Science Teacher Career: Job, Education and Salary Information

Teaching Careers Updated July 26, 2016

Science Teacher CareerTeaching science is a rewarding career for people with an aptitude and passion for the subject. Science teaching jobs can appeal to college students majoring in a science discipline, as well as to professionals who decide to switch careers later in life and teach science.

Demand for teachers within the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields is consistently high across the country, compared to other subjects.

Our guide offers insights into the required education, salary and job outlook of the science teaching profession. Browse through the content or use the following links to jump to your desired destination:

At-a-glance
> Who makes good science teachers?

Teaching at the various levels
> Middle school science teachers
> High school science teachers
> Postsecondary/college science teachers

Professional development
> Continuing education
> Professional associations

Related careers
> Jobs beyond teaching

Best of the Web
> Sites and Twitter handles to follow

At-a-glance: Science teachers

Middle school High school College/postsecondary
Education Bachelor’s; master’s preferred Bachelor’s; master’s preferred Master’s/doctorate
Typical study time 4-6 years 4-6 years 5-10 years
Median salary $55,860 $57,200 $83,150
Job outlook +6% +6% +9%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

A bachelor’s degree — preferably in a science subject — is a minimum requirement, as is a teaching credential. Some states also require a master’s degree. Private schools don’t always require a credential, but many prefer one. Many states also offer alternative ways for people with bachelor’s degree to get certified, especially with STEM subjects.

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Science teacher job description

Science teaching strategies include hands-on experiments, field trips and other nonconventional approaches that encourage students to explore the natural world around them. Effective teachers not only answer questions but also encourage their students to seek out the answers themselves.

Teaching science may also involve coordinating school science fairs and coaching students on science competitions if you’re working for a high school or middle school. For college professors, conducting research and writing papers for journal submission are part of the job description.

“I like teaching Science because I can explore the world and even the universe with my students in fun and exciting ways! We get to question phenomena kids might take for granted and seek answers to our questions by researching and doing experiments! How can you beat that?”

– Alfonso Gonzalez, Middle School Science Teacher, Chimacum, Wash.

Who makes good science teachers?

Someone who is:

  • Interested in and knowledgeable about science.
  • Passionate about teaching and connecting with students.
  • An analytical thinker.
  • Willing to work hard.
  • Dedicated to continuous learning and staying current in the field.
  • Socially intelligent and culturally proficient.
  • Able to work collaboratively and flexibly with colleagues.
  • Patient.
  • Resourceful.

Interested in becoming a science teacher?

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“Science takes my breath away! I become someone else when I talk about it.  I thoroughly enjoy mind-mapping its details and communicating them to an expectant crowd of middle-schoolers has far exceeded any corporate presentation I’ve ever done.  The high, in the classroom, is unreal!”

– Maggie Bolado, Sixth Grade Science Teacher, Los Fresnos, Texas

Teaching science at the various levels

The road to becoming a science teacher depends on which environment an aspiring science teacher decides to pursue: middle school, high school or postsecondary school (college). The higher the grade level, the more concentrated the specialization.

Middle school science teachers

Middle school science teachers generally teach students from sixth to eighth grades and are trained to understand the psychological, social and intellectual development of children between the ages of 11-14.
Click here for in-depth details about middle school science teachers

Teaching students of this age has elements of teaching both high school and elementary school students. The time during middle school is when youth are most transformed. They enter as children and leave as teens. Having a strong understanding of adolescent psychology and being able to relate to this age group is important for middle school teachers.
Middle School Science Teacher
Students in this age range crave variety and become bored with repetition, so teachers need to be on their toes with creative lesson planning. Having a number of strategies to involve students, including hands-on experimentation, will go a long way toward sustaining students’ attention.

What do middle school science teachers do?

Middle school science teachers typically see several different classes of students throughout the day and use the time during the day when they don’t have classes to plan lessons, grade assignments or meet with other teachers and staff. They usually have classes that are double periods in order to allow time for lab work. Some middle school teachers work in teams that teach the same group of students. These teachers meet to discuss students’ progress and to plan lessons.

