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Part of Western Governors University

High School Teacher Career Guide

How to Become a High School Teacher

High school teachers play an important role in shaping young minds as they prepare for the next big step on their path as students. When you teach high school you have the opportunity to work with older students in a specialty of your choosing, supporting their educational pursuits as they start to think about college and make plans for the future. Whether your area of interest is mathematics, science, English, history, or the creative arts, the passion you have for your specialization and for teaching will lend itself to shaping the next generation of architects, biochemists, novelists, and more.

A high school teacher selects a student with their hands raised.

What Is a High School Teacher?

A high school teacher is an educator who plays a critical role in preparing students to succeed in college or other higher education. High school teachers help students in their formative years prepare for the rigors of higher ed by teaching them complex concepts and equipping them with essential study skills. Teaching high school is a big responsibility, and it’s one that comes with a lot of hard work. Certainly you’ll spend a lot of time in the classroom, teaching lessons about your chosen specialty, but there’s also all the effort you’ll be expected to put in during your out-of-classroom hours.

Learning doesn't just happen inside the walls of a high school classroom after all. Teaching and learning can happen in many places for high school students. In addition to planning your lessons as well as grading papers and tests, you may need to spend extra time with students who are struggling and could use extra support. Plus, you may be expected to engage in the planning and execution of off-campus educational activities such as field trips. And then, of course, you’ll be collaborating with other educators and communicating with parents to ensure your students are getting the most out of their education. 

Teaching can require long hours, but few things are more rewarding to an educator than seeing your students walk across the stage at graduation, knowing the hard work they’ve put in. It’s gratifying to later see how their high school experience laid the foundation for their college and career success.

What Does a High School Teacher Do?

Though the focus of your role as a high school teacher is largely on teaching, there’s a lot that goes into the position. As a high school teacher, you’ll be:

  • Lesson planning. Depending on the day or class period, you’ll be expected to work from a lesson plan that outlines what you’ll be teaching your students each day. Your approach to lesson planning will be dependent on your specialty. For example, some math teachers may teach different levels of students on a given day, so you'll need to prepare different types of lessons based on your classes.
  • Mentoring and tutoring. Students who may need extra educational support can benefit from more personalized guidance. One-on-one lessons or small group tutoring can help students who are struggling or aiming for a particular educational goal.
  • Conducting student evaluations. This can take on many forms such as grading papers and tests, weekly, monthly or quarterly evaluations to gauge progress and correct course as needed, and in some cases, preparing students for state tests to help them achieve their academic goals. Progress reports can help students excel.
  • Holding parent interviews. It’s important for parents to meet their student’s teachers. This helps them gain more understanding of lesson plans and what’s being taught, as well as how their child is responding in school, and what can be done to support their educational pursuits at home.
  • Managing events and trips. Depending on your area of specialty, you may work with other educators to facilitate class trips in support of certain lesson plans or chaperone events that offer opportunities for students to learn outside of the classroom.

How Do I Become a High School Teacher?

There are a number of steps to consider if you want to become a high school teacher. To become a high school teacher you need to gain the proper education, complete student teaching hours, pass certain tests, and earn the necessary licensing and certification.

Step 1. Earn a Degree

Once you’ve figured out what teaching specialty or subject you’d like to focus on, you’ll want to enroll in a bachelor’s degree program in that field. A bachelor's degree will focus on your specialty, such as math or English, as well as learning strategies and skills to help you teach effectively. If you already have a bachelor’s degree but want to change your career to become a high school teacher, a Master of Arts in Teaching degree could be an ideal fit. This allows you to qualify for your initial teaching license without having to pursue an additional bachelor’s degree. You can pursue a degree with a specific license specialty, such as math or science, to help you qualify for certain teaching positions. Additionally, if you already have your teaching license, you can pursue a master’s degree to add to your licensure. Both options are a great way to further your education and prepare for a teaching career.

Step 2. Complete In-Classroom Experience

As part of your high school teacher degree program, you’ll be expected to participate in a student teaching program. This gives you the opportunity to get hands-on experience by working alongside a more experienced high school teacher at a local school. You’ll get to see what it’s like to work in education from a day-to-day perspective and learn how to apply course lessons in a real-time environment.

Under the guidance of a senior educator and a university supervisor, your role will start by shadowing your counterpart to learn about an actual classroom in real life. Over time, you’ll move on to interacting more with the students by planning lessons, grading tests, and managing the classroom, taking on all the duties that you’ll be expected to juggle in a full-time high school teacher role.

Student teaching will provide valuable experience—even though it doesn't pay. First, you’ll get to work in an actual classroom environment. There you’ll gain invaluable experience that can help you see where you excel and where you need a little more support. Student teaching can renew your commitment to achieving your education goals. Logging time as a student teacher is a key component of completing your degree online and ensuring you’re ready to move forward in your professional life as a high school teacher.

At WGU, your student teaching or in-classroom experience is referred to as demonstration teaching. In our demonstration teaching program, you’ll work in a seminar format with a cohort of others seeking a teaching degree. Your demonstration teaching experience will be facilitated by an experienced WGU educator.

