Secondary Education Degrees, Programs, and Careers
The middle and high school years are a time of tremendous intellectual and emotional growth for students. At this stage, most are ready for the more specialized subject area instruction that secondary teachers provide.
As a secondary education teacher, you can help shape the interests and attitudes of high school students in the particular field of study you specialize in, such as math, science, English, art, history, or foreign languages. Those who teach secondary school usually have a talent for communicating with young people and a natural gift for motivating adolescents to achieve academic excellence.
On this page, you’ll learn what secondary education teachers do, what educational and other requirements they must meet to become a licensed teacher, and which degrees they get. You’ll also find career outlooks and trends in the industry, all aimed at helping you determine whether this job might be right for you.
What Does a Secondary Education Teacher Do?
Secondary teachers deliver in-depth instruction to students in grades seven to twelve. Some teach at middle schools, others at high schools. They typically specialize in a subject area such as math, English, social studies, art, or one of the sciences. Secondary teachers develop and deliver lesson plans, evaluate student achievement, maintain classroom discipline, and communicate student progress to parents and administrators. They attend staff meetings and in-service training, and they may supervise extracurricular activities or coordinate field trips.
For most secondary teachers, the schedule is a nine-to-ten months school year, with a 10 to 12 week summer break. A few schools are open year-round with shorter breaks interspersed throughout the year.
Benefits of Becoming a Secondary Education Teacher
Secondary education teachers specialize in a particular subject, which means you get to explore and share an area of focus that you care about, rather than teaching kids everything from reading to math to civics, all in one day. Teaching the same lesson multiple times a day can also mean less time spent making lesson plans. The teenage years are interesting, as students begin to weigh their college and career options; you could find yourself mentoring talented students, which can be very fulfilling.
Career Outlook for Secondary Education Teachers
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts secondary teacher employment will grow at 4 percent between 2018 and 2028, which is about average for all occupations. Job prospects vary depending on location and specialty area.
A study by the American Association for Employment in Education reports that demand will be high for math, science, special education, and bilingual education teachers, while there is expected to be a surplus of social studies and physical education teachers. Head to the south and the west, where population and student enrollment are growing, for the most job opportunities.
According to the BLS, the median annual salary for high school teachers in May 2018 was $60,320. Secondary teachers can earn additional income by supervising or coaching extracurricular activities, earning a master’s in education or advanced certification, or becoming an administrator. Salary and other benefits can differ between public and private schools, so compare specific institutions to get a full picture of compensation.
The average income for secondary education teachers, and the demand for teachers, varies from state to state. If you’re mobile, you might seek out different job opportunities around the country. When comparing average salaries and employment rates, it’s important to keep in mind the cost of living in a given area. The tables below call out areas with the highest average pay and the highest employment.
Best Salary for Secondary Education Teachers by Location
|State||Annual Mean Salary*|
*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2018
Highest Employment Levels for Secondary Education Teachers by Location
|State||Secondary Teachers Employed*|
*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2018
Popular Career Specialties for Secondary Education Teachers
When considering a secondary education specialty to pursue, history, English, algebra, or other core subjects might come to mind. The secondary education system is varied, and a wide range of subjects are in demand across the country. Certain secondary teaching specialties are in especially high demand: English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), English as a Second Language (ESL), bilingual studies, and science/technology/engineering/math (STEM) subjects are highly sought in most states.
How to Become a Secondary Education Teacher
Becoming a secondary teacher is a relatively straightforward process:
- Earn your bachelor’s degree. Most secondary education teaching positions require at least a bachelor’s degree. Check out the section below to learn more about what a secondary education bachelor’s degree typically entails.
- Gain classroom experience. You’ll need to complete a supervised teaching internship or practicum as part of your degree program. These hands-on hours give you practical experience with students and guidance from seasoned educators. Classroom experience is also required for state licensure. Colleges typically align their practicum hour requirements with state licensure requirements.
- Get licensed and certified. All states require secondary teachers to hold a license or state certification to teach in public schools. You may not need a license to teach in a private secondary school. Specific licensing and certification requirements vary from state to state, but basic requirements include a bachelor’s degree from an approved teacher education program, a passing grade on a competency test and a student teaching internship. For those with a bachelor’s degree in a field other than education, most states offer alternative means of licensing.To gain licensure, secondary education students must take an exam administered by the state in which they plan to teach. While some states create their own exams, most use the Praxis exam to determine teacher aptitude. There are different Praxis exams that licensure candidates may take. The Praxis Core Academic Skills for Educators covers essential multidisciplinary content, like reading, writing, and math. This is a common test requirement for all teachers. Secondary education teachers may also need to take at least one Praxis Subject Assessment exam, to test your expertise in a given area of focus. Even if not required for state licensure, prospective teachers may opt to take Praxis Subject Assessment exams as extra credentials. The Praxis exams range in price from $90 to $160.
