Secondary School Teachers (aka High School Teachers) are responsible for providing instruction to students in grades 7 through 12. This grouping of teachers includes those grades encompassed by the designations traditionally known as "Junior High School" (grades 7 through 9) and "High School" (grades 10 through 12). In more contemporary lingo, these designations have been replaced by "Middle School" (usually grades 5 through 8) with most High Schools today consisting of grades 9 through 12. Secondary school teachers represent a level of education more advanced than Elementary School, with the principal distinction being that a secondary school teacher conducts classes in specialized subjects for multiple classes as opposed to teaching a variety of subjects to the same class of students. The specializations can include academic subjects such as English, history, and mathematics; vocational skills such as woodworking and mechanical drawing; or physical education. Teachers at the secondary level will also be inclined to help students delve more deeply into subjects and to expose them to more facets of the subject material.
Other teaching positions which lead to the secondary school level include the following:
- Preschool Teachers instruct children at a very young age who learn mainly through play and interactive activities.
- Kindergarten Teachers also use play and hands-on instruction; however, academics such as letter recognition, numbers, and awareness of nature and science begin to get emphasized.
- Elementary School Teachers typically instruct one class of children in several subjects.
Secondary school teachers usually focus on one subject (e.g., English, science, math, or history) and teach this subject to different classes at different times during the school day. They generally do most of their teaching in classrooms, where they attempt to impart knowledge to students and to develop the students' ability to learn and apply concepts in the subject being taught. Along the way, there are a wide variety of duties a secondary school teacher will need to be responsible for carrying out. To name just a very few, they must prepare and assign lessons; develop, administer, and grade tests; assess the performance and potential of their students; conduct regular meetings with parents and school staff; and maintain classroom discipline. In addition to normal classroom activities, teachers may also be responsible for supervising a variety of extracurricular activities. These include monitoring students on field trips, assisting students with college or career choices, sponsoring student organizations, referring students with physical or mental problems to the proper authorities, providing oversight to lunchrooms and study halls, and participating in educational conferences and teacher training workshops. Their work often takes them beyond the classroom to interface with parents, school counselors, school psychologists, community groups, and government agencies.
On most days secondary school teachers teach anywhere between four and seven classes in their field of specialization. Many of them are also assigned to homeroom classes, where they take attendance and handle other school business; and to study halls, where they are responsible for maintaining a quiet and orderly atmosphere for study. To carry out their instructional duties, teachers may use a variety of methods and tools, including lectures, demonstrations, computers, and audiovisual aids. The curriculum they follow is usually based on guidelines provided by their school or mandated by state requirements; however, in most instances the way the students are taught is left up to the professional judgment of the teacher.
In addition to the duties mentioned above, secondary school teachers have a variety of other tasks, which may include some of the following:
- Correcting homework
- Keeping attendance records
- Assisting pupils in selecting course of study
- Counseling students with adjustment and academic problems
- Devising and/or adapting resources to suit specific students
- Meeting with other professionals to discuss individual students' needs and progress
- Administering standardized achievement tests and interpreting results
- Enforcing all administration policies and rules governing students
- Collaborating with other teachers and administrators in the evaluation and revision of school programs
- Preparing reports on students and activities as required by the school administration
- Selecting, ordering, and taking inventory of classroom equipment, materials, and supplies
- Serving on committees as required
- Researching new topic areas and maintaining up-to-date subject knowledge
- Selecting learning resources and equipment
- Supervising and supporting the work of teaching assistants and trainee teachers
The individual work environment for a secondary school teacher is highly dependent upon factors such as school location, management policies, educational benchmarks, etc. As a general rule, teachers in private schools generally enjoy smaller class sizes than their counterparts in public schools and also more control over the curriculum and performance standards. However, public school teachers generally enjoy a higher degree of job security; most states have tenure laws that prevent public school teachers from being fired without just cause and due process. Teachers in both public and private secondary schools will put in more than 40 hours in a typical week, if school duties performed outside the classroom are factored in. On the other hand, teachers enjoy summers off and long holiday breaks, resulting in a work-year that averages over 600 hours (or about 30%) less than that of the average worker in the United States.
