Teaching Careers Updated October 29, 2019

Science Teacher Career: Job, Education, and Salary Information

By Alisa Bates, PhD October 15, 2014

Science teachers impart a deeper understanding of the world in which we live. They support creative analysis and scientific reasoning. They explore the universe and seek answers to our questions through research and experiments. Teaching science is a rewarding career for people with an aptitude and passion for the subject.

At-a-glance: Science teachers

Science teacher job description

Science teachers may specialize in a particular area, but must also have a solid foundation in all things science. Science teachers help students understand complicated scientific topics by breaking down difficult processes into manageable parts for students of varying ages and abilities. They are expected to implement lessons that build on their students’ existing knowledge of scientific theory while inspiring them to make practical connections between abstract concepts and real-world applications. Science teachers must also be willing to perform, prepare, and guide experiments while ensuring safe practices for all students.

Typical Duties: 

  • Organize and manage classrooms
  • Work with colleagues and administrators to coordinate instructional best practices and teaching goals
  • Plan lessons, lectures, multimedia demonstrations, and other presentations appropriate to the science curriculum
  • Assign classroom lessons and homework
  • Grade student assessments
  • Stay current with state and local standards and testing requirements
  • Stay current on the latest technology and scientific discoveries
  • Work with students individually to assess progress, improve learning performance levels, and achieve overall education success
  • Prepare students for grade advancement through subject-specific assessments
  • Conduct open classroom sessions and schedule parent-teacher conferences
  • Attend professional advancement seminars, presentations, and professional development conferences

Who makes a good science teacher?

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

Science teachers in-depth

Science teachers at varying levels.

There are many constants within the profession of teaching science, regardless of the grade level. However, some duties, expertise, and skill level depend upon the educational level of your institution.

A number of factors come into play in deciding which education level to teach. These include:

  • Teacher’s educational level (postsecondary institutions typically require an advanced degree)
  • Range and breadth of science subjects and abilities; the higher the grade level, the more concentrated the specialization.
  • Age and maturity levels of students — from middle school to college
  • Local salary considerations and employment opportunities

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 ages 11-14.

Teaching students of this age group 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.

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.

High school science teachers

High school science teachers generally teach students from the ninth through 12th grades. 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.

Teaching high school science is more specialized than teaching middle school students. High school teachers typically teach one subject to numerous classes. 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
  • biology
  • chemistry
  • physics
  • AP physics
  • chemistry II
  • AP chemistry
  • marine science
  • astronomy
  • anatomy and physiology
  • environmental science

Postsecondary science teachers

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. Their students are comprised of traditional students, as well as adults of all ages who are interested in science.

The amount of time spent teaching versus serving on committees and doing research varies with their position and where they work.

Postsecondary teachers also have more flexibility over the format of their instructional methods than their K-12 counterparts. They have greater control over their schedules, with many postsecondary instructors teaching part time. They have fewer classroom management and procedural responsibilities, but are expected to devote significant time to preparing lectures and instructions for assignments, in addition to grading and providing individual guidance to students when necessary.

With today’s computer technology, the advent of relatively affordable telecommunications and online college courses, postsecondary teachers have additional teaching options. Many online instructors work in adjunct teaching roles. To learn more about adjunct professors, visit Room 241’s adjunct professor posting.

Specific duties delegated to postsecondary teachers:

  • Conduct research to advance knowledge in their field
  • Publish original research and analysis in books and academic journals
  • Supervise graduate students who are working toward doctoral degrees

Education and certification requirements for science teachers

  • Education: Bachelor’s, master’s or doctorate degree
  • Typical study time: 4-10 years

A bachelor’s degree in education — preferably with teacher preparation courses specific to science — is a minimum education requirement for beginning science teachers at the middle and high school levels. Most states require the completion of a master’s degree within five years of obtaining certification for continued employment.

Postsecondary science teachers may find employment at community colleges and trade schools with a master’s degree and relevant experience. Most four-year colleges and universities require doctoral degrees for employment.