- Pass a background check. All states require teachers to pass a background check. Background checks for teachers usually examine state and national work and criminal histories, but depending on the state, different agencies may oversee conducting the checks. Some are done at the state level by the licensing agency, for instance, while other checks are conducted by the school district. Background checks are typically run as part of the licensure process.
- Continue learning and training. After obtaining licensure, secondary education teachers must periodically take continuing education credits to renew their licenses. Continuing education helps you keep up on evolving educational trends and pedagogical best practices, and provides opportunities to earn endorsements and specializations. States often offer continuing education courses to teachers, but you can opt to earn these credits through other means, such as professional associations and colleges. You can also go back to school to earn an advanced degree in your field, which can qualify you for new types of opportunities.
Secondary Education Degree Requirements
While no two students’ paths will be the same, there are some general requirements prospective secondary education teachers can expect while earning their degrees.
Find Secondary Education Programs by Degree Level
A bachelor’s degree is the first requirement for secondary education teachers. In the sections below, you’ll dig into specifics about getting a secondary education bachelor’s degree.
Many secondary education teachers continue on to obtain a graduate degree in the field, which usually positions you for more job opportunities or higher pay. If you have a degree in another field and wish to teach in your expertise, you may be able to teach middle or high school with an alternative teacher certification. Explore these resources to learn more about advanced and alternative education options for secondary school teachers:
Secondary Education Program Acceptance Requirements
The admissions process and acceptance standards for secondary education bachelor’s degree programs will vary from school to school, but most include these steps:
- Submit an application to your college of choice. You may also need to apply to the specific school offering the degree program, such as your university’s College of Education.
- Send transcripts. You’ll need to submit official transcripts from your high school or GED program, and any colleges you attended.
- Meet GPA and standardized test requirements. Some schools require a minimum 2.0 GPA, and SAT or ACT scores for admission.
- Letters of recommendation. Schools may ask for up to three. Get them from people you know through academics, work, or special interests. Don’t use family or friends.
- Other possible requirements. Some secondary education programs may require applicants to declare a subject focus area or double major, and/or complete core credits before applying to the institution’s education department for their major-specific studies.
- Be ready to prove citizenship or show a work permit. Most secondary education bachelor’s degree programs are designed to prepare students to sit for state licensure exams. As a result, programs may limit admission to U.S. citizens and students with valid work permits or green cards.
Curriculum for Secondary Education Programs
Your degree program in secondary education will include courses in your major or specialty, such as science, mathematics, history, English, etc. It will also include core classes common to all subject areas, such as these:
Introduction to Teaching at the Secondary Level
This class typically provides instruction on the historical perspective of teaching secondary classes, and how current political and economic trends influence teaching in America. You should learn the organization, selection, and appropriate use of materials that are most effective in teaching adolescents, and get overviews of planning lessons, discipline, facilitating class discussions, and other methodologies.
Principles of Learning in Secondary Education
Research-based strategies help you learn how to reduce barriers to group socialization and effectively promote student teamwork, with optimal participation and successful assimilation. This course often also outlines the common behaviors that cause class disruption and the effective strategies proven to restore a classroom to an organized and helpful learning environment.
Psychology of Teaching in the Secondary Classroom
This course usually examines the brain of the adolescent and how perception of the environment facilitates learning and stimulates motivation. You will discover how adolescents construct language, mathematical knowledge, and scientific thinking. Research and learning theories are presented for the design and evaluation of class curriculum; you’ll learn how the effectiveness of learning materials can be used to develop successful strategies for teaching adolescents.
Language and Learning Instruction for Adolescents
Learn to evaluate the deficits in students’ reading, language skills, and writing content on an appropriate level. You will also learn how to apply proven methods to improve language comprehension and promote better communication.
Applying Learning Technologies to The Classroom Environment
This course shows how diverse learning styles can be addressed using software, video streams, and other computer-based programs to provide an audiovisual source of interactive learning. You’ll gain a working knowledge of research-based learning technologies and how to incorporate key concepts into distance learning.
Online programs can offer greater schedule flexibility and may cost less than on-campus attendance. Online classes work very well for many people, although many others prefer the structure and support of the on-campus classroom environment.
