Education and teaching – a brief background
You might think that a career in physics education and teaching means that you’ll be a secondary school science teacher. However, this is just one of the many possible career paths out there.
As a teacher or lecturer, you’ll need to understand physics and the syllabus you’re teaching, as well as having a bit more knowledge to hand so you can answer the questions of your most inquisitive students.
You will also need to have good organisation skills as well as a desire to make your teaching fun and engaging for your pupils. A good teacher is also a good motivator, encouraging pupils to carry on their learning beyond the classroom.
Alternatively, a career in physics education could lead to working for local or national government. This would involve directing how physics is taught in schools, for example.
As a STEM subject, a career in physics education and training is highly valued. For instance, the UK Government announced an incentive in 2022 where physics teachers could claim up to £9,000 in tax-free bonuses if they teach physics in disadvantaged schools.
What do I need to study for a career in education and teaching?
To become a physics teacher in England, you’ll need to study physics to a high level (or have relevant work experience). You’ll also need to complete a postgraduate teaching apprenticeship or a teaching course.
Qualifying in Scotland is slightly different. You can take a four-year combined education and physics degree, followed by the PGDE, a postgraduate course which qualifies you as a secondary school teacher. There’s the option to teach in Gaelic, or even teach Physics, Chemistry and Maths via an integrated programme.
To teach in Wales, you’ll need to complete a postgraduate teacher training course (ITT), or enrol on the graduate teacher programme (GTTP). The GTTP allows you to be employed by a school, and receive a salary as you train. If you don’t have any formal qualifications, completing a Certificate of Higher Education allows you to meet the requirements for the postgraduate qualifications above.
Finally, to become a teacher in Northern Ireland, you can complete either an undergraduate degree in Education, or a one-year postgraduate qualification. The postgraduate qualification is the most popular route, as it allows you to specialise in your chosen field beforehand, and learn via school-based placements and university tuition. Being able to speak Irish will widen your career prospects.
It’s a lengthier route to qualify as a lecturer, as you’ll need a PhD and extensive research experience. However, the process is incredibly fulfilling and rewarding.
Working in the field of education and teaching
As you would expect, most opportunities in this sub-sector of physics careers are at schools, colleges and universities. There are always opportunities to become a personal tutor too.
Whether you work at a school, college or university, being a teacher of physics involves lesson planning, assessing and grading students on their performance, being innovative with your methods of teaching and being able to relate to your students – showing commitment to helping them learn and giving them the confidence to achieve their very best.
If you’re in higher education, you’ll need to have a passion for research, carving out an area of specialism and showcasing your unique flair. You will need resilience, as the career path to becoming a lecturer is long and intense, but incredibly enjoyable.
In both teaching and lecturing, you will need to understand your students and find the best methods to communicate with them, adapt your syllabus to their learning styles and, importantly, maintain discipline and respect.
Perhaps most importantly, you need to show a desire to always evolve and adapt your teaching methods and approach. Every student will have different needs and a career in education and teaching will involve unique situations every single day.