Becoming a Science Teacher: Job Description & Salary Information

About this article
What are the pros and cons of a science teacher career? Read on for real job descriptions, salary information and job prospects to see if becoming a science teacher is the career path for you.
View available schools

Pros and Cons of a Science Teacher Career

Science teachers teach biology, chemistry, physics and other sciences to students from middle school to college. To work in public middle schools and high schools, they need a state certification, while college-level professors usually need a doctorate or other advanced degree. Check out these pros and cons to see if becoming a science teacher is right for you:

Pros of a Science Teacher Career
Higher than average salary at postsecondary level ($62,330 median annual wage for all postsecondary teachers)*
Holidays and summers off*
Possible job security with eventual tenure*
Satisfaction from seeing students learn and excel*

Cons of a Science Teacher Career
Licensure required in public schools*
Need advanced degree to teach at postsecondary institutions*
After school hours spent preparing lessons and grading homework*
Possible need to deal with unmotivated or poorly behaved students*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Info

Job Description

As a science teacher, you could teach classes on a variety of subjects, from chemistry and biology to astronomy and geology. If you work in a middle school, you be responsible for math and science classes that span a wide range of material. High school classes are more specific, but you may teach multiple subjects. At the postsecondary level, the classes become more specific still, and you could teach a range of courses, from introductory to advanced levels.

Most teachers have summers and holidays off, according to the school's calendar. Depending on your daily schedule, you may spend time on evenings and weekends grading papers, homework and exams. You need to pay attention to each student's progress and sometimes create individual plans for students who need extra attention. The classroom is under your control, and you may have to discipline students who don't follow your rules.

Salary Information and Job Prospects

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in May 2014 that middle school teachers made a median annual wage of about $54,940 and high school teachers made about $56,310 (www.bls.gov). The BLS breaks down postsecondary teachers' wages by subject, reporting that as of May 2014 biology teachers made a median annual wage of about $74,580, physics teachers made about $80,720, chemistry teachers made about $73,080 and other physical sciences (atmospheric, earth, marine and space) teachers made about $81,780.

The BLS projected a 13% increase in employment, which is faster than average, for postsecondary teachers in the decade from 2014-2024. Middle school growth is expected to be average, at 6% due to increased enrollment and declining student-to-teacher ratios. Colleges and universities will also see an increase in enrollment, though competition for tenure-track professorships can be fierce. Employment for high school teachers is projected to increase by only 6% from 2014-2024, which is as fast as average, because of the increase in high school enrollment and classroom sizes. All of these projections can vary greatly by region, particularly for public schools that depend on local and state governmental funding.

Education, Training and Licensure Requirements

Middle school and high school teachers are required to have bachelor's degrees. While some states require middle school teachers to major in elementary education, others want teachers to major in the subject they'll teach, like potential high school teachers do. Many universities and colleges have teacher education or preparation programs, so you can major in, for instance, biology while also completing the required teaching coursework. Some universities offer education majors with a specific focus, like teaching biology to grades 7-12. Teaching programs focus on educational methods, child psychology and supervised teaching practice in a real classroom as a student teacher.

Postsecondary teachers generally have a Ph.D. in the subject area they teach, though you may be able to get a job at a college or university with a master's degree. After a bachelor's degree program, a doctorate program takes about six years to complete and culminates in an original research dissertation. At this level, you may specialize even further within your field, studying botany within the category of biology or quantum mechanics in the field of physics. During your graduate degree program, you may have an opportunity to gain teaching experience working as an assistant to a professor, teaching smaller subsections of a lecture class.

Licensure

Each state regulates teaching at the middle school and high school levels, so check with your state for specific requirements. Usually, you need to have completed a teacher preparation program and a certain number of hours of student teaching. You may also need to pass an exam and even an exam specific to the subject you'd like to teach. Teacher licenses, or certifications, typically need to be maintained by completing a certain number of continuing education hours each year.

What Employers are Looking for

All job postings for middle school and high school teaching positions mention that you need to have the proper state certification. Some also mention that you should be able to work with students who have special needs. Read these summaries of job postings open in April 2012 to get an idea of what employers are looking for:

  • A school district in Iowa was looking to hire a middle school science teacher with a bachelor's degree, state certification and at least one year of experience.
  • A high school in Massachusetts was searching for a science teacher to teach biology at the secondary level. They were looking for someone with current state licensure and at least three years of experience.
  • A university in Florida was looking for a biology instructor with a master's degree in biology or similar field and two years of experience.

How to Stand out in the Field

As technology continues to advance, more and more teachers are using computers and electronic equipment as teaching aids. If you get a chance to take some computer classes during your undergraduate studies, you may learn some technological skills that can help you bring learning material to the classroom in ways that are exciting to your students. As a teacher, you would also use computers to track student attendance and grades as well as communicate via email, so it's a good idea to feel comfortable with basic programs like the Microsoft Office application suite.

Though requirements vary by state, most teachers have to fulfill a certain number of hours of continuing education credits in order to maintain their certifications. These classes can provide you with new lesson ideas to reach your students as well as any updates in your scientific field. Choosing the right continuing education classes may help you to become a great teacher.

Other Careers to Consider

If you like working with people but aren't sure you want to work with children or young adults, consider a career in human resources. Human resources specialists work with a company to recruit and hire workers as well as set up programs like health insurance plans and other benefits. Human resources specialists usually complete a bachelor's degree program. The BLS reported in May 2011 that human resources specialists made a median annual wage of about $54,000, and that employment was projected to increase faster than average at 21% from 2010-2010.

If you're interested in science but aren't sure you want to teach it, consider becoming a medical scientist. Medical scientists have a much faster than average employment increase projection, at 36% in the decade from 2010-2020. Medical scientists, who conduct clinical trials on pharmaceuticals and research new ways to improve health, usually begin work after completing Ph.D. programs. The BLS reported in May 2011 that medical scientists made a median annual wage of about $76,000.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Teaching (for Aspiring Teachers: Grades 5-12)
      • Master: Education (for Practicing Teachers: K-12)
      • Master: Higher Education - College Teaching/Learning
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Early Childhood Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Teaching and Learning
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Penn Foster High School

    Program Options

    High School Diploma
      • HS Diploma
  • Campus Locations:
    4. CDI College

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Certificate in Early Childhood Education
      • Diploma in Early Childhood Education JEE.13 (Techniques D'ducation L'enfance - JEE.13)
  • Philadelphia, PA

    University of Pennsylvania

  • Towson, MD

    Towson University

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Master: Teaching (for Aspiring Teachers: Grades 5-12)
  • Master: Education (for Practicing Teachers: K-12)
  • BS in Early Childhood Administration

Which subject are you interested in?

Colorado State University Global

  • MS - Teaching and Learning

What is your highest level of education?

Penn Foster High School

  • HS Diploma

What is your age?

CDI College

  • Certificate in Early Childhood Education
  • Diploma in Early Childhood Education JEE.13 (Techniques D'ducation L'enfance - JEE.13)

What year did you graduate high school?