Interview 3: Science Education at High School
I spoke with Ms. Heather Potts, a high school science teacher, for my final informational interview. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the growing push for IB/AP biology courses, and the ability to award college credits, has led to a growing demand for high school educators with advanced degrees. Ms. Potts talked extensively about the best ways to prepare for teaching at this level since state certification is required in order to find employment. She also offered some resources to make the process of preparation, and job search as streamlined as possible.
Background: Ms. Heather Potts started her teaching career as an undergraduate studying Animal Science at Rutgers University. She went on to earn two masters’ degrees, first in Biomedical Science from Rutgers University and then in Education from the University of Pennsylvania. Her advanced degrees in both science and education allowed her to obtain her teaching certificate and she is currently a high school science teacher in Wayne NJ. In addition, she recently began an adjunct position at the local community college.
Steps to prepare: Preparing for a teaching career can begin as early as during undergraduate studies, where a bachelor’s degree in education prepares you for the certification exams (PRAXIS) for teaching. For people with advanced degrees (MS/Ph.D.), an “alternate route” exists where you can demonstrate mastery of a subject and earn a certificate of eligibility (CE) that allows you to accept a high school teaching position. This route also provides both informal and formal education training. To take advantage of the alternative route program, there are several steps that you must take:
- Complete the necessary 30-credit hours for the subject of interest and have a minimum 3.0/4.0 GPA (an advanced degree typically guarantees this requirement).
- Take the PRAXIS II subject test for the subject you are interested in teaching.
- Meet the basic skills requirement, satisfied by either taking the PRAXIS: Core Academic Skills for Educators: Reading, Writing and Math, or scoring in the top 1/3 percentile of the GRE/SAT for the year that test was taken.
- Personal Hygiene requirement (usually met with a general biology course or answering a 35 question true or false quiz at the county office of education).
All the necessary documents should be submitted to the NJ Office of Licensure and Academic Credentials for review. If all the requirements are met, a CE will be issued and you can search for employment as a teacher. Employment with CE includes enrollment in the provisional teacher program that pairs novice teachers with a more senior mentor who serves as a resource during the first year. Additionally, there is a formal requirement for a minimum of 200 hours of education training arranged by the institution. Successful completion of the first year, and formal training requirements results in a standard teaching certificate.
**NOTE: Having an advanced degree like a MS or Ph.D. can be favorable, not an over-qualification. Particularly now as many high schools push for college overlap (college credits while in high school). Many top grade school districts seek MS/Ph.Ds.’ to lead their advanced programs and help design courses/curriculums that will give their students an edge. Having a teacher with a Ph.D. at the high school level allows for college credits to be awarded, if the appropriate bridge program is in place (AP/IB). So, the demand is there, it just may take some searching for the right school system.
To get a better idea of curriculum at the high school level visit: https://www.nextgenscience.org/search-standards
Job search: Ms. Potts’ job search was admittedly very convoluted. While applying for teaching positions she was working at a camp, and had limited access to resources. This forced her to be more creative than just a simple internet search, so she printed a map of all the counties in NJ, and contacted local schools about possible employment. Although Ms. Potts found a position that suited her she doesn’t recommend searching for jobs this way as it was very time consuming. Instead, she recommends using the website NJHhire to simplify the search. Many school districts post their job openings directly on their websites or on the Board of Education’s website, which are also great resources when job searching. Teachers who know they will be leaving (i.e. retiring) are asked to notify the district by April, so she suggests starting your job search then. Check frequently as jobs are posted anytime from April to September for the coming school year. The process is straightforward and includes an application, an interview, and, hopefully, a job offer. During the process, it is important to emphasize any teaching experiences you may have, and your ability to interact with, and motivate students.
Typical day: A typical day involves teaching various periods throughout the day, planning lessons and also attending the necessary meetings/events for faculty. The school schedule allows for adjunct teaching, coaching, mentoring, and course development in the afternoons or evenings.
|1) Student light bulb moments!2) Spending the full academic year with the same group of students allows you to develop a rapport and watch them grow, which is very rewarding.3) Schedule allows for work-life balance, additional employment and time to engage in extra-curricular groups like mentoring, coaching, adjuncting, etc.
||1) Motivating high school students can be extremely daunting. Unlike undergraduate institutions where students elect to take a course, at this level they are forced and many may have little to no interest in science.2) Discipline is challenging and you need a thick skin to work with high school aged students.3) Hardships/empathy. Students at this level are still at home, and many have challenging home-lives that they must balance in addition to school, which can be difficult to watch.
- The beginning is always the hardest, but you will settle in. They say the 5-year mark for teaching at this level is the make-it-or-break-it point, you will know by then whether it is the right fit or if it is time to move on.
- Be open minded when looking for teaching positions, there will always be a greater demand for Chemistry teachers than Biology teachers, so don’t limit yourself.
Major takeaways for navigating your way to a successful teaching career
After speaking with three education professionals about their job search and careers it was easy to identify some common threads in each of their journeys. All three certainly had a passion for learning and passing on their knowledge. They were all genuinely excited and eager to develop their science course curriculum and share it with their students. All three educators mentioned how rewarding the “lightbulb” moments are regardless of what grade level you are teaching, and how all the hard work that goes into course development pays off time and time again. It was hard not to be inspired to consider teaching more seriously after each interview.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to talk with Dr. Baralt, Dr. Mujica and Ms. Potts. Their candor and information was the catalyst for me to start focusing on my own goals. Besides working hard to finish my degree, I have also re-connected with some old connections within my network; I have reached out to professors that I worked closely with during my undergraduate studies. I made sure to update them on my progress, and softly remind them that I will be heading into the work force soon. I also enrolled in the 2018 American Society of Microbiology’s Best Practices in Curriculum Design, Teaching and Assessment course, to get some formal education on the skill sets needed to be a successful educator. I hope to step outside the lab to seek out more hands-on opportunities, whether it’s through a TA opportunity, adjunct teaching, or getting involved with my local school system to tutor high school students.