Just because you took a calculus class or completed both bio and chem doesn't mean that you are necessarily qualified to teach high school math or science. As of 2013, 46 states had rigorous math standards and 26 said they would consider implementing challenging science standards for what students need to learn and what educators must teach, according to Change the Equation, a nonprofit focused on strengthening education in math and science. As states raise these standards, high-quality math and science teachers have become essential for high school students' success. Choosing the right major for this field is key to getting your secondary certification and landing a top-rate teaching job in math or science.
While math and science are closely intertwined -- you can't solve chemistry equations without a thorough understanding of mathematics -- having one teaching certification doesn't necessarily mean that you can teach in the other area. Unlike early childhood or elementary education majors, who are primarily generalists, secondary educators tend to teach in only one subject area. This means that teaching in math requires a mathematics certification and teaching science requires a separate license. If you plan on looking for a job in either subject area, you must consider getting two certifications to cover all of your bases.
Knowing that you want to put your enthusiasm for mathematics to use as a high school teacher may mean that you can cut to the chase and choose a mathematics education major. While this major will require a heavy math-based course load, it also will include classes in instructional methods, human learning, child development and hands-on student teaching. For example, the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee offers an undergraduate degree in early adolescence through adolescence mathematics education. This program provides college students with the opportunity to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to sit for the state mathematics teacher licensure exam.
Similar to taking a mathematics education track, science education majors will graduate with the ability to teach -- or at least take the state licensure exam -- in a secondary science setting. Some colleges and universities offer a general science teaching certification major that allows you to learn about an array of scientific topics. Others may offer a more specific option, such as chemistry or biology. For example, Penn State University has six different science teacher major options: Biology, chemistry, earth and space sciences, environmental sciences, general science and physics. Completing a science education major typically includes taking classes in instructional methods, learning, developmental studies, science as well as student teaching in a classroom environment.
Becoming a math or science teacher doesn't always happen at the undergraduate level. Some students may choose to get a post-bachelor's teaching certificate or go to a graduate program in instruction and learning. If this is the route that you are planning on, choosing a subject-specific major is key. To work as a math teacher you will want to go with a general mathematics major or a similar math-based focus such as engineering. Future high school sciences teachers can take a general science major or focus on a more specific area of interest such as biology, chemistry, physics, geology or environmental sciences.