Sociology Teacher: Job Description, Salary and Career Information
The jumble of headlines and news events that capture the world’s attention may seem chaotic and disordered to the untrained eye. But sociologists see things differently: They have the training to connect everyday life with larger systems that govern how societies function and evolve.
Sociologists must be taught how to conduct careful analysis of social structures and patterns. Their work can help reduce and resolve conflict, expand social justice and economic opportunity, and create sustainable plans for the future. If that sounds like what you you’re looking for in a career, you should consider pursuing sociological research and education.
This guide will provide an overview of what it takes to become a sociology teacher or professor, 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: sociology teachers
|High school sociology teacher||Community college sociology teacher||Four-year college/university sociology professor|
|Minimum education||Bachelor’s degree; master’s preferred||Master’s degree; doctorate preferred||Doctorate|
|Estimated annual income||$57,200 (BLS)
$65,720 (Houston Chronicle)
$73,080 (Houston Chronicle)
$61,734 to $101,256 (ASA)
Sociology teacher job description
Sociologists study our social interactions to find patterns that shape our culture, politics and society. Sociology teachers help their students understand the meaning of past sociological studies and show them how to conduct this kind of research themselves.
Sociology teachers work in high schools, community colleges, and universities. Some work online in distance-learning programs. At the university level, they do research that collects information firsthand from surveys, direct observations and interviews. They also analyze data gathered by others.
In addition to classroom work and research, sociology teachers may form working groups and provide guidance to organizations on sociological questions. Many sociologists develop their careers by consulting in the public or private sector (such as think tanks) or publishing books and research articles.
To teach sociology at a junior college, you’ll probably need at least a master’s degree, but you’ll need a doctorate to land a job as a professor at a research university. In any case, candidates with the most advanced degrees and research experience will be the most employable.
Sociology professors often teach part time but work odd hours of the day and night to conduct their research. If your studies are funded by grants, you may not teach at all. Full-time sociology teachers from high school through the university level typically enjoy paid holidays and vacations in addition to pensions and health insurance. Part-time and adjunct teachers, by contrast, often earn less pay and get few benefits.
Who makes a good sociology teacher?
Someone who is:
- Analytical and curious by nature
- Interested in understanding larger systems and patterns
- Comfortable with the intricacies and subtleties of social interactions
- Sociable and easy to talk to
- Patient and resourceful
- Good at motivating and inspiring students
- Organized and careful about time management
- Devoted to learning
- Thoughtful about interacting with people from diverse backgrounds
- Able to express ideas precisely in writing and in oral presentations
- Highly knowledgeable about social sciences
- Qualified with an advanced degree in an education-related field, or a field related to the social sciences
Interested in becoming a sociology teacher?
Check out this video to get a better sense of what you’ll encounter when pursuing a career in sociology research and education.
Different types of sociology teachers
The road to becoming a sociology teacher depends on which employment environment you pursue: high school, community college or university. Let’s take a look at these career paths in more detail.
High school sociology teachers
Sociology teachers introduce students to the study of social behavior and society at public and private high schools.Continue reading to learn more about high school sociology teachers
- What high school sociology teachers do
- Educational and certification requirements
- Income projections
- Pros and cons of being a high school sociology teacher
What high school sociology teachers do
Sociology teachers give students their first chance to understand the origins and evolution of our society’s social networks and institutions.
High school sociology teachers’ responsibilities include:
- Authoring a syllabus and creating lesson plans
- Leading students through lessons and in-class discussions
- Assigning homework and projects
- Grading essays, research projects, quizzes and exams, and giving final grades
- Keeping current on important developments in sociology
High school sociology teachers hold classes on a daily schedule for nine or 10 months of the year. They may also work with students one-on-one or in smaller groups outside of class. Sociology teachers also set aside time outside of the daily class schedule to prepare for each day’s lesson and to grade student work and tests.
High school sociology teachers lead classes on topics like:
- Sociological perspective and methods of inquiry
- Social structure: culture, institutions and society
- Social relationships: self, groups and socialization
- Social stratification and inequality
High school sociology teachers must maintain a deep understanding of these subdomains of knowledge to succeed in their profession.
Education and certification requirements
A bachelor’s degree in sociology, anthropology, history or another social science qualifies you to teach sociology in most U.S. high schools. A bachelor’s degree in sociology may give you a special advantage in hiring since many schools prefer a teacher with a degree in the subject. High school sociology teachers also need a teaching credential that meets state standards. And if you want a higher salary and better job opportunities, pursue a master’s degree in a social science or an education-related subject.
