Students ask questions in a geography class
Teaching Careers and Professional Development Updated August 10, 2020

Social Studies Teacher: Education, Job and Salary Information

By Robbie Bruens

Social studies teachers help young people understand history, geography and human society — especially how people interact, govern themselves and resolve conflicts.

Social studies classes are staples of middle schools and high schools across the United State. Teaching social studies gives you a chance to influence how children see themselves and behave toward one another. If that sounds like appealing work, you should consider becoming a social studies teacher.

This guide shows what it takes to become a social studies teacher, including the prerequisite education, likely income, and advantages and disadvantages of this career. Browse through the article or use the following links to skip forward to what you’re looking for:

At-a-glance
> Social studies teacher job description
> Who makes a good social studies teacher?

Types of social studies teachers
> Middle school social studies teachers
> High school social studies teachers

Professional development
> Continuing education

Related careers
> Jobs beyond teaching

Best of the web
> Sites and Twitter handles to follow

At-a-glance: social studies teachers

Middle school social studies teacher High school social studies teacher
Minimum education Bachelor’s degree; master’s preferred Bachelor’s degree; master’s preferred
Estimated annual income $55,860 (BLS)
$43,980 (Glassdoor.com)
$45,392 (PayScale.com)
$46,583 (SimplyHired.com)
$57,200 (BLS)
$43,980 (Glassdoor.com)
$57,832 (Salary.com)

Social studies teacher job description

Social studies courses draw from a wide spectrum of disciplines — anthropology, archaeology, economics, geography, history, law, philosophy, political science, psychology, religion and sociology — to educate students in the fundamentals of the humanities, history and social sciences.

Social studies teachers work primarily in middle schools and high schools because elementary school classes are much more general and college courses are far more specialized.

As a social studies teacher, your office will be your classroom. Your day-to-day tasks include:

  • Teaching a curriculum provided by the school
  • Assigning and grading homework
  • Writing and grading tests and essays
  • Engaging your class with lectures, classroom discussions, relevant activities and demonstrations.

You’ll also be challenged to connect classroom material to current events to help your students better understand how the content of the course plays a role in everyday life.

Social studies teachers can expect to work school days (mornings and afternoons five days a week, nine to 10 months of the year). You will teach to more than one class of students each day. Between classes and after school, you may have to prepare lessons, grade homework and tests, and attend meetings.

Social studies teachers may enjoy winter, spring and summer vacations, though many have a second career when school is not in session.

Who makes a good social studies teacher?

Someone who is:

  • Analytical and curious
  • A lover of reading
  • Interested in understanding larger systems and patterns
  • Comfortable with complex subject matter
  • Sociable and easy to talk to
  • Patient and resourceful
  • Good at motivating and inspiring students
  • Organized and careful about time management
  • Devoted to learning
  • Service-oriented
  • Able to express ideas precisely in writing
  • Highly knowledgeable about social sciences
  • Qualified with an advanced degree in an education-related field, or a field related to social studies

Interested in becoming a social studies teacher?

Check out this video to get a better sense of what you’ll encounter when pursuing a career as a social studies teacher.

Different types of social studies teachers

As you think about becoming a social studies teacher, you’ll want to consider whether you want to work in a middle school or a high school. Let’s take a look at these employment options in more detail.

Middle school social studies teachers

Middle school social studies teachers generally teach students from sixth to eighth grades and are trained to understand the psychological, social and intellectual development of children ages 11 to 13.

Continue reading to learn more about middle school social studies teachers

What middle school social studies teachers do

Middle school social studies teachers introduce their preteen students to a sustained focus on subjects like history and geography. They usually instruct two to four classes a day that last 45 to 90 minutes. In between class periods, they often have prep periods to plan lessons, grade assignments or meet with other teachers and staff.

Some middle school teachers work in teams that teach the same group of students. These teachers meet to discuss students’ progress and to plan lessons.

Middle school social studies teachers typically work five days a week for nine or 10 months of the year. In addition to classroom teaching, they may also instruct students one-on-one or in smaller groups outside of class. Social studies teachers frequently must set aside time outside of the school day to develop lesson content and to grade student work and tests.

