High School Social Studies

In an age of growing interconnectedness between different societies and cultures throughout the world, it has become increasingly important for high school students to gain a deeper understanding of the concepts and aims that are at the heart of the social studies curriculum.

With the growing complexities of modern life, social studies at the high school level seeks to give students a unified comprehension of the diverse subjects of history, politics, sociology, geography, economics, anthropology, and the humanities. By bringing together these related fields, students gain greater insights into American society as well as cultures around the globe.

High School social studies aims to promote civic competence that empowers students to effectively participate in public life. It teaches them the basic concepts of culture, economics, and politics to groom them into being productive, educated, citizens. The courses in this field seek to give students an understanding of how the world works on the social level.

An increased emphasis on higher order thinking skills is what distinguishes high school social studies from the pre-K to 8th grades. At the high school level, students take on a greater number of writing projects that require more in-depth research and usage of original texts. Most high schools require students to read evidence-based historical writing, and to interpret historical texts in the same way that historians do in their research. The focus is on analysis and argumentation over memorization and summary. For more information about this approach, go to: www.teachinghistory.org/issues-and-research/research-brief/24487.

High School Social Studies Curriculum

To meet the requirements of earning a high school degree, students are usually required to garner three full years of credits in social studies. This allows for a year of social studies electives, which are often taken in the 10th grade. Curricula differ from state to state, but the following course breakdown is most commonly found in high schools across America.

Year One: World History – Focus is on giving students an overview of various cultures and their history. Topics include the prehistory of early humans, the first civilizations – Egypt, China, India, and Mesopotamia; Greece and Rome, Medieval Era in Europe, Renaissance and Reformation in Europe, and the modern era that closely examines how World War I and World War II impacted Europe, Asia, and North Africa, as well as the rise and fall of Communism in the former Soviet Union and China.

Year Two: Electives – This year often gives students an opportunity to explore parts of history that particularly interest them, as well as take electives in the social sciences. Electives vary greatly from school to school. Among the most common and popular electives are Government, World Geography, AP Comparative Cultural Diversity, Foreign Policy, Sociology and AP Psychology.

Year Three: American History – Some high schools start with the colonial period and the American Revolution while others start with the Civil War. In this year, teachers stress the interconnections of many events in the past - how the American national identity was built, the rise of social movements, and the growth of the federal government. Students learn about the inner workings of the federal bureaucracy, the courts, the legislative process and the growth of executive powers.

Year Four: American Government and Economics – Building on year three, students gain a more in-depth understanding of government functions and institutions. They are expected to analyze government policies and their impact on different segments of society. High school seniors are taught economic concepts such as supply and demand, scarcity, and economic theories from varying political perspectives. At this point, many students have completed their social studies requirements by mid-year, and they are free to take additional electives.

Teaching High School Social Studies

Becoming a high school social studies teacher can be a fulfilling and meaningful career choice. This is an ideal job for a person who has excellent communication skills, is technological savvy, and has tremendous patience when working with teenagers.

Most people who go into this field earn their bachelor’s degree in education. It is important to take social studies electives in college, such as courses in history, sociology, economics and political science. Some people take the alternative route. They major in history or one of the other social sciences, and then take education classes to earn certification while beginning to teach. In both cases, public high schools encourage social studies teachers to earn their master’s degrees at some point.

Public high schools require certification, while many private high schools do not. More information about state requirements can be found at: www.teacherceutoolbox.com/state-requirements.

An important resource for people in the field is the National Council for the Social Studies, which seeks to prepare students for college, career and civic life. Founded in 1921, the Council is the largest association in the United States devoted solely to social studies education. Its mission is to provide leadership, service, and support for all social studies educators, including those at the high school level. Further information about this organization can be viewed here: www.socialstudies.org.

Salaries for High School Social Studies Teachers

According to www.wikihow.com, the highest paid high school social studies teachers earn up to $91,000 per year. The lowest paid teachers in this field earn approximately $37,000 a year. The good news is that the number of openings in the United States for high school social studies teachers is expected to grow by about 6% by 2020.

In its 2015 survey, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (https://www.bls.gov/) reported that on average a high school social studies teacher earns $57,200 a year. 

According to www.glassdoor.com, the average base pay for teachers in this field is $48,063 a year.

Teachers often have an opportunity to earn additional money by supervising after school social studies related activities, such as the debating club and the Model UN.



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