Wilson College Online Blog

How to Become a High School Teacher

Written by: Wilson College   •  Feb 1, 2024
A high school teacher helps three students in a classroom.

How to Become a High School Teacher

Over 1 million high school teachers are currently educating students across the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Entering this critical, fulfilling profession requires a significant investment. Prospective teachers need specialized training, a qualifying degree, and classroom experience. Teaching at the high school level also requires subject-area expertise. Earning a master’s degree in education can help individuals advance their high school teaching careers.

Curious about how to become a high school teacher? Learn more about the licensure requirements, job duties, and earning potential of high school teachers.

What Does a High School Teacher Do?

High school teachers generally instruct students in ninth through 12th grade. They usually specialize in one subject area, which can be a core area, such as social studies, math, language arts, or science, or an elective area, such as world languages, health, art, or music. High school teachers cover the knowledge and skills that students will need when they graduate and transition to college or the workforce.

In the classroom, high school teachers deliver lesson plans and assess their students’ knowledge of the topics they cover. Teachers draw on their own subject-area knowledge to ensure that students master the material. Outside of the classroom, high school teachers coordinate with parents, other educators, and staff. They also plan lessons, grade students’ work, and mentor students.

The U.S. Department of Education tracks the shortage of teachers across the country. Many states report shortages in core high school subjects, including language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies. The need for special education and English as a second language teachers is also high.

Steps to Become a High School Teacher

Becoming a high school teacher generally takes several years. The requirements to become a high school teacher can vary greatly by state, subject, and school district. Most high school teachers need a college degree, subject-area training, classroom experience, and a teaching license.

The following explains how to become a high school teacher in four steps.

1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

High school teachers must hold at least a bachelor’s degree. Educators at the secondary level need coursework in both their subject area and pedagogy. Teacher preparation programs cover key topics such as instructional strategies, research-based assessment methods, and classroom management.

Depending on the state they will work in, high school teachers may also need to meet college-level coursework requirements in their subject area. For example, some states require or recommend that teachers have a minimum number of upper-division college credit hours in their subject area.

2. Gain Student Teaching Experience

Teachers need to gain hands-on experience in the classroom before landing their first job. In some states, prospective teachers must meet minimum student teaching hours to qualify for a license or certification.

Educator preparation programs incorporate this experience into their graduation requirements. For example, undergraduates pursuing a bachelor’s degree in secondary education complete their student teaching requirements as part of their degree’s coursework.

Student teachers plan lessons, instruct students, and work under an experienced educator.

3. Obtain a Teaching License

Most high school teaching jobs require a state-issued teaching license or certification. In 2022, 81% of high school teachers taught in public schools, while 16% taught in private schools, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Public school districts generally require high school teachers to be certified to teach their chosen subject area at the high school level.

The requirements for licensure vary by state. In most states, candidates must hold a bachelor’s degree, complete a teacher preparation program, and pass a certification exam. Secondary teachers typically need to pass a test in their subject area as well. Some states also require a background check.

Licensed educators may need to periodically renew their credentials, and they usually must complete continuing education courses to qualify for renewal. The renewal process and requirements vary by state.

4. Pursue a Master’s Degree

In some states, teachers need a master’s degree to qualify for teaching credentials. Other states encourage educators to earn a graduate degree. For example, in most states, the courses in a master’s degree program meet the continuing education requirements for teacher licensure.

A master’s degree can help high school teachers increase their earning potential. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that, in 2021, teachers with a bachelor’s degree had an average base salary of $58,410. Individuals with a master’s degree had on average a base salary of $73,610.

Some current and prospective educators may be comparing the two common master’s degrees for teachers, a Master of Teaching vs. a Master of Education. A master’s degree in teaching emphasizes instructional and classroom skills and is intended specifically for teachers, while a master’s degree in education can also lead to specialized roles such as instructional coordinator or school administrator.

High School Teacher Salary and Job Outlook

High school teachers had a median salary of $62,360 in May 2022, according to the BLS. Public school teachers had a higher median salary than private school teachers, at nearly $63,000 for public school teachers compared with $58,640 for private school teachers.

In many districts, high school teachers with a master’s degree earn higher salaries than those with a bachelor’s degree.

Demand for high school teachers varies by geographical area and subject. Nationally, the BLS projects more than 67,000 job openings will be available for high school teachers each year from 2022 to 2032.

Earn a Master’s in Education at Wilson College Online

Prospective and current high school teachers can advance their careers by earning a Master of Education from Wilson College Online. Designed for busy learners, the flexible, self-paced program allows students to continue working while exploring new instructional strategies and educational technologies.

Based on best practices, the online M.Ed. program curriculum incorporates real-time feedback from experienced educators. Graduates can apply their knowledge in the classroom or prepare for roles outside of teaching. Contact the program to learn more about the application process.

Recommended Readings

Master of Teaching vs. Master of Education: What’s the Difference?

Special Education Teacher Salary and Career Overview

What Are the 4 Types of Learning Styles

Sources:

National Center for Educational Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics

National Council on Teacher Quality, State Teacher Policy Database

National Education Association, Teacher Licensure

Teach.org, Teacher Certification (Complete Guide)

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, High School Teachers

U.S. Department of Education, Teacher Shortage Areas

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