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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 college and the job market. 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, 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 consistent and 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 include preparing courses, 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 and during breaks and lunch periods. Teachers are also often involved in a variety of extracurricular activities. High school teachers must have the ability to impart knowledge effectively to teenagers. Calmness and patience are attributes that teachers need in their everyday job; their role may be seen as being part instructor and part mentor.

How to Become a High School Teacher

Becoming a teacher in a secondary school requires earning a bachelor’s degree in secondary education or in a teachable subject like biology. To teach in public schools, a state teaching license or certification is required. Secondary school teachers in a private school are typically not required to hold certification, though this is a growing preference in private school systems.

Prospective high school teachers often major in the particular subject they wish to teach. Additionally, they must take a teacher preparation program approved by their state in order to qualify for certification. Many four-year colleges and universities require students to wait until their sophomore year before applying to teacher programs. Most programs include a student-teaching internship, during which students 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, receive reviews on their teaching skills, learn how to discipline students, and develop a general feel for the school atmosphere.

High School Teacher Salary and Job Outlook

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for high school teachers was $57,200 in 2015.1 The top-earning 10% of teachers earned upwards of $91,190.1 Key factors that determine salary are geographic location, subject, and experience. Overall, the teaching profession at the high school level is expected to see jobs growth of about 6% through 2024.1 Science, mathematics, English as a second language, and special education teachers are in highest demand in most school districts. 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.

High School Teacher Career Interviews

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. Teachers with prior experience, postgraduate education, and industry certification from organizations like the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) will stand out from others. Knowledge or certification in a shortage-area 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.

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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 at least 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 to teach in public schools. The qualifications for certification vary by state, but nearly all states require completing a teacher preparation program at a university. If you already have a bachelor’s degree but did not complete teacher preparation, you may be eligible for an alternative certification program.

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 in order to keep your teaching license. 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.

References:
1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, High School Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/high-school-teachers.htm