Science Teacher Career Guide
Inspiring students with science is one of the rewarding aspects of a career in science education. Science teachers play a key role in developing future leaders in science and technology by fueling the curiosity of students and encouraging further exploration into topics of interest. A science teacher can be certified to teach elementary school, middle school, or high school students and beyond. At higher grade levels and in colleges/universities, classes typically focus on specific areas such as biology, earth science, animal science, chemistry, or physics. Teaching science requires hands-on experiments and investigation, providing students with opportunities to learn science concepts through multimedia materials, field trips, and non-conventional teaching approaches. It is the teacher’s job to implement appropriate curricula and foster an active learning environment that encourages student participation.
Science education usually begins with an introduction to basic science-related concepts early in a child’s education. Elementary teachers can instill an appreciation for how and why things work the way they do by creating hands-on learning opportunities where students use their senses to observe, investigate, and discover. Middle school is a crucial time for nurturing children’s interests, so science teachers at this level may continue to create a fun and engaging learning environment where children can explore. Earth and life science are the key classroom topics at these grade levels as students are typically introduced to laboratory settings during both group and individual experiences. High school and college science teachers present complex scientific concepts in instructional and investigational settings, including the use of a science lab. The science lab is used to investigate chemistry, biology, and physics topics. Students are required to understand laboratory safety rules and how to use lab equipment, and it is the science teacher’s job to help students understand these rules. Lesson plans should develop an understanding of complex systems, generate new ideas, make predictions, and apply the scientific method to solve problems. The following guide provides information on how to become a science teacher, what science teachers do, and their salary and job outlook.
Science Teacher Job Description
Science teachers are an integral part of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, including Computer Science), which is a set of disciplines that are typically grouped together in reference to education and related occupations. Over the past several years, increased emphasis has been placed on teaching STEM subjects, because STEM fluency is thought to be crucial for developing future leaders in a complex world.1 A science teacher provides instruction and guidance to help students explore and understand important concepts in science, including problem-solving and how to gather evidence to support ideas or decisions. Science teachers create lesson plans, present science demonstrations, and grade tests and assignments. They identify students who need additional help and assist them with overcoming challenges. They also communicate with parents and school administration on student progress.
Science Teacher Job Requirements and Common Tasks
Science teachers are responsible for preparing class lesson plans based on school guidelines and grade levels. This may include preparing daily instruction outlines, classroom assignments, special projects, homework, and tests. A teacher must maintain student records to show attendance, grades, and conduct in accordance with school, district, and state policies. A teacher also needs to observe and evaluate each student’s performance. At times, parent and student conferences are conducted to discuss student progress or concerns. Teachers of any subject should have excellent written and verbal skills and be able to communicate effectively with students, parents, and colleagues. Science teachers must be detail-oriented, effective at problem-solving, and have excellent instructional skills. A teacher should also be willing to become involved in extracurricular activities, such as athletics and school clubs.
A bachelor’s or master’s degree in a science field plus a teaching certificate is typically required to teach in public schools. College-level instructors must typically have a doctoral degree.
How to Become a Science Teacher
To become a science teacher in a public school, you must earn a teaching certificate or license from your state with an endorsement to teach science. Science teachers in middle schools and high schools typically major in the subject(s) they wish to teach, such as biology or chemistry, and complete a state-approved teacher preparation program as part of their bachelor’s degree. Teachers at the primary level typically teach a variety of subjects and will more likely major in elementary education, qualifying them to instruct different subjects including science. Private schools may not require teacher certification and expected qualifications for teachers may vary. The typical route to becoming a secondary science teacher in a public K-12 school is as follows:
- Earn a bachelor’s degree in the subject(s) you wish to teach and complete teacher preparation as part of your degree program.
- Complete a student teaching internship in a science classroom at the grade level(s) you wish to teach.
- Take your state’s required tests for educators.
- Apply for your teaching license.
- Begin applying to open positions for science teachers.
If you already have a bachelor’s degree in the subject you want to teach but did not complete a teacher preparation program, you may be eligible for alternative certification in your state. In many states, earning a master’s degree can also qualify you for science teacher licensure, if the degree includes an approved teacher preparation component.
Science Teacher Salary and Job Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), elementary school teachers earn a median annual salary of $57,980, while middle school teachers earn a median salary of $58,600, and high school teachers earn a median salary of $60,320.2-4 Job growth of 3-4% is expected for all K-12 teacher groups through 2028.2-4 At the postsecondary level, science teachers typically have a master’s degree or higher, and reportedly earn higher median salaries: $82,550 for biology educators and $79,550 for chemistry educators.5-6 Job growth prospects at the postsecondary level are expected of 11% through 2028 (much higher than average) for biology teachers and 4-6% for chemistry teachers (average for all occupations).5-6
Science Teacher Career Interviews
- Former President, Colorado Association of Science Teachers, Meg Jacobson
- Illinois Science Teacher, Terie Engelbrecht
- Science Teacher in South Korea, Chris Mitchell
Helpful Skills and Experience
Advanced knowledge in the field of science and its subfields, specialized experience, and/or a graduate degree in the sciences will help job applicants stand out. Having a passion and enthusiasm for science subjects can also help. Additionally, strong communication skills are essential to being successful in this career.
Science Teacher Blogs
Reading blogs by science teachers can provide excellent insights into what it is like to work as a science teacher from the perspective of current science teachers. Our list of Science Teacher Blogs provides a resource for learning more about a career in science education and the latest education issues that top science teachers are talking about.
- National Science Teacher Association: Information and resources on science teacher conferences, science education standards, and more.
- Association for Science Teacher Education: An international organization promoting science education.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Do you need a background in science to become a science teacher?
Answer: Earning an endorsement for teaching science requires meeting your state’s requirements for teacher certification, which include the completion of a bachelor’s degree in a scientific subject and passing the appropriate content exams (such as the Praxis Earth and Space Sciences Content Knowledge or Chemistry Content Knowledge exams). Experience in the field isn’t ordinarily a requirement for becoming a K-12 teacher in a public school, but it may help. Teaching experience, usually completed as part of the teacher preparation program, will be essential for new teachers.
Question: How much do science teachers make?
Answer: The salary for science teachers vary by grade level taught, years of experience, and location. The BLS reports that K-12 teachers earn a median salary of around $58,000 to $60,000 per year.1-3 Postsecondary teachers of science typically may earn more due to their higher degrees: O*NET OnLine reports that biology and chemistry teachers at the postsecondary level earn a median salary of around $80,000 per year.4-5
Question: What is a STEM teacher?
Answer: A STEM teacher is any teacher who instructs students in the areas of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. STEM teachers specializing in science may instruct classes in biology, physics, and chemistry. In 2019, the US Department of Education invested $540 million to support these subjects through discretionary and research grants in order to support the White House’s promise to focus on expanding STEM education.
1. US Department of Education, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, including Computer Science: https://www.ed.gov/stem/
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/kindergarten-and-elementary-school-teachers.htm
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Middle School Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/middle-school-teachers.htm
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, High School Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/high-school-teachers.htm
5. O*NET OnLine, Biological Science Teachers, Postsecondary: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/25-1042.00
6. O*NET OnLine, Chemistry Teachers, Postsecondary: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/25-1052.00