The typical duties of a middle school social studies teacher include:

  • Instructing students through lectures, discussions and activities
  • Assessing students’ abilities, strengths and weaknesses
  • Preparing, administering and grading tests to evaluate students’ progress
  • Communicating with parents about their child’s progress
  • Assisting students who need extra help, such as by tutoring and preparing and implementing remedial programs
  • Developing and enforcing classroom rules
  • Mentoring students and teaching them how to reason, argue and persuade effectively
  • Supervising students outside of the classroom — for example, at lunch or during detention

Middle school social studies curriculum

The academic curriculum gets more subject-specific as children move up to middle school. In grades six to eight, social studies focuses on U.S. history, world history, geography and civics:

  • U.S. history covers topics like the American Revolution, Manifest Destiny and the Civil War.
  • World history topics may include the ancient world, the medieval age and the world wars.
  • Geography covers the physical features of the earth and the political boundaries and formations of human society.
  • Civics studies the U.S. Constitution, the American political system and self-government.

Education and certification requirements

A bachelor’s degree and a state-certified teaching credential qualifies you to teach social studies in most U.S. middle schools. A bachelor’s degree in geography, sociology, anthropology, history or another social studies-related subject may give you a special advantage in hiring since many schools prefer a teacher with a relevant academic background.

Private schools may not require middle school social studies teachers to have a state teaching certificate. If you want a higher salary and better job opportunities, pursue a master’s degree in a social studies- or education-related subject.

Income projections

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the average annual salary for all middle school teachers, and career-related websites offer average salaries for middle school social studies teachers:

  • BLS: $55,860
  • Glassdoor.com: $43,980
  • PayScale.com: $45,392
  • SimplyHired.com: $46,583

Pros and cons of being a middle school social studies teacher

As you consider this career, make sure to think about the upsides and downsides of becoming a middle school social studies teacher.

Pros

  • Inspire the curiosity of young students on an important subject
  • Many full-time jobs come with good benefits
  • Potential to earn job security via tenure
  • You may need only a bachelor’s degree
  • Focus exclusively on teaching and students

Cons

  • Frustrating when dealing with unmotivated or disruptive students
  • Can be difficult to find a great full-time job at a good school
  • Not as prestigious as a professorship in history or a social science

High school social studies teachers

High school social studies teachers help students figure out the fundamentals of government, economics, history, culture, geography and more. Also known as secondary school teachers, these teachers work at public and private high schools. Their students are usually 14 to 18 years old.

Continue reading to learn more about high school social studies teachers

What high school social studies teachers do

Responsibilities frequently include:

  • Authoring a syllabus and creating lesson plans
  • Leading students through lessons, lectures and activities
  • Assigning homework and projects
  • Grading essays, research projects, quizzes and exams, and giving final grades
  • Talking with students about current events related to class content
  • Identifying at-risk students and developing strategies to help them
  • Preparing students for state-required standardized tests
  • Communicating with parents about their child’s progress
  • Developing and enforcing classroom rules

High school social studies teachers generally teach students in ninth through 12th grades. Many schools assign students to classes based on their abilities, so teachers need to modify their lessons to match students’ aptitudes. Advanced-placement and honors classes require teachers to instruct their students at a more rigorous academic level that’s comparable to college courses.

This wide range of ages and abilities can be a challenge. Designing an engaging curriculum with real-world relevance is often the best strategy for reaching teenagers. Working with sometimes unruly students can be taxing, and patience and emotional fortitude is required for the job.

High school social studies teachers typically teach one or more subjects to numerous classes throughout the day. Between classes, they may have time to prepare lessons, grade student work and tests, and answer student questions about homework. They are usually expected to teach nine or 10 months of the year, with summers off and breaks throughout the school year.

In addition to classroom teaching, high school teachers counsel students with personal issues they face as adolescents and advise them on college and career plans. They may also lead field trips, organize after-school activities and provide one-on-one question-and-answer sessions outside of class.

Some high school teachers coach sports and advise student clubs and other groups before or after school.

High school social studies curriculum

The academic curriculum in high school is more targeted to specific subject areas than in middle school. Teachers are more likely to be experts in their field, and curriculum often reflects the content of state tests students must take to graduate.

In grades nine to 12, a social studies curriculum typically includes subdomains such as economics, government/politics, cultural studies, social issues, U.S. history, world history and geography.

  • Economics focuses on the household as an economic unit, supply and demand, opportunity costs, division of labor, money/currency, market structure, regulatory institutions, capitalism and socialism/communism.
  • Cultural studies examines U.S. cultural history and multiculturalism. It may include such topics as media literacy, ethnic studies, African-American studies, Chicano studies, gender studies and more.
  • Social issues (or sociology) may cover social hierarchy, sexuality/gender, drug use/abuse, current events, leadership and bullying.
  • Government/politics focuses on the U.S. government and political system, with a special focus on federal and state elections, the U.S. Constitution and recent political history. Coursework may also include a unit that examines other types of governments around the world.
  • U.S. history usually includes numerous topics from the 20th century, including the Great Depression, the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, the rise of environmentalism, and the Vietnam War.
  • World history can include topics such as the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, the Russian Revolution, colonialism/imperialism, genocide and 20th-century liberation movements.
  • Geography focuses on the study of the physical features of the earth and the political boundaries and formations of human society.

