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So you want to teach pre-college philosophy
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For teaching philosophy to the youth of his society, Socrates was rewarded with a cup of hemlock tea--but you want a paycheck! Well, you are in luck, for there are significant and growing opportunities for employment as a teacher of pre-college philosophy. The information here is intended both for trained philosophers (and student philosophers-in-training) and for teachers (and would-be teachers) without experience in philosophy who are interested in teaching pre-college philosophy.

Here are links to the sections of this document, all contained on this page.

Advice to philosophers seeking a pre-college teaching position

This section is intended for those who majored in philosophy for their undergraduate degree, or for those with graduate degrees in philosophy, who have never held a teaching position in grades K-12.

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

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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Advice to teachers who want to teach philosophy

This section is intended for those, with or without a formal background in philosophy, who have a pre-college teaching job, but who are not now teaching philosophy.


It is essential to have training in philosophy. While this may seem obvious, teachers are often ill-prepared to handle the subtleties of teaching philosophy, and run into problems when trying to teach philosophy as an extension of a class in another discipline. If you don't have at least an undergraduate minor in philosophy, consider very carefully whether you have an adequate understanding of philosophy and what is involved in teaching it. It is as serious and difficult a subject as mathematics, physics, or history. Imagine teaching one of these subjects without any appropriate formal training.

You have many options for obtaining training in philosophy and in pre-college philosophy. You might consider a leave of absence for full-time study. Part-time study can be accomplished with evening or weekend courses or workshops, summer programs, or distance courses.

If you don't have substantial formal training in philosophy, are unable or unwilling to acquire such training, but still want to teach pre-college philosophy, consider the following advice: Your initial efforts should be limited, perhaps to a small amount of philosophical content in a course on another subject. In addition, seek advice from a trained philosopher. Contact the chair of the philosophy department of a local college or university for a referral. If there is no department of philosophy, trained philosophers are often employed in departments with names like "humanities" or "social science". Alternatively, contact the American Philosophical Association. The APA's committee on pre-college instruction in philosophy maintains a roster of persons interested in pre-college philosophy and will be happy to provide referrals in your area.

Increasing the philosophy offerings in your school

Many schools do not offer formal philosophy courses. One of the easiest ways to introduce philosophy to your school, especially for students in higher grades, is through a philosophy club. Often students are attracted to such extra-curricular clubs, especially if they are student-centered and students are given responsibility for planning activities.

Philosophy is often taught as a part of other courses such as critical thinking skills, values, social studies, English, and science. You might begin teaching or team-teaching one of these courses. Identifying the philosophical components of the current curriculum can pave the way for increased philosophy offerings.

In some instances, public high schools are willing to offer philosophy as a dual enrollment course. Under such an arrangement students from both the high school and a local junior college would receive junior college credit for taking the course. Often teachers must agree to teach such a course in addition to their regular load. Schools are often receptive to such an arrangement since it creates a relationship with a local junior college.

If you want to propose a full philosophy course to your school, do some research concerning the particulars of your school. Do not assume your college philosophy course and text can be transplanted in whole -- this can lead to disastrous consequences. Also, if the administration understands that you can offer a custom designed course, they may be more receptive to including philosophy in the curriculum. Consider the following characteristics of your school when crafting a proposal.

  • Examine the nature of the student population. Do you have a diverse student body, with large populations of both challenged and gifted students, which might benefit more from an elective offering than a required course? Or do you have a smaller range of academic ability which would allow for a set curriculum requirement in philosophy? More able students can handle lengthy primary source readings, while average students may need shorter selections or a secondary source on which to rely.
  • Think about the religious, philosophical, or community service commitments of the school community. Does the environment allow for more heated discussions which arise in most courses on personal and social ethics? Might it be more pragmatic to offer less immediately controversial courses in the philosophy of science, logic, or critical thinking skills? Is there a community service requirement that could benefit from an academic ethics component?
  • Consider your school's curriculum and schedule. This will help determine whether to propose a developmentally complete program from K-12, a single course for one grade level, or something in between.

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How to teach pre-college philosophy

A short publication such as this cannot enter into debates about educational philosophy and pedagogy. However, it may be useful for you to review some of the uncontroversial elements of teaching practice and to consider some more specific alternative philosophical and pedagogical approaches available to you as a prospective teacher of pre-college philosophy.

Planning your course

If you are lucky enough both to have a teaching position and to be in a school which supports the teaching of philosophy, then planning your course will be your next major challenge. When planning your first course, it may be beneficial to review the following pedagogical issues and general advice.

