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What High School Teachers Do About this section

High school teachers
High school teachers generally specialize in a subject, such as English, math, or science.

High school teachers help prepare students for life after graduation. They teach academic lessons and various skills that students will need to attend college or to enter the job market.

Duties

High school teachers typically do the following:

  • Plan lessons and instruct their students in the subject they teach
  • Assess students’ abilities, strengths, and weaknesses
  • Adapt lessons to changes in class size
  • Grade students’ assignments and exams
  • Communicate with parents about students’ progress
  • Work with individual students to challenge them and to improve their abilities
  • Prepare students for standardized tests required by the state
  • Develop and enforce classroom rules and administrative policies
  • Supervise students outside of the classroom—for example, during lunchtime or detention

High school teachers generally teach students from the 9th through 12th grades. They usually specialize in one area. Some teach core subjects, such as math, science, or history. Others specialize in elective courses, such as art, music, or physical education. They may teach several different classes within their subject area. For example, a high school math teacher may teach algebra, calculus, and/or geometry.

High school teachers may instruct students from different grades throughout the day. For example, one class may have mostly students from the 9th grade, and another may have 12th-grade students. In many schools, students are divided into classes on the basis of their abilities, so teachers need to adapt their lessons based on students’ skills.

Outside of their instructional time, teachers plan lessons, grade assignments, and meet with other teachers and staff.

Teachers of English as a second language (ESL) or English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) work exclusively with students who are learning the English language. These teachers work with students individually or in groups to help them improve their English language skills and help them with assignments for other classes.

Students with learning disabilities and emotional or behavioral disorders are often taught in traditional classes. High school teachers work with special education teachers to adapt lessons to these students’ needs and to monitor the students’ progress.

Teachers must be comfortable with using and learning new technology. With parents, they may use text-messaging applications to communicate about students’ assignments and upcoming events. With students, teachers may create websites or discussion boards to present information and to expand a lesson taught in class.

Some high school teachers take on additional responsibilities, such as coaching sports or advising academic clubs, activities that frequently take place before or after school.

Work Environment About this section

High school teachers
High school teachers who specialize in science class may spend some of their day working in a lab.

High school teachers held about 998,800 jobs in 2020. The largest employers of high school teachers were as follows:

Elementary and secondary schools; local 82%
Elementary and secondary schools; private 14

Most states have tenure laws, which provide job security after a certain number of years of satisfactory classroom teaching.

Teachers may find it rewarding to watch students develop new skills and gain an appreciation for knowledge.

However, teaching may be stressful. Some schools have large classes and lack important teaching tools, such as current technology and up-to-date textbooks. Occasionally, teachers must cope with unmotivated or disrespectful students. Some states are developing teacher mentoring programs and teacher development courses to help with the challenges of being a teacher.

Work Schedules

High school teachers generally work during school hours when students are present. They may meet with parents, students, and other teachers before and after school. They often spend time in the evenings and on weekends grading papers and preparing lessons. Teachers who coach sports or advise clubs generally do so before or after school.

Many teachers work a traditional 10-month school year and have a 2-month break during the summer. They also have a short midwinter break. Some teachers work during the summer.

Teachers in districts with a year-round schedule typically work 9 weeks in a row and then have a break for 3 weeks before starting a new school session.

How to Become a High School Teacher About this section

High school teachers
High school teachers need to explain difficult concepts in terms students can understand.

High school teachers typically must have at least a bachelor’s degree. In addition, public school teachers must have a state-issued certification or license.

Education

All states require public high school teachers to have at least a bachelor's degree, which may be in education. Many states require high school teachers to have majored in a content area, such as mathematics or science.

Teacher education programs typically provide instruction on presenting information to students of different abilities and backgrounds. Programs typically include a student-teaching program, in which prospective teachers work with a mentor teacher and get experience instructing students in a classroom. For information about teacher preparation programs in your state, visit Teach.org.

Some states require high school teachers to earn a master’s degree after earning their teaching certification and obtaining a job.

