I have been told that private high schools would likely hire this candidate,

  • MSc/PhD in physics (but no teaching certificate or degree, just TA duties in undergrad and grad school),

and that public schools would likely hire this candidate,

  • BS/MSc in physics with teaching certificate/degree on top of TA duties

Is this oversimplification legitimate? Can a PhD get a job at a private high school without teaching certificate? Is the same possible at a public?

If a teaching certificate is indeed a prerequisite for both, what type of programs award these degrees/teaching certificates and are they quite expensive?

How does the salary (say in ... New England) compare between these two people? More specifically, how great is the increase in salary for a candidate with a PhD over an MSc at a private school, and similarly for a public school. What benefits (on-campus housing for private versus unions for public, etc) do each have?


2 Answers 2


Yes, it is an oversimplification overall. First, state laws vary about who can teach, and some laws apply to private schools as well. You may need certification or not to be hired, but in some places you will need to seek it afterwards. Most schools need to be certified by the state themselves, so the rules need to be followed.

Whether having been a TA or not may make little difference. What secondary school teachers do and what TAs do can be very different.

Nearly everywhere teachers need to do some kind of continuing education (to maintain certification). That might be in field, or it might be pedagogy, but it is usually a requirement. Having an advanced degree might alter the equation, but probably not erase the requirement.

Public schools aren't all unionized. Private schools don't all provide housing and few provide housing for everyone.

You probably don't need a doctorate anywhere in the US to be hired, but, some top secondary private schools value them.

Salary by region is probably a poor metric. If salaries are low, it is also likely that local living expenses are low as well. Some places excepted, of course, such as anywhere near the California Bay Area. But even New England isn't uniform. Boston is pretty expensive.

As for salary for an individual, the doctorate probably plays a relatively small part. The institution is looking for people who will serve their students well. Having a doctorate adds a bit of prestige to a school, but not necessarily an improvement in service to the students. They will look at the whole picture, as would any employer. Experience and letters of recommendation might weigh more than the degree.

But it is the complete picture and a judgement that you will fit in well that is more important than the degree.

After you are hired, your advance in salary depends little on the degrees you came in with. And most schools are constrained financially, both public and private.


In principle in public schools you need to be certified. In practice the shortage of STEM teachers means that you can sometimes get hired without this, but then in the first year you must complete the requirements for certification. This is the model that programs like Teach for America or NYC Teaching Fellows use.

To earn a teaching certificate you need to do research on your state to find the approved programs. Generally this will be some form of Master's degree (MAT, MA, MEd). Many state colleges offer these programs and they will usually have the lowest tuition as well as good placement records because they work with nearby school districts. If you are currently a doctoral student you should look to see if your university has a school of education. If you are in STEM and agree to teach in a high need school you are potentially eligible for various scholarships.

Private schools are very variable in what they require, and they have a lot of autonomy. However you need to be a good teacher even if you lack formal training.

  • There are a few public schools in the U.S. that do not require teaching certification. Most are among those listed here, although most of the schools in that list do require teaching certification. I think there are around 12 or 13 that don't, including ASMS (Alabama), ASMSA (Arkansas), IMSA (Illinois), Indiana Academy, LSMSA (Louisiana), MSSM (Maine), MSMS (Mississippi), NCSSM (North Carolina), OSSM (Oklahoma), GSSM (South Carolina), TAMS (Texas). I taught 3 years at LSMSA, with a Ph.D. and without certification. Commented Jan 5, 2020 at 17:23
  • @DaveLRenfro those look to all be "Academies of Math and Science", where the students are of high enough academic caliber that there's a much greater need for subject matter expertise than pedagogy and reading the textbook the night beforehand...
    – RonJohn
    Commented Jan 5, 2020 at 23:35
  • @DaveLRenfro Do you want to edit that into the answer?
    – Elin
    Commented Jan 6, 2020 at 6:19

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