Careers in secondary education – teaching, administration and support roles


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What is secondary education?

Secondary education is comprised lower secondary and upper secondary, or better known as junior high and high school. This is the period of learning that takes place after elementary school, and in most areas of the United States, is referred to simply as high school. In general, high school students range in age from 13 to 17 years old. Junior high usually encompasses grades 6-7 through 9, while high school refers to grades 9 and 12.

Teaching at the secondary school level results in days spent working with adolescents and older teens — segments of the population who are smart, witty, engaging, and surprisingly globally aware. For those with the right temperament and ability to connect with older students, the job of a high school teacher is fraught with sudden realization moments. The job also comes with its own set of unique challenges. For anyone wondering whether they have what it takes to be a successful high school teacher, we have compiled the information needed to guide you in this career choice.

Developmental milestones in junior high

Girls in this age group are often taller and more physically developed than boys. However, both sexes have begun thinking about, and planning for, the future. These students have grown past the awkward phase and now move more gracefully. Hence, the popularity of organized sports such as basketball, football, or track among this age group.

Young teens need a lot of sleep, a lot to eat, and much privacy. At this age, teens are experimenting with new music, friends, and styles of clothing. They are still strongly influenced by peers, though their friend group may become narrower. Friendships become deeper, and romantic relationships may begin forming. At the older end of the spectrum, students may have part-time jobs and driver’s permits. They begin to see the world through adult eyes and are learning to navigate adult-sized issues.

Cognitively, this age group can plan, set, and achieve goals, and use strategy to solve problems.


Cognitively, this age group can plan, set, and achieve goals, and use strategy to solve problems. They begin to develop logical thought, improved executive function, and enhanced memory. These dynamic developments in cognition affect teaching and what material is covered. Teachers can now challenge this cognitive development by asking students to memorize poems, read complex books, and complete difficult mathematical equations.

Developmental milestones in high school

Senior high students are essentially young adults, and many look the part. They can drive cars, grow facial hair, and bear children. Still, many have notoriously poor judgment because their prefrontal cortexes are still maturing. This can result in challenges with:

  • risk assessment
  • consequence prediction
  • prioritizing
  • judgment

Academically, older teens have developed a better understanding of who they are and how they fit into the classroom dynamic. They’re capable of complex thought, use elaborate writing strategies and comprehend abstract ideas. This gives teachers of this age group the ability to discuss advanced academic material and challenge their cognitive abilities. Students complete intricate mathematical calculations, weigh in on global affairs, and give in-class presentations.

These students may have jobs, cars, and steady date partners. They may be juggling sports with dating, academics, and work. This makes educating this age group incredibly dynamic and fun.  By understanding the many physical, emotional, and social changes your pupils may navigate throughout each school year, at each grade level, you will develop reading material, homework, and in-class assignments that challenge and excite them.

Public versus private secondary school

Private secondary schools pose both advantages and disadvantages to their academic staff. Advantages include a more professional atmosphere, professional work attire, smaller class size, and bigger budget concerns. As a teacher in a private secondary setting, your responsibilities may include participation in fundraising activities and recruiting events. Disadvantages include fewer open positions, smaller salaries, and fewer benefits. Some private schools lack diversity in the classroom. There is no teacher’s union to help negotiate pay and working conditions.

Public schools, alternately, are usually quite diverse in the makeup of their student bodies. All teachers follow the same pay scale, and it usually offers a more lucrative salary and benefits than a private school can afford. Although public schools are more casual — neither students nor faculty wear uniforms— there are strict curriculum requirements to which teachers must adhere. This allows less room for creativity in the classroom and puts a greater emphasis on student test scores.

A benefit to being a teacher in both private and public secondary schools is that you can enjoy many days off, including summers.


A benefit to being a teacher in both private and public secondary schools is that you can enjoy many days off, including summers. However, you won’t draw pay over summer vacation. This means you need to plan to have income during those few months every year. Some schools allow you to spread your salary out over 52 weeks, so you get a paycheck regardless of whether you are actively teaching. This alleviates summers without pay, but it also reduces the size of your paycheck, year-round.

There are also days at school that are student free, such as professional development days. Teachers earn a decent, but not wonderful, salary. In addition, they earn this salary many times over in time spent grading papers and preparing lessons during their off-work hours.

Before deciding whether to teach in a public or private setting, spend time in both types of classrooms, and talk with teachers from both industries to gain an insider’s perspective.

Subjects that you can teach in secondary school

Unlike elementary school, secondary subjects are typically taught by different teachers. This means most secondary schools hire math, science, physical education, history, and language arts teachers for each grade level. There may also be an art teacher, music teacher, choir instructor, band teacher, or coach who moves between grades at a secondary school. In other words, many opportunities to follow your interest and share your knowledge as a high school teacher.

This poses a question for aspiring teachers: What subject will you teach? Coursework at the high school level includes classes such as:

  • computer science
  • keyboarding or typing
  • English
  • English as a second language
  • history
  • science
  • mathematics
  • social studies
  • foreign language
  • health
  • physical education

Within each of these subjects, there are specialties. For instance, a math teacher may be responsible for teaching algebra, geometry, and calculus. A football coach may double as the PE teacher.

Currently, STEM —science, technology, engineering, and math— teachers are in high demand. So are English as a Second Language (ESL) instructors. For graduates with the qualifications to teach in special education, helping students with special needs, jobs are plentiful, as well.

To become qualified to teach in a specialized area, such as history or a foreign language, requires either a bachelor’s degree in that subject, a bachelor’s degree in the field of education with a minor in the subject you wish to teach, or a bachelor’s degree in the field of education and the completion of a teacher preparation program that focuses on the subject and grade level you wish to teach. Teacher preparation is generally included as part of the coursework, although this needs to be checked prior to applying to a specific program.  Upon graduation, prospective teachers need to pass the required state tests to obtain certification and licensure to teach at public secondary school level.

The career path commonly is:

  • earn a 4-year degree that prepares you to teach in a specific subject
  • take teacher preparation classes as part of your coursework
  • complete the required period of internship inside the classroom
  • pass the required tests to obtain state licensure, such as the NES (National Evaluation Series) or the Praxis
  • apply for a teaching license
  • become licensed to teach in your state

Be prepared to undergo a rigorous background check as part of the process of applying for a position within the public school system. If you’re applying to teach in a private school, this may or may not be a requirement.

Teaching special education in secondary school

Reports show that in public schools approximately 14% of all students receive special education services.  However, multiple states report shortages in teachers who are certified to teach children with special needs.

Generally, special needs teachers oversee a classroom filled with students who all have some sort of limitation, including mental, emotional, cognitive, physical, or social challenges. They both manage the overall classroom and work with individual students to meet the goals outlined in their Individual Education Plans or IEPs. They also track the progress of the individual students and report back to administrators, counselors, and families.

The duties of a special education teacher include:

  • assessing the skills of your individual students
  • developing Individual Education Plans (IEPs)
  • working with students to achieve assigned goals
  • assessing and recording student outcomes and progress
  • adapting teaching methods to address student needs

If you are flexible, adaptive, and can think on your feet, special education could be a rewarding career choice. Considering the current shortage, future job seekers can anticipate the availability of many positions to choose from, with good job security if they perform their duties conscientiously.

Teaching opportunities at the secondary school level

If you think your local high school may be the perfect place to begin your teaching career, there are several positions to consider, both in and out of the classroom. Some, such as those in administration or counseling, have additional educational requirements outside of earning a bachelor’s degree. Regardless, earning a 4-year degree is a good place to jumpstart a career in private or public education.

Total employment


Projected growth (2018-2028)


Degree required


Teachers in junior high typically require strong mentoring skills. At this level, students are transitioning from middle school and becoming more independent. Consequently, they may feel anxious, scared, or stressed. It is important for teachers to set clear objectives and boundaries and then give students the tools to meet them.

A junior high teacher needs to be organized, patient, and creative. They deal with young teens who are achieving new milestones, but who still require support and encouragement. Students this age may necessitate motivation due to their reluctance to take part openly in class because they feel shy or embarrassed.

Part of the teacher role is to impart wisdom, teach knowledge, maintain order, and build positive relationships with students, and with faculty, administration, and families. Requirements include:

  • high moral ethics
  • ability to adapt
  • self-control
  • ability to establish rapport with young teens
  • ability to instruct

Your classroom prepares students for learning at the high school level. Therefore, it is important to encourage pupils to work well independently and as part of a team

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To become a teacher at the junior high level requires a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Many students earn their undergraduate degrees in one of these disciplines:

Although students can also earn a bachelor’s degree in the subject they wish to teach if a teacher preparation program is completed to prepare them for classroom teaching and licensure in their state. Upon graduation, prospective teachers need to pass the required tests to obtain state licensure in their state.

The career path commonly is:

  • earn a 4-year degree that prepares you to teach in a specific subject or in secondary education
  • take teacher preparation classes as part of your coursework
  • complete the required period of internship inside the classroom
  • pass the required tests to obtain state licensure, such as the NES (National Evaluation Series) or the Praxis
  • apply for a teaching license
  • become licensed to teach in your state
See more

Total employment


Projected growth (2018-2028)


Degree required


To become a high school teacher, educating students aged 14 to 18, demands the ability to work well with young adults. A large part of a high school teacher’s responsibility is to prepare students for the future, whether this involves going to college or entering the workforce. In general, students should leave high school with a skill set that includes the ability to work independently and as a member of a team, the ability to author a solid resume, interview skills, and more.


Although the main job of a senior high school teacher is to educate and encourage, they may find themselves involved in adult-level discussions with their students. The classroom may also be an outlet for adult-sized problems, including relationship woes, teen pregnancy, substance abuse, etc. Part of the teacher’s role is to keep the class focused on learning despite whatever is going on in their personal lives.

To be a successful teacher at the senior high school level requires certain attributes that include:

  • ability to be firm yet fair
  • strong skills in planning and execution
  • ability to prioritize and re-prioritize
  • coaching and training skills
  • good rapport with older teens
  • personal integrity
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A high school teacher has typically achieved a bachelor’s degree in addition to teacher preparation training and state licensure.

If you plan to teach at the secondary level, a teacher preparation program is required. This program can be taken during or after your bachelor’s program. This will depend on what your university offers, and what suits you best. This program will encompass additional fieldwork and student teaching to prepare you further for a teaching career. Depending on the institution, a bachelor’s degree and credential program should take around 4 to 5 years to complete. Some teachers have earned their bachelor’s degree in another area and pursue a master’s degree in secondary education with licensure track that prepares them for a career as a licensed teacher.

Assessment exams will vary by state, but most states use the Praxis Series. This standardized test will measure your general education knowledge, content knowledge from your concentration, and specific teaching skills.

On completion of the academic program, student-teaching, and assessment exam you may be eligible to apply for your state’s license or certification. A criminal background check may also be required.

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Total employment


Projected growth (2018-2028)


Degree required

Associate degree

Similar to elementary and middle schools, secondary schools employ teaching assistants in the classroom. Usually, the assistant prepares the classroom in the morning, organizes folders and classroom materials, helps the teacher maintain order, and assists students. Assistants often work one-on-one with individual students who need additional support. They may also perform secretarial duties, such as making copies, and help draft lesson plans.

To be successful as a teaching assistant in the high school classroom necessitates the ability to work well with young people and have good self-control and self-management skills. The ability to build positive relationships is also a plus.

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A bachelor’s degree is not required to work as a teaching assistant, though this varies from school to school. An associate of arts in education may, in some cases, increase your chances of obtaining this position. Many aspiring teachers take jobs as teaching assistants to help pay for their teaching degrees.

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Other careers in secondary education

Aside from teaching inside the classroom, you may also be interested in other jobs within the local school system. These positions have their own sets of qualifications that require your consideration if they pique your interest.

  • Median salary: $120K

    The school superintendent oversees the activity of all the schools in the district. School principals answer to the school superintendent and to the community regarding school performance.

  • The school principal handles the day-to-day activities of the school, including overseeing the faculty, building rapport with families and the community, and maintaining positive relationships with students. This is the individual in charge of hiring and terminating teachers and staff, and handling faculty evaluations.

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  • Median salary: $90K

    The vice principal’s primary job is to assist the principal. This means they perform duties such as budgeting, student discipline, scheduling, and acting as liaison between the school and the community.

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  • Median salary: $54K

    The guidance counselor helps students prepare for their futures. They assist students through the college application process, through the recording of student service-learning hours, and with advice on what happens after graduation.

    See more
  • Median salary: $64K

    The school psychologist usually has at least a master’s degree in psychology or a related mental-health field. Their primary responsibilities include counseling students who have mental or emotional concerns.

    See more

1 “Special Education.” NEA,

2 “About the Shortage”. (2019, September 25). NCPSSERS.

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