Typical duties include:

  • Instructing students through lectures, discussions and demonstrations.
  • Assessing students to evaluate their abilities, strengths and weaknesses.
  • Preparing, administering and grading tests to evaluate students’ progress.
  • Communicating with parents about their child’s progress.
  • Assisting students who need extra help, such as by tutoring and preparing and implementing remedial programs.
  • Developing and enforcing classroom rules.
  • Staying current on the latest technology and scientific discoveries.
  • Coordinating school science fairs.
  • Mentoring students and preparing them for science competitions.
  • Supervising students outside of the classroom — for example, at lunchtime or during detention.

Middle school science curriculum

The academic curriculum in middle school begins to get more subject-specific than is taught in elementary school. During grades six through eight, the science curriculum focus is Earth Science, Life Science and Physical Science:

  • Earth Science covers geologic processes, oceans and the water cycle, Earth’s atmosphere, weather and climate, and an introduction to astronomy.
  • Life Science focuses on the characteristics of living things, including plant and animal cell structures, genetics, human anatomy and the structure and function of plants.
  • Physical Science encompasses chemistry and physics, including atoms and elements, the periodic table, states of matter, motion, gravity, density and buoyancy, energy, heat and the properties of waves and light.

How to become a middle school science teacher

All states require public school teachers to have at least a bachelor’s degree, and many states require middle school teachers to major in a subject area, such as chemistry or biology. Training in adolescent psychology is also recommended. Some states require public school teachers to earn a master’s degree after earning their teaching certification.

During senior year of undergraduate school, most teachers-in-training intern in the classroom as a student teacher. Working alongside a veteran teacher, the student teacher plans lessons, delivers instruction, grades assignments and communicates with parents.

Although not required by law, teachers in private schools typically seek science teachers who have a bachelor’s degree in an area of science.

Level of educational attainment for K-8 teachers:

  • Less than high school diploma: 0.2%
  • High school diploma or equivalent: 0.3%
  • Some college, no degree: 2.9%
  • Associate degree: 1.9%
  • Bachelor’s degree: 44.3%
  • Master’s degree: 46.5%
  • Doctoral or professional degree: 3.9%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (Note: Data listed is for middle school teachers overall, and not science specific)

Certification requirements for middle school science teachers

Specific certification and licensing eligibility for middle school science teachers vary from state to state. Teachers are usually required to take professional development classes as a condition of certification.

Teaching License Reciprocity by State: Visit our state-by-state teacher licensing and reciprocity page for regulations in your state.

Alternative certification is becoming increasingly popular, with one in five teachers entering the profession through nontraditional means. Because of fluctuating teacher shortages, states are offering alternative ways for people who already have a bachelor’s degree to get certified. The teachers are hired after graduation and are mentored by an experienced teacher until they earn full certification.

Middle school science teacher salary and employment projections

The median salary for middle school teachers across the U.S. ranges from $42,000 to $54,000 annually:

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics: $53,430
  • Salary.com: $52,552
  • Payscale.com: $42,216
  • Glassdoor.com: $50,000

The employment outlook for middle school science teachers looks favorable. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job openings are expected to grow by 12 percent from 2012 to 2022, which is on par with most occupations.

The number of students in middle schools is expected to increase over the coming decade, and more teachers will be needed. Additionally, older teachers will reach retirement age, creating more openings. There will be fluctuations across the country, with the greatest need for teachers predicted in the South and the West, and more opportunities in urban and rural school districts over suburban areas.

Pros and cons of being a middle school science teacher

Pros:

  • Helping students solve problems and think critically.
  • Seeing the lights go on when students discover an answer on their own.
  • The ability to be creative in planning lessons and activities.
  • Most middle school teachers have two months off in summer.

Cons:

  • Teaching middle school students isn’t easy, and teachers need to be able to deal with disruptive or disrespectful students.
  • Effective middle school teachers spend significant time planning and preparing engaging activities before the students arrive in the morning, after school and on weekends.
  • Turnover for first-year middle school teachers is high. For example, in Philadelphia, 34 percent of new middle school teachers quit after their first year, compared with 21 percent of elementary school teachers and 26 percent of high school teachers.

