What is the Best Degree for Becoming a High School Chemistry Teacher?

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Recent years have seen major changes to the way schools are funded, teachers are trained, and students are tested. There are more specialized requirements than ever for new teachers, especially when they seek to teach just a single subject at the secondary level. For those looking to become high school chemistry teachers, the degree required will vary by state. Even with these varying requirements, there are a few degrees that will be broadly applicable to the field and considered acceptable verification of a new teacher’s skills and educational talents.

Bachelor’s Degrees: Chemistry and Education are Definite Must-Haves

The main difference between each state when hiring a new teacher is the emphasis on content knowledge versus pedagogical knowledge learned while in an undergraduate program. Some states are content to let their chemistry teachers pursue a position even if they didn’t take a single education course during their time at a university. They will usually require the new teacher to pass state teacher licensing requirements based on their content knowledge. But they won’t require a specific education degree in order to land the position.

However, in an increasing number of states on the west coast and in the northeastern part of the country, teachers can only sit for licensure examinations if they’ve pursued a combined program in chemistry and education. Usually, these programs are called either “Secondary Education: Chemistry Concentration” or simply “Chemistry Education.” Schools will need to certify that a student’s program meets this requirement before final teacher licensure can be obtained.

Graduate Programs: Many States Require Work Beyond a Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s degree is often a solid foundation for work in the educational field. However, many states now require their teachers to complete graduate-level studies such as a Master’s in Education in order to maintain their teacher certification. Typically, teachers will be awarded a “basic certification” if they complete a relevant undergraduate course of study and pass the state’s licensing exam with the required minimum score. After that, they have a small window of time to pursue a graduate degree in a field related either to their content area or to the education industry at large.

Aspiring chemistry teachers who have already completed a “chemistry education” program will likely want to bolster their content knowledge and pursue an all-chemistry graduate program. Those who majored only in chemistry at the undergraduate level, and did not take any education courses, will want to pursue a graduate degree in something like:

  • curriculum development
  • instructional methods
  • school administration
  • or another field

This will create a more well-rounded application that schools will look upon favorably during the hiring process.

At the end of these graduate programs, aspiring teachers in states that require graduate-level work will receive a license known as a “continuing certification.” They will not have to meet any future requirements to keep that certification as long as they maintain full attendance at professional development meetings held throughout the school year.

Two Great Ways to Land a Career in the Field

Students can complete an undergraduate education program or pair undergraduate chemistry studies with a specific state’s teacher licensing requirements. When picking an undergraduate course of study, however, students should always be mindful of specific state requirements and how their chosen program might play into long-term teacher certification programs.

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