How To Become a High School Teacher

Male teacher instructing and talking to high school class

Embarking on a journey to become a high school teacher can be a rewarding and impactful career choice that involves shaping the minds of future generations. In this career guide, we'll delve into the essential steps and qualifications needed to pursue a career in high school education, from obtaining the necessary education and certifications to gaining valuable classroom experience. Whether you're passionate about a specific subject or eager to make a difference in students' lives, this guide will provide valuable insights into the path to becoming a high school teacher.

In This Article:

What Is a High School Teacher?

High school teachers are secondary school educators who help students prepare for life after graduation. These educators generally specialize in a specific academic or arts area focusing on grades nine through 12. They use their training to support students, helping them acquire the knowledge and skills they’ll need to become college or career-ready.

Knowing how to become a high school teacher in the state in which you’d like to work is essential, as career requirements vary from one state to the next.

Percentage of students who turn to teachers as mentors and role models1

What Does a High School Teacher Do?

High school teachers are responsible for teaching broad academic skills, as well as specific lessons in academic subjects in grades nine through 12. A high school teacher may focus on a core subject, such as math, history or chemistry, or they may teach an elective or enrichment class, such as physical education, art or music. Those who teach high school classes will typically handle the following tasks:2

Lesson planning
Plan and develop lessons in your academic area.

Classroom instruction
Teach lesson plans to entire classes and also provide instruction to students individually or in small groups.

Assignments and exams
Assign classwork, homework, quizzes and exams to correspond with current lesson plans.

Student assessments
Grade assignments and exams, and assess students’ progress, strengths and areas for improvement.

Maintain communication
Keep parents/legal guardians apprised of their students’ progress and any behavioral issues.

Classroom management
Enforce classroom rules and school policies to maintain orderly behavior.

Student supervision
Supervise students during non-classroom times, including detention and lunch periods.

Standardized test preparation
Prepare students to take standardized exams as required by the state.

Additional duties
Serve as a school sports coach or extracurricular club advisor, if interested.

Teachers may perform a wide range of tasks during a typical day. However, their higher mission is to inspire and empower students to reach their true potential and explore possibilities for life after high school, such as higher education or vocational training. Dedicated teachers have the potential to make a significant, positive impact on the course of their students’ lives.

What Experience and Education Does a High School Teacher Need?

If you feel inspired to teach high school, and to work toward bringing out the best in the generations to come, then you’ll want to know how to become a high school teacher. You’ll likely have a number of questions, such as, What degree do you need to be a high school teacher? and What other qualifications are required? Here’s a look at educational pathways that may help lead to a teaching career.

High School Diploma

A high school diploma provides a foundation for seeking higher education and credentialing as a high school teacher.3 If you’re still in high school, it can be helpful to focus on getting good grades, especially in the subject area(s) that you think you might like to teach. In addition, consider talking to some of your current teachers about your career plans to solicit insight and guidance.

College Degree

Before enrolling in a program, research your state’s requirements, as these typically vary by state. High school teachers generally need at least a bachelor’s degree, such as an education degree or a teaching degree that focuses on a particular academic subject area.3


Undergraduate teaching degree programs that lead to initial teacher licensure generally include a student teaching component, which is similar to an internship. As a student teacher, you will work with a licensed or certified teacher who serves as your mentor and supervises you as you instruct students.3

Entry-Level Roles

After meeting state requirements and passing a general teaching certification test, you have the opportunity to pursue a role as a high school teacher. Entry-level roles are not required but can include working as a teacher's aide, private tutor or substitute teacher.

Professional Certifications

All states require teachers to be licensed or certified by the state before they can teach in a public school. Private school requirements are established by individual schools. 

The requirements to obtain a license/certification vary by state but generally include:3

  • A bachelor’s degree
  • Successful completion of a student teaching experience
  • Background check
  • Successful completion of a general teaching certification test

Some states require teachers to obtain a relevant master’s degree within a certain period of time after obtaining a license or certification. Other teachers may be required to take continuing education classes to renew their license or certification.3

These preparatory steps toward becoming a high school teacher are intended to help you step into a classroom with confidence. The work experience you can acquire over time may help you continue to improve your teaching skills and ability to motivate students. 

