High School Teacher Career Guide

A secondary school teacher, more commonly called a high school teacher, instructs students in ninth through twelfth grade in both public and private educational institutions. The primary objective of these teachers is to educate students and prepare them for college and/or the job market. This guide provides further information on what high school teachers do, how to become one, and the occupation’s salary and job outlook.

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. 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, attending faculty meetings, 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 school 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 as well as during breaks and lunch periods, and may be 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; 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 usually 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. This typically means that prospective teachers must complete a state-approved teacher preparation program. Secondary school teachers in a private school are typically not required to hold certification, though this is a growing preference in private school systems. 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 your school’s 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 particular subject you wish to teach, you must take a teacher preparation program approved by your state in order 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, during which students have a chance to work under experienced educators in a school setting 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. 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.

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 2022.1 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.

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 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and more.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: What degree do I need to be a high school teacher?

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 college or university. If you already have a bachelor’s degree but did not complete teacher preparation, you may be eligible for an alternative certification program, such as earning certification through a master’s degree.

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 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, lack of time for peer collaboration, lack of student engagement, poor pay, and a larger workload. However, there are many teachers who enjoy years of teaching experience and retire as teachers.

Question: What is a typical high school teacher salary?

Answer: The median salary a high school teacher earns is dependent on many factors, including location, degree earned, years of experience, and type of school. However, the BLS reports a median salary of $62,360 per year among secondary school teachers, with the highest average salaries found in California, New York, Washington, and Massachusetts, respectively.1 Of course, the cost of living in these states tends to be higher, which may offset the higher salaries.

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/