High school social studies teachers must maintain a deep understanding of these subdomains of knowledge to succeed in their profession. In many cases, they may teach only one or two of these subjects based on their interest level and expertise.

Education and certification requirements

Public school districts require high school social studies teachers to have a bachelor’s degree and a state-issued teaching certification. Having a bachelor’s degree in a social studies-related subject can be helpful for job prospects. Some states require high school teachers to earn a master’s degree after earning their teaching certification.

Private schools typically seek social studies teachers who have a bachelor’s degree in an area related to what they’ll be teaching. They do not necessarily need a state-issued teaching certificate.

Most high school teachers-in-training intern in the classroom as student teachers. Working alongside a veteran teacher, the student teacher plans lessons, delivers instruction, grades assignments and communicates with parents.

It can be useful to learn about adolescent psychology and pedagogy before becoming a high school social studies teacher. Consider pursuing a master’s degree in a social science- or education-related subject.

Income projections

The Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates the average annual salary for all high school teachers, and career-related websites offer average salaries for high school social studies teachers:

  • BLS: $57,200 (average of all high school teacher salaries)
  • Glassdoor.com: $43,980
  • Salary.com: $57,832

Pros and cons of being a high school social studies teacher

It will help to think through the positive and negative aspects of becoming a high school social studies teacher.

Pros

  • Opportunity to be creative, inspire high school students and shape the direction of their lives
  • Many full-time jobs come with good benefits
  • Potential to earn job security via tenure
  • School year provides flexibility with lots of time off
  • Serve as a positive role model for youth

Cons

  • Frustrating when dealing with unmotivated or disruptive students
  • Lower pay than other jobs requiring college education
  • Can be demanding to keep students engaged and focused
  • Not as prestigious as a professorship
  • Lower pay than other social studies-related jobs
  • Low job growth projected over next decade

Professional development for social studies teachers

If you are serious about becoming a social studies teacher, start thinking about how to improve your career prospects, develop your skills and improve your connections. Completing a student teaching internship or social studies-related research fellowship will give you a good start to a career in social studies education.

You should also consider getting involved in a professional organization for social studies teachers like the National Council for Social Studies (NCSS) and/or the Association for Teachers of Social Studies (ATSS). These groups will keep you up-to-date on the latest innovations in social studies education and give you access to networking opportunities.

Benefits of continuing education

To become a social studies teacher at any level, you should seriously consider pursuing a master’s degree. While you may be able to find a job teaching middle or high school social studies without an advanced degree, you will have more job opportunities and higher potential income if you pursue graduate studies.

Jobs for social studies teachers beyond teaching

With additional education or certification, social studies teachers may become librarians, instructional coordinators, assistant principals, principals or an educational administrator at a college or university.

Librarian: A master’s degree in library science (MLS) is generally required for employment. Some states also require librarians to pass a standardized test.

Instructional coordinator: Instructional coordinators generally need to complete a master’s degree related to a subject like curriculum and instruction, and they may be required to have a teaching or education administrator license.

Academic advisor: With a master’s degree in an education-related field, you can transition into being an academic advisor at either the K-12 or college/university level.

Education consultant: Social studies teachers can become education consultants if they want to tackle challenges in a variety of schools and education systems. You’ll probably need an advanced degree in an education-related subject.

Education policy analyst: With an advanced degree in an education-related subject, social studies teachers can become policy analysts and examine big-picture issues affecting education nationwide.

School principal: Social studies teachers wishing to become a school principal should seriously consider earning a master’s degree in an education-related field. Most states also require public school principals to be licensed as school administrators.

Educational administrator: Depending upon the position, either a bachelor’s or master’s degree may be required. For a higher-level position such as dean or president, a master’s degree or doctorate in educational leadership may be required.

Best of the web: our favorite social studies teacher blogs, websites and Twitter handles

The web makes it easy for us to stay connected to prominent social studies scholars and educators. Here is a list of our favorite websites and Twitter handles, in no particular order.

Favorite social studies websites and blogs

Favorite social studies Twitter handles

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