Teaching World History

Our times require people to have a working knowledge of world history. Nations find their economies increasingly intertwined with those of other nations. This economic globalization is creating opportunities for more Americans to live abroad and help lead a diverse work force.

At the same time, American policy is defined by the “War on Terror”; the tragedy of 9/11 pushed the conflict between radical Muslims and Western democracies from the depths of the newspapers squarely onto the front page. We need a population who can interpret this conflict and other cultural differences through historical, not fear-fashioned, lenses.

The problem is, our awareness of world events is fragmented—a three-minute spot on the evening news, a link or two clicked at a news website, or commentary from a faux-news show on Comedy Central. These fragments increase our awareness, but fail to give us a true understanding of the world around us.

World history teachers help lay a historical foundation from which students can draw, so that they understand their rapidly changing world. Teachers can not only instill a love of the past, with its rich characters and struggles, but help students better understand our world as history moves forward.

If you have a passion for world history, an affinity for middle and high school students, and an aptitude for presenting curriculum in a creative and engaging manner, then becoming a world history teacher could be a rewarding venture for both you and your students.

What is it like?

As you work with a fresh set of world history students, you’ll first need to establish some foundations. Thus, you’ll introduce students to the world via the study of geography. Every nation and people group that has ever existed was molded by its surrounding environment; supplies of water, food, and natural resources influenced the shape and direction of that society. Once you’ve established that setting, you’ll help students trace the paths of major civilizations throughout history, from the ancient Mesopotamians to our current geo-political state.

As you present each era of civilization, you’ll find opportunities to develop critical-thinking skills among your students. You’ll stage discussions, debates, and perhaps even reenactments, which will allow students to grapple with the political, economic, and philosophical forces which shaped the major events in world history.

You’ll also help students learn to view our nation’s history within the broader context of world events. For example, our common understanding of the Civil War is generally framed as a disagreement over human rights, and over conflicting beliefs of how state and federal governments should work together (or separately). However, on the stage of world history, our Civil War can be viewed as just one example of how nations struggled to address the moral and economic shifts created by the Industrial Revolution.

Simulated history

Many history teachers have relied on experiential simulation games to help students understand such concepts as supply and demand, or world hunger. These games typically take the shape of roleplaying or board games.

However, online games such as Civilization III allow students to manipulate factors such as agricultural output, local government, and military spending to strengthen their civilizations. While games like this do little in the way of teaching the particulars of world history, they create windows for students to begin the understand factors that have impacted world cultures throughout the years.

The study of world history provides a window into other areas of study as well, including philosophy, literature, and art. Not all students will be interested in these subareas of history, but for those who are, it will generate enthusiasm and opportunities to look at history through a different lens—as well as opportunities for extra-credit projects.

The internet enables world history teachers the flexibility to assign more independent research than was possible with past generations. Corollary to this, they’ll also become increasingly responsible to teach their students how to find the most reliable information, and how to cite their sources in an ethical and precise manner. Also, the “democratization” of information online exposes students to alternate interpretations of history—including some wildly alternative views. This, too, will provide teachers with opportunities to encourage critical thinking among their students.

Writing is another critical part of the learning process, as it helps students process what they’re learning and put it into their own words. Assignments could be something as simple as requiring a daily paragraph from students, where they reiterate and summarize what they’ve understood from today’s lesson. Or, they could be more formal assignments such as biographies and reaction papers. You can also have students report on current events, researching both online and print sources. You’ll help students see world history as it unfolds, and help them trace the roots of these events back through time.

You might also assign group projects to encourage collaboration, as well as encourage students to interact over their own interpretations of key historical events. You might even have some sharp disagreements among students; leverage this to help them further understand the disagreements that have happened throughout history (sometimes to the point of war), and how those conflicts might have been avoided or solved.

The father of modern history

Herodotus is generally considered to be the father of modern history. He was a Greek historian who lived in the fifth century B.C., and is credited for both his methodical gathering of sources and his presentation of history in a dramatic, plot-driven manner. His nine-book Histories—which extend from the Trojan War to the fall of the Persian Empire (and the corresponding rise of Greek civilization)— are still read by both history and world literature classes today.

When school is in session, a teacher faces a demanding schedule. Usually, teachers are expected to arrive at their classrooms an hour before their students for last minute preparation, as well as to touch base with teaching teams and school administrators. Time after school might be spent tutoring, administering detentions, or supervising an after school activity (which usually provides the teacher with an extra stipend). Thankfully, this pace is alleviated by the extended vacation times teachers receive.

Can I get a job in this field?

The job outlook for world history teachers is steady. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that job growth for middle school teachers will keep pace with the rest of the economy at 17 percent between now and 2020. The prospects are slightly less encouraging on the high school level, as the BLS projects the job growth of secondary education teachers at only seven percent between now and 2020.

While affirming the desire of school districts to reduce teacher-student ratios, the BLS also notes that each school district will be navigating local and state budget revisions over the next several years. However, a large percentage of the teaching workforce is expected to retire during this time, and many school districts will be offering incentives to get long tenured (and thus more expensive) teachers off of their payrolls.

Prospective teachers are also faced with the possibility of relocation. The southeastern U.S., for example, is currently reporting a high demand for middle school teachers. Incoming teachers should assess their willingness to relocate, and weigh options such as variances in the cost of living and willingness to live apart from extended family.

A time-tested way to position yourself for full-time employment is to become a substitute teacher at the middle and/or high school levels. As you demonstrate your ability to manage a classroom and present the subject matter, administrators will take notice.

What salary should I expect?

According to the BLS, the average median salary of a middle school teacher is $51,960 per year, while the median salary of a high school teacher is $53,230. A bachelor’s education is required as the entry level degree to work as a teacher; however, obtaining a master’s degree almost universally enhances a teacher’s earning power.

Ultimately, the question of salary is determined by location, as well as by the educational and work experience of the employee.

How do I become a teacher in this field?

You’ll either need a bachelor’s degree in secondary education with a minor in a minor in world history, or a bachelor’s degree in world history. Additionally, you’ll need to earn a teaching certificate. Visit the Teaching Certification website for more information about your state’s requirements.

You’ll want to explore the specific certification requirements for the state or states you’re willing to work in. If you’re open to relocating for a job, you’ll want to pay close attention to which states offer reciprocity, which would allow your teaching certification to be valid in your target state. Again, visit the Teaching Certification website for specific information about your state’s requirements.

Teach for America is a non-profit organization which works to place teachers in poverty-stricken urban and rural centers, for an agreed-upon number of years. You’ll want to research to see if your state offers grants or fellowships to students who commit to teaching there.

If, upon receiving your undergraduate degree, you find that the job market isn’t currently amenable to finding work as a history teacher, all is not lost. Consider pursuing a master’s degree to enhance your marketability, as well as to command better wages when you finally reach your goal of becoming a world history teacher.

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