Explore the career requirements for high school physics teachers. Get the facts about education and licensure requirements, salary and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you.

What Is a High School Physics Teacher?

High school physics teachers provide instruction in physics for students between grades nine and twelve. In introductory physics courses, teachers develop curriculum around topics such as forces, electricity, energy and waves. They usually deliver information through a combination of lectures, problem sets and lab assignments. For juniors and seniors, physics teachers may provide preparation for standardized tests, such as the AP Physics exams. In addition, high school teachers may support students by sponsoring a physics club or writing college recommendation letters. The following chart gives you an overview about a career as a high school physics teacher.

Degree Required Bachelor’s degree
Education Field of Study Physics or secondary education
Key Responsibilities Prepare lesson plans for lectures and labs; teach lessons; conduct labs; grade student work and tests; communicate with parents
Licensure and/or Certification All states require public school teachers to be licensed or certified
Job Growth (2020-2030) 8% growth (for all high school teachers)*
Median Salary (2020) $62,870 (for all high school teachers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Education Do I Need to Become a High School Physics Teacher?

In most cases, to be a high school teacher you need at least a bachelor’s degree in education. To serve as a physics teacher, you may be required to have specific training in physics and other areas of science. Some schools may require you to teach other science disciplines in addition to teaching physics. You may wish to take separate courses to prepare for the Praxis I and II exams if they are necessary in the region where you wish to teach; these may include subject-specific science testing.

Are There Licensing or Certification Requirements?

Most states have teacher-licensing requirements, which are handled by the State Board of Education. You may be offered different licensing options based upon where and whom you teach, your education or your intended career path. In many states, you can get a temporary, preliminary or professional license. Some states may have different license options for if you earned your degree in another state or intend to teach high school students in particular. Most states require testing, meeting education requirements, background checks and continuing education for licensing. Certification is optional, but may help you prove your skills in physics and science. National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification is recognized in all states (www.nbpts.org). The science certification option for adolescence and young adulthood is for high school teachers and covers various areas of science.

What Are My Job Duties?

Your general duties as a teacher are to create lesson plans, develop testing materials, keep student records and monitor student progress. You may offer tutoring to students who are falling behind or work with advanced students through special programs to help develop their interest in physics. You may have other duties not related to the classroom, such as monitoring hallways, handling student behavior problems or serving as a lunch monitor. Your duties relate directly to physics include creating experiments, demonstrating basic principles and encouraging students to explore the topic in-depth through research projects. You may help students find physics-related college programs and act as a reference for them or otherwise assist their career-path planning.

What Is My Potential Salary?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that all secondary school teachers earned a median annual wage of $62,870 as of May 2020 (www.bls.gov). Employment opportunities may be greater, hiring requirements may be lower or salaries may be higher in high-need areas where there is a shortage of teachers. High school teachers can also find jobs teaching related subjects like math and chemistry. In addition, it may be possible to teach basic physical science at the middle school level. Elementary school teaching positions are also available for individuals who want to teach a variety of subjects to children between kindergarten and fifth grade. All of these jobs require teachers to hold a bachelor’s degree and earn a teaching license if they want to work in a public school.

Become a High School Physics Teacher

Degree Level Bachelor’s degree
Degree Field Physics with a teacher prep program or an education minor
Licensure State licensure required to teach in public schools
Experience Student teaching (usually acquired with teacher prep program)
Key Skills Confidence; concise communication skills; proficiency with Website maintenance, online discussion board management, and education software; maintain science materials, equipment, visual aids
Salary $53,990 (2020 median for high school physics teachers)*

Source: *PayScale.com High school physics teachers are responsible for imparting an understanding of the physical universe and its properties to their students. This includes topics like thermodynamics and requires proficiency in upper-level mathematics. Additionally, teachers are responsible for various administrative tasks and review processes, which may include initiating student conferences, designing curriculum, and grading homework and exams. Working as a high school teacher might be frustrating when dealing with unmotivated or unruly students. Many teachers feel quite rewarded, however, when they are able to observe students’ progress. High school physics teachers usually earn a bachelor’s degree in a teacher preparation program with a major in physics. Licensing is required to teach in the public schools. Before being hired, a teacher must pass a background check. It should also be noted that there is a shortage of physics teachers in the United States, according to the American Physical Society. High school physics teachers must also have a few key skills. These include concise communication skills and proficiency with website maintenance, online discussion board management, and education software. Physics teachers should also maintain science materials, equipment, and visual aids. According to PayScale.com, high school teachers earned a median salary of $53,990 in 2020.

Bachelor’s Degree

The first step to becoming a high school physics teacher is to earn a bachelor’s degree in physics (or a related field), and to complete a teaching preparation program. Private charter schools may have less rigorous requirements than public schools in regards to completion of a teacher preparation program and certification. Teacher preparation programs generally include several education and psychology courses in addition to internships and student teaching experiences. Aspiring teachers should also complete an internship and participate in student teaching opportunities. While student teaching is generally a requirement and a part of the teacher preparation program, there may be additional fieldwork available. Students should take advantage of any fieldwork opportunities to gain valuable experience. Aspiring teachers can also tutor while going to school. Students who meet minimum GPA standards and have achieved a minimum grade in specific courses can usually apply to become a tutor for those particular subjects. This option offers the student additional development opportunities and looks great on a resume.