Teaching can be a rewarding profession but is often frustrating as well. Motivating students to develop new skills and show an appreciation of knowledge and learning can provide a great deal of satisfaction to teachers. On the other hand, frustration can easily set in when teachers are forced to deal with unmotivated or disrespectful students, or even worse, with unruly or violent ones. Heavy workloads, large class sizes, unreasonable parents, and lack of control over many situations are other factors that can contribute to teacher frustration.
It takes a lot of skill and special talent to be a good teacher in a secondary school setting. Teachers must have an ability to communicate, to inspire, and to motivate. They must be sensitive to individual and cultural differences in students and adaptable enough to adjust their teaching methods to accommodate these differences. Teachers need good organizational skills and creativity. They must be "team players"; able to work cooperatively and communicate effectively with other teachers, administrators, support staff members, parents, and members of the community. Above all else, they must be patient! Teachers in private secondary schools that are affiliated with religious institutions are usually expected to share the values that are important to the institution.
The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (USDL BLS) projects employment of secondary school teachers to grow at about the same rate as the average profession over the next several years, although teachers who specialize in science, mathematics, special education, and computer science are likely to find more job opportunities than teachers in other specialties. Overall student enrollments in secondary schools during the upcoming decade are expected to rise more slowly than they have in the past due to the fact that children of the baby boom generation are moving beyond the secondary school system. This effect will tend to slow the demand for teachers; however, it will be offset by the need to replace the large number of teachers who are expected to retire over the same period.
Job prospects for public school teachers at all levels are very sensitive to swings in state and local expenditures for education and on the enactment of any legislation which affects the quality and scope of public education. Employment prospects are also heavily dependent on the enrollment status of a particular municipality. Enrollments are projected to vary by region of the country. Generally speaking, states in the South and West will experience the largest enrollment increases. Enrollments in the Midwest are expected to be relatively stable, while those in the Northeast are expected to decline. In general, teachers who are geographically mobile and are licensed to teach more than one subject should have a distinct advantage in obtaining employment.
Education, Certification, and Licensing
Every state requires public school teachers to be licensed, although licensure (sometimes referred to as "certification") is generally not a requirement for teachers in private schools. Most states today offer more lenient alternative licensure programs for teachers of certain subjects (usually math and science) for which there are teacher shortages. The specific requirements for teacher licensure/certification are set by each state, although generally speaking, candidates need at least a bachelor's, and in some states a master's or higher, degree in the subject they wish to teach. The degree program also needs to be supplemented by a sufficient number of education credits to satisfy the licensing requirements of the state. Most programs of this type include an internship component wherein student-teachers undergo observation and monitoring while developing and refining their first set of teaching skills. Most states also require candidates for licensure to pass a specialized state test and/or a standard national exam. In addition, many states now require teachers without master's degrees to be working toward one at the time of their licensure.
Many secondary school teachers continually strive to enhance their teaching credentials. One way to do this is to obtain professional certification. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards offers a voluntary national certification. There are also numerous specialized certifications relating to particular subjects. Another approach is to join a professional association in a particular teaching specialty. By doing this, teachers can keep up-to-date with the latest advances and trends in the specialty as well as in the overall profession.
- Requirements for teacher licensure/certification by state
- American Federation of Teachers
- National Education Association
- National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education
- National Center for Alternative Certification
- National Board for Professional Teaching Standards
- Association for Career and Technical Education
- Council for Professional Recognition
- U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics
Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of secondary school teachers work in a public or private school setting. On a national scale, a little over 10% of them are employed by private learning institutions. Over 85% work for local government school departments.
Schools for Secondary School Teachers are listed in the column to the left.