Why teach High School
Teaching high school allows a teacher to specialize in one subject area (say, English) and focus on that in a number of sections each day. This means that although you’ll have less time with each student than an elementary teacher, the emphasis is on one academic area. Lesson prep and grading takes up a larger portion of the high school teacher’s time. If interacting with adolescents who are on their way to a career or college yet often still need a guiding emotional as well as academic helping hand appeals to you, secondary school teaching is the level to pursue.
High school teachers help prepare students for life after graduation. They teach academic lessons and various skills that students will need to attend college or to enter the job market.
High school teachers typically do the following:
- Plan lessons and instruct their students in the subject they teach
- Assess students’ abilities, strengths, and weaknesses
- Adapt lessons to changes in class size
- Grade students’ assignments and exams
- Communicate with parents about students’ progress
- Work with individual students to challenge them and to improve their abilities
- Prepare students for standardized tests required by the state
- Develop and enforce classroom rules and administrative policies
- Supervise students outside of the classroom—for example, during lunchtime or detention
High school teachers generally teach students from the 9th through 12th grades. They usually specialize in one area. Some teach core subjects, such as math, science, or history. Others specialize in elective courses, such as art, music, or physical education. They may teach several different classes within their subject area. For example, a high school math teacher may teach algebra, calculus, and/or geometry.
High school teachers may instruct students from different grades throughout the day. For example, one class may have mostly students from the 9th grade, and another may have 12th-grade students. In many schools, students are divided into classes on the basis of their abilities, so teachers need to adapt their lessons based on students’ skills.
Outside of their instructional time, teachers plan lessons, grade assignments, and meet with other teachers and staff.
Teachers of English as a second language (ESL) or English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) work exclusively with students who are learning the English language. These teachers work with students individually or in groups to help them improve their English language skills and help them with assignments for other classes.
Students with learning disabilities and emotional or behavioral disorders are often taught in traditional classes. High school teachers work with special education teachers to adapt lessons to these students’ needs and to monitor the students’ progress.
Teachers must be comfortable with using and learning new technology. With parents, they may use text-messaging applications to communicate about students’ assignments and upcoming events. With students, teachers may create websites or discussion boards to present information and to expand a lesson taught in class.
Some high school teachers take on additional responsibilities, such as coaching sports or advising academic clubs, activities that frequently take place before or after school.
How to Become One
High school teachers typically must have at least a bachelor’s degree. In addition, public school teachers must have a state-issued certification or license.
To research schools and programs in Secondary School Education, click here.
All states require public high school teachers to have at least a bachelor’s degree. Many states require high school teachers to have majored in a subject area, such as science or history.
High school teachers typically enroll in their college’s teacher education program, which instructs them on presenting information to students of different abilities and background. Programs typically include a student-teaching program, in which prospective teachers work with a mentor teacher and get experience instructing students in a classroom. For information about teacher preparation programs in your state, visit Teach.org.
Some states require high school teachers to earn a master’s degree after earning their teaching certification and obtaining a job.
Teachers in private schools do not need to meet state requirements. However, private schools typically seek high school teachers who have a bachelor’s degree and a major in a subject area.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
All states require teachers in public schools to be licensed or certified in the specific grade level they will teach. Those who teach in private schools typically are not required to be licensed.
High school teachers typically are awarded a secondary or high school certification, which allows them to teach the 7th through the 12th grades.
Requirements for certification or licensure vary by state but generally involve the following:
- A bachelor’s degree with a minimum grade point average
- Completion of a student-teaching program
- Passing a background check
- Passing a general teaching certification test, as well as a test that demonstrates their knowledge in the subject they will teach.
For information on certification requirements in your state, visit Teach.org.
Teachers often are required to complete professional development classes to keep their license or certification. Some states require teachers to complete a master’s degree after receiving their certification and obtaining a job.
All states offer an alternative route to certification or licensure for people who already have a bachelor’s degree but lack the education courses required for certification. Some alternative certification programs allow candidates to begin teaching immediately with supervision by an experienced teacher. These programs cover teaching methods and other topics, such as resource management. After they complete the program, candidates are awarded full certification. Other programs require students to take classes in education before they can teach.
The median annual wage for high school teachers was $61,660 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $40,540, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $99,660.
High school teachers generally work during school hours when students are present. They may meet with parents, students, and other teachers before and after school. They often spend time in the evenings and on weekends grading papers and preparing lessons. Teachers who coach sports or advise clubs generally do so before or after school.
Many teachers work a traditional 10-month school year and have a 2-month break during the summer. They also have a short midwinter break. Although most do not teach during the summer, some teach in summer school programs for which they are paid.
Teachers in districts with a year-round schedule typically work 9 weeks in a row and then have a break for 3 weeks before starting a new school session.
Employment of high school teachers is projected to grow 4 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Rising student enrollment should increase demand for high school teachers, but employment growth will vary by region.
Employment growth for public high school teachers may depend on state and local government budgets. If state and local governments experience budget deficits, school boards may lay off employees, including teachers. As a result, employment growth of high school teachers may be reduced by state and local government budget deficits. Conversely, budget surpluses at the state and local level could lead to additional employment growth for high school teachers.
Many teachers will be needed to replace those who retire or who leave the occupation for other reasons.
Many schools report that they have difficulty filling teaching positions for certain subjects, including math, science, English as a second language, and special education. As a result, teachers who specialize in these subjects should have the best job prospects. For more information about high school special education teachers, see the profile on special education teachers.1
Secondary school teachers help students prepare for life after high school, from taking college entrance exams to getting ready for a career. They specialize in teaching seventh to twelfth grade students a single subject, such as English, physical education, science, or music. Secondary school teachers must adapt to students' varied abilities, including limited English proficiency, learning disabilities, and emotional or behavioral disorders. During open periods in their day, teachers plan lessons, grade assignments, and meet with other teachers and staff. They may post grades and assignments on school websites. Some high school teachers coach sports and advise clubs and other groups after school. Teaching can be challenging, especially where classes are large and important resources are in short supply. Teachers are often held accountable for students’ performance on standardized tests, and at times, must go to great lengths to engage students and maintain a respectful learning environment. Communication skills, patience, and resourcefulness… are important characteristics in this career. Teachers generally work a ten-month school year with a two-month break for summer, although some teach summer programs. A bachelor’s degree is required to enter this field, along with state certification or licensure to work at public schools. Candidates must also pass a test in their subject area. The payoff for teachers' commitment is seeing students develop a strong foundation for their future.2
- U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook
- U.S. Department of Labor, Career One Stop
Links and Resources for Secondary School Education
American Federation of Teachers--The American Federation of Teachers is a union of professionals that champions fairness; democracy; economic opportunity; and high-quality public education, healthcare and public services for students, their families and communities.
National Education Association--The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.
Association of American Educators--The (AAE) is the largest national, non-union, professional educators' organization, advancing the profession by offering a modern approach to teacher representation and educational advocacy, as well as promoting professionalism, collaboration and excellence without a partisan agenda.