Can a PhD teach high school? [Answered]

Many PhD students and graduates toyed with the idea of becoming a teacher in a high school. After getting to the end of the PhD many PhD graduates struggle to find a job in academia and many turn to education as a potential career path. However, can a PhD teach in a high school without further education?

A PhD cannot teach in a high school without undergoing further education such as a master’s in education or other postgraduate qualification.

Even though a PhD graduate has many skills, a PhD alone does not prepare someone for teaching in a high school.

There are many more skills that you need to learn and, in my experience, you really don’t want to enter the teaching profession without being fully prepared for rooms full of rowdy teenagers.

Why PhDs can’t teach in high schools

In most countries, PhD graduates are not able to teach in high schools because a PhD is not enough training to deal with the new skills required of a high school teacher.

From learning tricks to deal with the most troublesome students to understanding the current mandated curriculum and best teaching pedagogy, teaching in a high school requires many more skills and experience than that gained during a PhD.

Can PhDs teach high school - barriers

Classroom management

One of the biggest components of learning to become a teacher is how to manage a classroom to allow for maximum learning.

We all remember high school, and I’m sure that you will be familiar with how complicated behavioural problems can be in even the best of schools.

Learning to control a rowdy classroom and help students get into the zone of proximal learning.

Today’s classrooms are full of differentiated curricula for students with various learning difficulties.

Behavioural challenges can derail the most well-planned lesson. Ensuring that you are well prepared for entering a room full of students is only something that further training and experience can provide you with.

Teaching pedagogy

The modern teacher must stay up-to-date with the research and outcomes of the best way to educate young people.

Continual professional development is often a part of a modern teacher’s workload and understanding the best practices for keeping your students engaged, learning, growing, and happy is a vital part of becoming a teacher.

Further education will help you understand the best teaching practices for high school students and it is something that a PhD does not prepare you for.

Curriculum changes

As a PhD graduate and student you are at the forefront of your field. Conversely, high school students are learning the fundamentals of any given subject area. Teaching the fundamentals of a subject area can be difficult when you are so familiar with the cutting edge.

You will need to get familiar with what students need to know and, importantly, what they do not need to know to pass their high school exams.

Also, the important components of a curriculum and the deliverables change over time.

Ensuring that you are fully aware of the full curriculum for your teaching area and how it changes over time will require further education and understanding of how curriculum develops.

In a fast changing subject area, such as social sciences, ensuring that your students are well prepared for university and further education will require you to be 100% up-to-date with the current curriculum.

Experience

Finally, PhD graduates lack any real-world experience in a high school education setting.

Becoming a teacher is far more than knowing the best pedagogy and curriculum. Experience in dealing with various classroom situations, school politics, and leadership demands can catch early career teachers by surprise.

As part of your teacher training, you will get a soft introduction to classroom teaching supervised by an experienced teacher so that you can slowly build your confidence and experience.

Where can PhDs teach?

Perhaps you do not want to get an extra qualification to teach. There are a number of places where PhD graduates can teach without having to get further education.

I have taught in a university (doing various lecturing and demonstrating teaching activities) and I have also done my fair share of private tutoring as a side hustle.

University

Getting a PhD allows you to teach in a university setting.

It always amazes me that PhD graduates can teach in a university setting without any further qualifications in teaching.

I guess this is why there are tons of bad lecturers in a university. Essentially, they have been able to get their position through their research credentials rather than how good they are at teaching.

However, universities in Australia and other countries are slowly introducing “teaching-focused” roles. This is where the primary duty of the academic is to teach undergraduate students.

There are also other opportunities to teach in a university setting including:

  • undergraduate laboratories
  • undergraduate workshops
  • tutoring
  • lecturing modules in a course

If this interests you, as it did me, speak to the Dean of your department and your supervisor to ask if you can start building up qualifications and experience lecturing at a university level.

Private Tutoring

As a PhD graduate, I have also done a fair amount of private tutoring.

I have advertised my services on various tutoring marketplaces and charge up to AU$75 an hour for private chemistry tutoring.

Many of my students were undergraduate chemistry students who needed help passing exams and grasping key and core concepts.

Can you teach during your PhD?

During your PhD you may want to build up some skills and experience in teaching.

In the sciences, you are often able to demonstrate in undergraduate laboratories and practicals. In other fields, you may be able to take workshops and tutorials.

I really loved balancing my research with undergraduate teaching. I would approach my supervisors and ask them if there were any opportunities to teach classes and workshops.

Even though it is not strictly teaching, I also volunteered as a “scientist in schools”. This was a program that was run by the Australian government to primary schools and secondary schools motivate their students to pursue a career in science.

I worked closely with a teacher and help develop lesson plans which, helped me understand the requirements of a high school and primary school teacher.

It was a very valuable experience.

Becoming a teacher after your PhD

if you would like to become a teacher after your PhD there are often a number of options for you. The most common options are to do a master in education or further education at a university.

In some countries, there is a significant teacher shortage which means that there are some fast-track programs to get PhD-educated graduates into high school teaching.

Whichever route you take, you’ll have to learn many new skills and jump through the appropriate hoops to become a qualified and practising teacher.

In many places this includes getting your qualification, registering with the appropriate educational authorities, and maintaining your teaching license by undergoing a certain number of professional development activities throughout the year.

Wrapping up

This article has been through everything you need to know about whether or not PhD graduates can teach in high schools.

Unfortunately, many countries require a person to undergo further education in teaching pedagogy in a high school setting.

Nonetheless, it can be a very rewarding career path for those who want to help mould the minds of the next generation and share their passion for their field.

Classroom teaching can be very difficult as you are dealing with complicated behavioural issues and the normal teenage behaviour found in high school.

Getting experience, building classroom management skills and doing placements in a school is the only real way to prepare for becoming a teacher.