3 Frustrating Challenges Faced by Social Studies Teachers in Upper Elementary

By Kirsten Hammond

I recently came across an article from Education Week about the challenges social studies teachers face. It was every bit of what I’ve been thinking about social studies for years.

I wanted to share my thoughts about this article. The article mainly shares three main challenges that elementary social studies teachers face, and I’m going to offer possible solutions that might help alleviate the problem that we are facing.

This article covered a recent RAND Corp. analysis, and this analysis indicated that elementary teachers are facing significant challenges in providing high quality social studies instruction.

They report spending less time on social studies than on English language arts and math, and a lot of teachers often struggle to find adequate materials and support for their students.

teacher upset

Limited Time for Instruction

The article stated that one of the biggest challenges faced by social studies teachers in upper elementary is limited time for instruction.

With so many subjects to cover and a limited time in the school day, it can be pretty difficult to fit in all those necessary social studies lessons.

Most of us are concerned about catching students up in ELA and math because I know a lot of students, especially since before the pandemic, are behind in certain areas in those major high stakes subjects with standardized testing beginning in upper elementary.

A lot of states don’t use the national frameworks for what students should be able to know and do. This is referring to the C3 Framework, which stands for College, Career and Civic Life, and then the Educating for American Democracy Roadmap. You end up with a ton of different content and rigor in social studies across the board in the United States.

In Texas, where I live, we don’t even have any standardized testing for social studies until students are in eighth grade. Students could be getting to eighth grade with really not knowing a lot of what they need to before that time.

teacher in classroom

To overcome this challenge, teachers can prioritize the most important concepts and use creative teaching methods, such as project-based learning or incorporating social studies into other subjects like language arts or math.

Additionally, utilizing technology and online resources can help maximize instructional time and engage students in the learning process.

We know there just isn’t enough hours in the day to be able to teach social studies and also reading comprehension, phonics, grammar. All the stuff that needs to be taught in a school day, but one thing to do, just get creative with the day.

Using project-based learning while integrating different subjects together is a really great way to incorporate social studies.

Social Studies Teachers collaborating on a training

Limited Professional Development

Lack of professional development for social studies teachers is something I absolutely noticed when I was in the classroom. Many schools may not offer specific training or resources for social studies teachers, and this would leave them to seek out their own professional development.

I remember a few years ago I did a Region 4 training. It was a professional development of how you can integrate social studies with the arts. I think that was maybe the only PD that I found that was actually pretty interesting or relevant for me. There really wasn’t a lot compared to other subjects.

teacher online profressional development

One thing that has changed for the better since the pandemic is that social studies teachers can attend virtual conferences, workshops, and online courses to stay up to date on the latest social studies, strategies and resources.

Do your research online for learning opportunities and conferences that you can attend or memberships and courses that you’re able to have in your back pocket to stay on top of things.

You can also connect with other social studies teachers in your community or online to share ideas and resources.

I do have a membership called Smart and Simple Social Studies where I’ll be sharing quarterly PD training on Social Studies (among other things)! You can learn more information here!

frustrated teacher

Lack of Support and Guidance

The third challenge for social studies teachers and the state of what it is the lack of support and guidance.

Social studies teachers in upper elementary often face a lack of support and guidance from their school admin or colleagues.

They’re usually left to turning to other sources such as Teachers pay Teachers, or Brainpop because of the lack of curriculum. This might make it difficult to make sure teachers are getting those high quality resources from a reputable source.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had to go to different sources to find what I’m looking for for specific lessons, because in my experience, in the districts that I’ve taught with, they will have a really great outline or pacing guide, but the actual resources that are delivered to students or given to students are just was not very engaging. I’d always have to find supplemental resources to accompany the pacing guide.

teacher finding resource

Some ways to overcome this challenge is to make sure to seek out resources from a reputable source.

While I do sell resources on TPT, I have hundreds of reviews sharing how the teachers love the resources and how they’ve been engaging. I feel that I am a pretty reputable seller – I do my research very thoroughly and I use a lot of primary and secondary sources in order to make sure my material is culturally relevant and also accurate.

If you are ever looking for any social studies materials, whether it’s on TPT, my website, or through my upcoming membership, you can count on having reputable resources.

Another way to overcome this challenge would be to advocate for your students and yourself and your colleagues by communicating your needs or concerns to your school or district or administration if you feel that that’s the step you would like to go.

Being a social studies teacher has its challenges and frustrations, but when incorporated in the classroom it ultimately is very rewarding.

kirsten hammond

Kirsten is a former 3rd and 5th grade teacher who loves helping upper elementary teachers by creating resources and sharing ideas that are engaging, research-based, and TEKS-aligned. She is a work-from-home mama of 3 rambunctious little ones and loves running, true crime, and lots of coffee.

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