Most high school sociology teachers also teach social studies, social issues and related subjects like history and civics, but few of them teach only sociology. This makes it hard to pin down accurate salary estimates, but we can make reasonably accurate estimates for similar job titles.
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
- SalaryExpert.com: $52,699
- SimplyHired.com: $46,554
Pros and cons of being a high school sociology teacher
It will help to think through the positive and negative aspects of becoming a high school sociology teacher.
- Inspire the curiosity of young students on a subject relevant to their lives
- 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, rather than research and publication
- Frustrating when dealing with unmotivated or disruptive students
- Not as prestigious as a professorship
- Lower pay than other sociology-related jobs
- Little opportunity for original research
Community college sociology instructors
These instructors work at local or regional two-year colleges.Continue reading to learn more about community college sociology instructors
- What community college sociology instructors do
- Educational and certification requirements
- Income projections
- Pros and cons of being a community college sociology instructor
What community college sociology instructors do
At the community college level, sociology instructors teach students about human behavior and social organization within the context of larger social, political and economic forces.
Here are some of their main responsibilities:
- Developing course materials such as a syllabus, tests, homework, handouts and essay prompts
- Lecturing undergraduates on topics such as family, race and ethnicity, sex and gender, urban development, labor relations and criminology
- Grading students’ essays, exams, quizzes and homework
- Holding regular office hours to answer questions and provide guidance
- Advising students on research projects
- Keeping abreast of current sociological literature and going to professional conferences
Educational and certification requirements
At minimum, community college sociology instructors must have a master’s degree in sociology or a similar field. Getting hired as full-time faculty at a community college can be very competitive, so you may also need to have a doctorate in sociology or another relevant field.
Sociology instructors at community colleges may make significantly more than high school teachers. Here are a couple of estimates of what you might earn as a full-time sociology instructor at a community college:
- BLS: $70,670
- Houston Chronicle: $65,720
Full-time faculty at community colleges generally command higher salaries than adjunct instructors. Adjunct instructors are paid by the course and don’t always receive benefits. For more about the difference between full-time faculty and adjunct instructors, check out our article on community college instructors.
Pros and cons of being a community college sociology instructor
These are the key advantages and disadvantages of becoming a community college sociology instructor:
- Teach students who are dynamic, enthusiastic and eager for opportunities
- Rewarding to educate many first-generation college students, often from immigrant families
- Focus on teaching exclusively
- Flexible hours and opportunities to take time off
- Little opportunity for research or publication
- Lower pay than professors at four-year colleges and universities
- Many teaching positions at community colleges are adjunct, meaning lower pay, few benefits and little job security
Sociology professors at four-year colleges and universities
Sociology professors teach courses, conduct research and publish academic papers and books.Continue reading to learn more about university-level sociology professors
- What sociology professors do
- Educational and certification requirements
- Income projections
- Pros and cons of being a sociology professor
What sociology professors do
Sociology professors teach college-level courses in sociology at universities and other four-year institutions of higher education. They also conduct research in a specialized area of sociology and publish their findings in academic papers and books. Here’s a closer look at their three main responsibilities: research, teaching and faculty management.
A sociology professor’s research duties usually include:
- Contributing to sociology and enhancing the university’s reputation through publications
- Performing quantitative and qualitative research
- Applying for grants to gain external funding from foundations, governments and businesses
- Establishing and leading a team of research/teaching assistants
- Doing fieldwork, possibly in remote or economically underdeveloped areas
- Analyzing data and developing theories based on it
- Writing articles, books or other original materials based on research findings
- Reading extensively to keep up with changes in the sociology discipline
- Supervising graduate students’ research projects
Sociology professors’ teaching duties usually include:
- Teaching introductory and general sociology classes
- Setting overall instructional objectives for each course
- Creating and updating the curriculum and each course’s syllabus, content and instructional methods
- Delivering lectures on sociology to undergraduate students
- Selecting and leading a team of teaching assistants
- Maintaining regular office hours to answer questions and provide guidance
- Advising students on appropriate coursework
Professors lead teams of teaching assistants who help with many key teaching tasks. Sociology professors use their discretion in deciding how closely to manage their assistants as they carry out the following tasks:
- Moderating classroom discussions
- Obtaining materials and supplies such as textbooks
- Assembling course materials such as homework assignments and handouts
- Supervising student research projects
- Grading students’ exams, quizzes, homework and papers
Helping out the larger academic community may include:
- Participating in faculty evaluations, including providing input on the admission of new professors
- Mentoring new faculty members
- Serving on advisory boards, hiring committees and ad hoc committees
- Joining the Faculty Senate
- Taking part in commencement or other ceremonies
- Advising your department on the designation of learning outcomes, administrative measurements and student evaluation standards
- Collaborating with faculty colleagues and administrators in developing program standards, policies and textbook selection
Check out this video featuring an assistant sociology professor:
Educational and certification requirements
Gaining a professorship at a university or four-year college can be a monumental task. At minimum, aspiring sociology professors will have to complete a doctorate demonstrating a commitment to research and inquiry in the field of sociology. Getting a full-time faculty position at a college or university also requires that you publish original research and earn the respect and admiration of your colleagues.
