Becoming a High School Teacher: Degree, Requirements & Qualifications

Jun 05, 2019

High school teachers create lesson plans and assessments designed to provide students with in-depth knowledge of academic subject areas. While the steps to becoming a high school teacher can vary by state, they commonly include earning a degree and meeting requirements for secondary school teacher licensing.

How to Become a High School Teacher

High school teachers, also referred to as secondary school teachers, work with teenage students and tend to specialize in one subject, which they teach to different classes throughout the school day. There is no single high school teacher major at colleges, unlike with elementary education majors for teachers of younger students; rather, teachers in high schools hold degrees in the field that they plan to teach, such as English. High school teachers must also undergo a prep period and receive a license before being allowed to teach full time.

High School Teacher Qualifications

Degree Level Bachelor's degree or higher
Degree Fields Many fields available
Licensure and Certification Licensure required to teach in all states; certification is available for advancement

Types of High School Teachers

Teachers at the high school level can have a degree in any number of areas, so it's important to decide what type of teacher you'd like to be prior to earning a degree. Teachers can specialize in core subjects as well as elective areas, such as:

  • English
  • Mathematics
  • Science (biology, chemistry, etc.)
  • Social Studies (history, government)
  • Art
  • Music
  • Drama
  • Business
  • World Languages (Spanish, French, American Sign Language, etc.)

Elective courses exist in many other areas, although perhaps not at every school. Career and technical education courses are also common, and positions teaching these subjects can be obtained by having experience in the field, even without a relevant degree.

High School Teacher Education Requirements

Requirements for secondary school teaching commonly include a bachelor's degree, at minimum, although high school teachers with master's degrees or even doctorates are not unheard of. Merely holding a bachelor's degree is not enough to teach, however. Teacher prep programs are also commonly required. These programs can be completed alongside a bachelor's degree. They may culminate in a fifth year where the prospective teacher participates in an internship or be offered as one-year programs that result in a master's degree in teaching. Online teacher prep programs do exist, but it is important to ensure that they will qualify you for licensure in the state where you plan to teach. Private schools do not have to abide by education requirements set by public schools, but often have similar expectations of teachers.

High School Teacher Licensure

Licensure of teachers is required in all states, with each state having its own unique requirements. In addition to completion of a teacher prep program recognized in your state and an internship or student teaching period, other common requirements include background checks and exams testing knowledge of your subject. The Praxis tests are among the most common exams used, although the exact tests will vary with state and subject area. To become a high school teacher in Washington, for example, you will need to take exams designed by the state, submit to a background check, complete a teacher prep course that includes an internship, and hold a bachelor's degree. Check with the state you intend to teach in for specific requirements relevant to you.

Alternative teaching credentials can be obtained while working as a teacher with the approval of the school you are teaching for. Alternative teaching credentials often still require a bachelor's degree in the subject area being taught, although relevant work experience can sometimes be used if the degree is not in the same field.

Certification for High School Teachers

Certification is primarily earned for the purposes of advancement or achieving pay raises and is available through national organizations, such as the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). Certification can also be presented as proof of continuing education efforts when a license is up for renewal. These certifications can also help when moving between states.

High School Teacher Career Information

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for high school teachers was $60,320 as of May 2018. The projected job growth for the profession in the ten-year period between 2016 and 2026 is 8%, just slightly higher than the national average, but can vary depending on the region. Since most teachers work for public schools, the need for new teachers is often determined by the budgets of local school districts or state departments of education.

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