High school science teachers

Teaching high school science is more specialized than teaching middle school students. High school teachers (also known as secondary school teachers) typically teach one subject to numerous classes, which can total more than 100 students every day.
Click here for in-depth details about high school science teachers

In addition to classroom teaching, high school teachers counsel students with adult issues they are experiencing and advise them on college and career plans. They may also lead field trips, organize after-school activities and provide tutoring outside of class.
High School Science Teacher
Students in high school range in age from 14 to 18. With this wide range of ages comes a wide range of abilities and cognitive development, which can be a challenge at times. Designing an engaging curriculum with real- world examples is the best strategy for reaching this audience. Working with sometimes unruly students can be taxing, and patience and emotional fortitude is required for the job.

What do high school science teachers do?

High school science teachers generally teach students from the 9th through 12th grades; and in many schools, students are divided into classes based on their abilities, so teachers need to modify their lessons based on their students’ capabilities.

When teachers are not in the classroom, they plan lessons, grade assignments, and meet with other teachers and staff. Some high school teachers coach sports and advise student clubs and other groups—activities which frequently happen before or after school.

Typical duties include:

  • Instructing students through lectures, discussions and demonstrations.
  • Preparing, administering and grading tests to evaluate students’ progress.
  • Identifying students who are at-risk and developing appropriate strategies to assist these students.
  • Preparing students for standardized tests required by the state.
  • Communicating with parents about their child’s progress.
  • Developing and enforcing classroom rules.
  • Staying current on the latest technology and scientific discoveries.
  • Coordinating school science fairs.
  • Attending and participating in faculty meetings and serving on staff committees as required.

High school science curriculum

During high school, science classes are targeted in specific subject areas, and teachers are more likely to be experts in their field and teach the same subject to many different classes. The fundamental high school science classes across the United States are:

  • Physical Science: Covers natural sciences and nonliving systems. Some states focus on astronomy and Earth science while others focus on basic principles of physics and chemistry.
  • Biology: This is the study of living organisms and their interactions with each other and the environment. Topics include: cellular biology, life cycle, genetics and classification.
  • Chemistry: Topics covered include: matter, atomic structure, the periodic table, ionic and covalent bonding and chemical reactions.
  • Electives: Physics, AP Physics, Chemistry II, AP Chemistry, Marine Science, Astronomy, Anatomy and Physiology and Environmental Science.

How to become a high school science teacher

In addition to a bachelor’s degree in science, training in adolescent psychology is recommended. Some states require public school teachers to earn a master’s degree after earning their teaching certification.

During senior year of undergraduate school, most teachers-in-training intern in the classroom as a student teacher. Working alongside a veteran teacher, the student teacher plans lessons, delivers instruction, grades assignments and communicates with parents.

Although not required by law, teachers in private schools typically seek science teachers who have a bachelor’s degree in an area of science.

Level of educational attainment for high school teachers:

  • Less than high school diploma: 0.2%
  • High school diploma or equivalent: 0.2%
  • Some college, no degree: 2.3%
  • Associate degree: 1.5%
  • Bachelor’s degree: 43.4%
  • Master’s degree: 48.3%
  • Doctoral or professional degree: 4.0%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (Note: Data listed is for high school teachers overall, and not science specific)

Certification requirements for high school science teachers

Certification requirements for high school science teachers vary from state to state. Teachers are usually required to take professional development classes as a condition of certification.

Teaching License Reciprocity by State: Visit our state-by-state teacher licensing and reciprocity page for regulations in your state.

Alternative certification is becoming increasingly popular, with one in five teachers entering the profession through nontraditional means. Because of fluctuating teacher shortages, states are offering alternative ways for people who already have a bachelor’s degree to get certified. The teachers are hired after graduation and are mentored by an experienced teacher until they earn full certification.

High school science teacher salary and employment projections

The median salary for high school teachers across the U.S. ranges from $45,000 to $55,000 annually:

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics: $55,050
  • Salary.com: $55,873
  • Payscale.com: $44,778
  • Glassdoor.com: $45,500
  • Riley Guide: $55,050

Employment for high school teachers overall is projected to grow 6 percent from 2012 to 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and for high school science teachers, that number climbs to 12 percent. Growth is expected to be most prevalent in the southern and western areas of the United States. Most states have tenure laws, meaning after a certain number of years of teaching satisfactorily, teachers have some job security.

Pros and cons of being a high school science teacher

Pros:

  • Getting students to love science as much as you do.
  • Variety — every day is different.
  • Salaries for high school teachers are typically higher than for middle school or elementary school teachers.