  • What is the intended outcome of the course? For example, if it is a high school course, decide if it is of an advanced placement level intended to replace a first-year college course, or a course meant primarily to stimulate thinking. Most professors prefer that pre-collegiate instruction engage students in the idea of philosophy and improve their reasoning and academic skills, rather than provide a full introductory course equivalent to a college class.
  • What is the scope of the course? Do not try to do too much; even in high school, most courses are limited in scope. Some typical courses are applied ethics (such as business or medical ethics, ethics in the press and media, social issues, government and politics), thinking skills, or a "great books" approach stressing the readings of classics such as Plato's Republic.
  • What requirements are appropriate for your students?
    • Your choice of course materials will be affected by whether you choose a historical approach which teaches the chronological development of thought, or a thematic organization which teaches various issues within the categories of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. Consider whether you can assign primary source readings, or whether a text book or secondary summary would be more appropriate. Visit the APA book fair at any Division Meeting, look through books in philosophy, or contact individual publishers for catalogues. Calls to local college or university departments of philosophy might uncover some recommendations.
    • Decide what methodology would best serve your clientele. Older students are usually capable of absorbing information in a lecture format, often appropriate for courses in the history of ideas. However, students of any age are more likely to be intellectually and personally engaged by Socratic discussion than by lectures. A discussion format works especially well in decision making, thinking skills, and applied ethics courses. New technological advances allow greater use of the internet and video components of philosophy courses.
    • Decisions involving evaluation of student work will flow from the type of course chosen. Consider whether your course should be graded at all. If it is graded, balance the weight given to the accumulation of knowledge with the emphasis on the development of thinking skills. Exam grades can be complemented by an evaluation of personal journals.

Whatever decisions you make regarding the above issues, don't be discouraged by the amount of effort required to introduce a pre-college philosophy course into the curriculum. Successful teaching will hinge on good preparation!

One approach: critical thinking

While there are many competing models for teaching philosophy, including traditional historical or philosophically thematic approaches, courses in critical thinking skills have been extremely popular in the past two decades.

The Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children (IAPC) supports an inductive approach. On the premise that it is better to teach students to "do philosophy" than "study philosophy," IAPC challenges the assumption that philosophy classes must include all the "great names" and their vocabulary and theory. IAPC stresses the study of daily situations and the thinking skills and processes which individuals and groups must develop to solve problems.

Two other organizations that promote critical thinking skills are the National Center for Teaching Thinking (NCTT) and the Center for Critical Thinking (CCT). Unlike IAPC, the NCTT and the CCT do not require a separate course or use of their own curricular material. Rather, they support infusing critical and creative thinking into content instruction across the curriculum.

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Teacher training and certification

State governments handle teacher certification. To determine requirements and procedures for state teacher certification, you should contact the Departments of Education of states where you may wish to teach

In most states the requirements for certification include the equivalent of at least one year of full-time study in education and practice teaching. Study can often be done on a part-time basis over a longer period. For information about fulfilling the education requirements for teacher certification, contact faculties of education at local universities.

Philosophy courses and degrees

  • Departments of philosophy at local colleges and universities are your primary sources of information.
  • Peterson's publishes a number of useful directories of correspondence and other distance courses and degree programs. These books can be purchased directly from Peterson's or ordered through your local bookstore.
  • The National Endowment for the Humanities funds Summer Seminars, Summer Institutes, and Humanities Focus Grants. National Endowment for the Humanities, Room 402, 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20506; (202) 606-8400.
  • State Humanities Councils are independent of but similar in function to the NEH. Contact information for your state humanities council can be obtained from the Federation of State Humanities Councils, 1600 Wilson Blvd., Suite 902, Arlington, VA 22209; (703) 908-9700.

Pre-college courses and degrees

  • The Institute for the Advancement of Philosophy for Children, Montclair State University, Upper Montclair, NJ 07043; (201) 893-5455.
  • Weekend and week-long workshops for teachers.
  • Master and Doctor of Education degrees in Philosophy for Children.
  • The National Center for Teaching Thinking, 815 Washington St., Suite 8, Newtonville, MA 02160; (617) 965-4604. Workshops for teachers and administrators.
  • The Center for Critical Thinking, Sonoma State University, CH 65, 1801 East Cotati Avenue, Rohnert Park, CA 904928-3609. Workshops and training materials for teachers.
  • The Great Books Foundation, 35 East Wacker Drive, Suite 2300 Chicago, Illinois 60601-2298; (800) 222 5870. One and two-day courses in leading "shared inquiry", structured discussion of literature.

Course materials



These books provide good introductions to the field of pre-college philosophy. More extensive bibliographies may be found in the Lipman books.

  • Gaarder, J. Sophie's World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy. Translated by P. Moller. Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1994.
  • Lipman, M. Philosophy Goes to School. Temple University Press, 1988.
  • Lipman, M., A.M. Sharp, and F.S. Oscanyan. Philosophy in the Classroom, 2nd ed. Temple University Press, 1980.
  • Matthews, G.B. The Philosophy of Childhood. Harvard University Press, 1994

Placement/recruitment agencies

The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) will provide on request a list of agencies commonly used by private schools throughout the country. The National Association of Independent Schools, 1620 L Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036-5605; (202) 973-9700.

Internet links

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The American Philosophical Association
University of Delaware
31 Amstel Avenue, Newark, DE 19716
Phone: 302.831.1112 | Fax: 302.831.8690