How to Become a Computer Science Teacher

Introduction

Computers are omnipresent, and today most children learn how to interact with icons and apps before they learn how to read. However, using computers and understanding how they operate are two different things, which is why schools employ educators trained to teach computer science to their students.

By definition, computer science is a field that focuses on the understanding and design of computers, and computational processes. While some computer scientists are concerned with algorithms, others focus on the development and implementation of hardware and software. At the college and university levels, computer science overlaps with several allied fields, including information technology and computer engineering.

Those with an interest to teach computer science can look forward to an abundance of job openings, starting at the high school level. As technology becomes an increasingly significant part of the world, employment opportunities related to academics will continue to grow, especially for those who possess an advanced degree in the field.

How can I become an elementary or middle school computer science teacher?

While computer science is not taught at the elementary or middle school levels as a stand-alone class, many schools employ media studies teachers to serve as a school’s library resource teacher, especially at the elementary level. In many respects, media studies is a misleading term for these teachers, since they typically do not teach concepts that overlap with media studies at the postsecondary level. They do, however, educate students on basic computing skills, and in some cases, offer introductory level lessons in computer science.

An elementary or middle school media studies teacher may also introduce students to basic computer functions and basic programming languages, such as HTML. Despite a growing demand to incorporate computer science at an earlier level, the elementary and middle school curriculum nearly always focuses on teaching students how to use computers, rather than teaching students how computers work.

Individuals with an interest in teaching computer science or computer-related topics at an elementary or middle school must complete the following:

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education or Education with a concentration in Computer Science or Media Studies; or a four-year degree in Computer Science with the completion of a teacher education program.
  • Complete student-teaching experience or internship, which exposes an aspiring educator to the dynamics of an elementary or middle school classroom.
  • Become licensed and/or certified to teach at an elementary or middle school by fulfilling requirements, as set by their state of residence. This generally includes passing a criminal background check, paying a license fee, and passing applicable examinations.

How can I become a high school computer science teacher?

Not surprisingly, there is a growing demand to provide computer science courses to high school students. Both industry leaders and organizations, like the CSTA (Computer Science Teachers Association), continue to make compelling arguments in favor of offering computer science courses as a core part of the high school curriculum. While the subject is available as an elective at various high schools across the nation, reports reveal that only 25 percent of K-12 schools in the United States offer computer science courses, while 22 states do not permit computer science education to count towards a student’s high school diploma.

By 2014, close to half of all U.S. states had introduced policies to allow computer science courses to count as mathematics or science credits at the high school level. Several more states are now in the process of introducing legislation that would integrate computer science into schools even further. Despite the intense lobbying from industry, there is still a long way to go. For example, not all computer science teachers have a clear pathway to gaining certification in the field, with requirements and options that vary according to state.

In most states, computer science courses are offered by teachers who hold a bachelor’s degree in mathematics or science, are certified to teach in their state, and simply have a passion for the field. Over the coming decade, the demand for computer science teachers will continue to grow, hopefully with pathways to certification becoming more established across the U.S.

To become a high school computer science teacher, the following steps illustrate the average pathway for entering the field:

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree in education with a concentration in computer science; or possess a bachelor’s degree in computer science and take the appropriate teacher preparation courses to work at a high school.
  • Complete a teacher education program, and undergo a semester or two of a student-teaching experience (or internship). During this time, students are exposed to working with high school students, preparing lessons, and teaching a class on their own.
  • Obtain a license and/or certification to teach high school, which typically involves passing applicable examinations and content area requirements, as set by the state. For instance, the state of Florida requires certified teachers to have completed undergraduate credit hour requirements for certification in specialty areas, such as computer science. Teachers must pass the Florida Teacher Certification Examinations (FTCE), and FTCE General Knowledge Test (GKT), and FCTE Subject Area Examinations (SAE) in computer science for grades K-12.
  • Earn a master’s degree to improve qualifications, or satisfy state requirements of obtaining an advanced degree after becoming certified to teach.
  • Maintain licensure by satisfying requirements associated with professional development courses and continuing education credits, as set by the state.

How can I become a college computer science professor?

In contrast to the elementary, middle and high school levels, computer science has been firmly entrenched as a discipline at the college level. Computer science programs at the college level usually focus on programming and systems, computer operations, computer network administration, and security. Some programs prepare students to take certification examinations in UNIX, Linux and Windows, while others focus on preparing students for computer science programs at a senior college or university.

To teach computer science at a two-year college, applicants often:

  • Hold at least one university degree in computer science, and/or a graduate degree in computer science or an allied discipline, such as mathematics, information science, or computer information systems
  • Possess teaching or professional experience related to the field
  • Satisfy any credential authorization procedures associated with the discipline for qualifying to teach at a community college, when applicable.

Job openings for college computer science professors vary, and may ask applicants to have a master’s degree in computer science or computer engineering, or a bachelor’s degree in either field plus a master’s degree in mathematics, cybernetics, business administration, accounting, or engineering. Colleges also prefer to hire applicants who have relevant work experience within the computer industry.

