Monday, March 21, 2011

Pre-College Philosophy from APA Advice

Advice from the American Philosophical Association about how to go about teaching philosophy in high school. What school are and are not looking for.  Also advice about where and how to find a position

APA Committee on 
Pre-College Instruction in Philosophy

What Schools Are and
Are Not Looking For

Although there are significant opportunities for employment as a teacher of pre-college philosophy, administrators for grades K-12 are not looking for philosophers, per se. You will have to seek out the opportunities by taking the initiative and 'marketing' both yourself and philosophy. Most schools do not offer philosophy. Fortunately, many schools might expand their curriculum to include some philosophy if urged to by a successful and persistent teacher.

Even in schools that do offer philosophy, however, be forewarned that administrators will hire you as a teacher, not as a philosopher. In many cases, your interest in philosophy will be considered a desirable extra. However, some skeptical administrators will press you to provide a justification for them to hire someone trained in philosophy rather than someone else trained in a discipline more often taught in high school, such as English, History, or Math; and an advanced degree might raise the issue of over-qualification. Be prepared to address these concerns and to 'accentuate the positive'.

If you want to teach grades K-12 despite likely having to break your own path to do so, you should be aware of what schools look for in a candidate for a teaching position.
  • Certification - Although this is not required by private schools, candidates looking for a public school position must have teaching certification.
  • Strong academic background - Candidates for public or private schools need to have a solid academic record. They must be qualified to teach in one or more fields other than philosophy, such as English, Social Studies, or Science.
  • Flexibility - Candidates need to be able to fill multiple roles in a K-12 school. Schools look for people who can help with extra-curricular, athletic, clerical, and administrative duties.
  • Energy and enthusiasm - These are not only necessary for successful teaching, but are viewed by employers as marks of potential good employees.

Where and When to
Look for a Position (U.S.)

Public schools require teaching certification, but private schools do not. Philosophers without education degrees or certification should restrict their search to private schools. The following paragraphs offer some advice about different teaching possibilities.

Public schools often, depending on the district, have higher salaries and a wider range of benefits than private schools, but demand that teachers take on more classes with more students. Few public school districts offer formal philosophy courses, but some are dedicated to teaching aspects of philosophy, such as "critical thinking skills" or "values". Since public school hiring is decentralized, a candidate ought to get in touch with several schools and the corresponding boards of education. Call specific school boards to find out which school districts offer philosophy.

Excellent opportunities to teach students philosophy exist in the hundreds of public and private schools in the United States and elsewhere which offer the International Baccalaureate. This demanding degree program for the last two years of high school, a centerpiece of many European school systems, ties a number of advance placement courses together with a "Theory of Knowledge" course. While not focusing heavily on the history of philosophy, this course stresses the investigation of the nature of truth. Those interested can obtain a free copy of the North American Directory of schools which offer the International Baccalaureate program. 

Contact: International Baccalaureate Headquarters, 200 Madison Ave., Suite #2207, New York, NY, 10016; (212) 696-4464.
 For a small fee you can also receive the International Directory containing American schools abroad which hire U.S. citizens with some philosophy background.

In private schools, salaries and benefits vary greatly depending on region, grade level, and size of schools. Private school teachers generally have smaller classes and more autonomy than their public sector counterparts. Independent schools often have allowances for sabbaticals and professional development. While private schools vary greatly, they are often flexible regarding the inclusion of philosophy in their curriculum. Two useful sources of information on private school teaching opportunities in the U.S. and elsewhere are Peterson's Private Secondary Schools and The ISS Directory of Overseas Schools, both available from Peterson's.

Within the private sector, parochial schools offer the most consistent opportunities for teaching philosophy and religion. There are Boards of Education for many denominations, such as schools of Catholic, Lutheran, Seventh Day Adventist, and Jewish faiths. These Boards are helpful to candidates searching for teaching positions.

Private agencies can help candidates search for teaching positions in independent schools. Many colleges and universities have placement offices which can be useful to students and graduates. When working with placement offices, be as specific as possible regarding your desired job description and geographic location.

Whether you look for a job in public or private schools, or both, take advantage of the many trade journals, newspapers and teaching associations. Many publications, including Education Week, have listings for teaching positions. Local newspapers publish advertisements seeking teachers, especially during the summer months, when a position has suddenly opened up or is yet to be filled. Networks which support private education, such as the National Association of Independent Schools, can also help job candidates.

Finally, keep in mind that schools are most receptive to job hunters during the months of January through April. Some schools will try to fill some positions as late as the summer.

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