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What is a History Teacher?

History teachers provide their students with an overview of how the world has evolved during man's existence. History classes can be all-encompassing and include world events, or they can be tailored in a variety of ways, through the use of a specific time frame (Civil War History) or by geography (European History) or movement (The Civil Rights Movement, the Industrial Revolution, the Cold War, etc.). History teachers help students gain knowledge of things that happened in the past and help them apply the lessons learned to their modern time.

If you have always been interested in history and have the desire to pass this knowledge on to others, then becoming a history teacher is a good career choice. Many think back on their history classes and are bored just thinking about them. It was a class of memorization; knowing when the Declaration of Independence was signed, the dates for the two world wars, and when key historical figures were assassinated were things to remember long enough to answer questions on a test. But once in a while, a history teacher with a passion for the subjects being taught came along and suddenly history was a cool subject. You could be that person who makes history cool for students.

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Steps to Becoming a History Teacher

Whether you choose to teach young students the basics about American History or opt to teach college students about the intricacies and importance of government coups, there is a place for you in a classroom somewhere in the US. If you’re interested in helping to ensure that the adage “those who forget the past are destined to repeat it” doesn’t come true, then starting on the path to becoming a history teacher is something to look forward to.

To become a history teacher, certain milestones need to be met in order to ready yourself for the classroom. First, you’ll need an education; learning teaching techniques and finding ways to convey the knowledge to your students are the base. Understanding the learning level of your students so you can craft lessons that match their ability and intelligence is also an important part of becoming a history teacher. Anyone can stand in front of a group of students and recite dates and happenings; history teachers make history come alive and is able to apply the practical application of historical events to modern day events. The ability to do this increases the chances that students will leave your classroom with more information than they started with.

Unlike some careers, becoming a history teacher has a clear path from start to finish. There are some differences once you arrive at the certification stage, and those are based on state requirements and the rules set up by various school districts. But generally speaking, the path to becoming a history teacher follows what is listed below.

  • Step 1: Major in Education with a Specialization in History

  • Step 2: Choose What Grade to Teach

  • Step 3: Complete Your Degree and Student Teaching

  • Step 4: Pass Your Exams

  • Step 5: Gain Certification


Step 1: Major in Education with a Specialization in History

You’ll have to declare Education as your major in college. Many schools require you to apply for admission into the education program, and this happens during your second year of college at the latest. When you apply for admission into the education department, you’ll be asked what subject you want to teach. At this time, you’ll declare that you want to teach History. Depending on your state, you’ll either minor in History or double major in Education and History.

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Step 2: Choose What Grade to Teach

One of the first things you need to consider is what age group you want to teach. Many college programs require you to choose between elementary, middle school, and secondary education. Elementary is for children between the ages of 5 and 12, middle school is 12 to 14, and secondary is high school, which is generally kids aged 14 and older. For any younger ages, there aren’t specific history classrooms in which to teach, since most programs for young children use self-contained classrooms.

Step 3: Complete Your Degree and Student Teaching

Once you’re admitted into a history degree program, you’ll be given a specific curriculum for your major. It is comprised of general education courses and classes in history. You’ll need to pass all of your classes with at least a C in order to complete the program.

Education majors are required to complete several weeks of student teaching toward the end of earning their degree. You will be assigned to a school depending on your preferred teaching group. So, if you want to teach middle school history, you’ll be assigned to a middle school, if you want to teach high school history, you’ll go to a high school. Once assigned to a school, you will shadow a veteran history teacher in that school and eventually will be tasked with teaching the class. The history teachers, as well as a department head from your college, will evaluate your skills and offer advice and ways to improve your teaching skills.

Step 4: Pass Your Exams

Once you’ve completed your bachelor's degree, you have to take the licensing exam for the state in which you plan to teach. If you plan to teach in the state where you went to college, your program is set up to help you seamlessly prepare for the exam. If you plan to teach in another state, you’ll want to check their specific exam requirement and prepare for that exam.

The PRAXIS I and II exams are required in most states for teacher candidates to move forward and get their teaching licenses and certifications. Praxis I is a general knowledge exam that covers the basics that all teachers should know before entering a classroom. Praxis II is a specific subject exam, based on your declared specialization. For example, because you want to become a history teacher, your Praxis II would delve heavily into history to test your knowledge on historical happenings and methods of teaching these highlights to students. Even if your state doesn’t use PRAXIS exams, they will use some type of testing procedure before you are able to gain certification to teach.

Step 5: Gain Certification

Each state and school district has requirements for incoming history teachers. You will want to find out what the specific requirements are and act accordingly. Some states require additional testing beyond the certification exam. Other states require specific classes or training for their history teachers. Find out what those requirements are and work to fulfill them.

Beyond other testing requirements, each state requires fingerprinting and background checks for all history teachers. This allows them to ensure the safety of all the students under your care. Once all these requirements are met, you will be able to get a job leading your own classroom.

What Does a History Teacher Do?

A teacher in an elementary or middle school setting wears many hats. Not only are they tasked with providing a quality history education, they also have additional school duties. For example, a history teacher could also be in charge of tracking the history of the school and updating any annals or publications the school might generate. They also have tasks in the lunchroom, in before and after-school activities, or if they have experience, they could coach debate teams or intermural sports teams. They also have the same duties as every other teacher; lesson plan creation, meeting with the parents and guardians of students, making and grading tests, assigning and grading homework, and working with struggling students. Seasoned history teachers could also act as mentors for less experienced history teachers as well as help train and guide student teachers.

