So you want to be a high school teacher?

You've got questions we have answers

Will I be a good teacher? Will the students respect me? What is it like teaching teens? Will I be able to control my classroom?

So many questions can flood over you as you contemplate becoming a high school teacher. But know, you are not alone.

Everyone remembers a high school teacher. One or more of them made a lasting impression as an expert in their area or model of character. Such teachers give students direction in their lives, move them to contribute to the community, and teach them things that stay with them forever.

What’s it like being a high school teacher?

The daily life of a high school teacher depends on many factors. Their education and experience, the school district support, their class size, and their subject matter area — they all play a role.

Teachers generally have the same duties in private or public high schools:

  • Plan classes with multi-modal approaches
  • Instruct students in their subject specialty.
  • Plan and evaluate student performance.
  • Promote student intellectual and personal growth.
  • Meet with parents and staff to compare assessments and plan corrective action.

High school teachers customize lesson plans to serve student interests and cognitive abilities. And, they must provide leadership and direction in class behavior management.

What’s a day in the life of a high school teacher?

A teacher’s day begins well before that actual day. They prepare, detail, and adapt lesson plans to follow. Such plans become standard operating procedures and records for supervisor inspection and accreditation audits.

But, they should also build flexibility, humor, and student relationships into the plans. The best teachers are responsive not reactionary. They create and engage. And, they listen and adjust.

On the best days, students engage and contribute. Student curiosity and appreciation reward teachers enough to make their workload easy to bear. On the worst days, students can be unruly, disrespectful, and even violent.

In most states, you also have responsibilities to help students meet state testing standards. This may include collaborative work with other faculty and administration to meet or exceed goals.

And, although your workdays run only 10 months a year, you can expect to work more than 40 hours a week regardless of your school day’s official schedule. After hours, you must prepare classes, grade student work, and complete other committee work.

What does it take to become a high school teacher?

Each state spells out the license or certification required to teach public high school. At a minimum, would-be teachers must complete a bachelor’s degree including some specific courses in education.

Most school districts give preference to candidates with master’s degrees in a specific subject area or education. Depending on the state, requirements may also include practice teaching and/or classes in classroom technology.

And, an increasing number of states and jurisdictions require a teachers’ commitment to continuing education to periodically renew their license or certification.

How to become a high school math teacher?

Most colleges expect a math major to complete 33 to 43 semester hours including courses in math and general education: arts, computer literacy, English composition, foreign language history, science, and speech.

Typically, according to, math majors take “at least one three-semester-hour class each from the “fields of calculus, statistics and mathematical computation.” But, most take electives in math to flesh out their resume.

At some point in the bachelor’s degree program and depending on the university requirements, you also apply for courses in the teacher education program. As you continue your math studies, you also take courses in the history of education, educational theory, psychology, and how-to courses in class management and lesson planning.

Again, depending on the university guidelines and state licensing requirements, you will observe and interact with teachers in real classroom situations. As you complete your college degree in math education, you do some actual teaching under the supervision of a master teacher. Your student teaching internship may last a full semester during which you teach math, prepare lesson plans, complete related administrative work, and interact with students, parents, and other faculty.

How to become a high school English teacher?

High school English teachers complete a structured college program like the math teacher’s pattern. High school English teachers conduct classes in the general English language skills of grammar, punctuation, vocabulary-building, usage, and sentence structure.

They teach focused classes on American and/or British literature, classical literature, comparative culture, creative writing, drama, journalism, or world literature. And, they often work as advisors to student activities like debating, public speaking, and newspaper and yearbook.

Candidates must earn a bachelor’s degree in English, English Composition, Creative Writing, or English Education. That requires completion of core courses and electives in English studies while completing courses in secondary education and student teaching internship.

High school English teachers are expected to prepare students for college. So, they must ensure their students have the skills in reading comprehension and writing required to pass college admissions tests. This becomes a primary duty in addition to their objectives in developing critical thinking regarding literary history and genres.

What personality traits make good high school teachers?

Good teachers share at least 10 psychological characteristics:

  • Adaptable and able to change with minimal distraction.
  • Conscientious and focused on tasks and quality work.
  • Creative and responsive to student needs for multi-modal engagement.
  • Determined and diligent in project management and follow-through.
  • Empathetic and compassionate listeners and counselors.
  • Trusting and forgiving in student, teacher, and parent relationships.
  • Genuine and authentic in words and actions.
  • Gracious and courteous in approach and student governance.
  • Cheerful and resilient in presentation and performance.
  • Passionate and driven to model positive behavior and comprehension of field.

What do high school teachers earn?

High school teacher salaries vary from state to state and among the school districts within a state. Where teachers are union represented, salaries are more structured, but they still vary from area to area.

Having noted that, Payscale reports the median income for high school teachers is $48,159 with total salaries ranging from $33,329 to $74,312. And, that assumes you will start at 15% below that and increase by 25% in later career.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the median salary for high school teachers much higher at $58,030.

But, a teaching high school career comes with other meaningful perks:

  • Personal fulfillment in working with young people.
  • The best teachers treasure their student relationships.
  • They don’t take credit for student success, but they do find pride in their achievements.
  • They enjoy the personal interaction, the emotional and intellectual feedback, and the chance to coach students past difficulties and challenges.
  • Students appreciate their earnest concern and personal interest in their futures.

Professional prestige distinguishes teachers as role models. Culture has long assigned teachers a special status and respect. They are expected to protect their young charges, meet their learning goals, and develop student values and direction.

Daily rewards greet teachers with a sense of a job well done. High school teachers always find a refuge in their role doing constructive and respected work. Personal development comes from continuing your education to learn more about class management and presentation.

Despite the solid tenure granted teachers in many school districts and with well over a million high school teachers at work, Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts an 8% increase in jobs between 2016 to 2026. Great teachers are drawn to the career from an early age. Their passion and commitment grow, and they can rest assured there will be opportunities for them. Being a high school teacher is also a great stepping stone to move on to a career in school administration.

Sources: - Brown, D. (n.d.) What are the educational requirements for becoming a high school Math teacher? Retrieved from - High school teacher salaries. Retrieved from - Summary. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Nedda Gilbert

Ms. Gilbert is a certified social worker and 30 year educational consultant with an interest in helping college-bound and graduate school students manage the process and stress of admissions effectively. She is one of the senior founding managers of the Princeton Review Test Preparation Company, and the author of The Princeton Review Guide to the Best Business Schools and another book, Business School Essays that Made a Difference (Random House). She is a guest contributor to Forbes Magazine on college and college life. Ms. Gilbert is also certified as a collaborative family law professional in New Jersey. She received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and MS from Columbia University.