A minimum of a bachelor's degree in a natural sciences field of study is required to begin a career in nature education. A teacher's license or master's degree may also be required, and those who wish to teach a subject at the postsecondary level may need a doctorate in their subject area.
Aside from schools, nature educators are needed in museums, nature centers, parks, outdoor programs and other nature-focused settings. Educators may serve as teachers, naturalists or program instructors, among other professions. An individual interested in this field can expect to complete a bachelor's degree program, and additional requirements such as licensure and experience vary by position.
|Career||Natural Science Teacher||Park Naturalist||Nature Program Instructor|
Advanced Degree (post-secondary)
|Bachelor's Degree||Bachelor's Degree
Master's Degree (administrative positions)
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)*||6-13% (for all teachers, depending on grade level)||7% (for conservation scientists)||10% (for recreation workers)|
|Median Salary (2015)*||$54,890-$82,840 (depending on grade level and exact subject taught)||$61,110 (for conservation scientists)||$23,320 (for recreation workers)|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
The field of nature education provides opportunities to teach in a variety of unique settings. Individuals in this field can expect to prepare instructional materials for a varying audience (from elementary school students to national park visitors), generally conveying a passion for conservation and the natural environment. A few positions listed below include natural science teacher, park naturalist and nature program instructor.
Natural Science Teacher
Nature education professionals may serve as teachers in public and private institutions. In kindergarten and elementary school, one teacher typically covers all subjects; however, those specializing in natural science often find employment in middle and secondary schools, colleges and universities. Natural science teachers in middle and secondary school generally aim to develop students' basic knowledge of the discipline, scientific reasoning skills and desire to learn. Teachers at the post-secondary level usually instruct students in one specialty of the field, such as ecology, biology or geology.
For employment in elementary, middle and secondary schools, nature educators are generally required to earn bachelor's degrees in natural science or a related field from a teacher education program. These programs focus on coursework specific to natural science and the teacher's desired grade level. They also incorporate courses in teaching methodology and student-teaching clerkships. Most states require teachers to obtain certification or licensure, which entails passing a qualifying exam.
At the post-secondary level, a natural science educator must hold a graduate degree in a sub-specialty of the field. Most colleges and universities require teachers to have doctorates in the field they wish to teach; however, some positions may be available for master's degree holders. Doctoral programs typically take six years of post-baccalaureate coursework to complete, whereas master's degree programs tend to last two years.
Salary and Employment Outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) showed that elementary school, middle and high school teachers could expect a job growth rate of 6% from 2014 to 2024. The BLS also showed that elementary school teachers earned a median salary of $54,890 as of May 2015. In comparison, middle school teachers earned a median of $55,860, while high school teachers earned a median of $57,200.
The BLS reported its salary data for post-secondary teachers by specialty, indicating that biology professors earned a median of $75,320, while chemistry professors earned $75,060 Physics professors had a median salary of $82,840 as of May 2015. The employment outlook for all post-secondary teachers was 13% from 2014 to 2024.
Park naturalists organize and administer informational programs in local, state and federal parks, as well as forest preserves. They educate the public about the features of the environment at hand, focusing on the biology and history of the park. Along with serving as guides for tours and field trips, park naturalists prepare visual presentations and analytical lectures. They may also create interactive displays for visitors. Additional job tasks include preparing instructional materials and performing basic maintenance on park displays.
According to O*Net Online, park naturalists are typically required to hold bachelor's degrees (www.onetonline.org). During college, future park naturalists may major in any of a variety of natural sciences, such as environmental interpretation, forestry, botany or outdoor education. Since park naturalists work closely with the public, they often need strong verbal and written communication skills.
Salary and Employment Outlook
The BLS doesn't specifically list salary and employment outlook for park naturalists. Instead, these workers seem to be grouped within the reports for conservation scientists, who were expected to see seven percent employment growth from 2014 until 2024. The median salary for these workers was $61,110 as of May 2015, the BLS noted.
Nature Program Instructor
Educators in nature programs help people become familiar with nature. They work directly with people of all age levels in a variety of outdoor settings, such as nature parks, campgrounds and playgrounds. Nature program instructors educate students about the environment through creative techniques and activities, such as games, stories and projects that emphasize teamwork and leadership. They may also teach wilderness survival skills.
Education requirements for nature program instructors vary by employer and job duties. Those seeking employment with camps are often hired according to experience and skills. Nature program leaders in public recreation or larger organizations are sometimes required to hold associate's or bachelor's degrees, though administrative positions may also require applicants to have a master's degrees. Students pursuing careers in nature program instruction may major in parks and recreation, outdoor recreation or other applicable fields. Nature programs tend to prefer applicants with previous teaching experience and a strong grasp of science and nature.
Salary and Employment Outlook
The BLS doesn't specifically list data for nature program instructors; however, its reports showed that the broader category of recreation workers were expected to see 10% growth during the 2014 to 2024 decade. These workers had a median salary of $23,320 as of May 2015.
Nature program instructors, park naturalists and nature science teachers are all professionals within the field of nature education. Nature program instructors may work with people of all ages, leading programs in outdoor settings that can include teaching wilderness survival skills or games. Park naturalists help inform the public about the park they work at, while teachers may work with students of all ages to educate them in subject areas related to nature.