How to Become a Science Teacher
March 16, 2021
Share your love of science and train tomorrow's STEM superstars by becoming a science teacher. You won't get rich, but you will get to blow things up occasionally.
So you want to dedicate your life to science education by becoming a science teacher? Or, maybe you just want to make baking soda explosions. Either way, it's a noble calling.
In this article, we'll cover:
- The pros and cons of becoming a science teacher
- Kinds of science teacher careers
- Educational commitment to become a science teacher
- Licensure and accreditation for becoming a science teacher
- Resources for becoming a science teacher
- Typical advancement path for science teachers
- Further accreditation or education for science teachers
Pros and cons of becoming a science teacher
If you love science and want to pass that on to a new generation, this could be your dream job. Be aware, however, that the burnout rate among teachers is high, and that teaching can be a thankless job. Some students—many students in some classes—will never share your love of science. To them, you will represent drudgery, no matter who effectively or entertainingly you present the material.
The job has several other pros and cons.
Pros of becoming a science teacher:
- Influence: Middle school and high school teachers are some of the most influential people in children's lives.
- Schedule: Teachers typically follow the school calendar and schedule, which is great if you have children of your own (or plan to someday). It's also nice to have weekends, holidays, and planned breaks.
- Location: Teachers can work anywhere there are school districts.
- Fun: You'll get to conduct fun labs and experiments with your students.
- Job security: Teaching is a profession that isn't going anywhere any time soon. Once you earn tenure, your job will be even more secure.
Cons of becoming a science teacher:
- Lack of respect: Teachers often have to deal with being underappreciated and disrespected--mostly from students, but occasionally also from parents, administrators, and angry radio talk-show hosts.
- Little to no advancement: There isn't much of a career ladder to climb up once you become a teacher unless you opt for additional schooling and certifications.
- Long hours: Officially, teachers work a set schedule during the school day, but many teachers work early mornings, late nights, weekends, and over the summer to get everything done and/or to coach or advise clubs.
- Standardized testing: The tests are meant to help teachers hold their middle school and high school students to high standards, but they can often get in the way of real, problem-based learning. Instead of teaching students how to analyze and think critically, you may find yourself teaching to the tests instead.
- Low Pay: The average science teacher salary is $45,364, lower than many other professions with comparable degrees. Pay increases with experience (read: advanced degree), and teachers can also earn more money by picking up extra duties like coaching or tutoring.
- Expensive Degree: Even with financial aid, completing a degree program can be very expensive, and it can be tough to pay off student loans on a teacher's salary.
Kinds of science teacher careers
As a science teacher, you'll generally work in a public, private, or charter secondary school. Science teachers earn certification in the following subspecialties:
- Space and earth science
- General science
- Middle school science
Your job duties will vary based on your specialty, but may include:
- Plan and teach lessons
- Create and administer assessments
- Grade assignments
- Discipline students/classroom management
- Collaborate with other teachers and administration
- Supervise students
- Communicate with parents
- Establish connections between mathematics and science in the classroom
- Complete professional development
Your education will prepare you to complete all of these tasks; on-the-job experience helps as well. Completing a master's degree (some teachers choose an online master's) once you begin working can help hone these skills.
Educational commitment to become a science teacher
If you follow the traditional science education route into the teaching profession, it will take you four years to earn your bachelor's degree. You can earn your master's degree (sometimes even at the same time) but you don't need one to start your career as a teacher or to obtain your certification. Many prospective teachers major in education, but it's not mandatory.
When you begin college, look into the teaching license requirements for your state so you can meet those requirements on time. Keep in mind that private school teachers might have to meet different (typically less stringent) requirements than public school teachers. Some schools require students to complete an entry-level field experience as part of their education major. These may include:
- Job shadowing
- Assistant teaching
Licensure and accreditation for becoming a science teacher
All teachers (including substitute teachers) must meet teacher certification requirements and pass exams. Typically, elementary school teachers are certified in a broad spectrum of subjects, while middle-school and high-school science teachers their areas of expertise. Requirements vary by state, but typically include:
- Bachelor's degree (some states require a minimum GPA)
- Field experience in the age group you'll be teaching (usually this is student teaching)
- Passing an exam (usually the Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators during your first or second year of college and the Praxis Subject Assessment closer to graduation)
- Passing a background check
Your teacher preparation program will help you meet these requirements, but it's up to you to make sure you do everything on time to get your teaching license.
Science teachers must earn certification in their chosen subspeciality (e.g., biology, chemistry). You can earn multiple certificates if you are interested in teaching multiple areas or if you simply want to broaden your job search.
Be careful about earning multiple certifications, though. Only get certified in an area if you really want to teach that field. If you're hired in a district as a biology teacher but you also have your chemistry certification (even though you hate chemistry), you could be placed as a chemistry teacher at any time.
Many states categorize certifications by age group, so make sure you get certified for the age group you want to teach. Many states also require teachers to earn and hold an advanced certificate after they have been teaching for a few years.
To keep your teaching certificate, you'll need to continue your education. That's why most teachers decide to earn their master's degree: a master's satisfies this requirement and typically results in a pay increase.
An alternate route to teaching is through Teach For America, an organization that trains people to become teachers, helps them get emergency certified if necessary, and places them in under-resourced public schools.
Resources for becoming a science teacher
Your state department of education is a terrific resource to help guide your path to teaching science. Always refer to them when you have questions about requirements.
Check out the websites of the following organizations:
- National Education Association NEA (labor union)
- National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) (sometimes called National Science Teachers Association)
- Association for Science Teacher Education (ASTE)
- National Center for Science Education (NCSE)
Besides online resources, they also offer:
- Professional development
The best financial resource for aspiring teachers is the U.S. Department of Education, which offers different types of aid for college students. Many schools of education offers scholarships to their students as well, so inquire about the application process for those at your college.
Once you become a teacher, the pay isn't glamorous (especially in impoverished or rural areas), so get all the help you can with your tuition while you're in school. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average high school teacher earned $60,320 in 2018. According to Payscale.com, the average science teacher salary is $45,364.
Typical advancement path for science teachers
If you're looking for a job with flashy promotions and opportunities for career growth, science teacher may not be the right fit. Your first teaching experience will be as a student-teacher—near the end of your bachelor's degree program—and then you'll (hopefully!) get hired as a teacher. After a few years, you'll earn tenure. For many middle and high school teachers, this is where the advancement stops. You can continue your professional development in science education to hone your craft, but it won't lead to a promotion in most school districts.
If you work hard, you might eventually become the head of the science department at your school. Some teachers do go on to become principals or other administrators, but this requires additional:
- Education (master's degree or doctorate degree)
Teachers are the lifeblood of our society. They provide an educational foundation for the next generation, which is born from their skulls like Athena from Zeus, except maybe a little less painfully. As a science teacher, you'll be shaping the future by training the world's next surgeons, engineers, and programmers. That's pretty gnarly.
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