A Career in Physics Teaching

The Rewards of Physics Teaching

Teaching physics at the high school level can be a very rewarding experience. Physics teachers often work with the best and most highly motivated students. They spend their days helping students understand marvels of the physical universe.

Physics teachers see physics as a fundamental science. The technological applications of science that propel society are all based on physics. Biology, chemistry, environmental science, and earth & space science are all grounded in physics. By inspiring and preparing future scientists, high school physics teachers are able to “touch the future” in ways that few others can.

Getting a job as a physics teacher is not a problem for qualified candidates. Because physics teachers are in demand, landing a satisfying job and earning a good salary from the start is a real possibility.

What it Takes to Become a Physics Teacher

Not everyone has the “right stuff” to become a physics teacher. Becoming a physics teacher is hard work, and no one can long survive the process without solid intellectual abilities, substantial dedication, and lots of self-confidence.

To become a physics teacher a person should have a strong interest in science in general and a passion for physics in particular. Physics teachers are by nature curious and creative people. They see the laws of physics operating everywhere they look.

Physics teachers enjoy being around people. They like working with others, and are often consumed with a desire to share their love of science. They often desire to make a lasting impact on students and the world around them.

Making the Correct Career Choice

How does one arrive at a decision about whether or not to become a high school physics teacher? The answer is simple, “Learn from the success of others.” Talk with your parents or guardian, your physics teacher, and your school counselor. They will have some idea of your needs, interests, and abilities, and can help you to make a good career choice.

In making a career choice, look for clues from your own experiences. Who are the people you most admire? Are they teachers and scientists? What subjects do you find interesting? Have you taken and enjoyed science courses throughout your high school years? Are you a member in a science club? Have you participated in science competitions or field trips? Are your hobbies and readings science-related?

The answers to such questions can help you make a wise and rewarding career choice. If you answered “yes” to the above questions, a career in high school physics teaching just might be the correct choice for you.

Preparing for a Career in Physics Teaching

Preparing for a career in high school physics teaching requires a Bachelor’s degree. This includes completion of a 4-year teacher preparation sequence typically consisting of a physics teaching major, professional studies courses, and general education requirements. In most cases, your study of physics will require completion of courses such as a calculus-based introductory sequence, and intermediate level courses such as mechanics, electricity & magnetism, thermodynamics, optics, and quantum mechanics.

In Illinois, as elsewhere, you are strongly advised to take a broad range of science courses while in college. These courses would likely include astronomy, biology, chemistry, geology, and perhaps others. Courses in the history and philosophy of science are also recommended.

You might choose to spend your first year or two at a community college in preparation for transfer to a university. This can be an effective way of saving on expenses. If you choose this approach, be certain to confer with the physics teacher education coordinator at the institution where you plan to transfer. This can help save both time and money.

Some individuals who have already earned Bachelor's degrees in physics decide later in life to become high school physics teachers. There are several avenues open to them to earn their teaching certificate. They can either earn a second Bachelor's degree in physics teaching, or earn their certification be participating in an alternative certification program.


Illinois Secondary Science Certificates

In Illinois, teacher candidates who earn a Bachelor's degree in science and complete certification requirements will receive a secondary-level science teaching certificate. Each secondary-level science teaching certificate is associated with a designation. Certified teachers with the physics designation may teach any course in physics including introductory, honors, advanced, and advanced placement (B and C).

In Illinois, the secondary-level science certificate will allow the holder to teach any other course in high school science that does not require a pre-requisite course. This includes biological science, chemistry, earth & space science, and environmental science.

The Illinois secondary science teaching certificate has "reciprocity" with about 40 other states. That is, an Illinois teacher can move to most other states and still teach in their school systems with very little difficulty.

Approved Illinois Teacher Education Programs

Choose the university that will best serve your educational needs and interests. The coordinator of a teacher education program should be able to provide you with information that can help make your career and school choice easier. The coordinator also should be able to help you arrange a visit to preview the school's teacher education program and university campus.

The following Illinois institutions have cooperated with the ISAAPT to provide a program description (PDF) and a hyperlink describing the approved program for the preparation of high school physics teachers.

Augustana College
program description | web site

Chicago State University
program description | web site

Elmhurst College
program description | web site

Eastern Illinois University
program description | web site

Illinois State University
program description | web site

Lewis University
program description | web site

Northern Illinois University
program description | web site

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
program description | web site

Wheaton College
program description | web site

My high school physics teacher really got me to think about a career in science teaching. Not only did he inspire me by his way of teaching, he also showed me that teachers can and really do make a difference in the lives of students. He certainly had a major impact on my life!

R.J., a physics teaching major

This information has been provided by:

Illinois Section of the
American Association of Physics Teachers


The members of this organization are high school, two-year college and four-year college teachers in Illinois.  They meet twice a year at various schools in the state to share ideas, to promote the joy of physics teaching, to encourage student research, and to renew friendships. ISAAPT is affiliated with the American Association of Physics Teachers.

Last update: August 19, 2008