The best chemistry teachers possess a strong combination of passion, skills, knowledge, and experience. Chemistry is taught in high schools across the country, but it can be a challenging subject to learn and to teach. If chemistry is one of your favorite subjects, share your love of the science. Really good teachers love what they teach and find joy in that spark of knowledge at an “ah ha” moment for students.
Get a Chemistry Education Degree
To be a chemistry teacher, you will need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, along with certification from your state. Your degree program will give you the foundation to teach students and feel confident in your subject matter knowledge. Target programs that provide an equal balance of the science of chemistry and the art of teaching. Make sure your program is taught in a style that will help you succeed. For example, if you do better in small classes with individualized attention, choose a school and program that meets those requirements. You’ll also need student teaching experience. It’s helpful to do your student teaching in the same state where you want to ultimately work. Getting district experience can help you when it comes time to look for your first teaching job.
Teach with Passion
Do you love chemistry? Make sure your students know you do every day. Approach each lesson with enthusiasm. Practice your lessons in front of the mirror or run them by a colleague. Gauge your students’ interest level and modulate up or down depending upon how it’s received. Let your audience know why chemistry is exciting.
Get to Know Your Students
Students know when you know them—and when you don’t. When you are able to build a rapport with your students, they’re more likely to do the work that will help them succeed in your classroom and beyond. Pay attention to how your students interact in the classroom and know what’s important outside of your four walls. Try to respond to each student as the individual they are. The extrovert might enjoy your quick wit and gentle ribbing, but an introvert might retreat further into their shell.
Make Chemistry Relatable
Chemistry can feel abstract to students because they often don’t recognize its principles in their everyday lives. Instead of teaching straight out of the book, or relying on one-way lectures, bring live chemistry lessons into the classroom. You can tell them what happens to atoms when they are heated, or you can show them. You can talk about the rapid decomposition of hydrogen peroxide or you can watch their eyes light up as they experience it. Find out what interests your students have and connect classroom lessons to their real-world lives. Do you have athletes? Ask them why they drink Gatorade and then explain what those electrolytes actually do for them. When each lesson has a real-world example, it helps to increase comprehension, interest, and retention.
Leverage Hands-On Examples
Don’t just stop with relatable lessons. Give your class the chance to roll up their sleeves and conduct their own experiments. Chemistry can be fun and practical. Let them add Mentos to Coca Cola, create oobleck from cornstarch, change the color of a flame, and determine the effects of antibiotics on bacteria. The point is to get students involved. They’ll remember the experiment, the class, and you.
The caveat with any of those exciting experiments is that they need to be done safely. Chemistry can be fun, but also dangerous if not taught properly. Make sure your students know the safety rules for the class and for every chemistry adventure you take them on. How can they avoid accidents? What should they do in the event of a fire, explosion, or other emergency? Make sure that when they are doing work, they are focused and aware of potential hazards.
Make Complex Topics Simpler
Chemistry is complicated, but there is a way to make it much simpler. Break down the most complex topics into smaller, more digestible chunks. Don’t ask your class to memorize the entire Periodic Table of Elements in one sitting and give them tools to make the process easier. And when it comes to homework, find out what’s tripping students up and offer them help. Just as chemical compounds build from smaller components, your students’ knowledge needs to grow.
Put the Time In
No matter how much fun you make it, you will ask your students to do work. You need to, as well. That means coming to school early and staying late. You will want to prepare activities and labs in advance of class. You may need to order and buy chemicals and lab equipment. And you’ll want to keep up with the world of chemistry by reading scientific journals and relevant news articles. You also need to make time to grade tests, meet with parents, and work with administration to be an advocate for your students and your discipline.
Be Patient with Your Students
Not every student will get a concept at the same time and people learn differently. What works for one student may not work for another. It may take multiple attempts to solidify what you teach. If your students don’t understand something the first time, try a different approach. If that doesn’t work, ask them to explain what they DO understand and start there. You can build piece by piece from there until they get it all.
What Else Do I Need to Become a Good Chemistry Teacher?
Once you complete your bachelor’s degree and student-teaching requirements, you will need to become certified to teach in public schools. Certification requirements vary from state to state, but most require an examination and application process. Your degree program should help you prepare for these. Though not required in most states, a graduate degree can be a further step that can build upon your current knowledge and experience, and help you advance in your career.
The world needs good chemistry teachers. STEM can be incredibly exciting and useful, and the best teachers can ensure it is viewed that way by their students, through their own passion and teaching skills.
Bluefield University is a small Christian college that helps to develop scholarship and stewardship in our students. We offer an engaging Chemistry Education Degree program that can help you pursue your passion and pass it along to others. Apply now and get ready to shape the minds of young chemists far into the future.