How to Become a Chemistry Teacher


From plastics to soft drinks, chemists are responsible for the development of thousands of modern products that are taken for granted every day. In short, chemistry is integral to explaining the world in which we live, and is therefore important to many other fields. Doctors and nurses study chemistry, as well as chefs and astronauts. For this reason, the demand for chemistry teachers stretches across many educational contexts, and to all levels of the education system.

However, despite added incentives to groom more students and educators to fill the gaps found in science-related education, many jobs associated with STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Mathematics) fields remain open due to a lack of qualified candidates. With a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, a teacher can help improve the numbers by jumpstarting interest for the subject at the high school level. With an advanced degree, professors are tasked with guiding chemistry majors towards earning their credentials to become future innovators in the field.

How can I become an elementary/middle school chemistry teacher?

Although chemistry teachers are not hired at the elementary or middle school level to teach classes solely centered on the subject, concepts of chemistry are still a part of the curriculum. Science teachers hired to educate students in middle school, are trained to teach 11- to 14-year-olds who are attending the sixth to eighth grades. In addition to touching upon other fields of science, chemistry majors and education majors specializing in chemistry are trained to introduce this branch of physical science to students, and are often hired as general science teachers.

At the elementary school level, science teachers introduce basic chemistry lessons which challenge their students to explore everyday phenomena. Classes that specifically concentrate on chemistry are not available at this level of education.

At the middle school level, science teachers, who must hold a bachelor’s degree in science, but not necessarily a degree in chemistry, typically teach units on chemistry as part of their school’s general science curriculum. Students attending middle school learn about matter, changes of state, density and molecules — all concepts that are part of an introductory education in chemistry. With rare exceptions to the rule, middle schools do not offer classes solely dedicated to the subject of chemistry.

How can I become a high school chemistry teacher?

Although some high schools expect science teachers to teach more than one science subject, such as earth science and life science, larger high schools and those specializing in the sciences often employ teachers to teach chemistry as a stand-alone class. Introductory Chemistry is a required course found at most public high schools in the U.S., where qualified, credentialed teachers are hired to introduce students to the scientific and mathematical reasoning behind the principles of this particular branch of science.

High school chemistry teachers must hold a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry, or in some districts, a Bachelor of Science degree with a certain number of credit hours in chemistry (usually at least 30 semester credit hours, or five full-year courses). Many high school chemistry teachers also hold additional qualifications, such as a Master of Science, Master of Arts in Education, or Master of Education, with a focus in science education.

Chemistry teachers are trained on how to educate secondary school students on the study of matter, its properties, and how and why certain types of substances combine or separate to become other substances. They learn the best ways to present information to their students which relates to the five major branches of chemistry: analytical, physical, organic, inorganic and biochemistry. High school chemistry teachers may spend part of their time reviewing basic concepts related to matter, changes of state, density, and molecules. At the senior levels of education, they are also responsible for introducing students to more advanced concepts, ranging from the construction of chemical equations to thermodynamics.

To become a high school chemistry teacher, the following steps highlight the average pathway for entering the field:

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, followed by completing a teacher education program; or major in education with a concentration in chemistry; or dual-major in chemistry and education. In addition to studying science, future chemistry teachers are trained to understand adolescent psychology and other areas of child development.
  • Complete a teacher education program, and undergo a semester or two of a student-teaching experience (or internship) to learn the dynamics of a high school classroom. Some aspiring educators also spend time as a substitute teacher while in college to gain added experience in a classroom.
  • Pass applicable state exams, and content area requirements.
  • Submit an application for teacher certification or licensure, and fulfill state-specific qualifications to teach. For example, the state of Virginia requires high school chemistry teachers to have graduated from an approved teacher preparation program in chemistry; majored in chemistry or completed 32 semester hours in chemistry (from inorganic chemistry to physical chemistry); earned an endorsement in another science discipline and have at least 18 credits in chemistry.
  • Maintain licensure by satisfying state-mandated requirements associated with professional development courses and continuing education credits.
  • Obtain an advanced degree. Some states expect high school chemistry teachers to earn a master’s degree in order to maintain certification. Additionally, chemistry teachers with a master’s degree or PhD in the field are often hired to teach students who are taking Advanced Placement Chemistry, a class that involves a more in-depth study of the concepts covered in an introductory class. Advanced degrees can also translate into earning a higher salary or getting a promotion.

Some private schools prefer to hire teachers, with or without teacher certification, who hold a Master of Science or PhD in Chemistry.

How can I become a college chemistry teacher?

Chemistry is a key component of many applied science programs, such as nursing, pharmacy, and engineering. At the two-year college level, chemistry professorsshutterstock_298555700 are often hired to fill teaching-intensive positions, with a great of their work focusing on teaching in applied science programs. In addition to offering courses in organic chemistry or analytical chemistry, they may be required to teach courses with titles like, “Chemistry for Nurses” or “Food Chemistry.”

