Are You a Newly-Minted Ph.D in History Looking for a Position in a Private School?

If the answer is yes, than listen carefully.  My department is currently looking to fill a couple of positions and we are getting swamped with applications.  Compared to years past we are seeing a sharp increase in the number of applications from people who have recently earned a Ph.D in history.  I assume the increase has something to do with a contracting job market in the academy as well as the state of the economy.

While I’ve strongly encouraged young Ph.Ds to consider a teaching career in private schools I think it is important to understand your competition as well as the expectations of most search committees.  First and foremost, do not send the same resume that you would send to a college or university search committee to a private school.  It should be obvious, but we are looking for very different things.  You need to emphasize your teaching experience beyond any publishing you may have done or grant writing.  In fact, if your publications are extensive you may want to consider widdling it down a bit.  Your resume needs to reflect a history and continued interest in teaching and interaction with students rather than any scholarly accomplishments.  That’s not to say that your publications are not relevant; in fact, most history departments in the private school sector are looking specifically for candidates who have a mastery of the content rather than a long list of workshops on the latest pedagogical fads.  Don’t just mention in passign that you were a teaching assistant or grader for a specific class; briefly describe your responsibilities and the extent to which you worked directly with students.  You may also want to limit the number of academic presentations and professional memberships in your application.  There is nothing worse than having to read through a long list of esoteric paper titles.  It only works to make you look like an asshole.  Again, message is everything.  Applications that fail to take these recommendations seriously send the message that the candidate is going to leave at the first opportunity.  In short, you will not be given serious consideration.

Other recommendations: Most private schools are looking for coaches.  Indicate those sports that you could coach and those that you feel comfortable assisting.  To the extent possible do some background reseach on the school that you are applying to.  Check out the history curriculum as well as the electives offered.  Indicate in your application those subjects that you can teach and consider suggesting electives that will compliment those already being offered.   Finally, check out the clubs that are offered and indicate which ones you would like to be involved with.  The more student oriented your application looks the better chance you will get that phone call.

Civil War Memory has moved to Substack! Don’t miss a single post. Subscribe below.

14 comments… add one
  • Greg Rowe Feb 15, 2009 @ 15:42


    Please, unless you’re in the seventh grade and in my class, “Greg” will be fine. Otherwise, “Mr. Rowe” is my dad. 🙂

  • Crystal Marshall Feb 14, 2009 @ 21:01

    Thank you Mr. Amos, Mr. Rowe, and Mr. Levin (oops, I mean Kevin :0) for the advice regarding education majors and careers. I am touched that others whom I don’t even know would be willing to share their insights and recommendations. It has been tremendously helpful and will save me time and money as I work to accomplish my dreams in college and beyond. Thanks again.

  • Greg Rowe Feb 13, 2009 @ 9:10


    As far as taking education courses are concerned, it will greatly depend on the state where you will be teaching and the requirements for state certification. For instance, in Texas, most of the larger private schools are not just interested in advanced degrees and knowledge of subject, but also in the applicant being state certified. Potential educators here, even ones interested in teaching in a private school setting, have to almost pull a double major, taking almost as many courses in pedagogy and education as in the subject matter one will teach in order to become state certified. Unfortunately, state’s vary in the requirements for teacher certification, so be sure to check with your state’s education authority to find out what is required. As Kevin mentioned, doing the research into the school to determine what the administration is looking for will also determine how many education course you will need to take or if you will need to pursue state certification.

    Hope this helps.

  • John B. Amos Feb 12, 2009 @ 18:13

    Crystal – My take on education classes is…don’t waste your time or money. Private schools don’t require that you be certified; they are much more interested in your knowing your subject. Ed-School classes tend to be trendy, theoretical, jargon-laden, and profoundly uninteresting. The only way to learn to teach is to get up in front of kids and teach. As Kevin implies, you can keep up with the important stuff by reading on your own. Best.


  • cmorgan Feb 12, 2009 @ 16:39

    Here’s job no. 1 if you’re in humanities grad school: Marry well. Do not pass go; do not pick up extra courses. Because you are screwed. In a normal year, you are screwed, that is. This year you are being repeatedly and systematically violated by Manute Bol. Good luck!

