Requirements to Teach Environmental Science

What Does It Take To Teach Environmental Science

Are we leaving the world in better shape than we found it? At this point, probably not, but there's hope -- hope in the form of our youth. The students of today are the environmental stewards of tomorrow. It's important to help them develop, from an early age, the skills they need to think critically about ecology and the environment. This is why environmental science programs are becoming increasingly important components of a comprehensive science education. Perhaps the most crucial elements of a successful environmental education program are well-trained, passionate teachers.


Requirements to teach environmental science vary by location and by grade level. All public schools and most private schools in the U.S. require a teaching license or certificate to teach at the K-12 level, regardless of what subject is being taught. Some districts may have further requirements, which may include some or all of the following:


Kindergarten through grade 5 or 6

  • Successfully complete and graduate from a bachelor's degree program, customarily in elementary education. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, some states may require K-6 teachers to major in a content area, such as science.
  • Meet all K-6 teacher licensing and certification requirements. Certification varies, but may be from preschool to 3rd grade for early childhood teaching or 1st through 6th or 8th grade for elementary school teaching, according to the BLS.
  • Seek out additional education in environmental science, if required and available.
  • Incorporate environmental studies into science lesson planning according to school and district guidelines.
  • Seek out continuing education with an environmental science emphasis.

Grades 6-8

  • Successfully complete and graduate from a bachelor's degree program. Some states require candidates to major in a content area, while others may require a major in elementary education.
  • Meet middle school teacher licensing and certification requirements, which vary by state. Some states require elementary school teaching certification, which is 1st through 6th or 1st through 8th grades. Some states require middle school certification of 6th through 8th grade, and others require secondary or high school certification, which encompasses 7th through 12th grade.
  • Complete additional education in environmental science if warranted and available.
  • Incorporate environmental studies into science lesson planning as required by school and district guidelines.
  • Complete professional development courses in environmental science.

Grades 9-12

  • Successfully complete and graduate from a bachelor's degree program in a content area such as environmental or another science. Coursework in education topics may be required as well.
  • Meet licensing and certification requirements for teaching secondary school science or environmental science if available and required. This may encompass teaching 7th through 12th grades.
  • Incorporate environmental studies into science lesson planning as required by school and district guidelines.
  • Seek out continuing education and professional development in environmental science.

A sampling of education programs offering environmental science and studies concentrations and certifications

Antioch University NE offers one of the only science teacher certification programs housed within a university's environmental studies department. Students in this program may earn an M.S. in environmental studies concurrently with their science teacher certification. This program isn't just for those who wish to teach environmental science in a traditional classroom environment. Those who wish to work in science museums, nature centers and in similar areas may benefit from a program like this as well.


Northern Illinois University offers teacher certification in earth and space science or environmental science. Candidates interested in grade 6-12 certifications in either of these disciplines usually major in geology and environmental geosciences at NIU.


Those who are already certified to teach science may be able to pursue professional development opportunities in environmental science. The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science enables school districts and teachers to comply with Maryland's STEM and environmental education requirements by offering teacher professional development with its Appalachian Laboratory Environmental Science Education program and the Teach Ocean Science program.


According to the Programmers for International Student Assessment (PISA), 98 percent of students in Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, which includes the United States, attend schools where environmental science is taught as part of the curriculum. The National Science Teachers Association strongly supports the teaching of environmental education in schools and holds the position that it should be part of the school curriculum. While educational attainment is no guarantee of teaching employment, science teachers of the future may want to consider specializing in the environment.