Teachers in schools, colleges and universities enjoy more job security and have better promotion prospects than people in many other jobs in ecology. Career opportunities include promotion within the system, involvement in teacher training and working for examination boards. There is plenty of opportunity to choose where to live – there are schools everywhere from inner cities to remote islands communities.
For the right kind of person, teaching can offer great job satisfaction. The multi-disciplinary nature of ecology helps to make ecologists flexible and effective science teachers.
Primary School Teaching – A primary school teacher often teaches a range of subjects in an interdisciplinary fashion, so primary teaching offers scope for creativity without the rigid subject boundaries of the secondary school. Most young children are fascinated by animals and plants and will appreciate a teacher who knows about ecology. Out-of-classroom activity can combine ecology with numeracy, creative writing and art work, and teach children to enjoy, understand and care for the environment.
Secondary School Teaching – Ecologists entering secondary school teaching tend to specialise in biology up to A level (Higher in Scotland). There are schools that welcome teachers who are keen ecologists to develop field studies and organise field trips. A biology teacher needs to be able to teach not only ecology but also elementary chemistry and physics, cell biology, microbiology, genetics and human physiology.
Teaching in Sixth Form Colleges – In sixth form college the absence of younger pupils means that the institution differs in character from a traditional school. There is greater emphasis on specialist academic disciplines than in a school, with more opportunity to teach A level courses. Sixth form colleges also often run one-year GCSE courses and may offer General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQ), and Diplomas covering some environmental subjects. Some colleges offer the International Baccalaureate or Welsh Baccalaureate.
Teaching in Colleges of Further Education – Colleges of further education not only cater for the 16-19 age group, but also deal with mature students. They offer a wide range of specialist courses, including those that support or are aligned to National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ) or Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQ). These are workplace, competence focused qualifications, which include subjects such as environmental conservation and management. Many colleges offer National and Higher National Certificates/Diplomas, and some provide degree courses.
An ecologist appointed as a biology lecturer might have to teach an A level/Higher class, a non-examination recreational evening class on plant ecology for adults, a GCSE science re-sit class, a science course for hair dressing students and microbiology input to a catering course! This type of institution offers interesting variety to those able to adapt their teaching to a broad ability range.
Teaching in Colleges of Higher Education and Universities – A new university teacher may have to accept short-term contracts before being appointed to a permanent post and university lecturers are not necessarily better paid than school teachers. But in spite of this, entry is highly competitive. The challenge of teaching ecology to a high level to well motivated students, combined with the opportunity to be at the cutting edge of research, makes this a very attractive career for many people. Initial Teacher Education (ITE) takes place in university faculties of education or in colleges of higher education.
Teaching at Field Study Centres – A field study centre may provide for the whole age range from primary to higher education and will also cater for groups of adults who wish to spend time studying natural history or participating in an increasing range of other outdoor pursuits. A number of centres collaborate with employers to offer workplace experience and assessment towards NVQ/SVQ. A field study centre offers the opportunity to specialise in teaching ecology in both geographical and biological contexts and usually the chance to live in a rural situation. Some centres provide opportunities for research and involvement in local conservation initiatives. Staff may work unsocial hours, but in spite of this the job satisfaction means that there is a lot of competition for vacancies.
There are at least 5,000 secondary schools in the United Kingdom and each employs several science teachers. There are many more primary schools. This could mean that school teaching offers ecologists more than all the other careers listed here put together.
There are teaching posts in colleges and universities, as well as opportunities for ecologists to teach in field study centres. Some of these are administrated by local authorities or national park authorities, others are run by universities, commercial enterprises, the Field Studies Council or other NGOs.