To get a glimpse of the social studies teacher workforce in the U.S., we look to data from the 2011-12 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), a nationally representative survey. We find that social studies teachers look similar to teachers of other subjects on some dimensions and very different on other dimensions. Some of these differences suggest that many schools ask social studies teachers to play an assortment of roles in their schools-with responsibilities more varied than those of teachers in other academic subjects.
Teachers who specialize in social studies constitute roughly nine percent of the total teacher workforce, with most teaching in middle or high schools. About 40 percent of these teachers come into the classroom with an undergraduate major in history, and then slightly fewer come in from other social science majors like political science, economics, or sociology. The remainder, representing 30 percent of social studies teachers, have degrees in either elementary or secondary education or some other degree.
Key characteristics like experience and education levels among social studies teachers are similar to teachers in other subject specialties. Yet social studies teachers stand out in their gender balance. With 54.7 percent of them male, this is one of just two subjects represented in the SASS in which teachers are predominantly male (the other being health / physical education).
The SASS data reveal some interesting trends among social studies teachers’ work responsibilities. First, they work a lot. Social studies teachers report working slightly more total hours on teaching and other school-related activities (nearly 54 hours per week) than teachers in all other subjects. This is true despite their total instructional hours and contract hours showing virtually no difference from teachers in other subjects. It also does not appear that the extra hours are coming from professional development. In fact, the survey data suggest that social studies teachers are among the least likely (at 72 percent), along with teachers in the natural sciences (71 percent) and foreign languages (70 percent), to stay engaged in ongoing professional development in their specialty area. Other subject-specialized teachers participate in professional development at markedly higher rates—around 80 percent or better.
One possible source of these additional hours is coaching, where the responses from social studies teachers stand out from the responses of their peers. Nearly 34 percent of social studies teachers coach an athletic team, lead a physical education class, or do both. This is about 13 percentage points more than the rate at which mathematics teachers take on these extra duties, and even farther above the rates for teachers of other subjects.
In fact, broadly speaking, social studies teachers have an unusually large number of school responsibilities beyond teaching in their subject area. On average, 7.5 percent of the subjects they teach are outside their specialty area (in subjects such as English, health, and physical education)—a large share relative to other secondary school teachers. Moreover, many social studies teachers are involved in activities outside the classroom, such as mentoring students, being a curriculum specialist, and being a department lead or chair.
For more, see