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How to Become a High School Teacher

What is a high school teacher?

A high school teacher develops lessons and activities to help students learn about a particular subject in high school. They deliver content through direct instruction or direction with the help of powerpoints, textbooks, and other equipment. High school teachers are also responsible for creating and administering tests to determine their class’s grade scale.

A key part of a high school teacher’s job is to offer support and feedback to their students. Some students may not understand certain concepts as well as others, so it may be required that you spend more one-on-one time with those particular students to help teach them. High school teachers should spend time learning about each student’s abilities, strengths, and weaknesses to come up with ways to best teach their class.  

Qualifications and eligibility

Each state has different licensing requirements to become a teacher, however, there will be common qualifications among all states. This includes: 

  • You must be at least 21 years of age 
  • You must earn a bachelor’s degree in a related subject
  • You must complete a teacher certification program
  • You must earn experience as a student teacher
  • You must pass the Praxis examination
  • You must pass a criminal background check

A high school teacher must have good communication skills. Teenagers can have short attention spans and be easily distracted, so it is important for teachers to be patient and friendly as they work on getting the class back on topic. High school teachers should also try to have good listening skills. This allows them to be more aware of student’s needs and potential anxieties.

Work environment

High school teachers all work in high schools teaching students in various locations. Here are some of the different types of schools a high school teacher can work at:  

  • Public Schools – These schools are funded by the state and federal government. Teachers in these schools will typically be teaching local children that are assigned to that school district. 
  • Charter Schools – This is a tuition-free school that is publicly funded but independently operated. Teachers have more freedom to innovate, create, and provide unique educational experiences for their students.  
  • Magnet Schools – These schools specialize in a certain subject or skill such as technology, art, or science. 
  • Special Education Schools – Teachers working at these schools will adapt their curriculum and instruction to meet the needs of children with various conditions such as autism, hearing impairment, and developmental delay. 
  • Private Schools – These schools are independently funded and are usually designed to prepare students for college. 

Some high school teachers may teach classes virtually. They may teach a whole curriculum or just a few specialized sessions. Virtual education is typically used in remote areas to help with advanced courses that aren’t offered in nearby traditional public schools. 

Typical work hours

As you might expect, the typical hours for a high school teacher can vary depending on the school district they work for. School hours can start as early as 7:00 AM and end as late as 3:00 PM. While high school teachers are found instructing during school hours, they commonly work before or after school to prepare for lessons throughout the week. 

High school teachers typically work 40 hours a week. However, our national shortage of teachers has resulted in some high school teachers working up to 50 hours a week. Those extra work hours are usually dedicated to answering emails, grading papers, and creating lesson plans. While high school teachers work extra hard in the year to teach their students, they have the summer off to relax, spend time on hobbies, and work on other projects.

Types of high school teachers

High school teachers typically earn their bachelor’s degree in the subject they’re going to teach. A high school teacher can specialize in the following areas:  

  • English Teacher – English classes in high school cover language and literature, including poetry, drama, and non-fictions. Teachers will prepare a variety of standardized exams to test reading comprehension and grammar proficiency. 
  • Math Teacher – A math teacher will teach algebra, geometry, and trigonometry during high school. They will review functions and models with students to help them understand those tough topics.  
  • Biology Teacher – High school biology classes will introduce topics on cell structure, anatomy, genetics, growth and functions of plants, and sexual reproduction. 
  • Physical Education Teacher – Physical education teachers will plan lessons and activities regarding physical fitness, strength conditioning, and lifelong wellness. This involves students participating in sports, dance, and other outdoor activities. 
  • Music Teacher – Music teachers teach students to play the flute, clarinet, piccolo, bassoon, saxophone, oboe, and the violin. They may also teach music theory, which covers note reading, rhythm, pitch, and intervals. 
  • Art Teacher – As a high school art teacher, you may be teaching various artistic skills with different art mediums including watercoloring, sketching, clay work, jewelry making, and glass staining.

Income potential

A high school teacher salary will largely depend on your geographic location, your certifications, and the number of years you’ve worked as a teacher: 

  • The average annual income for a high school teacher is $62,00 with a range from $39,457 to $90,848.
  • A high school teacher’s salary can fluctuate when you break the data down by state, so it is best to check your specific state’s numbers. For example, Massachusetts, Nevada, Alaska, and Washington offer the highest average salary at $44,000 – $48,000.  Meanwhile, Louisiana, Georgia, and Florida have the lowest national average at $30,000 to $32,000.

Keep in mind that some high school teachers work part-time and only teach a few periods a day. Part-time teaching positions at high schools are typically paid hourly. The average hourly pay for high school teachers is $18 – $24, so it is important to consider the number of hours you would like to work to maintain a certain salary range. On the other hand, some teachers work the full school day and help teach more advanced subjects such as calculus or computer science. Those high school teachers will be more highly compensated for their work. 

Some high school teachers may offer additional tutoring for students outside their district. This is a good way for teachers to earn a little extra money on the side. They can set their own rates while determining the number of students they can help. 

Position trends

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the job market to grow by 8% over the next ten years for high school teachers. About 77,400 new positions will be available each year to replace workers leaving the field to another occupation or to retire.

Career path

As a certified high school teacher, you can pursue other positions in education, consulting, and administration. Many people who apply to become high school teachers already have spent a number of hours working as a teacher assistant in high schools. Their experience in the education field will help prepare them for more advanced positions as they expand their opportunities at work. 

