Chemistry Teacher: Job, Education and Salary Information
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:
At-a-glance: chemistry teachers
|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 teacher job description
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.
Who makes a good chemistry teacher?
Someone who is:
- Analytical and curious by nature
- Serious and studious in temperament
- Interested in understanding the basic building blocks of the physical world
- Dedicated to the scientific method
- Patient and resourceful
- Good at motivating and inspiring students
- Organized and careful about time management
- Devoted to learning
- Able to express ideas precisely in writing and in oral presentations
- Highly knowledgeable about chemistry
- Qualified with an advanced degree in chemistry or a field related to education
Interested in becoming a chemistry teacher?
Check out this video as you think more about becoming a chemistry teacher.
Different types of chemistry teachers
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.
High school chemistry teachers
These teachers educate teens at public and private high schools.Continue reading to learn more about high school chemistry teachers
- What high school chemistry teachers do
- Educational and certification requirements
- Income projections
- Pros and cons of being a high school chemistry teacher
What high school chemistry teachers do
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:
- Giving lectures
- Guiding classroom discussions
- Conducting laboratory demonstrations
- Supervising students’ lab experiments
- Leading question-and-answer sessions
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.
Education and certification requirements
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:
- BLS: $57,200 (average of all high school teacher salaries)
- Glassdoor.com: $52,450
- SalaryGenius.com: $44,200
- Neuvoo.com: $58,530
Pros and cons of being a high school chemistry teacher
It helps to think through the positive and negative aspects of becoming a high school chemistry teacher.
- Inspire the curiosity of young students on an exciting subject
- Many full-time jobs come with good benefits
- Potential to earn job security via tenure
- You may need only a bachelor’s degree
- Focus exclusively on teaching and students, rather than research and publication
- Frustrating when dealing with unmotivated or disruptive students
- Not as prestigious as a professorship
- Lower pay than some other chemistry-related jobs
- No opportunity for original research
Community college chemistry instructors
Chemistry teachers who work at local or regional community colleges are sometimes called instructors.Continue reading to learn more about community college chemistry instructors
- What community college chemistry instructors do
- Educational and certification requirements
- Income projections
- Pros and cons of being a community college chemistry instructor
What community college chemistry instructors do
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:
- Lecturing undergraduates on topics such as organic compounds, concentration calculations, gas laws, thermochemistry, bonding, molecular geometry, unit cell calculations and proper laboratory techniques
- Supervising student laboratory work
- Developing course materials such as a syllabus, tests, homework, handouts and lab report formats
- Grading students’ laboratory work, lab reports, exams and quizzes
- Holding regular office hours to answer questions and provide guidance
- Keeping up-to-date on current literature in chemistry journals/reviews
- Going to professional conferences
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.
Educational and certification requirements
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:
- BLS: $75,060
- Houston Chronicle: $65,840
- Salary.com: $58,413
- PayScale.com: $47,552
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.
Pros and cons of being a community college chemistry instructor
These are the key advantages and disadvantages of becoming a community college chemistry instructor:
- Rewarding to educate many first-generation college students, often from immigrant families
- Focus on teaching exclusively
- Flexible hours and opportunities to take time off
- Little opportunity for research or publication
- Lower pay than professors at four-year colleges and universities
- Many teaching positions at community colleges are adjunct, meaning lower pay, few benefits and little job security
Chemistry professors at four-year colleges and universities
Chemistry professors teach courses, conduct research and publish academic papers and books.Continue reading to learn more about university-level chemistry professors
- What chemistry professors do
- Educational and certification requirements
- Income projections
- Pros and cons of being a chemistry professor
What chemistry professors do
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:
- Contributing original research to the academic field of chemistry and enhancing the university’s reputation through publications
- Developing hypotheses and theories
- Testing hypotheses/theories with laboratory experiments and/or simulations
- Conducting quantitative analysis of laboratory and/or simulation results
- Revising and further developing theories based on quantitatives analyses and other data
- Applying for grants to gain external funding from foundations, governments and businesses
- Establishing and leading a team of research/teaching assistants
- Writing articles, books or other original materials based on research findings
- Reading extensively to keep up with advances in chemistry
- Supervising graduate students’ research projects
Chemistry professors’ teaching duties usually include:
- Teaching introductory and/or general chemistry courses
- Teaching advanced chemistry courses in a chosen or assigned subdiscipline
- Creating and updating the curriculum and each course’s syllabus, content and instructional methods
- Delivering lectures on chemistry to undergraduate students
- Selecting and leading a team of teaching assistants
- Maintaining regular office hours to answer questions and provide guidance
- Advising students on appropriate coursework
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:
- Answering questions during or after lectures and labs
- Obtaining materials and supplies such as textbooks
- Assembling course materials such as homework assignments and handouts
- Supervising student research projects
- Grading students’ exams, quizzes, homework and lab reports
As members of a college faculty, chemistry professors may have administrative responsibilities that include:
- Participating in faculty evaluations, including providing input on the admission of new professors
- Mentoring new faculty members
- Serving on advisory boards, hiring committees and ad hoc committees
- Joining the Faculty Senate
- Taking part in commencement or other ceremonies
- Advising their department on the designation of learning outcomes, administrative measurements and student evaluation standards
- Collaborating with faculty colleagues and administrators in developing program standards/policies and selecting textbooks
Check out this video to learn more about the role of a chemistry professor:
Educational and certification requirements
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:
- BLS: $86,070
- Houston Chronicle: $81,460
- Salary.com: $95,814
Pros and cons of being a chemistry professor
Consider both the advantages and disadvantages of becoming a chemistry professor at a four-year college or university.
- Full benefits for health insurance and retirement
- Higher pay than most other chemistry educators
- Tenure-track position, with an opportunity for long-term job security
- Ample opportunities for research
- Publish your findings in prestigious journals and books
- Many students have a passion for learning and achievement
- May be able to take on a leadership role at a college or university
- Probably responsible for joining a committee and attending many extra meetings and professional events
- Can be frustrating to work within highly bureaucratic institutions like universities
- Academia can be highly competitive and exhausting, with a “publish-or-perish” norm
- Many years of advanced education are required
Professional development for chemistry teachers
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:
- American Association of Chemistry Teachers (AACT)
- National Science Teachers Association (NSTA)
- American Chemical Society (ACS)
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.
Benefits of continuing education
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.
Jobs for chemistry teachers beyond teaching
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.
Best of the web: our favorite chemistry teacher blogs, websites and Twitter handles
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.
Favorite chemistry websites and blogs
- The Challenges of Teaching High School Chemistry
- Chemistry World
- Picture It…Chemistry
- Master Organic Chemistry Blog
Favorite chemistry Twitter handles
- Jeff Charbonneau: @JeffCharbonneau
- Education in Chemistry magazine: @RSC_EiC
- David Prindle: @dprindle
- John Dexter: @MrJDexter
- Amanda Hardy: @AmandaChemist
- Compound Interest: @compoundchem
- Chemistry and Engineering News: @cenmag
- Dr. Tim Cuthbertson: @tcuthbertson