Cons:

  • Dealing with unmotivated and poorly behaved students.
  • Effective high school teachers spend significant time planning and preparing engaging activities before the students arrive in the morning, after school and on weekends.
  • Attending numerous faculty meetings.

Postsecondary/college science teachers

People who choose to become postsecondary science teachers have a variety of options of where to work, from a four-year private university or state college to a two-year junior (or community) college. The amount of time spent teaching versus serving on committees and doing research varies with their position and where they work.
Click here for in-depth details about postsecondary/college science teachers

Full-time university professors, particularly those who have tenure, often are expected to spend more time on their research, and many science professors contribute to the knowledge in their field by conducting experiments, gathering and studying data, and drawing conclusions from other research. They often publish their results in books and scholarly journals.

Postsecondary science teachers who work in smaller colleges and universities or in community colleges often spend more time teaching classes and working with students. They may spend some time conducting research, but they are not given as much time to devote to it.

In 2012, about 75 percent of postsecondary teachers worked for colleges, universities, and professional schools, and about 21 percent worked for junior colleges.

What about teaching online?

Additionally, some postsecondary science teachers work for online universities or teach online classes. They use websites to present lessons and information and to assign and accept students’ work. They communicate with students by email and by phone and may never meet their students in person.

Many online instructors work as adjunct instructors. This means they work on a contract basis and are paid per course. Some online adjuncts teach several courses for multiple schools and work enough hours to be considered full time.

What do postsecondary science teachers do?

Postsecondary teachers’ schedules generally are flexible. College teachers need to be on campus to teach classes and keep office hours. Otherwise, they are free to set their schedule and decide when and where they will prepare for class and will grade assignments. However, all postsecondary teachers typically spend some time, outside of their teaching and student advising duties, in carrying out administrative responsibilities such as serving on committees.

Typical duties include:

  • Teaching courses in their subject area.
  • Developing a syllabus for the course(s) they teach and ensuring that it meets college and department standards.
  • Planning lessons and assignments.
  • Assessing students’ progress by grading papers, tests, and other work.
  • Advising students about which classes to take and how to achieve their goals.
  • Staying informed about changes and innovations in their field.
  • Working with colleagues to develop or modify the curriculum for a degree or certificate program involving a series of courses.
  • Serving on academic and administrative committees that review and recommend policies, making budget decisions, or advising on hiring and promotions within their department.

And, specific to university professors:

  • Conducting research and experiments to advance knowledge in their field.
  • Publishing original research and analysis in books and academic journals.
  • Supervising graduate students who are working toward doctoral degrees.

How to become a college science teacher

Educational requirements vary with the type of educational institution. Postsecondary teachers who work for four-year colleges and universities are most often required to have a doctoral degree in their field. However, some schools may hire those who have a master’s degree or those who are doctoral degree candidates for some part-time positions.

Those with master’s degrees make up the majority of full-time teachers at two-year colleges. Candidates holding dual master’s degrees are at an advantage because they can teach more than one subject. Many two-year institutions prefer applicants with experience with distance learning or teaching.

Doctoral programs generally take six to eight years to complete, including time spent earning a master’s degree and writing a doctoral dissertation. It is not uncommon for students in some fields, such as natural science disciplines, to conduct postdoctoral research for two more years before they take a faculty position.

Level of educational attainment for postsecondary science teachers:

  • Less than high school diploma: 0.2%
  • High school diploma or equivalent: 0.1%
  • Some college, no degree: 2.6%
  • Associate degree: 2.3%
  • Bachelor’s degree: 16.0%
  • Master’s degree: 35.6%
  • Doctoral or professional degree: 43.3%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Postsecondary/college science teachers salary and employment projections

The median annual salary for postsecondary science teachers, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Salary.com, depends on the specific type of science being taught:

  • Biological Science: $75,740 – $86,136
  • Chemistry: $72,670 – $90,275
  • Physics: $80,590 – $93,205
  • Physical Science: $81,640 – $93,172

Employment of postsecondary teachers overall is projected to grow 19 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. Part-time positions will make up a considerable amount of these new jobs. Many openings for teachers at all types of postsecondary institutions are resulting from retiring teachers coupled with steady increases in student enrollments. Adults returning to college and foreign-born students will also add to enrollment increases, especially in fast-growing states such as California, Texas, Florida, New York and Arizona.

