How to Become an Engineering Teacher


In recent years, engineering, once primarily taught only at the postsecondary level, has since become more integrated into the elementary, middle school and high school curricula. The growing focus on engineering education is part of a larger push to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects, starting with children at an early age.

Indeed, many educators and educational researchers believe that as an applied field, engineering offers an ideal platform in which to put science, technology and mathematics skills and concepts to work. As a result, in addition to offering engineering as a stand-alone subject, engineering is frequently incorporated into other STEM subjects as a way to demonstrate the material applications of abstract concepts.

Given the growing push to promote STEM subjects, the demand for teachers qualified to teach engineering to others continues to grow at all levels of the education system. In fact, the need for qualified STEM teachers is so great that in 2011, 100Kin10 was founded, a network consisting of more than 200 partners which upholds a mandate to train an additional 100,000 qualified STEM teachers by 2021.

How can I become an elementary school engineering teacher?

While elementary schools do not hire engineering teachers for stand-alone classes, as part of the growing focus on STEM-related subjects, elementary school teachers are increasingly incorporating engineering concepts into basic lessons associated with science and mathematics. With the support of organizations like Teach Engineering, a National Science Foundation-funded collaboration between several universities and professional organizations, teachers gain access to engineering lessons, which align with the Common Core State Standards Initiative for mathematics, for students as young as the kindergarten level.shutterstock_269405039

At the elementary school level, engineering lessons may focus on concepts such as sound waves and how an understanding of sound waves is essential to becoming a sound engineer for a record company or film company. All elementary school teachers are required to hold a bachelor’s degree, have completed a teacher-training program, and be licensed to teach in their state.

How can I become a middle school engineering teacher?

With the exception of STEM focused middle schools, where engineering may on occasion be offered as a separate course, engineering concepts are typically integrated into the science or mathematics curriculum in conjunction with other lessons at the middle school level. Therefore, teachers may introduce students to topics and explore engineering as it pertains to other topics, such as bridge engineering, the construction of geodesic domes, or hot air balloon design. Teachers may encourage a class or select students showing a proficiency in the subject to participate in science fairs and other competitions to further boost their interest in the field. In this case, the teacher acts as a mentor or supervisor, as students select and execute their projects.

To become a middle school science or mathematics teacher, one must typically:

  • hold at least a bachelor’s degree in a science subject or mathematics
  • have completed a teacher education program
  • passed applicable examinations, and content area tests
  • possess a license to teach in their state of residence

Additionally, with the growing demand to integrate engineering at an earlier age, graduates of engineering faculties are also welcome candidates in undergraduate education programs and Master of Arts in teaching programs.

How can I become a high school engineering teacher?

At the high school level, most students continue to encounter engineering as part of the broader STEM curriculum, but at some specialized high schools, students have an opportunity to focus on engineering as a future career.

For example, at the High School for Math, Science and Engineering in New York City, students can opt to concentrate in engineering, selecting courses on topics such as civil engineering and architecture. All of the teachers at the High School for Math, Science and Engineering, who teach within the school’s engineering departments, are former engineers. Interestingly, this is not the norm in regards to these specialized types of schools.

Typically, to teach engineering at the high school level, candidates must:

  • Hold a bachelor’s degree in engineering or a related field; and have completed a teacher-training program; or have majored in education with a concentration or dual major in engineering. All engineering majors must be prepared to take a variety of math and science courses (in addition to basic and specialized courses in engineering), such as one or more classes in analytical geometry, statistics, calculus, physics and chemistry.
  • Complete a student-teaching program and student-teaching experience (or internship) that introduces aspiring educators to the dynamics of working in a high school environment, planning lessons, communicating with students, and teaching a class under the guidance of a seasoned professional.
  • Become licensed to teach engineering by satisfying requirements specific to their state of residence. This may include passing a criminal background check, submitting an application with transcripts, paying a license fee, and passing exams. For example, the state of Pennsylvania requires certified teachers to possess at least a bachelor’s degree, have completed an approved teacher education program, and pass Praxis Content Area tests for appropriate subject areas.
  • Maintain licensure by participating in professional development courses and earning continuing education credits. Each state sets its own set of requirements.

How can I become a college engineering professor?

Many community colleges and four-year colleges have engineering programs. Nearly all engineering programs or faculties are divided into four major branches of engineering:

mechanical engineering, electric engineering, chemical engineering, and civil engineering. Some engineering departments offer other specializations, such as aerospace engineering.

College engineering faculty typically hold at least a master’s degree in engineering, and most often specialize in an area of the field, which they are generally hired to teach at a school. In some exceptional cases, two-year colleges hire candidates with a bachelor’s degree in engineering, professional certification, and those who have demonstrated an impressive work history as an engineer. Since most college programs are primarily focused on teaching and training, faculty with current work experience and industry connections are highly desirable.

