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How to Become a High School Teacher: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a high school teacher. Research the job description and the education and licensing requirements and find out how to start a career in secondary education.

Should I Become a High School Teacher?

High school teachers, also known as secondary teachers, instruct students in subjects through classroom discussions, lectures and other methods and then evaluate a student's progress in a subject through examinations and coursework. Those interested in being a high school teacher must be proficient not only in the subject matter, but also in the administrative and technological aspects of the classroom. They should also be able to communicate effectively with parents, students, and other staff members. Working with demanding and sometimes unruly teenagers can be tiring and often requires a great deal of patience. Teachers are often able to observe their students' accomplishments, however, and may earn great satisfaction.

Prospective high school teachers should enroll in a bachelor's degree program in secondary education with an area of concentration in the subject that they wish to teach. Alternatively, aspiring high school teachers may major in their content area and minor in secondary education. Most undergraduate programs in secondary education prepare students for licensure in the state in which the program is accredited. This license is required to teach in all public schools.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Field Secondary education, subject-specific field
Experience Student teaching internship
Licensure/Certification High school certification and/or state teaching license required for public schools
Key Skills Flexibility, patience, instructional, communication, computer, basic technical skills, management, coaching, development techniques
Salary $56,310 (2014 annual median salary for all high school teachers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ONET Online, Teach.org

Step 1: Complete a Bachelor's Degree and Teacher Preparation Program

State requirements or preferred degree programs can vary. Generally, students will complete a major in the subject area they intend to teach with a minor in education or with concurrent enrollment in a teacher preparation program. However, some schools have students major in secondary education and minor in the particular subject area in which they plan to teach. Whether a student is enrolled in a teacher preparation program or another type of education degree, they generally complete a student teaching or mentorship teaching component in the program.

Success Tips:

  • Participate in internship and student teaching opportunities. Most teacher preparation programs (and their varying forms/names) include student teaching; however, there will likely be additional opportunities to gain field experience or complete volunteer work through the school or community. Students should consider these opportunities to gain an understanding of the subject matter as well as to round out and populate their resume for obtaining positions after graduation.
  • Become a tutor. Students who show a proficiency in subject areas, demonstrated by grades in related classes and cumulative GPA, are likely eligible to tutor these subjects through the school or university. These positions are often paid and students can specialize in one subject area or tutor in several.
  • Complete an alternative teacher program if applicable. Alternative teacher programs generally take 1-2 years to complete and are available to students who already possess a bachelor's degree that is closely related to the subject area in which he or she wishes to teach. This can be an expedited route to begin teaching for students who already hold a relevant bachelor's degree.

Step 2: Earn Teaching Credentials

After bachelor's degree attainment, there are additional exams and requirements necessary to complete in order for a student to obtain his or her initial teaching credentials. These also vary by state. Generally, the student will have a basic skills exam in addition to an exam specified to the subject in which they intend to teach. These test scores in conjunction with transcripts showing completion of the bachelor's degree and teacher prep program as well as state and federal background checks must be submitted with a completed application to the State Board of Education.

States also require teachers to complete several requirements to obtain permanent credentials. This can include additional coursework, exams and tests. Some teachers may be required to earn a master's degree, as well as a minimum amount of teaching experience.

Success Tips:

  • Complete additional coursework requirements online. There are online and hybrid online/on-campus courses available to complete state requirements for permanent credentials. This includes master's degree programs.
  • Use development resources. Most teachers associations offer programs that teachers can utilize to gain additional teaching techniques and other skills in addition to staying current on technology commonly used in the classroom.

Step 3: Pursue Voluntary Certification to Advance your Career

According to the BLS, pursuing additional credentials, such as those offered by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), can increase job prospects for teachers. The NBPTS offers the National Board Certification, which is an advanced teaching credential. These certificates are available in a variety of areas, including health, library media, mathematics, physical education and science, for secondary teachers.

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