High School Teacher Career Guide

A high school teacher instructs students in 9th through 12th grade in both public and private educational institutions. High school teachers play a crucial role in preparing students for higher education or entering the workforce by providing academic instruction, fostering critical thinking skills, and offering guidance and support in their personal and academic development. This guide provides further information on what high school teachers do, how to become one, and the occupation’s salary and job outlook.

Table of Contents

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 or a foreign language. To teach in public schools, a state teaching license or certification is required. This typically means that prospective teachers must complete a state-approved teacher preparation program. Private high school teachers are typically not required to hold certification, though this is a growing preference in private schools. To become a high school teacher, the most common steps are:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree with a major in the subject you wish to teach while completing an approved teacher preparation program.
  2. Complete a student teaching internship in the subject(s) you wish to teach.
  3. Take the teaching and subject-area tests for teacher licensure required in your state.
  4. Apply for your teaching license.
  5. Begin applying for open positions in your subject area(s).

In addition to earning a major in the subject you wish to teach, you must take a teacher preparation program approved by your state to qualify for certification. Many four-year colleges and universities require students to wait until their sophomore or junior year before applying to educator preparation programs. These programs include a student teaching internship where students have a chance to work under experienced educators who act as mentors in a school setting. During this time, they also have the opportunity to see how the school works, receive feedback and formal reviews on their teaching skills, and learn how to discipline students. If you already have a bachelor’s degree in the subject you want to teach but did not complete a teacher preparation program, a master’s degree or another alternative route to licensure may be a good fit for your goals.

Education Schools and Certification by State

Each state has its own process for becoming a teacher. Below, you will find schools in your state that offer teacher preparation programs, as well as information on traditional and alternative certification pathways specific to your state.

High School Teacher Job Description

High school teachers 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.

Common Tasks

The responsibilities of a teacher at the high school level include preparing courses, assigning and grading homework and tests, creating classroom rules, attending faculty meetings, and meeting with parents to discuss student progress and behavior issues. 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 as well as during breaks and lunch periods. They may also participate in some extracurricular activities. High school teachers must be able to impart knowledge effectively to teenagers.

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. A consistent and approachable attitude will help a teacher maintain order, good behavior, and discipline in their work with teenage students. 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.

High School Teacher Salary and Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for high school teachers was $62,360 in 2022 with the highest average salaries found in California, New York, Washington, and Massachusetts, respectively.1 The top-earning 10% of teachers earned over $101,710 per year.1 Key factors that determine salary are geographic location, subject, and experience. Benefits for teachers are also typically very good and include health and dental care, a pension, and many days off.

Overall, the teaching profession at the high school level is expected to see job growth of about 5% through 2031.2 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.

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 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and more.

High School Teacher Career Interviews

Frequently Asked Questions

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 are adequate. However, some states require that you earn a master’s degree within several years of starting a teaching job to keep your teaching license. These include New York, Connecticut, Kentucky, Oregon, Michigan, Maryland, Mississippi, and Montana.

Question: Why do some teachers leave the profession?

Answer: There are many reasons, some personal, that teachers leave the profession.3 Some common reasons cited are a lack of administrative support, an emphasis on standardized testing, a lack of time for peer collaboration, a lack of student engagement, compensation, and a larger workload. However, many teachers enjoy years of teaching experience and retire as teachers.

1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2022, Secondary School Teachers, Except Special and Career/Technical Education: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes252031.htm
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, High School Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/high-school-teachers.htm
3. Rizga, Kristina. “How to Keep Teachers From Leaving the Profession.” The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2019/09/teachers-need-other-teachers-succeed/598330/