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Skills to Acquire

History teachers should cultivate the following skills to be effective in the classroom:

  • Knowledge of history
    History teachers should have more than a passing knowledge about the subject in which they are teaching. Understanding all facets of an issue and knowing how to pass this information on to their students is required.
  • Ability to follow historical trends and changes in understanding
    History changes over time. What was once thought to be a cause for a war or movement could eventually be proved untrue, and a new reason or explanation is presented. History teachers must pay attention to these trends and adjust their lessons accordingly so students receive accurate information.
  • A capacity for practical application
    It’s one thing to tell students what happened in 1863, it’s another thing entirely to explain why it happened and how those events shape our current life. Being able to take history and apply it to the present helps students learn and it’s a skill a history teacher should hone.
  • The desire to help students
    Whether it’s finding new ways to convey information to the entire class or helping one student find an effective way of remembering dates, a history teacher must be able to assess a learning situation and find ways to adjust their lesson to help students learn.
  • Organizational skills
    History has a lot of moving parts so, in order to keep track of everything that needs to be taught, history teachers should have their lessons and materials organized.
  • Communication skills
    The ability to convey information in both verbal and written formats is tantamount.

Alternative Paths

If you want to become a history teacher but lack a formal education degree, there are ways to fulfill your desire to teach without earning an entirely new bachelor’s education degree. The methods vary by state, but in essence, you’ll be required to take some education classes, complete student teaching, and pass the PRAXIS I and II exams, as well as any state required exams for teacher certification. Once all that is completed, you’ll need to follow the guidelines to apply for teaching positions that are laid out by specific school districts or colleges, depending on which career track you decide to pursue.

Career & Salary

Where Might You Work?


Public, private, and alternative schools all require students to learn history, as do post-secondary institutions. You could also find employment in museums or working as a historical expert. For example, news shows and new magazines often tap history teachers as sources for articles and news stories. You could also write these stories and books yourself as an additional income source.

Potential Career Paths

If you’re an aspiring history teacher, you could find employment in one of these areas, depending on your degree and desires:

Elementary Teacher
history teachers at this level help young students learn about important figures in history. Units can be built around these people and students can start to get a foundation on how these figures helped shape America or the world.

Middle School Teacher
history in middle school builds upon what was taught in elementary school but adds context and more information. During middle school, students learn about geography and take a class that details the history of their state. Students start to get an idea of how happenings in another part of the world are connected and start to see how the past has helped shaped the present.

High School Teacher
history in high school builds further. High school teachers focus on adding economics to the mix. Learning about the US economy and how it directly impacts countries around the world and vice versa help students gain knowledge about the importance of world events and the health of economies. Students also study worldwide historical events more thoroughly, again to help students understand how something that happened oceans away have affected them and can continue to affect them.

History Teacher Salaries

Occupation Entry-Level Mid-Career Late-Career
Archivist $40,000 $54,000 $59,000
Museum Curator $41,000 $50,000 $66,000
Historian $51,000 $50,000 $75,000
History Teacher $36,000 $50,000 $78,000
Writer $41,000 $54,000 $66,000

**Salary info provided by PayScale

Career Outlook

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the need for history teachers is expected to increase between 2014 and 2024. Approximately 1.9 million job openings for history teachers are anticipated during that time. Although not all of those positions are for history teachers, it shows that the need for new educators is there. The need is driven by attrition as well as the number of anticipated students during that time.

Salary-wise, your income will depend on where you live. History teachers in the northwest make more than history teachers in the southeast. For example, a teacher in Nebraska could earn $45,000 in their first year, whereas a teacher in West Virginia could earn far less. However, according to, the average income for history teachers nationwide is $57,000 for secondary history teachers and $56,000 for elementary history teachers. If you want to teach on a collegiate level, there is a demand there as well. According to the BLS, there will be a need for 550,000 teachers between 2014 and 2024.

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Advancing From Here

History teachers are needed at all academic levels, including post-secondary schools. If you want to pursue teaching history at a college or university level, a bachelor’s degree is a minimum requirement with a graduate degree desired. Experience teaching and researching in the areas where you want to teach might also help get your collegiate teaching career started.

Depending on the course and academic level (general courses for regular students or a course for history majors), the history courses could be overviews of periods of history or more in-depth courses focusing on one particular point in history. For example, elementary students might learn about historical people such as George Washington and Martin Luther King, while high school students could learn about entire periods of history such as the wars in America or history throughout the world.

Becoming a history teacher is a noble endeavor. Knowing about the history of this country and of the world helps create well-rounded people with the ability to see the big picture when it comes to world events. Anyone who is open to helping students understand how the events of the past help shape the present and the future should consider entering a classroom and sharing this knowledge with students of all age levels.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What do history teachers do?

History teachers teach students about significant events that have happened in the past. Most history teachers try to connect past events with current and future events. History teachers may cover specific time eras or they may cover history as a whole.

What skills should a history teacher have?

A history teacher must have integrity, be dependable, have excellent communication, and have good speaking, writing and reading. They must be an active listener, have analytical thinking skills, strict attention to detail.

How long does it take to become a history teacher?

To become a history teacher, you must first get a bachelor's degree. After you have your degree. you will be required to complete several weeks of student teaching. Next, you will need to take your states licensing exam and apply for your teaching license.

What is the job outlook for history teachers?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, history teaching careers will grow by 8% from 2020 to 2030.

Where can history teachers work?

History teachers can teach at all levels of education. They could work in public and private schools.

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