When considering career options, it helps to hear more than one perspective. And since science teaching is a popular career choice for science PhDs, this post offers a third voice in the series On Becoming a Science Teacher.

Catch up first with the story of Hans de Grys, a high school chemistry teacher: “One morning I woke up with this epiphany that I wasn’t locked into grad school, and that I would be much happier as a high school teacher.  I haven’t looked back since.” In the second installment of the series, we heard from high school biology teacher Thomas Artiss: “If you are looking for a career that will sustain you – one that will keep you interested, and happy, and consistently challenged – you would be hard pressed to look much further than a career in education.”

Now, a Q&A from Stephen Fisher, a longtime high school chemistry and math teacher (who endured much grief from my high school self – sorry Dr. Fisher!). First, a note on Stephen’s background, in his own words:

I obtained BS & MS degrees in chemical engineering and then a Ph.D. in Physiology. None of these was really a rationale career choice, since I didn’t actually know what doing engineering or physiology entailed.  When my post-doc ran out, there was a hiatus of about a year, after which I began teaching.  I then taught (mostly) chemistry & math at the high school level for 28 years.

When did you realize you wanted to teach? Was there a particular experience that led you to pursue this path? 

What I first realized was that I did not want to do research.  There followed a period of uncertainty and questioning.  I then realized that I’d been happiest when teaching as a graduate student.  Not exactly a revelatory moment, but close enough.

How did you prepare for the transition from science research to science teaching?

I didn’t really.  I got lucky and got hired with no real teaching experience.

What was the greatest challenge you faced as a new teacher?

Not really having been in a high school classroom since I’d been in high school and not really having had any particular ‘teaching training.’

What do you find most fulfilling about teaching science? 

What’s fulfilling is spending my days teaching adolescents.  The science part is certainly enjoyable, (it’s what I know), and I think it’s important that science is understood by citizens in a democracy.  But that’s a small piece of the picture—I’m not really a science missionary.

As a science teacher at the middle or high school level, how much of your role is devoted to teaching science, and how much to dealing with behavior issues? How do you balance teaching content with teaching life skills (work ethic, integrity, teamwork, etc.)?

Almost none of my time is devoted to behavior issues.  Work ethic, integrity, working with others are all aspects of teaching—in any discipline, not just science.

What advice would you give to a current science graduate student interested in teaching science at the middle or high school level?

It teaching is what you truly enjoy, this is what you should do.  There are also places (possibly undergraduate colleges?) where one has the opportunity to do both teaching & research.

Note: for more resources and information about making the transition from science research to science teaching, check out the Links page