Professors at the junior college and community college level typically teach introductory classes in engineering to first and second year students. Community college professors may also serve as academic advisors for those with an interest to pursue engineering as a major at a four-year college. Many of these teachers work full-time, and teach about five classes per term.

How can I become a university engineering professor?

At the university level, engineering faculties are typically comprised of several separate departments or programs, which may or may not include programs in biochemical engineering, civil engineering, environmental engineering, computer engineering or mechanical engineering.

University engineering professors must hold a PhD in engineering, which means that they have completed several years of graduate coursework in engineering, written one or more field exams in their area of specialization, and have written and defended a dissertation on a topic related to engineering.

Experience working as an engineer is also typically desired or required to assume a position at a university. Like all university professors, engineering professors are expected to divide their time between research, teaching and service. This means that in addition to teaching about three to four courses per term at the undergraduate or graduate levels, they are also often engaged in:

  • Recruiting, training, and supervising graduate students as thesis or doctorate advisors
  • Carrying out research, and working with engineering students as research assistants
  • Publishing their work in recognized journals in the field (such as the Engineering Journal)
  • Contributing to the governance of their program and the broader university
  • Serving as a consultant for businesses

As with many university professor positions, obtaining a permanent position at a school is not a guarantee. Many graduates enter the teaching field as an assistant or associate professor, sometimes teaching courses at more than one learning institution. Full-time professors aspire to reach tenure status, which means they are guaranteed employment at a university, and benefit from a position that grants a higher level of job security. It can take more than seven years to qualify for tenure.

What is the compensation for engineer teachers?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the median salaries for engineering majors who became teachers and professors in 2014 (including those who taught classes related to chemical-, civil-, electrical-, industrial-, and mechanical engineering) were as follows:

  • Elementary and middle school teachers – $53,760 – $54,940
  • High school teachers – $56,310
  • Postsecondary teachers – $94,130

The overall salaries of engineering teachers vary according to a range of factors that include their place of employment, years of experience, and geographic location. For example, the BLS reported that the following states (with annual mean salaries) paid the most money to engineering educators within a postsecondary environment: Oregon ($122,610), Minnesota ($119,000), Kentucky ($118,960), Massachusetts ($118,360), and California ($114,760).

Although colleges, universities and professional schools employ the majority of engineering educators, it is not an industry that pays the highest salaries for the occupation. Engineering teachers hired by business schools/ computer and management training agencies pay an average mean wage of $132,320, as opposed to the $104,660 salary earned within the college/university sector. Other top-paying industries for the engineering teacher profession include junior colleges ($83,450) and technical/trade schools ($55,360).

What is the job outlook for engineer teachers?

Engineering falls under a category of professions that school districts and the government are especially concerned with boosting interest, college majors, and qualified employees to work in the field. The engineering field is of importance to the United States because the field contributes to U.S. industry on the whole, including manufacturing, high-tech companies, and national security. With many retiring professionals in the field, there is an increased demand to hire educators who are qualified to teach the coming wave of aspiring engineers.

Charles M. Vest, who spoke on the subject of Engineers: The Next Generation for an annual meeting of the National Academy of Engineering, also pointed out the number of engineering graduates has “pretty much been stagnant since the mid-1980s.” Additionally, he stated that 50 percent of engineering students tend to leave the field during their university years.

Because of this, the opportunities, options, incentives, financial assistance and job placement efforts geared towards future engineer teachers make it easier for individuals to pursue and enter the field. For example, STEM Teacher Pathways provide competitive grants that help schools recruit, prepare, and place effective and highly efficient STEM teachers in high-need schools.

Geographic location and school district need also plays a role in the number of job opportunities awaiting engineer teachers. For example, the U.S. Department of Education identified Maryland as a state experiencing a shortage of educators able to teach Technology/Engineering in some of their school districts for the 2015-2016 academic year.

Teachers who fit a specific need, such as being able to teach students with special needs; possessing bi-lingual skills; or fitting particular criteria, such as having a culturally-diverse background, often qualify for a greater number of job opportunities in high schools.

Females and African American males who teach engineering are especially in high demand because they are able to serve as role models for a demographic of students that typically do not have adequate representation within most school systems.

For instance, according to an article published by ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers), while the number of female engineering students is now about 18 percent to 20 percent (compared to the 5.8% of women in engineering during the early 1980s), more improvement is still needed to increase interest and numbers. For this reason, opportunities for women specifically to earn a degree in engineering and find employment are also becoming increasingly abundant.

In conclusion, becoming an engineering teacher is a career choice that best accommodates individuals with an interest in math, science, and industry. Since the field falls in line with the wide-sweeping movement to increase the number of STEM professionals in the United States, opportunities to earn a degree, pay for education and find job openings, means that it is currently easier and more profitable to expand upon an interest to pursue a career in engineering.

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