Below is a list of positions of alternative career paths for high school teachers:

  • Principal 
  • Educational Consultant
  • Homeschool Consultant
  • Standardized Test Developer
  • Curriculum Designer
  • Instructional Designer
  • Textbook Author
  • School Counselor
  • Recreation Director
  • Camp Director
  • Life Coach
  • Education Researcher
  • Child Psychologist
  • Event Planner
  • Childcare Worker
  • Personal Trainer

Steps to become a high school teacher

The career path steps to becoming a high school teacher include:

1. Decide what subject you want to teach

The first step to becoming a high school teacher is deciding what you want to teach. Unlike pre-school and elementary teachers, high school teachers specialize in a subject to teach their students. It is important to teach something you are passionate about to better engage your students into the lessons you plan. Here are some common subjects taught in high school:

  • English
  • Algebra
  • Trigonometry
  • Biology
  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Family and Consumer Sciences
  • U.S. History
  • U.S. Government

All of these classes are included in a high school curriculum to prepare students to go onto college. However, there are usually more advanced classes such as calculus or programming offered to students to learn more about those subjects. There is a need for teachers in all these subjects, so it is best to specialize in the subject you are most excited about! 

2. Earn a Bachelor’s degree

You must earn a bachelor’s degree to become a certified high school teacher. Those looking to become high school teachers should major in the subject they want to teach in. This will prepare aspiring teachers to become experts in that subject area and be able to educate students at different levels. 

3. Become a teaching assistant

A teaching assistant will gain valuable experience as a “mini” teacher. They offer academic help to students while assisting teachers with their lesson plans. Becoming a teaching assistant before getting certified as a high school teacher will best prepare you on how to create lesson plans and keep a classroom engaged while teaching various concepts. Some universities will provide you with different opportunities to work as a teaching assistant during your program. This will not only strengthen your resume, but you will have the knowledge and skills to effectively teach students. 

Some states may require a certain number of student teacher hours, so it is best to check your state’s licensing qualifications before you graduate.

4. Pass the Praxis examination

The Praxis test is a required examination in most states to become a certified high school teacher. The test measures your knowledge and skills needed to prepare for the classroom. There are several different types of Praxis tests. Your state may require you to take one or more based on the content you teach. This is how Praxis breaks down their tests:

  • Praxis Core Tests – These exams will test your knowledge of reading, writing, and mathematics. This is typically required for entry into teacher preparation programs. 
  • Praxis Subject Tests – These exams are important for licensure and certification. You will take the test that is specific to your discipline, which will test your expertise on that subject. 

Check your state’s examination requirements here. 

5. Pass a background check

Every state requires a high school teacher to pass a background check before they are officially hired on. Passing a background check is important to ensure safety and security at a high school with children. 

The standard educational and institutional background checks include: 

  • Social Security Number
  • County Criminal Court Search
  • Motor Vehicle Records
  • National Sex Offender 
  • Nationwide Criminal Database 
  • Federal District Court Search 
  • USA Patriot Act including Terrorist Watch List 
  • School Attendance Records
  • Proof of Degrees

6. Get hired on by your dream school

Once you become a licensed high school teacher, it is time to start applying to schools that would offer you the right position. You need to decide whether a public, charter, or private school would be the best choice for you and what grade level you would like to teach in. Once you find a school that you believe would be a good fit, apply and prepare for an interview!

Here is a list of some of the top high schools in the United States: 

7. Order your teaching materials and supplies

Once you become hired on as a new high school teacher, you will want certain supplies and materials that will help enhance your lesson plans.

Here is a list of popular materials and supplies commonly used by high school teachers:

  • Textbooks
  • Paper
  • Post-it notes
  • Whiteboard
  • Dry erase markers
  • Antibacterial wipes
  • Tissues
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Pencils and pens
  • Storage bins and shelves

8. Stay on top of continuing education requirements and explore more certifications

There are continuing education requirements in each state to keep teachers up to date on new practices and ideas in education. High school teachers will need to earn a certain amount of continuing education hours to maintain their professional license. It may also be good to get some additional certifications while working as a high school teacher. Some of the top certifications include:

If you’re working in an area that may include teenagers who are at-risk, this certificate is a great addition for you to have. It includes 21 credits that cover everything from life skills to psychopathology.

When working with children, you can always expect for there to be injuries. Being certified in first aid is important to keep the kids in your classes safe!

You’ll be working with a lot of hormones when working with teens, and knowing how to encourage and uplift them is important. Mental health problems are very prevalent in youth, so it’s important to know how to handle these life or death situations.

Tips for becoming a high school teacher

If you are interested in becoming a high school teacher, there are a few things you can do to get ahead of the curve. Here are some tips for becoming a high school teacher:

  • Research what the licensing requirements are for high school teachers in your state. You can find this information through your local government’s website. 
  • Sign up to be a teaching assistant, even if your state doesn’t require it.
  • Join associations so you have access to resources and advocates ready to help you:
  • Make time to explain procedures and expectations at the beginning of the school year. You must teach your students not only the “what” but also the “how”. 
  • You never know how a criticism or comment could be taken. Make sure to speak to your students with kindness and the utmost respect. 
  • Build connections with your students. As you become more comfortable with your students and teaching, you will develop a stronger passion for the work you do. 
  • Start planning now. Creating new goals and lesson plans can be time consuming, so it is best to start now to get ahead of the game.

High school teacher FAQs