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How to Become a High School Teacher

High school teachers must have a bachelor’s degree. In addition, public school teachers must have a state-issued certification or license. For information about teacher preparation programs and certification requirements in your state, contact the U.S. Department of Education.


All states require public high school teachers to have at least a bachelor’s degree. Most states require high school teachers to have majored in a content area, such as chemistry or history. While majoring in a content area, future teachers typically enroll in their higher education’s teacher preparation program and take classes in education and child psychology, as well.

Teacher preparation—or teacher education—programs instruct how to present information to students and how to work with students of varying abilities and backgrounds. Programs typically include fieldwork, such as student teaching.

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

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 content area.

Licenses and Certification

All states require teachers in public schools to be licensed, which is frequently referred to as a certification. Those who teach in private schools are not required to be licensed.

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

Requirements for certification vary by state. However, all states require at least a bachelor’s degree. States also require completing a teacher preparation program and supervised experience in teaching, typically gained through student teaching. Some states require a minimum grade point average.

States typically require candidates to pass a general teaching certification test, as well as a test that demonstrates their knowledge in the subject they will teach.

Often, teachers are required to complete annual professional development classes to keep their license. Most states require teachers to pass a background check, and some states require teachers to complete a master’s degree after receiving their certification.

All states offer an alternative route to certification 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 under the supervision of an experienced teacher. These programs cover teaching methods and child development. After they complete the program, candidates are awarded full certification.

Other programs require students to take classes in education before they can teach. Students may be awarded a master’s degree after completing either type of programs. For more information about alternative certification programs, contact the National Center for Alternative Certification.


Experienced teachers can advance to be mentors or lead teachers. In these positions, they often work with less-experienced teachers to help them 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.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Teachers must collaborate with other teachers and special education teachers. In addition, teachers need to discuss students’ needs with parents and administrators.

Instructional skills. High school teachers need to explain difficult concepts in terms students can understand. In addition, they must be able to engage students in learning and adapt lessons to each student’s needs.

Patience. Working with students of different abilities and backgrounds can be difficult. High school teachers must be patient when students struggle with material.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition