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Teaching History at the K-12 Level

Obtaining a License

Students considering teaching history at the K-12 level should prepare themselves through coursework for the following goals: to obtain a license (or state certification), which makes one eligible to teach at the K-12 level; and endorsement, which makes one eligible to teach particular fields at the K-12 level.

There are two primary routes to obtaining a license:

  • The undergraduate route. History majors apply to the School of Education in the second semester of their sophomore year, generally around mid-January. Transfer students may apply shortly before the start of their junior year, typically in late August; rising juniors have a second opportunity to apply at this time, as well. Confirm all deadlines for admission with the School of Education well in advance. Those students wishing a license to teach in Elementary Education start their coursework in either the fall or spring semester of their junior year. They take a total of 33 credit hours in the School of Education, leading to a double major in History and Elementary Education. Those wishing a license to teach in Secondary Education begin their coursework in the fall semester of their junior year and take a total of 24 credit hours of Education classes.
  • The graduate school route. This route allows students who did not enter the School of Education as an undergraduate to spend the year after graduation (or at some later date) working toward the M.A. Ed. degree, thus leading to a license for teaching. Students begin in the summer and end the following summer, for a total of fourteen months of instruction and student teaching. Students enroll in either the Elementary Education Program or the Secondary Education Program.

For more information about programs administered by the School of Education, contact the Office of Academic Programs, Jones Hall 100 (221-2317), or visit

For those without a license, there is a third option, the private school route. A few private schools, as well as some public schools in "high need" areas, do not require a license as a precondition of hire. Typically, teachers hired by such schools are granted a provisional license for three years, with the expectation that they will take the appropriate coursework to obtain a license. Students should be aware, however, that there are far fewer opportunities to teach without a license than with a license.

History majors might also be interested in the Teach for America Program, which aggressively recruits William and Mary students. Students selected for this program commit to teach for two years in low-income areas, typically central cities and remote rural districts. Licensing is not a precondition of employment, but new hires are expected to take courses after they begin teaching. Application deadlines are in October and February. Consult for more details and an application.


Teaching at the K-12 level requires not only a license but an endorsement to teach particular subjects. Students should prepare themselves by taking additional courses outside the department, depending on their career objective:

  • Elementary Education. In addition to courses in their History major, students seeking endorsement in elementary education should take one three-credit course in each of the following areas: English language, literature, American history or American government, and geography. Since some of these courses may also meet General Education Requirements, it would be wise for students to plan their academic programs as early as possible.
  • Secondary Education (History). To obtain endorsement to teach history at the high school level, History majors must take one additional course in economics; also, 24 of the 33 credits required for the History major must be distributed in courses in U.S. and world history. For the world history component, students should consider taking Hist 191 and Hist 192, Global History, since most high school teachers offer world history courses. They might also consider taking a couple of courses in some non-Western area, such as Latin America, Africa, East Asia, etc.
  • Secondary Education (Social Studies). Some high schools prefer that their new hires are endorsed to teach social studies, because such people would be more flexible in terms of the range of courses they could offer. To acquire social studies endorsement, History majors must take: 12 credit hours in government; 6 credit hours in economics; and 6 credit hours in geography (see the list of eligible courses maintained by the School of Education).

For more information about endorsement, contact Dr. Roger Ries, Professor of Social Studies Education, in the School of Education, Jones Hall 334 [[rrries]]; 221-2345).