Secondary Education Teacher Requirements

Sep 16, 2019

Secondary school teachers instruct high school students in a specific subject area, such as English or science. A bachelor's degree in the desired subject and a teaching license are required to work as a secondary school teacher.

Essential Information

Secondary education teachers work in high schools, where they teach students a particular subject area, such as history, English, science or mathematics. All public school teachers must possess a teaching license, which can only be obtained after the completion of a bachelor's degree program. Most aspiring secondary school teachers obtain a degree in the field they wish to study, while concurrently taking education classes and completing a student teaching experience. Some states may require a master's for certain programs.

Required Education Bachelor's usually required, some states may require a master's
Other Requirements State license required for public school positions; student teaching experience
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 4% for high school teachers
Median Salary (2018)* $60,320 annually for secondary school teachers, not including career, technical or special education

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Licensure Requirements

There are two paths to obtaining a teaching license. The first is designed for graduates who hold a degree in the field of education. The other is an alternative route intended for college graduates who want to enter the field but did not study education.

Traditional Teaching Licensure

All 50 states and the District of Columbia require public school teachers to have licenses. While each state sets its own requirements for licensure, there are some common requirements. First, teachers need to possess a bachelor's degree. For the traditional route, it must be a degree in education. Students are also required to complete a teacher preparation program in addition to a supervised teaching experience. Most states administer teaching examinations that graduates must pass before they are granted a license. Some only license teachers who successfully complete student teaching programs.

Alternative Teaching Licensure

Many states now offer alternative licensing programs for aspiring educators who did not graduate with a degree in education. These programs are designed to attract people qualified in diverse subject areas to the field of teaching, particularly for hard-to-fill positions in mathematics, science or information technology. Each state's alternative licensing program is unique. Some allow graduates to teach after one or two semesters of full-time study. Others let graduates start teaching immediately, but require that they teach under the supervision of an experienced teacher and enroll in education courses outside of school hours. Depending on the program, students could earn a master's degree.

Education Requirements

For people who want to teach in public schools and follow the traditional path to teaching licensure, a bachelor's degree in education is a must. Many private schools require that applicants for teaching positions have an education degree even though it is not required by law.

Degree Options

Universities generally offer different education degrees for different grade levels. Early childhood education, elementary education, middle school education and secondary school education are common degree offerings. Students pursuing a secondary school education degree concurrently major in the area they wish to teach. For example, someone who wants to be a high school science teacher might major in biology or chemistry. Some schools also confer music education or reading education degrees. These specialized degrees usually allow graduates to obtain a license to teach students at all grade levels, including the secondary level.

Student Teaching

Most education programs require that students successfully complete a student teaching experience prior to graduation. In some states, student teaching is a requirement for licensure. Secondary education students are typically assigned student teaching positions in the subject they hope to teach. For the first few weeks, students observe the teacher and may help run various aspects of the class. Toward the end of the semester, the students deliver their own lessons.


The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and the Teacher Education Accreditation Council are the bodies responsible for accrediting teaching degree programs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), aspiring teachers do not need to graduate from an accredited program. However, the curriculum in accredited programs usually matches state licensure requirements, which can facilitate the licensing process.

Personality Requirements

Beyond the official education and licensure requirements, teachers also need a certain set of character traits to be successful educators. A talent for communicating with minors and detecting their emotional and educational needs is essential. At the secondary level, teachers must know how to reach and motivate adolescents. Sound organizational and administrative abilities are also important. Because each learner develops at his or her own pace, teachers also need patience.

Applicants who have a bachelor's degree and teaching certificate are qualified for most secondary school teaching positions, though some subjects may require a master's degree. Demonstrating strong communication skills and an ability to work well with teenagers will help applicants appeal to potential employers when seeking a career in this field.

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