Employment growth of postsecondary science teachers from 2012 to 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • Biology Postsecondary Teacher: 19%
  • Chemistry Postsecondary Teacher: 14%
  • Physics Postsecondary Teacher: 14%
  • Physical Science Postsecondary Teacher: 11%

A note on tenure: For postsecondary teachers, a significant goal in the traditional academic career is attaining tenure — a guarantee that a professor cannot be fired without just cause. Tenure can take up to seven years of moving up the ranks in tenure-track positions. The ranks are assistant professor, associate professor, and professor. Tenure is granted through a review of the candidate’s research, contribution to the institution, and teaching. However, institutions are relying more heavily on limited-term and part-time faculty contracts, so tenured positions and positions on a “tenure track” are declining.

Pros and cons of being a college science teacher

Pros:

  • Many postsecondary science teachers find their jobs rewarding because they are surrounded by others who enjoy the subject.
  • Postsecondary teachers earn more than elementary, middle school or high school teachers.
  • Working for a university or college can offer tuition discounts for family members, paid housing and access to campus facilities.
  • Postsecondary teachers’ schedules generally are flexible.

Cons:

  • Tenured positions within universities are competitive.
  • For university professors, finding a balance between teaching students, doing research and publishing findings can be stressful.
  • For community college professors, the tension is between balancing teaching students and administrative tasks.

Professional development for science teachers

Most science teachers continue to take courses throughout their careers to improve their classroom skills and keep their teaching credentials current. Teachers typically attend workshops, although development can also take the form of peer observation, coaching or research. The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) offers professional development in the form of conferences several times a year, online classes and professional development institutes.

Benefits of continuing education

Teachers with a master’s degree have a greater chance for promotions and an increase in salary. The difference in salary between a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree for a novice teacher is $3,000 annually, and after 10 years of experience, the bump increases to $4,500.

Salary Increase for Teachers from Advanced Education

What kinds of programs can help science teachers?

When teachers pursue more training, both teachers and students win. Studies show science teachers with advanced science degrees had better-performing students. And teachers with advanced education degrees were rated as more effective teachers.

Concordia University – Portland offers online graduate degree programs that benefit science teachers and help sharpen their expertise in their field:

These programs provide instruction on assessing students’ learning styles for improved differentiation, ways to create an inquiry-based classroom, and methods to better incorporate technology into the classroom. Educators gain the skills to move from classroom instructor to teacher as scientist, working alongside students and using educational technology as a means to transform science education.

Professional associations for science teachers

Jobs available to science teachers beyond teaching

With additional education or certification, science teachers may become school counselors, school librarians, instructional coordinators, assistant principals, principals or an educational administrator at a college or university.

School counselor: Most states require school counselors to have a master’s degree in counseling or a related field, along with experience through an internship or practicum. Public school counselors must have a state-issued credential to practice. This credential can be called a certification, a license, or an endorsement, depending on the state.

School librarian: A master’s degree in library science (MLS) is generally required for employment, and some states also require librarians to pass a standardized test.

Instructional coordinator: Teachers who are interested in becoming instructional coordinators generally need to complete a master’s degree in education or curriculum and instruction and may be required to have a teaching or education administrator license.

School principal: Teachers wishing to transition to a role as a principal would need to complete a master’s degree in education leadership or education administration. Most states require public school principals to be licensed as school administrators.

Education administrator: Depending upon the position, either a bachelor’s or master’s degree may be required. For a higher-level position such as dean or president, a master’s degree in educational leadership or an MBA may be a requirement.

Best of the Web: our favorite science teacher blogs, websites and Twitter handles

The Web makes it easy for us to stay connected to prominent science teachers. Here is a list of our favorite websites and Twitter handles, in no particular order.

Favorite science teacher websites

Favorite science teacher Twitter handles

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Many people believe that a degree in education automatically transfers to a career in teaching. While classroom teaching is a frequent outcome for education-degree graduates, there are many other careers that may fit you and your goals. A background in education can provide you with knowledge that can benefit many industries, including business, public service and guidance. Educators are desirable as researchers, educational program designers, counselors and consultants. Your career path is entirely dependent on the atmosphere you would like to work in, the work you are interested in doing, and the salary you desire.

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