What is Teacher Preparation?

In 2012, there were over 3.7 million K-12 teachers in public schools in the United States (NCES), and the number of teachers needed is projected to increase into the 2020s (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). Each year, at least 220,000 students complete a teacher preparation program of some sort, which may be a bachelor's degree, master's degree, or certification program. Many more receive certification through alternative pathways. Given the important role that K-12 teachers play in our society, you might be surprised to learn that the only feature shared by teacher preparation programs across the country is variability (Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy (more info) ).

Types of Teacher Preparation Programs

Learn more about teacher preparation
from the Teacher Education Division of NAGT »
Different kinds of institutions take different approaches to teacher preparation, and the requirements vary from state to state. Typically, however, teacher preparation is divided into two (and sometimes three) levels, where Earth science plays very different roles:

Elementary education: Programs that prepare future elementary teachers often emphasize literacy and language skills, with less emphasis on math and science. Science requirements are usually limited to whatever is required in the general education program, along with a science methods course where students learn more about how to teach science. Over 100,000 students a year obtain a bachelor's degree in education; about 60% of those degrees are in elementary education (Digest of Educational Statistics (more info) ).
Middle-level science teaching: Many institutions have a specialization in middle-level teaching, focusing on grades 6-8. Science teachers in these grades typically teach classes in several disciplines, so the programs to prepare these students often require year-long sequences in all of the scientific disciplines plus additional coursework.
  • Role of Earth science: A year of Earth science (including astronomy) is likely required.
  • How to strengthen Earth science and sustainability: Consider reaching across disciplinary divides to find ways to offer inquiry-based, interdisciplinary STEM courses that integrate multiple disciplines and can help future middle-school science teachers make those connections.
Secondary science teaching: In some states, students who wish to teach in secondary schools are required to get an undergraduate degree in their discipline (Earth science, math, etc), and follow that with a graduate degree or post-baccalaureate certification in teaching. Other states and institutions combine these into a single undergraduate degree.
  • Role of Earth science: Earth science may be a discipline of focus, with students completing a regular BS or BA degree in a geoscience department.
  • How to strengthen Earth science and sustainability: Consider partnering with another STEM discipline to offer multiple subject endorsements for students interested in secondary science teaching.

How Programs Vary by Institution Type

At regional comprehensive universities and large public universities, there are likely to be several undergraduate degree programs in education. In contrast, many liberal arts colleges do not have undergraduate education degrees—they advise students to major in a discipline and become certified teachers in a post-baccalaureate program or by obtaining a master's degree.

Nearly 50% of students who graduate with degrees in education do so from regional comprehensive schools, many of which originated as schools to train teachers in the late 1800s. Education programs are often the largest (or among the largest) degree programs offered at these schools. This holds true for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) as well, many of which began as schools to train black teachers and which today produce approximately 50% of black teachers in the US.

While few community colleges offer degrees in education, as many as 50% of students who graduate with teaching degrees transferred from community colleges (Preparing Teachers: Building Evidence for Sound Policy (more info) ).

Find Out More about Teacher Preparation in your Own Setting

The first step to strengthening the role that your geoscience program plays in preparing future teachers is finding out more about what your institution offers. You can look for information in several places:

  • Departments and schools: Is there a school or department of education on your campus? What majors do they offer? Learn more about strategies for reaching across the disciplinary divide and working with education programs.
  • Science education: Is there a science education department or program on your campus? What majors do they offer, and how do they support majors in other departments?
  • Student advising: If students enter your institution saying they are interested in teaching, but there is no education major, what majors do advisors direct them towards?
  • Institutional research: What are the most popular teaching or education majors? Do any of them include geoscience courses?

Additional Resources

The following resources provide an excellent summary and history of teacher preparation: