School Teachers

Recommended if… you are dedicated to teaching and are most interested in teaching students in primary or secondary school, quite likely in a variety of subjects. Also, this is a great position for those who do not wish to move too far from where they want to live.

Requirements… In most Canadian provinces, teachers must first complete an undergraduate degree followed by a Bachelor of Education (BEd) before becoming certified by their provincial College of Teachers. Consult with your own provincial, state, or national guidelines for specific information on this process. While History is a teachable subject at the secondary level, Social Studies is the more prevalent teachable subject and will require coursework in Geography and/or Social Sciences. At the elementary level or middle school, teacher candidates are required to have a broad range of coursework. In terms of graduate school, some teachers have a discipline-specific master’s degree such as in History, however the majority pursue a Master’s degree in Education. Graduate degrees can put existing teachers in a higher pay scale.


Teaching in elementary, middle or secondary schools is a position well suited to history graduates, and those with a BA, an MA, or even a PhD can find positions in this level of education in combination with requirements such as a BEd and College of Teachers certification. Since requirements to become a school teacher vary from place to place, check with local regulations to learn more about the educational obligations for where you would prefer to teach. In 2010, nearly five percent of American history PhD recipients reported that they found work as elementary or secondary school teachers, so there are possibilities to become school teachers for those with doctorates in History as well.

Varieties in Teaching

This type of position suits those who love teaching, but are not necessarily as interested in doing research and writing. Of course, this is not to say that teachers cannot pursue their own research on the side, outside of the workplace, producing articles or books as independent scholars, for example.

Public and private school teaching brings the opportunity to pursue other things that teachers love to do with their students, ranging from teaching subjects other than history (which is very common) to coaching team sports to supervising student governance and hobbyist clubs. Teachers have some professional autonomy over how they deliver curriculum, which encourages them to be creative in their pedagogy.

Comparison to Post-Secondary Teaching

Like any educational institution, the quality of work and pay can vary dramatically from school to school. Different school districts offer different salaries, working dynamics, and student communities. It is up to you, as the job applicant, to research which schools suit you best. This career route may be preferable to teaching at a college or university if you wish to stay within your own home community – or if you have another community in mind where you wish to be based. A passion for teaching young people is a must. While the job market is still competitive in this field, one is still likely to find a school reasonably close to where s/he wishes to live.

Teaching at schools suits those who enjoy regular weekday working hours with plentiful holidays, for example from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. with public holidays and summers off. When the school term begins, in compiling grades and reports, and during parent-teacher conferences, teachers can expect to put in longer hours to meet their job commitments. Extra-curricular activities – a rewarding part of a teaching career – are additional, as is participation in professional organizations and school committees. Professional development is mandated in many places; for example, in British Columbia, there are six professional days scheduled throughout the school year. Canadian teachers generally have a minimum of two weeks paid holiday during winter and spring breaks. Generally, teachers are paid as ten-month employees, which means they have summers off without pay, although some teachers will supplement their income by teaching courses during summer months.

Public and Private School Teaching

There are a wide variety of different educational environments, with differences, for example, between teaching at public and private schools.

Public schools in Canada aim to be accessible to the widest range of students and families; most of its teachers are especially passionate about social justice, equity, and diversity. Teachers in public schools often belong to a union, and as such they work together to negotiate contracts which include wages, benefits, and working conditions. Depending on the circumstances of the school district or individual school, class sizes and teaching obligations vary from place to place, again a reason to carefully research schools you are interested in.

There are specialized public schools, such as schools for indigenous Canadians (which have been undergoing reform), as well as separate school boards for Catholic and Protestant schools in certain provinces, or French- and English-language school boards in others.

There are public and private schools or programs that educate students with specific needs, such as those students who require additional educational or mobility assistance, or those who are educationally advanced in relation to their age-group peers.

Private schools are more common in some provinces, states, and countries than others. Private schools can include those with alternative approaches to education (for example, Montessori or Waldorf schools), boarding schools, and faith-based or language-immersion schools. Private schools are mostly funded through tuitions paid by students’ families, and through private donors. While working conditions may vary, teachers in private schools have reported smaller class sizes and an academic orientation to secondary-level coursework akin to first- or second-year university courses. While these positions may not be unionized, satisfactory pay rates and benefits are commonly part of the job package.

PhDs as School Teachers

As mentioned, this career generally hires history graduates with an undergraduate or master’s/MEd degree combined with a BEd and College of Teachers certification. How receptive are school districts and private schools to a PhD recipient who wishes to teach elementary or secondary students? Their response may vary from scepticism to enthusiasm depending on how they value – and more importantly how they think that parents would view – adding a PhD recipient to their body of teachers. Ultimately, PhD recipients have to demonstrate that they are committed to teaching younger individuals. If so, their credentials can add value to their application. Furthermore, real teaching experience is a definite asset, and those who have already successfully taught for several years in a college, university, or other educational environment will have an edge in getting a job. PhD recipients should consult with the regulations of their province, state or country, or the requirements in specific job postings, about further education they may require to qualify to teach at public or private schools.

Some starting points

There are a variety of websites that will provide job postings; a search online will reveal postings that are relevant to the regions in which you seek work. There are associations that represent teachers’ interests that are worth reviewing, including the Canadian Teachers’ Federation and those provincial and regional associations listed by the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. In the United States, you may wish to look at the U.S. Department of Education’s listings of educational associations and organizations. There are places online in which teachers have spoken on their experiences, including Beyond the PhD. Also check with government guidelines on the educational requirements to become certified as a teacher and then research relevant programs at universities and colleges that offer such certification. From an American perspective, has published a variety of insightful articles on differences between public and private schools, teaching in private schools versus public schools, and things to consider before becoming a teacher. Darcy R. Fryer's article “Teaching History in Independent Schools” offers insights on PhDs teaching in private schools.


Do you have further insights on careers in teaching at schools, or additional information that we can add here? If so, please contact us so we can refine this resource.