Education: B.S., Biology, Minor in
Chemistry; M.S., Environmental
On the web:
Museum educator, science
outreach coordinator, scientific
illustrator, science writer,
broadcast science journalist,
college biology professor, science
If you are interested in science and have a gift for explaining it to others, you might want to consider a future in science teaching. You don’t have to go far to learn more about this career niche; a wealth of information may literally be staring you in the face. Who are your science teachers? What are their backgrounds? Ask questions and you’ll learn that there’s more than meets the eye. From challenging eager learners to encouraging those who think they can’t do science, high school science teacher Mike Zito says there’s nothing like seeing the lights go on in students’ minds. To him, the best part of teaching is crafting and executing a rich lesson plan that brings students to a true understanding of science.
Describe a typical day.
Teaching is a wonderful combination of science and interpersonal interactions. The best part of the job is inspiring young minds by sharing my joy and wonder for science. The time in front of the classroom is the easiest and most fun part of the day, but a good lesson requires meticulous preparation. A typical day begins with arriving early and making sure the classroom is prepared for the day’s activities. Science teaching differs from many other disciplines due to the extra effort involved in preparing a laboratory intensive experience for students. The afternoon is spent in any number of ways: Evaluating student work, cleaning the lab of the day’s activity, attending faculty meetings, meeting with parents and students, or sponsoring clubs. Back at home, some of the evening is spent grading or planning what I hope will be interesting lessons for the next unit.
What background is needed?
A bachelor’s degree in a scientific field is absolutely necessary and a master’s degree in science is a great plus. In addition, teachers must take courses in education and child development as required by their particular state to receive a teaching license. Continuing education in both scientific and educational disciplines is needed to maintain licensure during a teaching career. Laboratory experience in an academic or industrial setting is an asset that brings a real world perspective to your teaching.
As an undergraduate, I majored in biology and minored in chemistry. After college, I worked for five years in the field of genetic toxicology while attending night school to get a master’s in environmental science. I went on to receive my teaching certification. My continuing education courses include graduate courses in environmental modeling and analysis, understanding by design, and teacher expectations and student achievement (TESA).
Advice for students?
The unique aspect of this career is that students can observe a great deal of a science teacher’s daily work. Students interested in science teaching must actively seek to gain a greater appreciation for the less visible aspects of the job. In short, students should spend some time on the “other side of the desk.” They should get to know their teachers as people, talk with teachers about their careers, and offer to help set up and tear down labs. Students can also volunteer to tutor other science students and read professional journals, such as The Science Teacher and Educational Leadership.
How did you choose teaching?
I sort of fell into teaching, I didn’t really set out to be a teacher. My choice of a college major was more to satisfy my intellectual curiosity and love of science than it was to prepare for a career. I have always been a science geek. As a child, my favorite toys were microscopes and chemistry sets. Outside, I could be found down at the local pond catching frogs and watching the wildlife. I always wanted to know why and how—science offered those answers. As my own sense of wonder and delight about science grew, I began to share those insights with others. When I worked as a laboratory teaching assistant in graduate school, I found I had a knack for explaining science to others and that I enjoyed working with young people. I soon quit my job in genetic toxicology and went to school full time to get my teaching certificate. I have never looked back.
—By Megan Sullivan