Step 3. Pass the Praxis Exam 

Once you obtain your bachelor's degree, you’ll need to take a state-mandated skills test, which can vary by state. Many states rely on the Praxis test to gauge your academic skills and in-depth knowledge of your area specialty. Another option is the National Evaluation Series, which also tests for academic skills and professional knowledge. These tests have an application fee that starts at $90, but again, it’s important to review your state’s test requirements to ensure you’ve complied with educator regulations and are qualified to teach. 

Step 4. Get Your Teaching License

Once you’ve passed your test, you can apply for your teaching license. Each state’s license application is different, so you’ll want to make sure you follow your state’s guidelines when you apply. Programs like WGU's offer support in knowing what to do to become licensed, offering you extra support in navigating this complex process.

After you’re licensed to teach, you’re ready to begin looking for your dream teaching job.

Best Degrees for High School Teachers

Science Education (Secondary Earth Science) – B.S.

An online teaching degree and teacher certification program for...

An online teaching degree and teacher...

An online teaching degree and teacher certification program for aspiring middle or high school earth science teachers.

Leads to teacher licensure. Specific grade levels will vary depending on teaching license options in your state.

  • Time: 69% of grads earned this middle school teaching and high school teaching degree within 42 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,770 per 6-month term, plus a one-time fee of $350 to cover the cost of an at-home science lab.

Candidates for this science teaching degree program often include:

  • Aspiring junior high or high school geoscience teachers who currently lack a teaching license
  • Substitute teachers
  • Career-changers with a passion for earth science
  • School paraprofessionals
  • Others who feel the call to teach

This geosciences teaching degree program includes online courses in the following areas: general education, foundations of teaching, general science, mathematics, earth sciences, pedagogy, and science education. It requires in-classroom observation and a term of full-time demonstration teaching. This high school teaching degree program prepares you for teaching licensure in any of the 50 states.

Science Education (Secondary Biological Science) – B.S.

An online teaching degree and teacher certification program for...

An online teaching degree and teacher...

An online teaching degree and teacher certification program for aspiring middle or high school biology teachers.

Leads to teacher licensure. Specific grade levels will vary depending on licensure in your state.

  • Time: 76% of grads earned this online biology degree within 42 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,770 per 6-month term, plus a one-time fee of $350 to cover the cost of an at-home science lab.

Candidates for this online teaching degree often include:

  • Aspiring junior high or high school biology teachers who currently lack a teaching license
  • Substitute teachers
  • Career-changers with a passion for biology
  • School paraprofessionals
  • Others who feel the call to teach

This biology teaching degree program includes online courses in the following areas: general education, foundations of teaching, general science, mathematics, biology, pedagogy, and science education. It requires in-classroom observation and a term of full-time demonstration teaching.

Mathematics Education (Secondary) – B.S.

An online teaching degree and teacher certification program for...

An online teaching degree and teacher...

An online teaching degree and teacher certification program for aspiring middle school math teachers and high school math teachers.

Leads to teacher licensure. Specific grade levels will vary depending on licensure in your state.

  • Time: 71% of grads earned this degree within 42 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,770 per 6-month term.

Candidates for this math teaching degree program often include:

  • Aspiring junior high and high school math teachers who currently lack a teaching license
  • Substitute teachers
  • Career-changers with a passion for math
  • School paraprofessionals
  • Others who feel the call to teach

This online math teaching degree program includes courses in the foundations of teaching, general education, mathematics content, math education, instructional planning and presentation, and pedagogy. It requires in-classroom observation and a term of full-time demonstration teaching. This online math teaching degree program helps students become eligible for math teaching certification.

Teaching, Mathematics Education (Secondary) – M.A.

An online teaching master's degree and teacher certification...

An online teaching master's degree and teacher...

An online teaching master's degree and teacher certification program for aspiring middle school or high school math teachers who already have a bachelor's degree in a non-teaching field.

Leads to teacher licensure. Specific grade levels will vary depending on the teaching certification in your state.

  • Time: 66% of graduates finish this high school math teaching degree within 18 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,935 per 6-month term.

Candidates for this high school math education program often include:

  • Aspiring junior high and high school math teachers who currently hold a bachelor's degree but lack a teaching license
  • Substitute teachers
  • Career-changers with a passion for math
  • School paraprofessionals
  • Others who feel the call to teach

This online teaching degree in secondary math education includes courses in the foundations of teaching, mathematics education, instructional planning and presentation, and pedagogy. It requires in-classroom observation and a term of full-time demonstration teaching.

It differs from the M.A. Teaching, Mathematics Education (Middle Grades) program in that it includes courses in upper levels of calculus, including advanced calculus and mathematical modeling. Graduates from this secondary math degree program will be eligible for a teaching license in any of the 50 states.

Science Education (Secondary Chemistry) – B.S.

An online teaching degree and teacher certification program for...

An online teaching degree and teacher...

An online teaching degree and teacher certification program for aspiring middle or high school chemistry teachers.

Leads to teacher licensure. Specific grade levels will vary depending on licensure in your state.

