How to Become a High School Teacher

A teacher’s influence on student achievement is “20 times greater than other variables.”1 Of all those teachers, perhaps none are more crucial to a person’s future than high school educators. They serve at that critical juncture between our childhood and adulthood, when most of us decide if we’re going to launch into a career or go off to college after graduation.

Though often taken for granted, high school teachers bear enormous responsibility to build onto the foundation established through the first eight years of education.

What Does a High School Teacher Do?

High school teachers have a laundry list of duties to keep them busy! A few of the most common include:

  • Adopting curriculum and devising lesson plans
  • Ensuring a comfortable learning environment to conduct lessons
  • Teaching lessons to students  and encouraging engagement
  • Arranging collaborative activities for students to work together
  • Monitoring student learning and behavior, offering assistance as needed
  • Managing the classroom and maintaining positive control
  • Performing concept checking measures to ensure comprehension
  • Providing additional guidance or modifying teaching approaches as needed
  • Reviewing and grading student assignments while offering constructive feedback
  • Reviewing test material, administering quizzes and exams, grading exams
  • Ensuring lessons meet core requirements
  • Incorporating technology into the classroom, when appropriate
  • Preparing students for upcoming standardizing tests
  • Working with administrative staff, faculty, and school leadership
  • Assisting with extracurricular activities, sometimes after regular hours
  • Supervising students during off-campus trips or at other times
  • Engaging with parents when needed to review progress or discuss concerns
  • Managing classroom safety during emergencies
  • Assisting students with meeting college admissions requirements
  • Helping to resolve conflicts, reporting signs of serious issues such as abuse

In some smaller public schools, teachers may be responsible for teaching more than one subject. They may also wear additional hats, serving as counselors to help guide students towards academic success both in high school and beyond.

High School Teacher Salary and Career Outlook

Many variables impact a high school teacher’s salary, such as geographic location, years of experience, educational qualifications, and whether the school is public or private. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual high school teacher’s salary is $61,660 (as of 2019) and can range from $40,540 to over $99,660.2

There are roughly 1,050,800 high school teachers currently employed in the United States. The profession’s job outlook is steady at 4% projected growth over the next decade, equaling about 1,090,900 positions by 2029. That growth percentage is about the same as the average for all other career field growth projections, though that is not a guarantee of future job openings.

Applicants must stay competitive to find good jobs, and BLS notes that those qualified to teach subjects in math, science, ESL, or special education could be in higher demand.

How to Know if You Would Enjoy a Job as a High School Teacher

Most education students don’t become high school teachers for the lucrative paychecks! Instead, they’re drawn to the profession for a variety of reasons. Many are passionate about the subject matter they teach, and they love to share their enthusiasm with young minds.

However, teaching also requires an incredible amount of patience, empathy, and resilience. When standing in front of a classroom, you’re under the spotlight. The pressure is on to be prepared and inspire students while staying flexible enough to adapt when things get off track.

If you don’t like speaking in public or are afraid to exert authority, or get frustrated easily may not have what it takes to become a high school teacher!

Steps to Becoming a High School Teacher

So, how do you become a high school teacher? There are some basic preliminarysteps, and they vary depending on the state you plan to teach in as well as your chosen specialty.

In general, high school teacher positions require a minimum amount of education with additional certification, internship experience, or licensure needed for some roles.

Here are the general requirements to become a high school teacher!

Step One: Earn a Degree

The most basic requirement for high school teachers is to enroll in their school’s teacher education program and complete a bachelor’s degree in education or relevant major. Training programs done in conjunction with a degree offer practical internship experience teaching in the classroom under the mentorship of a working teacher.

Depending on the state, your coursework should be focused on the topic you intend to teach. Find out the details for your specific state by visiting your state’s Department of Education website. Note, private schools aren’t beholden to state requirements but still usually require an applicable bachelor’s.

Step Two: Earn Additional Experience

As mentioned, while doing a bachelor’s, students gain hands-on teaching experience via a teacher training program that includes a brief internship.

However, for those who’ve already graduated in a non-education major, you can still get the needed experience through an (admittedly complex) alternative certification program. Requirements vary by state, but almost all of them make the process a bit challenging and require a background check.

There’s not a completely clear path to becoming a high school teacher once you’ve graduated and started working in another field. If this is you and you’re looking for a career change, the American Board for the Certification of Teacher Excellence offers resources to help determine what is required for alternative certification in each state.3

Step Three: Complete a Graduate Degree (other applicable certification)

While a graduate degree isn’t always necessary, finishing your master of arts in teaching (MAT) or master of education (MEd) can help qualify you for better-paying high school teacher positions.

Some states like New York, Connecticut, and Maryland  require working teachers to obtain an advanced degree in order to maintain their license. Meanwhile, certain employers may also look for a master’s degree or other forms of professional development such as advanced certification or credentials in instructional techniques or curriculum design.

Step Four: Become Certified/Licensed

Every state requires public school teachers to obtain certification or licensure.

  1. The first general requirement is holding a bachelor’s degree with a minimum GPA and finishing a teacher training program (usually done as part of the bachelor’s process).
  2. Candidates must then pass a Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators4 exam covering reading, math, and writing skills.
  3. Next, they must pass Praxis Subject Assessments for the areas they want to teach.5
  4. The last step to becoming a certified or licensed high school teacher involves completing a state or federal background screening to look for any criminal history involving minors.6

As mentioned, some states require working teachers to complete a master’s or other advanced coursework to maintain their license.

How Long Does it Take to Become a High School Teacher?