Best Degrees To Teach High School

Teaching high school is a calling with multiple pathways toward achieving a teaching career in secondary education. However, the ideal pathway is to earn a bachelor’s degree in education that focuses on the specific subject area you’d like to teach.3

During a teaching degree program, you'll complete coursework in both your chosen subject area as well as in teaching methods, classroom management and similar education topics and strategies. You'll also complete a student teaching experience. It's important to choose a degree program that fulfills the teaching licensure or certification requirements for the state in which you plan to work.3

Education bachelor's degree programs vary but generally cover topic areas like:

  • Classroom management
  • Curriculum and assessment
  • Teaching methods
  • Subject-specific coursework

How To Become a High School Teacher With GCU’s Recommended Degrees

High school teachers need to be experts in their subject areas and know how to use data-driven instructional methods. They also need to be able to work well with others, as they must regularly collaborate with administrators, other teachers, parents and stakeholders.3

To work toward teaching high school, you may want to consider the following degree options at GCU:

Bachelor’s Programs

Master’s Programs

Other Programs

What Skills Are Needed to Teach High School? 

High school teachers need to be able to draw upon a skill set comprised of both hard (technical or occupation-specific) and soft (transferable, non-occupation-specific) skills. 

In order to be effective as educators and to work well with students, parents and others, teachers can benefit from the following:3,4

  • Communication skills
  • Resourcefulness
  • Patience
  • Computer literacy
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Organization
  • Critical thinking
  • Advocacy
  • Collaboration

Where Do High School Teachers Work? 

High school teachers typically work in school settings, such as:5

Public High Schools
High school teachers are often found working in public high schools, where they teach grades nine through 12.7 Public high school teachers must fulfill state licensure requirements, which are intended to ensure educational quality for students.3

High school teachers who specialize in science class may spend some of their day working in a lab.7

Private High Schools
High school teachers may decide to work in private secondary school settings, where they perform similar responsibilities as public high school teachers.7

Extracurricular Events and Settings
Teachers who coach sports or advise clubs typically engage in these activities outside regular school hours.7

Advancement Opportunities for Secondary Educators

While many passionate educators choose to teach high school throughout their careers, it’s worth exploring other career options that may be available to you. For instance, a high school teacher might decide to position themselves for possible advancement as a school administrator, such as a high school principal or school district superintendent. Other teachers may decide to pursue a later career as an instructional designer.

The annual salary for a high school teacher can be dependent on many factors, including specific credentials, years of experience, place of employment and geographic location. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary of high school teachers as of May 2023 was $65,220.6

The BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook estimates job growth for high school teachers to be about 1% during this time period, accounting for an estimated addition of 11,100 new teaching jobs in high schools.7

Begin Your Career in Education With a Degree From GCU

If you’re passionate about inspiring and guiding the generations to come, you can find direction for your future at Grand Canyon University. Apply today to enroll in one of our many education degree programs, including programs for those seeking an alternative route to licensure.

1 ING (n.d.). A Lesson Learned: ING Survey Finds Teachers Have a Profound and Lasting Impact on Our Lives, Yet Are Vastly Under-Appreciated. CSR Wire. Retrieved April 22, 2024. 

2 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2023, Sept. 6). What high school teachers do. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved March 22, 2024. 

3 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2023, Sept. 6). How to become a high school teacher. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved March 23, 2024. 

4 Doyle, A. (2021, May 17). Important job skills for teachers. Retrieved March 23, 2024. 

5 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2023, Sept. 6). High school teachers: Work environment. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved March 23, 2024. 

6 The earnings referenced were reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), High School Teachers as of May 2023, retrieved on April 22, 2024. Due to COVID-19, data from 2020 to 2023 may be atypical compared to prior years. BLS calculates the median using salaries of workers nationwide with varying levels of education and experience. It does not reflect the earnings of GCU graduates as High School Teachers nor does it reflect the earnings of workers in one city or region of the country or a typical entry-level salary. Median income is the statistical midpoint for the range of salaries in a specific occupation. It represents what you would earn if you were paid more money than half the workers in an occupation, and less than half the workers in an occupation. It may give you a basis to estimate what you might earn at some point if you enter this career. Grand Canyon University can make no guarantees on individual graduates’ salaries. Your employability will be determined by numerous factors over which GCU has no control, such as the employer the graduate chooses to apply to, the graduate’s experience level, individual characteristics, skills, etc. against a pool of candidates.

7 COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 to 2022 may be atypical compared to prior years. Accordingly, data shown is effective September 2023, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, High School Teachers, retrieved on April 22, 2024. 

Approved by the assistant dean of the College of Education on May 6, 2024.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.