In the popular imagination, chemistry may conjure images of glass test tubes full of strange liquids and scientists wearing white lab coats. It’s up to chemistry teachers to remind us that there’s far more to it than that. Chemicals are everywhere: They form the building blocks of matter that make up everything in the universe, including our bodies and every part of the environment we occupy.
Chemistry teachers help their students understand the structure and scientific properties of matter. If you have a real passion for chemistry, a career as a chemistry teacher can be yours if you’re willing to commit the necessary time and effort.
This guide will help get you started on that path. You’ll learn about the prerequisite education, likely income, and advantages and disadvantages of a career as a chemistry teacher. Browse through the article or use the following links to skip forward to what you’re looking for:
|High school chemistry teacher||Community college chemistry teacher||Four-year college/university chemistry professor|
|Minimum education||Bachelor’s degree; master’s preferred||Master’s degree; doctorate preferred||Doctorate|
|Estimated annual income||$57,200 (BLS)
$65,840 (Houston Chronicle)
$81,460 (Houston Chronicle)
Chemistry teachers instruct their students on the composition, structure and properties of matter. They show students the right ways to examine how materials interact — with each other and with energy.
The day-to-day responsibilities of chemistry teachers include lesson plan content, classroom management and grading student performance. They may also spend time outside of class answering student questions and providing one-on-one guidance.
Chemistry teachers work in high schools, community colleges and universities. Some work online in distance-learning programs.
At the university level, chemistry teachers are called professors. In addition to teaching, chemistry professors conduct research and scientific experiments in a laboratory, and review and analyze data from other labs. They publish their research findings in books and scientific journals.
Full-time chemistry teachers from high school through the university level typically enjoy paid holidays and vacations in addition to retirement benefits and health insurance. Part-time and adjunct teachers, by contrast, often earn less pay and get few benefits.
Someone who is:
Check out this video as you think more about becoming a chemistry teacher.
There are many kinds of chemistry teachers. Throughout this guide, we’re focusing on three main subtypes within this career: chemistry teachers in high schools, chemistry instructors in community colleges, and chemistry professors at universities and four-year colleges.
These teachers educate teens at public and private high schools.Continue reading to learn more about high school chemistry teachers
High school chemistry teachers instruct ninth- through 12th-grade students in the study of the composition, structure and properties of matter. On a typical day, a high school chemistry teacher will be:
High school chemistry teachers typically teach two to four classes of students throughout the day. Classes may last 45 to 90 minutes. Between classes, they have time to prepare lessons, grade student work and tests, and answer student questions about homework. They are usually expected to teach nine or 10 months of the year, with summers off and breaks throughout the school year.
Many schools assign students to classes based on their abilities, so chemistry teachers need to modify their lessons to match students’ aptitudes. Advanced-placement and honors chemistry classes require teachers to instruct their students at a more rigorous academic level that’s comparable to college courses.
A bachelor’s degree in chemistry or another physical science qualifies you to teach chemistry in most U.S. high schools. High school chemistry teachers also need a teaching credential that meets state standards, unless you work for a private school where a state-issued certificate is not required. And if you want a higher salary and better job opportunities, pursue a master’s degree in chemistry or an education-related subject.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates the average annual salary for all high school teachers, and career-related websites offer average salaries for high school chemistry teachers:
The average salary outcome of a chemistry teaching degree is $54,256.
It helps to think through the positive and negative aspects of becoming a high school chemistry teacher.
Chemistry teachers who work at local or regional community colleges are sometimes called instructors.Continue reading to learn more about community college chemistry instructors
Chemistry instructors teach their students about the behavior and properties of matter and energy in courses that focus on subdivisions of the college-level chemistry curriculum. For example, a community college chemistry instructor may teach General Chemistry (also known as Chemistry 101) or Organic Chemistry. They may also teach chemistry courses for non-science majors or courses designed for students lacking an academic background in chemistry.
Regardless of the courses they teach, all chemistry instructors have a similar set of job duties:
Most courses have two sections: lectures and laboratories. During lecture sections, chemistry instructors speak at length about a subtopic of chemistry. They may also answer questions or lead in-class discussions to further student understanding. During laboratory sections, students conduct experiments in a lab that’s related to the topic of their lectures. Chemistry instructors oversee student work during lab sections by answering questions and providing one-on-one guidance.
At minimum, community college chemistry instructors must have a master’s degree in chemistry or a similar field. Getting hired as full-time faculty at a community college can be very competitive, so you may need to have a doctorate in chemistry. In some cases, you may be able to combine an advanced degree in chemistry with an advanced degree in an education-related field to maximize your employment opportunities as a community college chemistry instructor.
Here are a few estimates of what you might earn as a full-time chemistry instructor at a community college:
Full-time faculty at community colleges generally command higher salaries than adjunct instructors. Adjunct instructors are paid by the course and don’t always receive benefits. For more about the difference between full-time faculty and adjunct instructors, check out our article on community college instructors.
These are the key advantages and disadvantages of becoming a community college chemistry instructor:
Chemistry professors teach courses, conduct research and publish academic papers and books.Continue reading to learn more about university-level chemistry professors
Chemistry professors teach college-level courses in chemistry at universities and other four-year institutions of higher education. Physics professors usually specialize in a subdiscipline such as organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, chemical engineering or biochemistry.
Chemistry professors conduct experiments, analysis, and research in their chosen subdiscipline and publish their discoveries in academic papers and books. Let’s take a deeper look at the research, teaching and administrative responsibilities of a chemistry professor.
A chemistry professor’s research duties usually include:
Chemistry professors’ teaching duties usually include:
Professors lead teams of teaching assistants who help with many key teaching tasks. Chemistry professors use their discretion in deciding how closely to manage their assistants, whose duties include:
As members of a college faculty, chemistry professors may have administrative responsibilities that include:
Check out this video to learn more about the role of a chemistry professor:
Gaining a professorship at a university or four-year college can be a long, difficult task. At minimum, aspiring chemistry professors must earn a doctorate demonstrating a commitment to research and inquiry in the field of chemistry. Getting a full-time faculty position at a college or university also requires that you publish original research and earn the respect and admiration of your colleagues.
Chemistry professors usually earn significantly more than their counterparts at high schools and community colleges. Here are some annual salary estimates for chemistry professors:
Consider both the advantages and disadvantages of becoming a chemistry professor at a four-year college or university.
If you are serious about becoming a chemistry teacher, start thinking about how to improve your career prospects and develop your skills and connections. Consider seeking out a teaching internship or research fellowship in chemistry at the undergraduate or graduate level. Getting real-world experience in a chemistry lab or classroom will be invaluable for helping you get a job in the future.
You should also consider getting involved in one of the many chemistry-focused research and professional organizations including:
These groups will keep you up-to-date on the latest advances in chemistry and give you access to networking opportunities.
If you plan to pursue a career in academia, your ultimate goal will be to obtain tenure as a chemistry professor. The publishing requirements for tenure are exacting, with most prestigious journals accepting only 10 percent of papers submitted. This means you need a strong passion and commitment to original research. If successful, you may also advance to department head, which would mean performing more administrative duties and/or relaying the concerns of the Chemistry Department to the university at large.
To become a chemistry teacher at any level, you should seriously consider pursuing a master’s degree or a doctorate. While you may be able to find a job teaching high school chemistry without an advanced degree, many jobs in chemistry education and research require a higher degree.
With additional education or certification, chemistry teachers may become librarians, instructional coordinators, assistant principals, principals or an educational administrator at a college or university.
Librarian: A master’s degree in library science (MLS) is generally required for employment. Some states also require librarians to pass a standardized test.
Instructional coordinator: Instructional coordinators generally need to complete a master’s degree related to a subject like curriculum and instruction, and they may be required to have a teaching or education administrator license.
Academic advisor: With a master’s degree in an education-related field, you can transition into being an academic advisor at either the K-12 or college/university level.
Education consultant: Chemistry teachers can become education consultants if they want to tackle challenges in a variety of schools and education systems. You’ll probably need an advanced degree in an education-related subject.
Education policy analyst: With an advanced degree in an education-related subject, chemistry teachers can become policy analysts and examine big-picture issues affecting education nationwide.
School principal: Chemistry teachers wishing to become a school principal should seriously consider earning a master’s degree in an education-related field. Most states also require public school principals to be licensed as school administrators.
Educational administrator: Depending upon the position, either a bachelor’s or master’s degree may be required. For a higher-level position such as dean or president, a master’s degree or doctorate in educational leadership may be required.
The web makes it easy for us to stay connected to prominent physics scholars and educators. Here is a list of our favorite websites and Twitter handles, in no particular order.