How can I become a university computer science professor?

At the university level, computer science professors are engaged in teaching, as well as research and service work. University computer science professors typically hold a Ph.D. in computer science or computer engineering. As a result, they have generally completed several years of graduate-level coursework in computer science, passed one or more field exams in the discipline, and have successfully defended a dissertation on a topic in computer science.

To teach computer science at a university, qualified candidates typically satisfy the following:

  • A doctorate degree, such as a Ph.D. in Computer Science (or a related field, like computer engineering or information technology)
  • Teaching experience, especially university-level teaching experience in the computer science or information technology discipline
  • Recognition in the field (or hold the potential to become known) as an expert in the computer science community

Computer science professors may focus on teaching and conducting research on topics such as computational neuroscience or artificial intelligence. They are expected to regularly present their research and findings at national and international conferences, as well as publish articles in recognized computer science journals, such as Foundations and Trends in Machine Learning or Briefings in Bioinformatics.

Like their colleagues in other scientific fields, computer science professors typically spend a great deal of their time applying for grants to support the operation of a research laboratory where they carry out research and recruit, train, and supervise graduate students and postdoctoral students. The supervision and mentorship of graduate students in a research setting is also considered an important part of their teaching work.

What is the job outlook for computer science teachers?

A growing interest to introduce students to the computer science field is sweeping across school districts, as the government, various industries and businesses see value in increasing exposure early on amongst younger generations.

Education reform related to STEM (science/technology/engineering/mathematics)-associated fields, such as computer science, is a hot topic issue as more initiatives have been made to reduce a growing skill gap found in the U.S. workforce. From billion-dollar proposals to expand computer science education to offering competitive grants to states and school districts successful in attracting more female and minority students to the field, opportunities for computer science teachers and professors will continue to grow in the coming decade.

The best job prospects for computer science educators come with the possession of an advanced degree, with better-paying positions found in the higher education sector, which is one of the industries also demonstrating the highest levels of employment for postsecondary computer science teachers. In 2014, colleges, universities and professional schools employed the most postsecondary teachers, paying an annual mean wage of $89,740 to 21,230 professors. Junior colleges hired 12,910 computer science professors in 2014. Other industries that college professors find employment include technical and trade schools, business schools, computer and management training agencies, and other schools of instruction.

Job prospects for computer science teachers in high schools are also expected to grow, with some school districts and governments proposing bold approaches to increase the number of computer science courses available to secondary school students. The Christian Science Monitor reported that a former Yahoo executive and now Florida lawmaker wishes to allow students to replace two required foreign language classes with computer science courses that concentrate on programming languages such as JavaScript and Python.

Geographic location also plays a role in the number of jobs available to computer science teachers. In addition to states in the West and South experiencing increased student populations, certain states also demonstrate a need to hire specific types of educators. For example, every year, the U.S. Department of Education releases a nationwide listing of states undergoing teacher shortages for specific subjects by academic year. In regards to middle and high school positions for the 2015/2016 academic year, the listing identified California, Maryland and Texas as experiencing a statewide shortage of computer science and computer education teachers.

With a push to increase the number of female and minority educators in the science and technology field, this demographic will encounter increased opportunities to obtain financial incentives to attend college (such as scholarships and grants) and major in the field, and find it easier overall to pursue a computer science teaching career upon graduation.

What is the compensation for computer science teachers?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the mean annual wages earned in 2014 for computer science teachers (including those who taught courses in a specialized field of computer science, and/or those who combined teaching and research as part of their job) were as follows:

  • Elementary and middle school teachers – $53,760 – $54,940
  • High school teachers – $56,310
  • Postsecondary teachers – $80,730

The overall salaries of computer science teachers are ultimately affected by their place of employment (such as community college versus prestigious university); years spent teaching full-time (as not all professors start out as full-time educators); and geographic location. For example, the BLS identifies the following states (with annual mean salaries) as being the top-paying locations for computer science professors working at the postsecondary level: Massachusetts ($98,610), New York ($95,950), Oregon ($95,140), Wisconsin ($93, 070), and District of Columbia ($93,010).

Advanced degrees and notoriety within the field are all factors that can increase a job candidate’s chances of being hired. Those who work full-time in postsecondary settings tend to earn the most money. According to the BLS, colleges, universities and professional schools represent the top-paying industries for the computer science occupation on the postsecondary level, with professors earning an annual mean wage of $89,740 in 2014.

In conclusion, computer science is an educational field that will continue to need qualified teachers and professors to accommodate increased student populations and interest across the nation. Those who earn an advanced degree qualify for the highest-paying job opportunities within the field, which are often found at postsecondary schools. Government initiatives, changing school policies, financial incentives to major in computer science, and an increased need to hire more computer science professionals (including educators) adds to the appeal of pursuing a teaching career in computer science.

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