College chemistry professors have typically completed at least a Master of Science in Chemistry degree program, and in many instances, a PhD in Chemistry.

How can I become a university chemistry professor?

At the university level, chemistry professors divide their time between research, teaching, and service.  In other words, in addition to offering courses in their area of specialization, such as biochemistry or physical chemistry at the undergraduate or graduate levels (and in some cases, applied courses for students enrolled in applied science fields, such as medicine or engineering), they are also expected to maintain a robust program of research.

For this reason, university-level chemistry professors must hold a PhD in chemistry, which entails having completed several years of graduate-level coursework in chemistry, passed one or more field exams (the exams focus on a specialization within the field), and successfully defended a dissertation on a topic in chemistry.

Chemistry professors at universities are also expected to regularly present their research, and publish their research findings in reputed journals, such as Chemical Reviews, Journal of the American Chemical Society or Nature Materials. In order to carry out their research, they are also expected to obtain funding for their research projects, maintain a research laboratory, and recruit, train and supervise graduate and postdoctoral students to work in their laboratory. As in other scientific fields, recruiting, training and supervising students to work on their research team is considered an integral part of their teaching work.

Obtaining a permanent position at a four-year institution as a chemistry professor is a competitive process that typically involves assuming various roles beforehand. Many professors begin as assistant professors, who later become associate professors and full-time faculty vying for tenure, which grants a professor job security and permanent employment at a school. Tenured professors also qualify for roles within a school that center on assuming a higher level of responsibility and enjoying increased pay. Oftentimes, a tenured professor will serve as a dean, chairperson, or director of university-based chemistry programs.

What is the job outlook for chemistry teachers?

Chemistry belongs to a group of fields referred to as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), which has been deemed by school districts, higher learning institutions, and the government as playing an important role in the United States’ level of global competitiveness. With nationwide initiatives to attract students to the field, add more science teachers to schools, and increase professionals within fields of science, those with an interest in chemistry can look forward to a promising job outlook for teaching positions.

Chemistry is the branch of science that deals with everything made in the environment, as all objects are made of chemicals and produced by chemical effects. Additionally, the study of chemistry fuels medical research. Those who study medicine and other sciences in college, such as biology, anatomy and physiology, oftentimes have a chemistry class during their first year at school. Therefore, the need to hire chemistry teachers is not only growing because of the nation’s push to increase STEM professionals, but also because of the importance it serves in other fields.

Overall, the demand for teachers on the middle and high school level is high. Older teachers are retiring, which means an increase in open job positions. Urban and rural school districts often show a high need to hire science teachers, especially those who are diverse in culture, ethnicity and race. Certain geographic locations will demonstrate a greater need than others. For example, the BLS predicts states in the South and the West will experience student population increases that lead to increased demand for educators, which include chemistry teachers.

The U.S. Department of Education also tracks regions with the greatest need to hire educators according to school subject. Their yearly report on teacher shortages showed a statewide demand for chemistry teachers in Michigan and Maryland, which needed to hire teachers representing science areas for grades 7-12, with an emphasis on chemistry for the 2015-2016 academic year.

What is the compensation for chemistry teachers?

In regards to the 21st century, occupations in STEM-related careers are noted as being some of the fastest growing and best paid in the U.S. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the median salaries earned in 2014 for teachers who taught chemistry (including those who combined teaching and research) were as follows:

  • Elementary and middle school teachers – $53,760 – $54,940
  • High school teachers – $56,310
  • Postsecondary teachers – $73,080

A job candidate’s educational background, degree earned, years of experience, research experience, and geographic location are all factors that play a role in the amount of money that a chemistry teacher earns. For instance, the Bureau of Labor Statistics identifies Massachusetts ($112,330), California ($109,810), District of Columbia ($103,780), Utah ($99,760), and North Dakota ($98,090) as states that pay the highest annual mean salaries to chemistry professors working at a postsecondary school.

The highest paid individuals with an educational background in chemistry are primarily those who have the most years of education, and an advanced degree, such as a PhD. The BLS identified colleges, universities and professional schools as paying the highest annual mean wage overall with $87,510, followed by jobs at junior colleges, which paid a yearly salary of $69,220 in 2014.

In conclusion, the opportunities to gain an education and start a career as a chemistry teacher are increasing – thanks to a widespread push to add qualified professionals working in STEM-related fields in the U.S. The greatest number of job opportunities available for those looking to teach chemistry is found at the high school and college/university level. Most secondary school students take introductory-level chemistry classes to fulfill science requirements for graduation, while postsecondary students studying science and medicine are expected to take at least one chemistry class during the course of their college career.

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