  • Kevin Levin Feb 12, 2009 @ 13:39


    Thanks for chiming in on this one. Your observations are right on target.


    Great question. I guess it depends what you want to do with the PhD. Of course, there is something to any process for its own sake so if you have the means and enjoy the work than by all means go for it. Your question re: education courses is difficult to answer. I am not too interested in education courses, though I have taken workshops at various times in my career. From what I can tell private schools do not pay much attention to whether candidates have an education degree. It can’t hurt, but it isn’t necessary. I would, however, be familiar with some of the more relevant studies that bear on teaching. For example, I’ve found Howard Gardner’s studies on “Multiple Intelligence” to be very interesting and directly applicable to teaching to various strengths and learning styles of my students. I even attended one of his workshops at Harvard a few years back. Let me know if you have any additional questions. By the way, please call me Kevin. 🙂

  • Crystal Marshall Feb 12, 2009 @ 8:50

    Mr. Levin, thank you for the advice…it will definitely come in handy down the road. I do know that I would love to teach history at the high school level, but I’m still debating whether to just get my master’s degree or go all the way for a PhD…guess it depends on how much money is in the bank after I finish my bachelor’s degree!

    One question, though…is it better to also get a minor, or at least take a couple of classes in the education department? Obviously schools want to see a candidate with some interaction with students, but is it necessary to get an education minor?

  • John B. Amos Feb 12, 2009 @ 6:30

    I’m a former colleague of Kevin’s and can say with confidence that his school is a wonderful place. Anyone who gets a job there will find it lively and intellectually stimulating. I would, however, discourage anyone from applying who looks at teaching high school as some sort of “step down.” It’s great to have a PhD, but it’s certainly no guarantee that you’re going to be a good high school teacher. Teaching kids is wonderfully rewarding work, but it’s going to frustrate anyone who sees himself first and foremost as a scholar.

  • Craig the Marker Hunter Feb 12, 2009 @ 5:50

    Reminds me why I turned my back on the pursuit of a higher degree with six credit hours short of the masters – job prospects and disgust with the system.

    As a “non-traditional student” and a military veteran my prospects were bleak. Had I continued the course and finished that last semester, no doubt today I would be teaching at the John C. Reilly Vo-Tech School somewhere in Illinois. I’d have a killer student loan payment to make. The consolation of course would be more opportunities for archival research.

    No, the sirens of “information technology” beckoned and the lure of good pay and fancy gadgets on the side captured me. Now I get to build all those information systems for the government that suck up all this contemporary history, place it in nice digital packages, and then deposit them in the National Archives. Well, among other things….

    My point being that those with a degree in history, or any other liberal arts, should not feel confined to teaching. The skills learned, particularly analytical thought, far better prepare one for the real world than the science disciplines.

  • Robert Moore Feb 12, 2009 @ 4:48


    Just curious, but might there be a need for technical communication folks over there? Just keeping as many options open as possible following graduation in May.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 12, 2009 @ 5:46


      Not specifically, but if you are considering the private school route I highly recommend highlighting your technical background as well as your interest in web2.0. Feel free to contact me to talk more about this.

  • Kevin Levin Feb 12, 2009 @ 3:31


    Glad it helped. Let me know if you have any additional questions about life in the private school sector. Good luck bro.

  • J.L. Feb 11, 2009 @ 18:23

    I’m no Ph.D, but have seen The Horse Soldiers more than a few times.

    Best of luck to the better qualified. I mean it, too.

    That said: now check the tires, oil, and hit the windshield.

  • James Bartek Feb 11, 2009 @ 12:06


    Thanks for the heads up. As you guessed, the market for history Ph.Ds has completely tanked. I knew I would face an uphill battle going in, but this is ridiculous. There have been well over 60 searches canceled nation-wide, and those are just the ones I know of. Of the twenty or so positions I applied for in 19th c. US, seven have been scrapped. Reason given? “Economic crisis.”

    If anyone is curious, take a look at the poor saps on the anonymous “history job wiki”:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *