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Secondary School Teachers

The high school years are a time of transition from childhood to adulthood. Secondary school teachers facilitate this process. They help students delve more deeply into subjects introduced in elementary school and learn more about themselves and the world.

Secondary school teachers instruct students in a specific subject, such as English, Spanish, mathematics, history, or biology. They may teach a variety of related courses. Social studies teachers, for example, may instruct two 9th grade classes in American History, two 12th grade classes in Contemporary American Problems, and another class in World Geography. For each class, teachers develop lesson plans; prepare, give, and grade examinations; and arrange special activities, such as a class project to devise an urban redevelopment plan for a city.

Teachers design their classroom presentations to meet the individual needs and abilities of as many as 150 students in five different classes. They may arrange tutoring for students or give advanced assignments for highly motivated pupils.

Teachers use a variety of instructional materials including films, slides, overhead projectors, and computer terminals. They may arrange field trips, such as planetarium visits to supplement classroom work on astronomy.

Science teachers also supervise laboratory work, and vocational education teachers teach shop classes to give students "hands-on" experience with instruments, tools, and machinery.

In addition to classroom teaching, secondary school teachers prepare lessons and grade papers at home, oversee study halls and homerooms, supervise extracurricular activities, and attend meetings with parents and school personnel. Teachers also participate in workshops and college classes to keep up to date on their subject specialty and on developments in education.

Working Conditions

Teaching involves long periods of standing and talking and can be physically, mentally, and emotionally tiring. Dealing with disruptive students can be especially exhausting.

Since teachers also spend time in activities outside the classroom, they may work over 40 hours a week. Most teachers work the traditional 10-month schedule may teach in summer sessions or take other jobs. Many enroll in college courses or special workshops. Teachers in districts with a year-round schedule work 8 weeks, are on vacation for 1 week, and have a 5-week midwinter break. In most States, schools must be in session a minimum number of days. This number varies from 175 to 205 days. In 1985, the average number of instruction days was 184.

The District of Columbia and most States have tenure laws that protect the jobs of teachers who have taught satisfactorily for a certain number of years. A teacher normally must serve a satisfactory probationary period of 3 years before attaining tenure. Tenure is not an automatic guarantee of job security, but is does provide some protection.


Secondary school teachers held 1,184,000 jobs in 1990. More than 90 percent taught in public schools. In addition, some of the 279,000 special education teachers worked in secondary schools. Employment is distributed geographically much the same as the population.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

All 50 States and the District of Columbia require public secondary school teachers to be certified. Many States require teachers in private and parochial schools to be certified as well. Usually certification is granted by the State Board of Education, the State Superintendent of Education, or a Certification Advisory Committee.

Requirements for certification to teach at the secondary school level vary by State, and school systems may have additional requirements. However, in all States and the District of Columbia, teachers need a bachelor's degree from an approved teacher training program with a prescribed number of credits in the subject they plan to teach. They must also complete student teaching and other professional education courses. Many States require teachers to obtain graduate degrees within a certain time after being hired. Seventeen States require applicants for teacher certification to be tested for competency either in basic skills, subject matter, teaching skills, or a combination of these. Twenty States also have health requirements. Initial teaching certificates vary from 1 year to life. Life certificates are becoming less common.

Some States have set up alternate or provisional certification plans to attract talented college graduates who do not have education courses needed to qualify for a regular certificate. Under most plans, entrants must have a major in the subject to be taught and pass a general or subject area examination. They teach under the close supervision of experienced educators and take a limited number of college courses in education or participate in specially designed classes. If they are successful, they are eligible for regular certification. Information on regular and alternate certification requirements for secondary school teaching is available from any State department of education or superintendent of schools.

Information about whether a particular teacher training program is approved can be obtained from the institution offering the training or from the State department of education. Many States have reciprocity agreements that allow teachers who are certified in one State to become certified in another.

Secondary school teachers should be good at working with young people, knowledgeable in their special subject, and able to motivate students and to impart knowledge to them.

With additional preparation and certification, experienced teachers may be able to move into positions as school librarians, reading specialists, curriculum specialists, or guidance counselors. However, for most secondary school teachers, advancement takes the form of a higher salary rather than a different job. Relatively few teachers move into administrative or supervisory positions in public school system. To do so usually requires at least 1 year of graduate education, several years of classroom teaching, and sometimes a special certificate.

Job Outlook

Employment of secondary school teachers is expected to increase about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2000 as high school enrollments grow. Largely because of migration to the South and West, employment of teachers is expected to increase more in those regions and less in others.

The primary sources of teachers supply are recent college graduates qualified to teach secondary school and former teachers seeking to reenter the profession. Although reentrants have experience in their favor, many schools prefer to hire new graduates who command lower salaries and whose training is more recent. Some central cities and rural areas have difficulty attracting enough teachers, so job prospects should continue to be better in these areas than in suburban districts.


According to the National Education Association, public secondary school teachers averaged $31,500 a year in 1990. Generally, salaries were highest in the Mid-Atlantic States and in the Far West.

Collective bargaining agreements cover an increasing number of teachers.

In some schools, teachers receive extra pay for coaching sports and working with students in extracurricular activities such as music, drama, or school publications. Some teachers earn extra income by working in the school system during summer sessions. Others hold summer jobs outside the school system.

Related Occupations

Secondary school teaching requires a wide variety of skills and aptitudes, including organizational, administrative, and recordkeeping abilities; research and communication skills; the power to influence, motivate, and train others; and creativity. Workers in other occupations requiring some of these aptitudes include: School administrators, counselors, trainers and employee development specialists, employment interviewers, librarians, personnel managers, public relations representatives, sales representatives, and social workers.

Sources of Additional Information

Information on certification requirements and approved teacher training institutions is available from State departments of education.

Information on teachers' unions and education-related issues may be obtained from:

American Federation of Teachers 555 New Jersey Ave. NW., Washington, D.C. 20001.

General information on the teaching professions can be obtained from local or State affiliates of the National Education Association.

A list of colleges and universities accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education can be obtained from:

National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, 1919 Pennsylvania Ave., NW., Suite 202, Washington, D.C. 20006.


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