Initial Teaching Credentials

Exact requirements for teaching high school physics vary by state. Anyone wanting to work in a public school is required to be licensed by the state in which they intend to teach. In order to become licensed, most states require PRAXIS II or PRAXIS III test scores to be submitted in conjunction with transcripts showing completion of a bachelor’s degree and a teacher preparation program. Background checks and confirmation of citizenship are also usually required. For high school physics teachers, the PRAXIS II includes a subject specific exam on physics.

Obtain Permanent Credentials

Obtaining permanent licensure commonly requires continuing education or professional development courses. Teachers may be need to complete a master’s degree program, take additional tests and exams, and meet minimum teaching experience requirements. Initial licensure time periods vary, but can last between three and five years. Initial licenses cannot be renewed or extended, thus it is vital that all necessary requirements are fulfilled within the allotted time period in order to obtain permanent licensure.

Consider a Graduate Degree

Once a teacher is hired, many states require completion of a master’s degree as a prerequisite to obtaining permanent licensure. After acquiring initial licensure and beginning to teach, teachers can take a master’s degree program that is delivered online and is structured around their full time working schedule. By taking relevant development and improvement courses, teachers stay current regarding the latest technologies and practices used in their profession. In summary, high school physics teachers need at least a bachelor’s degree in a teacher preparation program as well as student teaching experience and state licensure. physics-teacher-certification Why does an apple fall to the ground from a tree rather than float across the air, the way an astronaut’s pen would if he or she lets go of it while traveling through space? A physics teacher can tell you—and a whole lot more about how and why the universe works the way it does. Physics is the study of different forms of energy and matter and the way they interact with each other through space and time. In this way, scientists use physics to explain how everything in the universe interacts with everything else. Without an understanding of physics, there is no space travel, no skyscrapers, and even no Internet!

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The breadth and depth of physics can therefore be quite intimidating to students, many of whom have been known to quake at the mere mention of the subject. So it takes a hearty and dedicated person to become a physics teacher. The pay-off is that physics is fundamental to our understanding of how the world works, and consequently, physics teachers are among the most valuable additions to any student’s education. After all, none other than Albert Einstein, arguably the greatest contributor to modern thought, said, «Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.» The physics teacher holds the key to our understanding of the universe; therefore, the physics teacher is a student’s passport to both the complexities and wonder of science, and one of the most essential components of an effective high school faculty. Certification as a physics teacher can open the door to this rewarding career.

What is Physics Teaching Certification?

Certification is the process by which aspiring teachers are evaluated for their ability to teach their subject. It is necessary to become a certified physics teacher because teaching is a position of public trust. Getting certified to teach physics is also important because physics is a highly complex subject and school districts want to make sure that their physics teachers are able to demonstrate not just a competency in the subject but also a mastery of it. What is the difference between theoretical and experimental physics? Though all physicists use both theory and practice, there are some differences between the ways physicists practice the field:

  • Theoretical physics are the “thinkers” who focus on the principles that underlie the properties of the physical world.
  • Experimental physicists are the “makers” who conduct experiments to gather data

The certification process therefore insures that those who become physics teachers can uphold the standards of their profession and serve their students, who may go on to college to study in any of the science fields, become medical practitioners, or even study philosophy. Though certification requirements vary by state, those who wish to become certified physics teachers generally must complete at least a bachelor’s degree in physics or related science discipline from an accredited college or university. Although it is not always required, completion of an approved preparatory education program can be the most effective way to ensure that all education requirements have been met. Following the completion of these academic credentials, aspiring physics teachers usually have to become certified by a state board of education. For those who decide to become teachers after college graduation, they can earn certification through an alternative program. Once that is achieved, aspiring physics teachers’ academic qualifications must be assessed through either a Praxis or state board examination. Following successful completion of the state examination requirements, and sometimes the submission of letters of recommendation, transcripts, and demonstrations of teaching experience in teacher-training programs, a state licensure or certification to teach will be issued. In many instances, certification in one state is governed by a reciprocity agreement with other states, which means teachers can transfer their certifications if they move. Learn more about the physics teaching certification requirements in your own state.

What do Physics Teachers do?

As with all varieties of teaching, physics teachers are responsible for:

  • maintaining classroom control and discipline
  • creating and delivering lesson plans
  • creating and assessing homework, exams and other kinds of student work
  • working with colleagues, administrators, and parents to ensure good educational outcomes for students
  • maintaining current knowledge of both the field of physics and new educational methods
  • ensuring that their classes fulfill larger curriculum goals, which in many instances are provided by state or school guidelines.

