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Postsecondary Teacher - History Professor

The Real Poop

One of the more gratifying careers has to be teaching. We feel ya if you dig this path. It's what gets us out of bed in the morning here at Shmoop Global HQ. Shining lights in darkness, trying to find sparkles. That is what we're about.

There are a lot of things you can teach, from American Literature to Advanced Calculus to Introductory Scrapbooking. Let's take a more in-depth look at just one particular avenue.

Let's say you want to be a History professor. Excellent. We hope you'll do a better job than the legions who came before you because we sadly seem to learn little from our past mistakes.

The knocks on being a History professor are tough and real ones:

1. You won't get rich doing it. History is not really a burgeoning market.

2. People in "the real world" will think you are elitist or a control freak (needing to control a very small thing in order to feel powerful), or just couldn't make it selling life insurance. Ooh. That one hit a little too close to home, huh?

3. There's not much pressure. Which is good if you hate pressure. And bad if you need some to feel "worthy." For example, does anybody ever yell in a panicked voice, “My father is dying! Is there a History professor in the house?” If you are completely wrong about who killed whom at The Battle of Appomattox, does it really harm anyone?

4. You'll live in a thin bubble as you try to plan a life and career until you get tenure – which is guaranteed employment for life unless you murder someone or plagiarize. (And who's to say which is worse?) Tenure is controversial today – it was originally implemented in the late 1950s as a reaction to teachers whose politics conflicted with whatever the masses wanted. Teachers who espoused some of the virtues of Communism (it isn’t all bad) were summarily fired or blackballed from teaching. By having tenure, they could speak their minds fearlessly in this country that was built to honor freedom of speech, among other tenets. Tenure then grew as a weedy beast and was applied to "everything teaching" – like… does a mathematics professor have to worry about saying something so contrary to what Joe Sixpack thinks that she is likely to be fired for it? The debate will continue.

Even with all of these structural impediments, being a History prof is an amazing gig. If you don't care what car you drive or how many bathrooms you have in your house, you likely lead an awesome lifestyle—the university itself is your backyard. You have access to their Olympic level swimming pools, the golf course, the gym, and to their benefits packages, their hospital, and cultural events. You are likely surrounded by spongy minds hungry to learn in a positive, growth-oriented climate where dreaming about the future is the default for any conversation. It’s about as opposite as you can get to the brutish, whiny, stressed climate of hedge fund managers around Wall Street who make a ton of money but generally lead miserable lifestyles.

A typical university professor teaches just a few courses—sometimes out of textbooks that they themselves wrote—and focus on areas that they studied and fell in love with as teens, so there isn’t a lot of homework to do, per se. However, they are highly encouraged to write. "Publish or perish" is the refrain from the Dean. So they research and kibbitz and hire their best graduate students to help them write their next book. Pretty cool if you love doing that stuff.

You're not fooling anyone, Uncle Bert.

As with any teaching job, the most vital qualification is that you have a passion for knowledge—both for expanding your own as well as passing it along to your students. Hopefully you're not thinking about becoming a History professor simply because you happen to be "good at it," but you can't stand people, you're deathly afraid of public speaking, and you spit a lot when you talk. (Students in the front row hate that.) The good news is that if you are passionate about what you teach, then the job really isn't that hard. Challenging, yes, but it will be so fun and rewarding for you that it will be well worth the trade-off. If you're a good enough teacher, a university might even be willing to overlook your spitting problem.

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