It takes four years of full-time college attendance to complete a necessary bachelor’s degree plus up to three months of preparation time for the Praxis exams. Students attending college part-time could take up to twice as long.

Meanwhile, some students take their Praxis tests before graduation to save time so they can get started teaching sooner! Of course, many students press on to get their master’s degree knocked out, which can add one or two years to the timeline.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Being a High School Teacher?

A major perk of being a teacher is the ability to positively impact the lives of so many young people. It’s a dynamic profession with plenty of opportunities to learn new things, such as incorporating technology into the classroom. Many high school teachers enjoy the downtime during summer vacation and other holiday breaks, and there is usually job stability and a good benefits package.

Wages are a common area of dissatisfaction, though. Plus, the pressure is always on when you’re a teacher, standing in front of dozens of students facing their unique life challenges, which they often bring into the learning environment!

Best Degrees to Become a High School Teacher

Ideally, future high school teachers should earn a bachelor’s degree in the subject they want to teach or major in teaching and education with a focus on their intended teachable subject(s). Every college and university is different, but you’ll need to enroll in the school’s teacher preparation program regardless of the major you select.

Majoring in teaching and education will empower you with more knowledge and skills to be used in the classroom. The potential downside is that you’ll have less background in the subject you want to teach.

Majoring in the specific subject you intend to teach makes you a better subject matter expert. The tradeoff is that you’ll receive less comprehensive teacher preparation.

Outstanding List of Schools for High School Teachers

There are numerous universities across the country that offer high-quality education programs to prepare future high school teachers. U.S. News & World Report offers an annual ranking, but we wanted to share a few details about some of the top picks!

Michigan State University – Founded in 1855 in East Lansing, Michigan State University is one of the country’s largest universities by enrollment. MSU’s teacher education programs consistently score well, and the university itself generally ranks highly on listings of the top 100 American public universities. It currently has a 71% acceptance rate for applicants, according to USNWR.

Stanford University – California’s sunny Stanford University has an astonishingly accomplished roster of faculty and alumni that include 84 Nobel laureates, 28 Turing Award laureates, 74 billionaires, and 17 astronauts. A powerhouse of entrepreneurism, its graduates have gone on to found companies generating trillions of dollars. The university also has a generous scholarship policy, with many families qualifying for paid tuition, room, and board.7

University of Wisconsin–Madison – Established when Wisconsin became a state, UW-Madison is one of the founding members of the esteemed Association of American Universities. Dubbed a “Public Ivy” because of its reputational excellence and relative affordability, it has a well-earned reputation as one of the country’s best teacher training schools.8

University of Texas–Austin – Another Public Ivy institution, UT Austin is home to the country’s 7th biggest “single-campus” enrolled student body. As the flagship of a system that’s endowed with over $30 billion, the university is both a hub of research activity and a major player in the art world with seven museums under its belt.

University of Washington – Seattle’s prestigious UW is among the oldest campuses in the west, boasting of one of the most extensive library systems on Earth. A very high research activity institution, UW ranks in the top five for R&D spending and has long-standing partnerships with major corporate players such as Microsoft, Amazon, and Nintendo.

Where Can I Learn More About Becoming a High School Teacher?

  • American Federation of Teachers – Founded in Chicago in 1916, the AFT is the country’s second-biggest labor union for educators, with almost 2 million members.
  • Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation – CAEP’s stated mission is to “advance equity and excellence in educator preparation through evidence-based accreditation that assures quality and supports continuous improvement to strengthen P-12 student learning.”
  • ETS – Educational Testing Service is a nonprofit designed to create educational assessment exams, such as the Praxis series.
  • National Education Association – The premier American labor union, NEA has been around since 1857 and currently has ~2.3 million members.
  • TEACH.org – Featuring free resources for educators, Teach.org is on a mission to “assist anyone who is considering becoming a teacher.”

FAQ

How many years does it take to become a high school teacher?

It takes four years of full-time college attendance to complete a necessary bachelor’s degree, plus up to three months of preparation time for the Praxis exams.

What degree do I need to become a high school teacher?

The traditional route is to enroll in a teacher training program, majoring in education or the subject you wish to teach. States offer

Is it hard to be a high school teacher?

Teaching is a challenge and requires patience, empathy, and a deep understanding of effective educational strategies. It’s a long-term commitment with ongoing professional development demands.

How much do high school teachers get paid?

The median annual salary for high school teachers is $61,660 (as of 2019), ranging from under $40,540 to over $99,660 for experienced, highly qualified professionals.

Sources:

  1. http://stand.org/national/blog/2015/04/10/6-incredible-facts-about-great-teachers
  2. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/high-school-teachers.htm#tab-5
  3. https://www.americanboard.org/blog/all-about-alternative-teacher-certification/
  4. https://www.ets.org/praxis/states
  5. https://www.ets.org/praxis/about/
  6. https://datacheckinc.com/blog/included-background-checks-teachers/#:~:text=School%20districts%20usually%20conduct%20a,about%20convictions%20in%20other%20states.
  7. https://news.stanford.edu/2019/12/03/trustees-set-2020-21-tuition-expand-financial-aid-middle-income-families/#:~:text=Currently%20at%20Stanford%2C%20parents%20with,to%20%24150%2C000%20in%202020%2D21.
  8. https://www.shemmassianconsulting.com/blog/public-ivy
  9. https://www.washington.edu/news/2018/12/07/uw-is-top-u-s-public-institution-for-federal-research-expenditures/#:~:text=According%20to%20the%20Higher%20Education,increase%20from%20the%20prior%20year