K-12 Science Teaching: An Overview

Author:  Tiffany-Rose Sikorski

Perhaps you are someone who loves science, exploring, and being creative, but learned the hard way that science research is not your dream job.  Maybe you were considering working in industry, but prefer to work with children than adults.  In both of these circumstances, science education provides a unique opportunity to connect your science background and enthusiasm with the needs of the community.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, 82% of American students performed below proficient on the 2000 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) science test.  These scores are concerning policy makers, economists, and educators alike because our world is becoming ever more reliant on science, technology and math.  In addition, in order for the U.S. and the world to continue to find scientific solutions to environmental and social issues, we are going to need strong researchers and scientists.   And in order to have well-trained scientists, we need well-trained science educators.  

The definition of a well-trained or high-qualified teacher varies from state to state and among school types and so, there are many different routes to becoming a teacher.  Generally, teachers are required to earn a state license or certification in order to be able to work full-time. Teachers come from all different backgrounds and career paths.  Some students get their teaching licenses as undergraduates, while others pursue master’s degrees in education after studying science or math as an undergrad.  In addition, people who have worked for years in science and engineering jobs can often earn experience credit towards a teaching license.  The best way to find out about these requirements is to contact your state department of education. 

There are many perks to teaching, including the famous summers off, holiday vacations, and decent benefit packages.  Teacher salaries have reputation of being very low, but in most cases, salaries provide a decent living.  According to the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the average teacher salary in 2004 was $46, 597.   In addition, AFT reported that “Connecticut had the highest average teacher salary at $56,516, while South Dakota reported the lowest, at $33,236.”  In public schools, teacher unions generally set these salaries, leaving little room for the negotiation that takes place in industry.  However, if you are an especially competitive candidate, there may be options for signing bonuses and other non-salary perks.  In many cases, science and math teachers benefit from loan cancellation, loan deferment, and mortgage assistance through various state and federal government programs.

Being a good teacher requires a lot of time and effort, so look elsewhere if you want an easy job with short hours.  However, if you are community-minded and are looking for a job that provides a challenge and a chance to grow, then education is an excellent place for you to investigate.   Luckily, most of us have had teachers in the past that we can talk to about their careers.  In addition, there are many experienced educators in over 550 accredited education degree programs around the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, that are more than willing to talk to an aspiring science teacher. 

As you might expect, the demand for teachers depends on the number of students attending school.  Though the number of students enrolled in school is expected to level out now that the baby boomers and their children are grown, the Bureau of Labor Statistics still predicts “good to excellent” job outlook conditions for teachers over the next 10 years.   The changing economy and anticipated retirement of many teachers in the next year or so are partly responsible for this positive outlook.

Overall, the teaching career, like any other job, is one filled with both wonderful opportunities and the accompanying headaches.  But if you feel that the best way for you to use your science mind is to get others enthusiastic about science, then teaching is definitely a career option to consider.  In the words of Anatole France, "The whole art of teaching is only the art of awakening the natural curiosity of young minds for the purpose of satisfying it afterwards."


For more information:


American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

"Teachers". Occupational Outlook Handbook. U.S. Department of Labor Statistics.