Sociology professors usually earn significantly more than high school and community college teachers. According to the BLS, the median annual salary for a sociology professor is $79,230. Here are more annual salary estimates for sociology professors:
- Glassdoor.com: $58,208
- Houston Chronicle: $73,080
- Salary.com: $90,310
- ASA: $61,734 to $101,256
Pros and cons of being a sociology professor
Consider both the advantages and disadvantages of becoming a sociology professor at a four-year college or university.
- Full benefits for health insurance and retirement security
- Higher pay than most other sociology-related jobs
- Tenure-track position, with an opportunity for long-term job security
- Ample opportunities for research
- Publish your findings in prestigious journals and books
- Get to teach students with a passion for learning and achievement
- May be able to take on a leadership role at a college or university
- Probably responsible for joining a committee and attending many extra meetings and professional events
- Can be frustrating to work within bureaucratic institutions like universities
- Academia can be highly competitive and exhausting, with a “publish-or-perish” norm
- Many years of advanced education are required
Professional development for sociology teachers
If you are serious about becoming a sociology teacher, start thinking about how to improve your career prospects and develop your skills and connections. Completing a sociology-related internship or research fellowship at the undergraduate or graduate level will give prospective sociology teachers a good start to a career in sociology research and education. Becoming involved in high-profile sociological research will be enormously helpful because it cultivates a background in statistics and research.
You should also consider getting involved in one of the many sociology-focused research and professional organizations, including:
- American Sociological Association
- International Sociological Association
- Association for Applied and Clinical Sociology
- The Society for Applied Sociology
- Association for Humanist Sociology
- The Center for Social Ontology
These groups will keep you up-to-date on the latest advances in sociology and give you access to networking opportunities.
Your ultimate goal in this field is to obtain tenure as a sociology professor. The publishing requirements for tenure are exacting, with most prestigious journals accepting only 10 percent of papers submitted. You might also advance to department head, which would mean performing more administrative duties and/or relaying the concerns of the sociology department to the university at large.
Benefits of continuing education
To become a sociology teacher at any level, you should seriously consider pursuing a master’s degree or a doctorate. While you may be able to find a job teaching high school sociology without an advanced degree, most jobs in sociology education and research require a higher degree.
Jobs for sociology teachers beyond teaching
With additional education or certification, sociology 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: Sociology 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, sociology teachers can become policy analysts and examine big-picture issues affecting education nationwide.
School principal: Sociology 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 sociology teacher blogs, websites and Twitter handles
The web makes it easy for us to stay connected to prominent sociology scholars and educators. Here is a list of our favorite websites and Twitter handles, in no particular order.
Favorite sociology websites and blogs
- The Society Pages
- Sage Sociology Review
- The Sociological Review
- The Sociological Imagination
- Everyday Sociology
- Org Theory
- Montclair SocioBlog
- This Sociological Life
- Understanding Society
Favorite sociology Twitter handles
- Zeynep Tufekci: @zeynep
- Mark Harrigan: @mark_carrigan
- Tony Campolo: @TonyCampolo
- Big Data and Society: @bigdatasoc
- Zoé Samudzi: @ztsamudzi
- Sara Goldrick-Rab: @saragoldrickrab
- Sociology Theory: @SociologyTheory
- Rafael Palacios B: @rpalaciosb69
- Lisa Wade: @lisawade
- Dr. Julie Albright: @drjuliea
Ready to Research Degree Programs?
- "Sociology Teachers, Postsecondary," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2015
- "Faculty Salaries," American Sociological Association