Physics Teacher Salary and Career Facts
Explore a career as a physics teacher. Read about education and licensing requirements, salary and potential job growth to see if this is the right career choice for you.
What Is a Physics Teacher?
Physics teachers instruct students in the branch of science that studies and analyzes matter, motion and energy. They usually teach at either the high school or the college level. High school teachers usually provide introductory courses that touch on many subjects, such as force, momentum, rotational motion, thermodynamics, waves and electricity. Coursework often consists of a combination of lectures, demonstrations, textbook readings and labs. College professors may teach more specialized courses as well, including solid state physics, quantum physics or astrophysics. Additionally, professors serve as research mentors for graduate students, and they are expected to conduct their own physics research and publish their findings in academic journals.
The following chart gives you an overview of this career.
|Degree Required|| Bachelor's degree for secondary schools; |
Master's or doctoral degree for post-secondary institutions
|Education Field of Study||Physics, science education|
|Key Skills||Strong verbal communication, ability to explain complex ideas and information, ability to teach problem-solving skills|
|Licensure||State license or certification for jobs in public high schools|
|Job Growth (2018-2028)|| 4% for all secondary school teachers; |
7% for postsecondary physics teachers*
|Average Salary (2018)|| $64,340 for all high school teachers; |
$103,830 for postsecondary physics teachers*
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
What Kind of Physics Teachers Are There?
Physics teachers usually work at the secondary or postsecondary level, teaching high school or college, respectively. If you choose to become a high school physics teacher, you must not only have excellent scientific knowledge, but also be able to clearly convey complicated information to students. You must be organized and skilled at student assessment, classroom management and working with parents and administrators.
At the college or university level, you can teach as an instructor, assistant professor or professor. You might have a specialty such as condensed matter physics, quantum physics or astrophysics, based on your research areas of interest. As a university professor, performing independent research and publishing your findings is often a part of your job description.
What Education Do I Need?
A license is needed to teach in public high schools. Licensure requirements, which vary from state to state, typically include a bachelor's degree with coursework in pedagogy and science. A 4-year or 5-year degree program in science education or in physics with a teacher training component can fulfill this requirement. If your undergraduate degree is in physics, you can enroll in a science education certificate or master's degree program to earn secondary teaching certification. The No Child Left Behind law permits states to determine whether you must prove proficiency in physics alone, or in a general science body of knowledge.
If you want to teach physics at the college or university level, you'll start with a physics degree with coursework in thermodynamics, magnetism, advanced calculus, linear algebra and laboratory methods, and continue your education in a master's or doctoral degree program. Junior colleges and community colleges may hire you as a physics instructor with only a master's degree, but a doctorate is required for tenured professor positions at 4-year universities.
What is the Job Market Like?
Should you choose to teach high school physics, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that from 2014-2024, the number of secondary school teaching positions in all subjects would grow by about six percent. However, in 2013, the National Task Force on Teacher Education reported that the need for physics teachers was greater than any other time in U.S. history.
If you're more interested in postsecondary teaching positions, the BLS also predicted job growth in college, university and other postsecondary institutions would be 11% from 2018-2028.
What Salary Can I Earn?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary of secondary school teachers in all disciplines, as of May 2018, was $64,340. In California, which had the highest employment level for secondary school teachers, the average salary was $80,510. In New York, which paid the highest salaries, the average annual income for secondary teachers was $85,300.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports that, as of 2018, the average salary for postsecondary physics teachers was $103,830. Teachers at colleges and universities earned an average of $105,070, while those who taught at junior colleges were paid an average of $93,350. Those salary figures include both professionals who taught students, and those who combined teaching with research.
What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?
Individuals who are interested in advancing physics education may be interested as a job as an instructional coordinator. These professionals develop curricula for schools in a particular specialization area. A master's degree is usually required for this job. Another option for physics enthusiasts is a job as a physicist or astronomer, conducting theoretical and/or practical research in physics at a research institution, college/university or government agency. Like a job as a postsecondary teacher, it is usually necessary to earn a doctoral degree in order to work as a physics researcher.