Environmental Science Teacher Careers: Salary & Job Description

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A postsecondary environmental science teacher's median annual salary is around $77,470. Is it worth the education requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming an environmental science teacher is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming an Environmental Science Teacher

Teachers of environmental science typically work in colleges or universities, collaborating with likeminded colleagues and fostering intellectual growth in students. Check out the chart below to see if an environmental science teaching job may be fitting for you.

PROS of Becoming an Environmental Science Teacher
Faster-than-average job growth (predicted 19% increase from 2012-2022)*
Intellectually stimulating work environment*
Flexible work schedule*
Job security once tenured*

CONS of Becoming an Environmental Science Teacher
Lengthy education requirements (about six years beyond undergraduate degree to teach at university level)*
May be conflict between research and teaching*
Number of tenure track positions declining*
Must keep up with new developments*

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

Career Information

Job Description

Environmental science teachers help students explore how humans impact the relationships between the living and non-living components of our world. Fields of study that are part of environmental science include biology, ecology, conservation studies, geology, and chemistry. Subjects like pollution, land degradation, natural resource exploitation, climate change, and recycling all fall under the scope of environmental science.

The majority of instructors teaching this subject do so at the college level. Environmental science is usually part of a general science curriculum in K-12 schools, but a few high schools hire teachers specifically to teach environmental science. A postsecondary environmental science teacher can work at a 4-year college or university, a 2-year college, or a technical or vocational school.

While class sizes will vary depending on the school, all teachers prepare lesson plans, administer tests, grade papers and exams, and meet with students individually. University teachers may also supervise graduate students in research and teaching as well as conduct research themselves. Teachers must keep their knowledge current by reading and conferring with colleagues in the field. Continuing education credits are also required. Teachers must be present for classes and for faculty meetings, as well as for scheduled office hours to meet with students. Otherwise, their hours for completing work tasks are flexible.

Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) noted that the median annual wage for postsecondary environmental science teachers was near $77,470 in May 2014, with the middle half of teachers making between about $56,190 and $107,820 yearly. The top-paying states included Michigan, Minnesota, Washington, Utah and New Jersey.

Career Prospects

The BLS predicted that jobs for postsecondary teachers would increase by 19% from 2012-2022, which is a faster-than-average rate. This growth was attributed to an increase in the number of students attending college, both young people right out of high school and adults returning to school. The BLS reported that teachers with doctoral degrees would have the most opportunities.

Teachers in colleges and universities usually work under the tenure system, which involves moving up in the teaching hierarchy as you gain experience. Once you gain tenure, you cannot be fired without due process and just cause. There is a lot of competition for tenure track jobs, and it takes about 7 years to earn tenure, per the BLS. Most job opportunities for college teachers are part-time or non-tenure track.

What Are the Requirements?

Necessary Education

While some technical schools and 2-year colleges hire teachers with master's degrees, you'll probably need a Ph.D. to rise to a tenured position at a 4-year university or college. This means six or more years of education beyond a bachelor's degree, including earning a master's degree and completing a dissertation. Universities and colleges may hire doctoral candidates or teachers with master's degrees for part-time or non-tenured positions. Teaching experience, either in person or distance learning classes, will help you get a job, so it is wise to pursue teaching assistant positions while you are in graduate school.

You can enroll in master's and Ph.D. programs in environmental science. Since this is such a broad field of study, you most often choose a concentration. Available focus areas include ecology, environmental education, environmental biology, and biogeochemistry. Some subjects you may study include community relationships with natural resources, ecosystem studies, water and forest systems, oceanography, ecotoxins, ecological restoration, environmental policy, and biocomplexity.

Useful Skills

Teachers at all levels need to truly enjoy working with students and helping them learn. Teachers must be self-starters. Analytical thinking skills are important, too. Based on postings on Monster.com, a college teacher must maintain a professional appearance and attitude, possess excellent time management skills, and demonstrate creative problem-solving skills.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Most job postings for environmental science instructors specify the educational and experience requirements. Working condition details, such as whether the classes taught will be live or online and with whom the teacher will be interacting, are also usually provided. While not a complete look at the job market, here are samples of what a few employers sought on Monster.com in March 2012:

  • A technical college in Ohio was looking for an environmental science instructor with a master's degree to teach, tutor, and lecture in both the classroom and laboratory. The posting mentioned the importance of recognizing different learning styles and adjusting lessons to accommodate them.
  • In Oklahoma, a college needed an environmental science instructor who could help students relate course studies to potential real-life work experience. The posting said the employer preferred someone with a master's degree in environmental science but would consider someone with a bachelor's degree.
  • A technical school in Wisconsin was looking for a teacher with a master's degree or a Ph.D. degree in environmental science. The candidate would need to develop and teach from daily lesson plans and motivate students. The ad called for someone willing to help retain students by getting in touch with absent students and offering assistance.
  • A school in New Jersey needed a teacher for day, evening, and weekend classes. The posting called for someone who was highly motivated with excellent communications skills. The employers preferred a candidate with a Ph.D., but a master's degree was acceptable.

How to Stand Out

Since knowledge of environmental science is continuously advancing, teachers must be familiar with the latest information by reading professional journals, participating in seminars, and attending industry conferences. You can also make a name for yourself by conducting research and experiments in environmental science and publishing the results in scientific journals.

Since teachers must utilize computers and technology, like e-mail, the Internet, and programs for creating class lectures, it would likely be beneficial if you took a basic computer course and learned to use various computer software programs.

Other Careers to Consider

Environmental Specialist

Would you like to study the environment but are discouraged from teaching by the time and debt it takes to earn a Ph.D.? With a bachelor's or master's degree, you can work as an environmental specialist or scientist. You could identify pollutants and hazards in the air, water, soil, or food and finds solutions. Conservation projects may also be part of your job. You might work for the government or for a private company. The BLS predicted jobs for environmental specialists and scientists would grow by 28% from 2008-2018, a rate much faster than the average for all occupations. Government jobs should be most abundant, the BLS said. The median salary for this occupation was near $60,000 in May 2010, according to the BLS.

High School Science Teacher

If you love to help students learn but don't want the stress of a tenure-track college teaching career, you might consider becoming a high school science teacher. All states require that teachers hold teaching licenses. While some school systems require an education degree, many states will license people who have degrees in the subjects they will be teaching and who complete a teacher-training program. Many teachers go on to earn graduate certificates and master's degrees. The BLS predicted jobs for high school teachers would grow 9% in the 2008-2018 decade, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. However, science was one of the fields most in demand. The median salary for a high school teacher was $53,000 in May 2010, the BLS reported.

University Department Head

College or university department heads lead the departments in which their subjects, such as environmental science, are taught. If you like to teach as well as guide others, this might be a good career goal for you. Department heads teach classes, coordinate teaching schedules, recruit and hire faculty members, evaluate faculty members, and serve on university committees. Since they usually advance from teaching positions, they don't need any additional degrees. The BLS predicted that job opportunities would grow slowly, with only a 2% expected increase from 2008-2018. The fact that more students are attending college, especially in the West and South, was expected to fuel some job growth, however. The median annual salary for all postsecondary administrators was approximately $84,000 in May 2010, according to the BLS.

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