History jobs aren’t limited to a classroom

Originally Published July 14, 2009

So you’ve gotten through college and gotten your teaching certification in History. But now, there’s a problem. Perhaps you’ve taught for a while and are reaching a burnout. Perhaps your district is facing cutbacks, or you’ve reached retirement age but aren’t ready to stop working yet. Or possibly even you’re finding it hard to find a job within this economy. You’re wondering, what are my options, what is there for a teacher to do?
Amazingly, a teacher or former teacher is one of the most hireable folks out there. Pretty much any job you would like to have is yours for the taking. But you want to stay in the historical field.
That too, is easier than you think. How do I know? Because that’s were I’ve gone. In 2002, the company my husband was working for cut a whole divisionand transfered him. For me, that meant I had to leave my teaching job mid year and we moved across the state. If anyone has done this, you know it can be very hard to find a new position. So I started looking for other options, and found a myriad.
Museum work is a haven for history teachers. Museums love teachers, because first and foremost, they know to handle large groups of children. Twenty or more children can be daunting for someone who has never dealt with children before, but a good teacher can get an auditorium full of children quiet and paying attention.
A teacher is boon when forming educational plans that fit the exhibits. Making an exhibit interesting to the preschooler as well as the high schooler can be a daunting task. Many educational departments are headed by former teachers.
Historical interpretation is also a place where teachers excel. Living historians and living history museums are becoming a new version of the amusement park. Many of the living history museums are now offering a hands on approach to learning history, with each museum site offering a project that every visitor can help do, from weeding a garden to sewing a handkerchief to helping plane a piece of wood. This is a very effective method of education, because many children don’t realize they’ve earned something about history, but remember it more than looking at a sign next to the artifact. However, this type of job isn’t for everyone. It often requires dress in historically accurate clothing, as well as a willingness to live and act like you come from that time period.
Like this idea but don’t want to work at a set site? A lot of historians and former teachers are creating personas to go with their chosen time period, right down to accurate clothing, and are hiring out to schools. Having a unique skill that you can demonstrate helps, especially if it’s portable, like flint knapping, or making rope out of corn husks, or even millinery. This one is a bit harder to do, because you have to market yourself well and in the economy as it stands, teachers don’t always have the budget for extras like this. Offering your services for free to build up your resume and recommendations may be the way to start. Also, look outside the schools to adult groups that may have an interest in your presentation. These groups tend to have more discretionary funds, and as your reputation builds, the more you can charge.
There are also historical fairs and events specific to time periods – these can be made into a full time career or something you only do locally and part time, depending on your motivation and willingness to travel. Choose a time period, and search the internet, you will find an event for that era. Most of these have education days, where school groups come in, as well as the general attendance. Just as you would going to schools, your fees will be dependant upon your performance and reputation. It takes time, but you can live very well off of being a participant in these events.
None of that appeals? Research. There are plenty of jobs out there for folks who can do accurate and quick research, and former history students and teachers tend to excel at research. You can work for government agencies, libraries, museums, private institutions, even hire yourself out as freelance to help people do research for books, articles, even geneology.
Of course, you can always follow your heart and combine these things, even become a writer. After all, as a former teacher, museum work, historical events, research and writing work well for me!
Whatever you decide to do, make sure it is something you truly like to do.
Here’s a site for job listings in the realm of public history –http://www.ncph.org/CareersTraining/Jobs/tabid/334/Default.aspx
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