from a teacher education program, which features coursework related to a social science major and includes teacher-training components, is a general requirement for middle and high school teachers. Public school teachers must also hold a current state license. In addition, some states require teachers to earn a master's degree within a certain time frame. Alternative routes to licensing are available for those with a social sciences degree who are missing the education coursework.

If you wish to teach at the college level, earning a Ph.D. may be required, though community colleges often accept teachers with a master's degree. At the graduate level, you can focus your study in a particular social science, such as history or anthropology. Up to a total of 8 years of education may be required.

Licensing Requirements

Passing a licensing exam will show that you have a solid grasp of basic skills, such as reading and writing, as well as in the social sciences and teaching theory and practice. You can become licensed for the school level you'd like to teach, such as middle or high school grades. Beyond these general requirements, various states have different standards. You can check with the Department of Education in the state where you want to teach to learn about licensing requirements.

What Employers Are Looking for

In the classroom, good communication and interpersonal skills are critical. Students need you to be clear, trustworthy, inspiring, and patient. Good organizing, record-keeping, and research skills are also important. Teachers licensed in a second subject, especially English or a foreign language, are particularly in demand. Experience with disadvantaged students can be a plus.

Here's a sampling of real job listings from February 2012:

  • A public high school in Wisconsin needed a teacher to teach geography, American history, and economics courses. Along with a bachelor's degree, state license, and student teaching experience, the employer called for candidates with up-to-date knowledge of educational methodology and practice.
  • Two new charter schools serving impoverished neighborhoods in New York City sought founding teachers in social studies who firmly believe that even the most troubled students could become college-ready with the right support. Along with a state license, requirements include two or more years of experience with high-needs students, preferably in high school or middle school, and being accustomed to project-based and Internet learning. Extra qualifications in either English language learners or special education would be ideal.
  • A public school district in Iowa was looking for a social studies teacher for a new unit designed to provide intensive support to high school students considered at-risk. Experience with high-needs students was a plus, but not essential; state licensing, capacity to work under pressure, and the ability to maintain classroom discipline were considered essential qualities.

How to Stand out

Becoming certified in a second subject or specialty, such as English, math, or special education, can maximize your appeal to employers. You will most likely need to complete additional coursework, but some professional organizations provide reduced-cost or free course options to working teachers. While the use of technology varies from school to school, ensuring you are current with relevant software and its effective use in the classroom is another way to be noticed.

Gain Certification

Experienced social sciences teachers who teach in the 11-15 or 14-18 age ranges can distinguish themselves with certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). This organization grants a nationally recognized credential to teachers who succeed in completing a 10-step assessment process. NBPTS certification is good for ten years, and many states offer benefits for the extra work involved. Certified teachers often get a pay raise and, in many cases, can also simply transfer their teaching license from one state to another if they move.

Other Careers to Consider

Teaching Assistant

If you like the rewards and challenges of working with children or adolescents, but find the educational and licensing requirements of teaching somewhat daunting, a part-time position as a teaching assistant may be a better alternative. With an average salary of just under $25,000, according to the BLS, teaching assistant work pays a lot less. But most jobs require only a high school diploma or associate's degree. Nearly 40% of teaching assistants are employed part-time, the BLS reports. Job growth was predicted at 10% from 2008-2018, about the national average. A high turnover, however, may improve job prospects.

School Librarian

If pursuing similar or higher education requirements doesn't bother you, but you don't envision yourself being comfortable standing in front of a classroom, you might to consider being a school librarian. This position often requires a state teaching license, and some states require a master's degree in library science or education. With a mean annual wage for librarians of more than $56,000, per the BLS, the average salaries of librarians and teachers across all fields are nearly identical; the job growth forecasted by the BLS for librarians was lower, however, at 8% between 2008 and 2018.

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Purdue University Global

  • Master: Teaching (for Aspiring Teachers: Grades 5-12)
  • Master: Education (for Practicing Teachers: K-12)
  • BS in Early Childhood Administration

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Grand Canyon University

  • Doctor of Education in Teaching and Learning with an Emphasis in Adult Learning
  • MA in Curriculum and Instruction
  • Bachelor of Science in Math for Secondary Education

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Colorado State University Global

  • MS - Teaching and Learning

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Regent University

  • Doctor of Education - Character Education
  • M.Ed. - Individualized Degree Program
  • Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education

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Northcentral University

  • PhD in Education - Curriculum and Teaching
  • M.Ed. - Curriculum and Teaching
  • Education Specialist - Curriculum and Teaching

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The George Washington University

  • Master of Arts in Education and Human Development in Organizational Leadership and Learning

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Education - Special Education and Wilson Reading System Certification

What is your highest level of education completed?

Concordia University Portland

  • Master of Education - Curriculum & Instruction: Leadership
  • M.S. - Curriculum & Instruction: Science
  • MEd in Curriculum and Instruction - STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math)

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