  • Time: 71% of grads earned this online chemistry degree within 42 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,770 per 6-month term, plus a one-time fee of $350 to cover the cost of an at-home science lab.

Candidates for this online chemistry degree program often include:

  • Aspiring junior high or high school chemistry teachers who currently lack a teaching license
  • Substitute teachers
  • Career-changers with a passion for chemistry
  • School paraprofessionals
  • Others who feel the call to teach

This chemistry teaching degree program includes online classes in the following areas: general education, foundations of teaching, general science, mathematics, chemistry, pedagogy, and science education. It requires in-classroom observation and a term of full-time demonstration teaching. Earn a chemistry degree online and be eligible for a teaching certification.

Science Education (Secondary Physics) – B.S.

An online teaching degree and teacher certification program for...

An online teaching degree and teacher...

An online teaching degree and teacher certification program for aspiring middle or high school physics teachers.

Leads to teacher licensure. Specific grade levels will vary depending on teaching license options in your state.

  • Time: 67% of grads earned this online physics degree within 36 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,770 per 6-month term, plus a one-time fee of $350 to cover the cost of an at-home science lab.

Candidates for this online teaching degree often include:

  • Aspiring junior high or high school physics teachers who currently lack a teaching license
  • Substitute teachers
  • Career-changers with a passion for physics
  • School paraprofessionals
  • Others who feel the call to teach

This physics teaching degree program includes online courses in the following areas: general education, foundations of teaching, general science, mathematics, physics, pedagogy, and science education. It requires in-classroom observation and a term of full-time demonstration teaching. Graduates of this online teaching degree program will be eligible for teaching certification.

Teaching, Science Education (Secondary) – M.A.

An online master's teaching degree and teacher certification...

An online master's teaching degree and teacher...

An online master's teaching degree and teacher certification program for aspiring middle or high school science teachers who already have a bachelor's degree in a non-teaching field.

Leads to teacher licensure. Specific grade levels will vary depending on licensure in your state.

  • Time: 69% of graduates finish this secondary science teaching degree within 18 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,935 per 6-month term.

Candidates for this high school teaching degree program often include:

  • Aspiring junior high and high school science teachers who currently hold a bachelor's degree but lack a teaching license
  • Substitute teachers
  • Career-changers with a passion for science
  • School paraprofessionals
  • Others who feel the call to teach

This graduate-level secondary science teaching program includes the following areas of coursework: foundations of teaching, science education, pedagogy, field experience, research, and a teacher performance assessment. It requires in-classroom observation and a term of full-time demonstration teaching. You'll be prepared to teach in middle school or high school settings, based on teaching certification in your state.

Teaching, English Education (Secondary) – M.A.

An online teaching master's degree and teacher certification...

An online teaching master's degree and teacher...

An online teaching master's degree and teacher certification program for aspiring middle or high school English teachers who already have a bachelor's degree in a non-teaching field.

Leads to teacher licensure. Specific grade levels will vary depending on licensure in your state.

  • Time: 74% of graduates finish this online English degree program within 18 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,935 per 6-month term.

Candidates for this high school English teaching program often include:

  • Aspiring junior high and high school English teachers who currently hold a bachelor's degree but lack a teaching license
  • Substitute teachers
  • Career-changers with a passion for English
  • School paraprofessionals
  • Others who feel the call to teach

This secondary English MAT program includes courses in the foundations of teaching, instructional planning and presentation, English content, research, and pedagogy. It requires in-classroom observation and a term of full-time demonstration teaching. This online English degree prepares students for teaching certification in any of the 50 states.


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You May Be a Different Teacher When You Return in the Fall

What Skills Does a High School Teacher Need?

Effective communication skills are the key to success for any high school teacher, especially in dealing with a wide range of students and parents who all have their own vision for the goals they want to achieve. The more you can offer them a consistent, stable, and enriching learning environment, the better chance your students have of achieving their goals. Patience is also key. As a high school teacher you should also be skilled at working with young adults and helping them realize their potential.

How Much Does a High School Teacher Make?

$62,870

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020 the average annual teacher salary was $62,870, with the highest 10% earning more than $102,130. High school teachers might expect to make more than elementary school teachers. Many teachers have the summers off which means they make an annual salary while only working around 9 months of the year. This is a great perk of teaching. 

What Is the Projected Job Growth?

8%

The number of teaching positions is projected to increase by 8% from 2020 to 2030 which is on pace with the national average for all other occupations. They expect 78,200 more high school teaching positions over that span. High school teaching is a growing profession, great for individuals who want to make a big impact on youth in some of their most transformative years. Being a high school teacher can be an incredibly rewarding career.

Do I Need a Certification to Be a High School Teacher?

Yes

To be a high school teacher, you’ll need to hold at least a bachelor’s degree and be certified and licensed to teach in your state. Here is more information on certification and licensure. Many times, high school teachers also hold master’s degrees. A Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) is a good option for teachers who want to further their education and prepare to teach high school.

Interested in Becoming a High School Teacher?

Learn more about degree programs that can prepare you for this meaningful career.

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