High School Teacher Career Guide

A secondary school teacher instructs students in grades 9 through 12 in both public and private educational institutions. The primary objective of these teachers is to educate students and prepare them for the years following secondary school, whether those are spent in the job market or in to college. This guide provides further information on what high school teachers do, how to become one, and the occupation’s salary and outlook.

High School Teacher Job Description

Teachers of high school students typically plan and teach lessons to classrooms of students. They may also teach small groups or do individual mentoring, depending on the needs of their students. Secondary school teachers typically specialize in one or two subjects such as math, English, the sciences, social studies, art, history, Spanish, French or music, usually teaching several classes within their specialty subject over the course of a day. Teachers evaluate students’ performance, grade papers and tests, and prepare them for state tests. In order to be an effective and successful secondary school instructor, the ability to communicate well with teenagers, and earn their respect, is key. A firm manner combined with an approachable attitude will help a teacher maintain order, good behavior, and discipline in their work with teenage students.

High School Teacher Requirements and Common Tasks

The responsibilities of a teacher at the high school level vary, but include preparing courses, assigning lessons, assigning and grading homework and tests, creating classroom rules and meeting with parents to discuss student progress and behavior issues. They also may spend extra time with struggling students, often mentoring and tutoring them after hours. Although high school teachers commonly work in a classroom setting, they may work in other settings as well including the outdoors, gymnasiums, the school library, or a computer lab. Teachers at the secondary level also maintain order in the classroom, during breaks and lunch periods, and are often involved in a variety of extracurricular activities. High school teachers must have the ability to impart their knowledge effectively to teenagers. Calmness and patience are attributes that teachers need in their everyday job; their role may be seen as part instructor, part mentor, and part surrogate parent.

How to Become a High School Teacher

Becoming a teacher in a secondary school in the public school system requires the first step of obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Next, a state teaching license or certification is required. Secondary school teachers in a private learning institution are not required to have specific degrees or certification; qualifications are dependent on the individual employer. For teachers who would like to work in a high school, training in their desired subject of instruction offers the best chance of employment.

Prospective high school teachers most often major in the particular subject in which they wish to teach. Additionally, they may take a prescribed teacher preparation course. Many four-year colleges and universities require students to wait until their sophomore year before applying to teacher programs. There is also an application for admission for the programs that vary by institution. Other secondary education schools now include computer classes as part of their programs, as well as several other technologies. Most include a student-teaching internship, during which students of the bachelor program have a chance to work under experienced educators who act as mentors as well as teachers. During this time, they also have the opportunity to see how the school works, get reviews on their teaching skills, learn how to discipline students, and get a general feel for the school atmosphere. Education programs for the bachelor degree are accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education as well as the Teacher Education Accreditation Council. Although not needed to become a secondary teacher, these may make the licensing process easier.

High School Teacher Salary and Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a public high school teacher was $55,050 in 2012.1 The top 10% of teachers earned upwards of $85,690.1 Key factors that determine salary are geographic location, subject, and experience. Overall, the teaching profession at the high school level is expected to see a growth of about 6% through 2022, much lower than the growth projected for preschool and primary school teachers. Science (specifically chemistry and physics), mathematics, English as a second language, and special education secondary school teaching positions will offer more job availability. Southern and western states are expected to have better prospects for teaching jobs than states in the Northeast and Midwest.1 High school teaching positions are found in both private and public schools in rural, urban and suburban environments, with more job openings on the horizon for teachers in rural and urban areas.

Helpful Skills and Experience

Organizational skills, excellent communication and presentation skills, and sound decision-making skills are important for prospective high school teachers. Teachers should be calm, fair, and patient, and teachers will prior experience in teaching will stand out from others. Knowledge or certification in a specialty subject will make a teacher more desirable, particularly in the subject areas of math and science, which are seeing an overall shortage of teachers.

Additional Resources

Teach.org – Teach.org provides information on how to become a teacher, teaching jobs in your zip code, as well as scholarship and networking opportunities.

US Department of Education – This website provides information about dropout rates, K-12 reforms, the No Child Left Behind Act, and more.

Teaching Degrees and Programs

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Frequently Asked Questions about Becoming a High School Teacher

Question: What degree do I need to teach high school?

Answer: To teach high school, you must earn a bachelor’s degree in a subject that is teachable at the high school grade level. In addition to your degree, you must earn a teacher certificate or license. The qualifications for certification vary according to state, but all require completing a teacher preparation program at a university.

Question: Do you need a master’s degree to teach high school?

Answer: You do not need a master’s degree to become a high school teacher. A bachelor’s degree and certification is adequate. However, some states require that you earn a master’s degree within several years of starting a teaching job. These include New York, Connecticut, Kentucky, Oregon, Michigan, Maryland, Mississippi, and Montana.

Question: Why do teachers leave the profession?

Answer: There are many reasons, some personal, that teachers leave the profession. Some common reasons cited are a lack of support, an emphasis on standardized testing, struggles with student discipline, poor pay, and a lack of respect for teachers in general.

1. Bureau of Labor Statistics: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/high-school-teachers.htm