Teachers in private schools do not need to meet state requirements. However, private schools typically seek high school teachers who have a bachelor’s degree and a major in a subject area.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

All states require teachers in public schools to be licensed or certified in the specific grade level they will teach. Those who teach in private schools typically are not required to be licensed.

High school teachers typically are awarded a secondary or high school certification, which allows them to teach the 7th through the 12th grades.

Requirements for certification or licensure vary by state but generally involve the following:

  • A bachelor’s degree with a minimum grade point average
  • Completion of a student-teaching program
  • Passing a background check
  • Passing a general teaching certification test, as well as a test that demonstrates their knowledge in the subject they will teach.

For information on certification requirements in your state, visit Teach.org.

Teachers often are required to complete professional development classes to keep their license or certification. Some states require teachers to complete a master’s degree after receiving their certification and obtaining a job.

All states offer an alternative route to certification or licensure for people who already have a bachelor’s degree but lack the education courses required for certification. Some alternative certification programs allow candidates to begin teaching immediately with supervision by an experienced teacher. These programs cover teaching methods and other topics, such as resource management. After they complete the program, candidates are awarded full certification. Other programs require students to take classes in education before they can teach.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Teachers must share ideas with their students, other teachers, and school administrators and staff. In addition, they need to discuss students’ progress with parents.

Patience. High school teachers must stay calm in difficult situations, such as when students struggle with material.

Resourcefulness. High school teachers need to engage students in learning and adapt lessons to each student’s needs.

Advancement

Experienced teachers may advance to serve as mentors to new teachers; they may also become a lead teacher. In these positions, they help less experienced teachers improve their teaching skills.

With additional education or certification, teachers may become school counselors, school librarians, or instructional coordinators. Some become assistant principals or principals. Becoming a principal usually requires additional instruction in education administration or leadership. For more information, see the profiles on school and career counselors, librarians, instructional coordinators, and elementary, middle, and high school principals.

Pay About this section

High School Teachers

Median annual wages, May 2021

Secondary school teachers, except special and career/technical education

$61,820

Preschool, elementary, middle, secondary, and special education teachers

$61,030

Total, all occupations

$45,760

 

The median annual wage for high school teachers was $61,820 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $46,090, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $100,310.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for high school teachers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Elementary and secondary schools; local $62,420
Elementary and secondary schools; private 56,510

High school teachers generally work during school hours when students are present. They may meet with parents, students, and other teachers before and after school. They often spend time in the evenings and on weekends grading papers and preparing lessons. Teachers who coach sports or advise clubs generally do so before or after school.

Many teachers work a traditional 10-month school year and have a 2-month break during the summer. They also have a short midwinter break. Although most do not teach during the summer, some teach in summer school programs for which they are paid.

Teachers in districts with a year-round schedule typically work 9 weeks in a row and then have a break for 3 weeks before starting a new school session.

Job Outlook About this section

High School Teachers

Percent change in employment, projected 2020-30

Preschool, elementary, middle, secondary, and special education teachers

9%

Secondary school teachers, except special and career/technical education

8%

Total, all occupations

8%

 

Employment of high school teachers is projected to grow 8 percent from 2020 to 2030, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 77,400 openings for high school teachers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Rising student enrollment should increase demand for high school teachers, but employment growth will vary by region.

Employment growth for public high school teachers may depend on state and local government budgets. If state and local governments experience budget deficits, school boards may lay off employees, including teachers. As a result, employment growth of high school teachers may be reduced by state and local government budget deficits. Conversely, budget surpluses at the state and local level could lead to additional employment growth for high school teachers.

Employment projections data for high school teachers, 2020-30
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2020 Projected Employment, 2030 Change, 2020-30 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Secondary school teachers, except special and career/technical education

25-2031 998,800 1,077,000 8 78,200 Get data

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about teaching and becoming a teacher, visit

Teach.org

American Federation of Teachers

National Education Association

For more information about teacher preparation programs, visit

Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation

O*NET

Secondary School Teachers, Except Special and Career/Technical Education

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