Teachers come from various backgrounds of study. Most future teachers enroll in a teacher education program in college. These programs offer studies relating to classroom management, curriculum development and a semester-long student teaching practicum. These students usually graduate with a bachelor’s degree in education and can begin teaching immediately. Concordia University-Portland’s Bachelors in Education is a great program for future teachers.

Other teachers, after completing a more specialized program of studies and sometimes even after spending years as a professional in a related field, turn to a career in education.

With a bachelor’s degree, education hopefuls find enrollment in education-based master’s and doctoral degree programs imperative in finding a career as a teacher.

Concordia University-Portland’s MEd in Curriculum & Instruction: Science program alleviates many challenges associated with teaching science. Other programs include masters of arts in teaching, MEd programs,  and EdD programs.

Certification and licensing

A state-issued teaching certificate or license is generally required to teach. Specific certification and licensing requirements vary from state to state. Teachers are often required to complete years of teaching and take professional development courses 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.

A note on tenure: For teachers, a significant goal in the traditional academic career is to attain tenure. Tenure is often seen as a guarantee for a lifetime position. Unfortunately, though widely believed, that is not the case. Tenure mandates that due process will be followed before the dismissal of any teacher holding tenure.

Teachers enter education on probationary status and can be terminated without just cause and/or proper documentation before tenure is granted. The process for tenure can take three to four years. During this time, teachers are evaluated by administrators, mentors, and often peers on job performance. This time allows administrators to make evaluative and supported decisions on the faculty teaching students in their schools.

Salary range and employment projections for science teachers

Middle and high school science teachers

Salary ranges for middle and high school science teachers can vary depending on the state, school district, experience, and degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for a science teacher is $60,320. The lowest 10 percent earn less than $39,740 and the highest 10 percent earn more than $97,500.

According to ZipRecruiter.com, average pay for science teachers by state varies from $34,954 to $49,328.

Here is a snapshot of average middle and high school science teacher salaries:

  • Payscale.com: $45,364
  • Glassdoor.com: $51,660
  • Salary.com: $51,016
  • ZipRecruiter.com: $45,696

The BLS states that the employment of teachers is projected to grow 4% from 2018 to 2028. Employment growth for public school teachers may depend on state and local government budgets. Many teachers will be needed to replace those who retire or leave the profession for other reasons.

Many schools report difficulty in filling teaching positions for certain subjects, including science. As a result, science teachers have better job prospects.

Postsecondary science teachers

Salary ranges for postsecondary science teachers can vary depending on the institution of employment, state, experience, and degree.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for a postsecondary science teacher at a community or junior college is $59,930.

Postsecondary science teachers employed at a four-year institution have a median salary of $78,470. The lowest 10% earn less than $39,760 and the highest 10% earn more than $175,110.

The median annual salary for postsecondary science teachers at four-year institutions, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics can depend on the specific type of science being taught:

  • Biological Science: $97,340
  • Chemistry: $92,360
  • Physics: $101,190
  • Agricultural Science: $90,890
  • Environmental Science: $ 91,330

Employment of postsecondary teachers overall is projected to grow 11% from 2018 to 2028. Part-time positions will make up a considerable amount of these new jobs.

Advantages and disadvantages

Pros:

  • Share your passion
  • Inspire others
  • Expand student knowledge of scientific fundamentals
  • Work with young minds
  • Make a difference
  • Every day is different
  • High degree of autonomy
  • Collaborate with other educational professionals
  • Opportunities to continue learning and expanding knowledge base
  • Extended vacations
  • Job security

Cons:

  • Relatively lower salary than other careers
  • Long hours during the school year
  • State and local standards
  • Little adult contact throughout the day
  • Standardized testing
  • School funding

Professional development for science teachers

Continuing education is a great way to keep a career on track, expand knowledge, remain competitive, and increase one’s real value in the job market.

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.

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

Best of the Web

The internet is ideal for science teachers as a tool for research, lesson planning and presentations.

Favorite science teacher websites and blogs

Favorite science teacher Twitter and Instagram accounts to follow:

Learn More: Click to view related resources.

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