Online degree programs are either fully online or hybrid. In hybrid programs, you complete some coursework online and some in the classroom. In fully online programs, all coursework is done online. Online classes are one of two formats: synchronous or asynchronous. Synchronous classes require you to log on at specific times to engage in group chats or watch live lectures as a class. Asynchronous classes allow you to log in and complete coursework at your own convenience, as long as you meet the deadlines noted in the class syllabus.
Even if all your classes are online, you will be required to complete an in-class teaching practicum to meet degree and certification requirements. Your school may help you connect with a practicum location, but students are generally responsible for arranging their own teaching hours. It’s important to note that teaching credential requirements vary by state, and typically you’ll need to gain your practicum hours in the state in which you’ll pursue licensure. If you’re planning to earn your degree online with an out-of-state school, talk with an academic advisor there before enrolling, to make sure they will be able to meet all your degree and licensure requirements.
Length of Secondary Education Programs
- Bachelor’s degrees in secondary education typically require 120 credit hours, and are designed to be completed in four years of full-time study. For part-time students, the timeline depends on factors including credit load per term.
- Master’s degrees generally take between one and three years to complete. Unlike bachelor’s degrees, master’s degree programs in secondary education are often designed with the assumption that students will be working full time and going to school part time.
- Doctorate completion times vary widely and often depend on how long it takes for students to research, write, and successfully defend the dissertation necessary for degree completion.
Secondary Education Degree Costs
Tuition varies widely between schools and programs. Public schools are usually less expensive than private ones. Michigan State University, ranked #1 in secondary teacher education by U.S. News & World Report, charges $14,460 for in-state tuition and $39,406 for out-of-state. For Alabama State University, in-state is $11, 068 and out-of-state is $19,396. The National Center for Education Statistics offers in-depth information on tuition and other costs for most schools.
Prospective students can reduce tuition costs by applying for financial aid through FAFSA. There are federal financial aid options specifically for educators, such as the TEACH Grant, and students can also look into public and private aid at the state and local levels.
The teacher shortage in the U.S., combined with increased enrollment in secondary schools, puts stress on students and current educators alike. On the flip side, this also means that prospective teachers may have more leverage when considering job offers.
Another trend affecting the classroom is evolving instructional methods. Increasingly, teacher-centered, lecture-based instruction is being supplanted or replaced by student-centered, interactive, problem-based learning. The effectiveness of various types of instruction on student achievement is increasingly being measured, and the data analyzed, in new ways.
Social and political trends, such as the #metoo movement, have changed social dynamics for students and teachers alike. On-campus shootings have escalated; . Both #metoo and shootings have fueled greater student activism. Teachers increasingly find themselves in emotional support and counseling roles as divisive politics, global crises, and individual mental health issues become more commonplace.
Secondary Teachers Using Technology in The Classroom
The increasing use of technology is an educational trend that’s been building for a long time. Today’s secondary students are digital natives, using media and devices for serious and frivolous purposes, communicating, researching, and problem solving on their own time. Teachers are finding that blending computers and multimedia with traditional instruction makes learning more relevant, and helps keep students engaged and motivated. According to TeachHub, bringing technology into the classroom improves retention rates and helps students prepare for an increasingly digital future.
Teachers can use technology in the classroom to help middle or high school students learn in a variety of ways:
- Online classes and videos, learning at the student’s own pace
- Access to digital events and resources outside the school
- Blended learning opportunities, such as station rotation
- Electronic grade books, learning games, digital portfolios
- 10 Minute Teacher Podcast: Improve your teaching skills while your coffee maker is working. There are new episodes five days a week, each focused on a different area of education, like Motivational Mondays and Thought Leader Thursdays.
- An Urban Teacher’s Education: This blog, written by high school teacher James Boutin, chronicles trends, joys, frustrations, and theories in secondary education.
- Association of American Educators: The AAE is the largest non-union professional organization for teachers, offering representation, financial aid, useful blog posts, and other professional resources to help teachers thrive and advance in their careers.
- Education Week: is an online periodical providing commentary, research findings, blogs, editorials, and daily news.
- House of #EdTech Podcast: Host Christopher J. Nesi says changes in technology affect the way teachers teach — whether that technology is implemented in the classroom or not. Essential listening for teachers who want to explore and learn about those changes and effects.
- National Education Association: The largest teacher’s labor union in the United States, the NEA is an excellent resource for teachers, with offerings including editorials, teaching tools and ideas, financial aid opportunities, and legislative information.
- TeachAde: A social media platform just for educators. Join groups, connect with colleagues, share resources, ask questions and access TeachAde’s articles and activities.
- Truth for Teachers Podcast: This podcast is perfect for those days when teachers just need some affirmations and reminders about why they do what they do.
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