Getting Started with Teaching

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Perhaps getting your postdoctoral degree has not left you with a burning desire to work behind the bench but has, instead, given you a calling to teach what you have learned to others. There are many outlets for this kind of calling. The person most likely to be successful as a postdoctoral teacher is one who likes public speaking, enjoys the routine hours that class schedules allow and who has some experience teaching in the past.

Teaching positions are available primarily in teaching colleges, community colleges, public secondary schools and private secondary schools. Let’s look at each option; you can decide for yourself which opportunity fits you the best. Private Teaching Colleges: These are privately-funded colleges, like Amherst, Swarthmore, and Mills College. They offer a lesser research base and your primary focus as a professor will be that of teaching. Your goal in this area is to obtain an assistant professorship in order to advance to a tenured position. In order to maintain a tenured position, you will need to do some research and publish your results but the scope of the research will be less than that of a large university.

Nevertheless, you should be prepared at the interview to talk about research you’ve done, what you’ve published and which areas of research you are currently interested in. Your teaching schedule would change according to need and you would need to apply what you know in the sciences to a teaching syllabus appropriate to different student types and to the level at which you will be teaching. If you teach science, you may need to develop a laboratory component as part of your coursework. Private colleges generally post positions on their website. There is a directory of private colleges on Yahoo’s Private College Directory. From there, you can search for faculty positions at hundreds of sites that are organized by state. Assistant professorships can be achieved without having to add an advanced teaching degree. Most just require a PhD in the field you are teaching and a demonstrated willingness and skill at teaching. Previous work as a teacher’s assistant (TA) would always be helpful. Both private and community colleges (below) will likely require you to teach a class as a way of demonstrating an aptitude for teaching. The exact requirements will vary from college to college; however, don’t be surprised when you are asked to demonstrate your teaching abilities in front of a live class. Community Colleges: These positions are similar to private colleges.

The pay depends on your level of experience and on the position available. Not all positions are tenured. You may only find a position that is guaranteed for a year or two. In that case, you would be able to test your teaching skills while knowing that you’re gaining valuable experience which can take you to the next level at a different college in the future. Yahoo also has lists of community and state colleges and their openings. Most require a PhD-level applicant; no teaching degree is required although teaching experience is encouraged. You can also choose to get a college-level teaching certificate. It usually involves only one or a few courses with emphasis on creating syllabi, lesson plans and developing teaching techniques.

The certificate will show your willingness and ability to teach at the college level; it may provide the edge that will not only make your job easier but will likely land you the position over other potential candidates. Public Secondary Schools: Public high schools offer positions in teaching science, mathematics or health-related subjects. PhDs are always welcome. In all states, teaching in a public school requires a license in the state in which you wish to teach. If you are teaching in areas of science and math, however, some states offer an alternative licensure process that bypasses the requirement that the teacher has educational training, particularly in rural areas. Check with your state’s teacher licensure requirements to see if such a program is offered. Regular licensure would eventually be given to you if you taught secondary school while taking courses in education in your spare time.

In addition, emergency licenses can be given to individuals working in geographical areas that can’t recruit science or math teachers for their secondary school. Teaching certificates are available through online universities such as Drexel University and the University of Phoenix-Online. The coursework is not extensive and are specifically designed for graduates in math and sciences to be able to obtain licensure in your state. The website, has a list of several places where you can get certified to become a secondary education teacher. Before investing your time and money, however, it helps to find out what the requirements are for teaching licensure in your state of choice. Private Secondary Schools: Generally, the income you can receive from a private secondary school is less than that of a public school.

The requirement that you have a teaching license, however, is not often necessary. This means that you could get a job with just your postdoctoral degree alone. Anything you do that shows your interest in teaching will definitely help your overall chances of getting a teaching position in a private school. The website,, provides a listing of all private secondary schools by zip code and state. Several of the schools are directly linked and can be accessed for employment opportunities. Whether you began your educational process thinking "I want to be a teacher" or not, there are very attractive opportunities for you to give back to youths and to provide them with the love of the sciences that brought you into the field in the first place.