Recruit and Retain: The Future of Education

Becoming a Social Studies Teacher

There are quite a few social science disciplines and quite a few paths to being a public school social science or social studies teacher. Social studies teaching is a bachelor's profession, at least at the entry level. Many states issue a generalist social studies endorsement that is valid through the high school level. In some states, there are distinct middle grade and secondary level endorsements. Some states issue secondary certificates in particular social science disciplines like history, geography, and economics.

Meeting Curricular Requirements

Teacher preparation consists of subject area preparation and professional preparation. A student who completes a traditional program at the undergraduate level will typically have a major in social studies education or a major in a social science discipline with a professional preparation program completed concurrently. In some cases, the student will have a double major. Many states, though, set professional education coursework requirements well below the level of an academic major. The organization of undergraduate studies will vary, depending in part on state requirements. Student teaching is a typical program component.

The National Council for the Social Studies is a national standard setter, though it is at the discretion of the individual state to what extent standards are reflected in state regulation. CAEP-accredited social studies programs reflect NCSS standards. Students can search for recognized programs on the CAEP website.

The National Council for the Social Studies notes that there are a wide variety of social studies education programs. In some, the student has a single course in social studies teaching methods along with practicum experience and student teaching. Other programs include methods courses in multiple social studies subject and/ or include separate courses in social studies curriculum, methods, and literacies. Practicum placements may support the various courses in intentional ways.

Programs that include only minimal discipline-specific coursework may still have a number of general "secondary school teacher" requirements. Coursework requirements can include educational psychology and meeting the needs of culturally and cognitively diverse learners, among others. There will likely be a course that introduces the education system and the teacher's professional responsibilities.

States can be quite specific about the expected social science coursework. A prospective social studies teacher may be expected to have a concentration in one or more social science disciplines and some foundation in the others.

A teacher who completes a traditional academic program in one state can generally achieve certification in another state relatively easily, provided the other state has a corresponding endorsement. It is sometimes necessary to first achieve licensure in the state where the program was located. There may be additional requirements imposed. A teacher may need a course in the history of the particular state where he or she will be teaching. Teachers who are considering relocating will want to find out about specific coursework mandates and about opportunities for provisional licensing. Grade levels don’t necessarily have to match exactly for the state to consider the endorsement roughly equivalent. The situation becomes more complicated when a teacher is certified only for the middle grades and moves to a state that doesn’t recognize middle grade endorsements.

Post-Baccalaureate Options

Educator preparation may be completed as a post-bachelor's or master's level program. Some students find it more realistic to meet their requirements over a five-year period – they want a broad and deep education.

Alternative program options are available at the post-bachelor's level. In many cases, the candidate will be expected to enter with a closely related content major. The requirement may be lower, perhaps 24 semester hours. Some programs will accept students from other academic backgrounds if they can pass a subject area test at the onset. Alternative programs are subject to mandates set at the state level.

The Assessment Process

A student will often take three state-mandated assessments en route to licensure, but this too is variable. The student may need to take the Praxis CORE general academic assessment on entrance. Some states exempt candidates based on performance on other rigorous academic assessments such as the ACT, SAT, or GRE.

In most cases, alternative and traditional students both take subject assessments. Traditional students often won't take their subject area assessments until a later stage of the program. The requirement may be for a Praxis assessment a Pearson assessment (either the NES or a custom state exam). The following are among the Praxis offerings:

  • Social Studies: Content Knowledge
  • Social Studies: Content and Interpretation
  • World and U.S. History: Content Knowledge
  • Economics
  • Geography

The general social studies assessments include content from various disciplines, including behavioral science. However, history comprises more of the content than any other discipline; U.S. history and world history are considered separate strands. The content and interpretation test includes three constructed response questions as well as a number of multiple choices questions. One of the sample questions released by ETS offers a quote by Martin Luther King and asks candidates to describe the civil right approach reflected and explain two developments or events that challenged it.

A pedagogy assessment is among the final requirements. Some states mandate a portfolio-based performance assessment as part of the internship or student teaching experience.

The National Council for the Social Studies requires recognized programs to carry out six types of assessment. Some, but not all, can be met within the context of state testing. Among the areas NCSS-recognized programs assess candidates are content proficiency, impact on student learning, and civic participation. Among the ways students might demonstrate their active participation as citizens: social justice research and service learning projects.


Teacher salaries and, in some cases, license levels reflect the level of education. Teachers can complete advanced programs in social studies education.