Science has a way of fascinating us. Even if you didn’t major in science as an undergraduate student, a career as a science teacher at an elementary school, middle school or high school could still be in your future. You might just need to put in a little more work to get there. Different states have different requirements for their science teachers, but you usually need some coursework in different areas of science and enough knowledge of the subject to earn a passing score on one or more science certification exams.
The Paths to a Science Teacher Career
The most straightforward path to a career teaching science is to complete studies in both education and a science – like biology, chemistry or physics – during your undergraduate studies. After learning the concepts and practical strategies for teaching and learning, classroom management, lesson plan creation and learning assessment, you apply what you have learned as part of your student-teaching experience.
At the end of your student-teaching semester, you earn a bachelor’s degree in education and should be qualified to start working toward your teaching license or certification. For science teachers, the certification process typically involves taking one or more exams in science as well as a general teaching exam. Elementary and middle school science teachers just need to pass a general science exam, while high school teachers must pass this general exam plus a subject-specific exam in a discipline like chemistry, biology or physics, according to The Houston Chronicle.
That said, just because you didn’t major in science – or, for that matter, in education – doesn’t mean that it’s too late for you to become a school science teacher. You can take other paths to break into this profession, particularly because the current shortage of teachers has made individuals with the interests and aptitudes to teach science highly sought after. A master’s degree in science education is a great place to start.
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Teachers of a different subject can become qualified to teach science by completing some coursework in the subject and passing the certification exam. Because you already have your teaching license and have studied the foundations of education, you will have an easier time transitioning to a science teacher role than someone who has no background in education. You will have to take fewer foundational courses – and, for certain degree programs, you may need fewer courses to graduate, period. You may not need to complete any fieldwork requirements, or if you do, they won’t be as extensive as that required of your fellow students who are first-time teachers.
If you majored in a totally different field of study, you need to make sure that your chosen science education program aligns with your state’s alternative route teaching certification requirements. Although you need to learn the foundations of teaching in general and those of teaching science, plus complete fieldwork requirements, most alternative route certification programs for science teachers take only 12 to 24 months, The Houston Chronicle reported.
Depending on your state’s laws and your school district’s level of need for science teachers, you may be able to begin working in your new career as you work toward certification, instead of waiting until after you complete the program.
Distinctions Between Science and Science Education Degree Programs
If you really want to be a science teacher, a bachelor’s or master’s degree in one specific scientific discipline may not even be your best option. While it is crucial that you have a strong foundation of scientific knowledge, what is even more important for success as a science teacher is to know how to teach the concepts, theories and methods of research and scientific thinking to students. Learning to teach, particularly in the content area of science, requires coursework in education.
In a master’s degree in any one branch of science, your curriculum will focus primarily on developing a better understanding of that discipline and the research and research methods used in it. Although you may take some interdisciplinary coursework, you won’t get a well-rounded view that integrates all of the sciences equally. If you earn a master’s degree in biological sciences, for example, your core coursework might consist of classes in scientific research methods, experimental design, biostatistics, epidemiology, genomics and immunobiology. You might complete your curriculum with studies in subjects like biogeography and biodiversity, advanced biochemistry, neuroscience, molecular genetics, bioinformatics, pharmacodynamics and pathophysiology. A master’s degree program in a discipline of science usually requires a thesis based on research.
Your curriculum in science education looks completely different. In a science education program, some of your coursework won’t be about science at all but instead will focus on general education topics like classroom management and educational research.
The science education classes that form the bulk of your core curriculum take will approach the field from the perspective of teaching others what’s known rather than investigating the unknown through scientific experiments. For example, students of a master’s degree in science education might take classes like Methods in Science Education, Teaching Inquiry-Based Life Science, Interdisciplinary Earth Science for Teachers, Teaching Comprehensive Ocean Science, Foundations of Physical Science for Teachers and Inquiry-Based Space Science for Teachers.
You may not need to complete a thesis at all for a master’s degree in science education, but some programs require other types of capstone experiences, such as fieldwork in a science classroom.