However, physics teachers are also responsible for knowing about a wide variety of topics in the field. For example, physics teachers must be able to explain that “matter” makes up all the physical substances that take up space in our world, such as our cell phones, cars, clothing, and the food we eat. Physics teachers must also be able to demonstrate how matter can change, as in when we eat and digest food. These are the properties and principles of matter. Physicists Who Changed the World Aside from Newton and Einstein, these physicists have also produced knowledge that has improved society:

  • Galileo Galilei: perfected the telescope
  • Nicola Tesla: invented AC power
  • Marie Curie: discovered radium, which is used to kill cancer cells
  • Guglielmo Marconi: invented wireless telegraphy, which led to the creation of radios.

In addition, physics teachers have the opportunity to explain some of the most revolutionary moments in the way scientists have discovered how the universe functions. Sir Isaac Newton’s discovery and explanation of how gravity works through his law of universal gravitation completely altered the way people understood the forces of nature. Einstein’s two theories of relativity explained the relationship between space and time in such a radically new way that the traditional foundations of philosophy, religion, and all our belief systems were challenged and, in some cases, abandoned. By combining explanation and demonstration—the basics of the scientific method—physics teachers introduce some of the most important questions about nature and human existence to their students. This information can open the eyes of high school students to the larger world in which they exist. One of the primary ways that physics teachers communicate information about these subjects is through classroom experiments that demonstrate the scientific principles. Physics teachers can use a wide variety of materials for classroom experiments, including everyday objects available around the house or school. For example, physics teachers use lab experiments such as these to engage students and help them learn how theories actually work in practice. 1. Bucket of Water: Physics teachers can illustrate Newton’s First Law of Motion with only a partially filled bucket of water. The pail should have a strong handle so that you can swing it in a vertical circle. The centripetal and centrifugal forces will keep the water from spilling out of the pail. While not as exciting as building rockets or volcanoes, the Bucket of Water exercise allows students to engage in hands-on activities that helps them learn the essential principles of physics. 2. Static Electricity Balloon: Everyone has done this at birthday parties: you take a balloon, rub it against your hair, and then stick the balloon on the wall, where by some magical process actually sticks to the wall. What most people don’t realize is that this isn’t magic at all: rather, it’s a great way to illustrate one the most basic elements of physics, the creation of energy through electricity. When you rub the balloon against your hair, you create an imbalance between negative and positive charges in objects. The positive charge created in the balloon is attracted to the wall’s electrons, so they stick together. These are just two of the ways that physics teachers can teach through dynamic and exciting hands-on experiments in their classes. The opportunities to be creative are nearly endless, which makes teaching physics one of the most exciting fields of education.

Why Physics Teachers are Important

Physics teachers play a fundamental role in a student’s education. They not only help students learn about this important field of science, they provide opportunities for students to develop critical thinking skills that are valuable in any future career. However, one of the most important things high school physics teachers do is provide an important introduction to science that students can use as a foundation on which to build a career that will make important contributions to society. Physics is such a wide-ranging field that students have many different career options:

  • Physics plays a fundamental role in medicine, specifically in areas that involve the diagnoses and treatment of diseases.
  • Geologists and marine scientists who work on environmental conservation and the management of natural resources use physics.
  • Physics students can become engineers and architects, prized for their abilities to apply physical principles to create buildings, computer programs, and new industrial products.
  • Business and industry value physics majors for their abilities to translate abstract theories into practical applications. A fun example of this was in the film “Margin Call,” in which a corporate investor with a Ph.D. in physics saved a company from collapsing during a financial crisis.

The Physics Teacher Shortage

Cornell University recently highlighted the fact that the greatest teacher shortage in secondary education is in physics, which is one of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields of research and instruction. In addition, among those who do teach physics, the majority are not actually qualified in the subject. This means that there are fewer students taking physics today, and that even those students who do take physics classes frequently do not get the appropriate instruction in the subject and fail to develop the necessary skills to go on to study STEM fields in college. The effects of this have national ramifications. The federal government has identified this severe lag in scientific and technological knowledge as one of the primary factors affecting the growth and competitiveness of the United States economy. Therefore, science teaching is viewed by many as the key to expanding the national economy in the Information Age, because so many careers depend upon an understanding of physics. These careers include software engineering, nanotechnology, scientific writing and editing, air traffic control, oceanography, environmental conservation, communication technology, robotics, and a variety of government positions. As a result of this severe shortage, physics has been identified as a “high need” position in American schools today. The shortage of qualified physics teachers means that there are bound to be many job opportunities opening up, especially as new education programs expand to increase student skills and raise student science knowledge to compete on an international level. There are now a variety of incentives for becoming a certified physics teacher, and some groups, such as the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), offer teaching materials, conferences and research opportunities, and a mentoring program to assist new physics teachers with any questions or problems that they experience in their first years as teachers. For those who pursue teacher certification in physics, the rewards are multi-faceted. First, physics teachers help students develop high levels of critical and analytical reasoning, amass a considerable body of knowledge about the physical world, and prepare to major in a STEM field in college. Second, physics teachers, by training generations of students to think scientifically, also contribute to the continued growth and strength of the national economy. All in all, this makes physics teaching one of the most valued careers in education.

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