High School and Secondary School Teacher Education
Graduation. A term most students often relate to success and completion of an exciting, challenging journey to freedom and opportunities. As students, we commonly relate a degree at any level a step in moving forward on the educational highway. As teachers, from the moment a student enters a classroom at every grade level, we begin preparing for this very journey.
The United States educational system has created age specific curriculum standards in order to continue motivating and preparing students for the year ahead. Often students begin with one classroom, with one teacher. As students enter secondary school (middle school) they begin rotating classrooms to benefit from educators who are subject specific. Under this education format, teachers set the tone of the pathway ahead for future college years and instructing, guiding students to learn responsibility while under instruction of educators. Secondary education is generally used to define a period in education when this shift occurs.
Being a secondary or high school teacher means accepting responsibility not only for the information that is shared within a classroom, but also for transitioning a young student to a young adult. Cultivating progressive expectations and slowly increasing responsibility of a student. Being part mentor, part instructor, and part coach. If preparing and mentoring a young mind into a world of opportunity is what you want to do, then being a secondary educator may be exactly right for you.
Teaching requires a bachelor’s degree, no matter what state you live in. But what you get your bachelor’s degree in depends on where you are. As a secondary school educator, you’ll be responsible for teaching primarily in your specialty area, and how you demonstrate ability will be different depending on your state’s degree requirement.
Some states require that teachers complete a bachelor’s degree in teaching or education. This ensures a thorough understanding of the education principles of teaching. To be a secondary educator in a specialty area, you’ll typically take a number of classes in the area you want to teach. This varies by program, but 30-45 semester hours in a subject is typical. This ensures that you not only understand the principles of teaching, but that you have the necessary mastery of the subject area that you’ll be exclusively responsible for.
Other states require that a teacher complete a bachelor’s degree in a subject area, then complete an approved post-baccalaureate teacher education program. These programs are generally the equivalent of one to two years of full-time instruction. The teacher education programs give the necessary instruction in teaching, learning and instruction principles and educational theory. If you are choosing to become a teacher in an area other than subject where you hold your bachelor’s degree, your state may require a certain amount of coursework in the area you want to teach.
Finally, if you have an existing bachelor’s degree in the area you want to teach, your state may have a fast track, sometimes called an “endorsement program.” Endorsement programs allow you to apply for a teaching license or certification using your bachelor’s degree as the education requirement without completing a lengthy graduate program. There may be some courses that are required in teaching or education theory, and completing the regular state teacher application and passing tests will still be required.
Many states require that the education program meet certain guidelines. These may be set at the state level, or the state may require that the program be accredited by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education or other national accreditation body. Always do some research and make sure the program you’re considering will meet the requirements in your state.
2. Take the Required Teacher Examination
Almost all states will require that a teacher pass certain examinations before being issued a license, certification or credential.
Teacher examinations come in two types: basic skills tests and subject area tests.
A basic skills test assesses competency in reading, writing, arithmetic, and may include some other basic subject areas or teaching principles. Subject area tests assess competency in specialty areas or ages.
Secondary and high school teachers who teach in a single subject area may find that they only need to take the examinations for their specialty, or they may find that they’re required to also pass a basic skills tests. Some states may also require that teaching theory tests be passed.
States may develop their own examinations, or they may use examinations developed and administered by Praxis, a national educator examination organization. Praxis offers both basic skills and specialty area tests.
In a few states, the requirement to teach a specialty area may be met by passing the necessary examination, without the need for subject-specific coursework or degrees.
3. Get Your Classroom Experience
Even the best teacher candidate can be overwhelmed the first time they step into a classroom with 30 teenagers. To ensure this experience happens with the right support, teacher education programs require a thorough student teacher experience.
The student teaching experience pairs the teaching student with a working teacher as a mentor, and structures progressively more responsibility into the rotations. This allows the student teacher to apply the education principles he or she has learned gradually, while assuming more direct teaching responsibilities.
Student teaching experiences are taken for credit, which is applied to the unit requirement for graduation, and are overseen by a faculty member. There are generally 300-500 hours of student teaching experience required in teacher education programs. Some programs may require you to pass portions of your state mandated examinations before starting your student teaching requirements, and some districts require a physical, proof of immunizations, or tuberculosis screening before being allowed in a classroom.
As a student pursing a teaching license in secondary or high school grades, your experiences will be weighted towards these grades and your chosen specialty area. You will still likely spend some of your student teaching experience or fieldwork with other grades, and NCATE accreditation requires that student teachers complete experiences with special needs children and ethnically diverse populations.
As a student teacher, you’ll apply the education theory you’ve been studying, and learn the practicalities of lesson planning, student-teacher and interprofessional communication, information delivery, testing, data recording and parent-teacher communication.
4. Get the Right Teaching License
All states regulate the practice of teaching in public schools and issue a document of eligibility. Some states call this a license, some call it a certificate, and some call it a credential. They all mean the formal permit to teach, and all public schools will require you have one.
In general, there are three requirements to get a teaching license or certificate: completing the education, passing the exams, and completing the state’s application process. Each state will have an oversight agency for teachers, usually called a board of education, although the name may vary. The formal application process is also established by the state, but the most common steps are:
Completing the state’s specific application
Mailing certified copies of your transcripts to the state board
Sending testing scores to the state board
Completing a background check
Registering your fingerprints with the state
Sending letters of recommendation
Paying an application fee
Teaching licenses expire in most states, and need to be renewed every 1 one to 3 years (depending on the state). Renewing a license involves paying a fee and ensuring the information you have filed with the state is up-to-date. Many states require that a continuing education requirement be met in order to renew a license, with anywhere from 8 to 12 hours of courses per year to meet the renewal requirement. As a secondary educator with a specialty area, you may opt for your continuing education work to be in your area of emphasis, or you may select courses that offer instruction in current teaching or educational theory. Some states require that courses be approved to meet the continuing education requirement, so always check first.
5. Stay Up to Date with Teacher Education
Where your education was more current than a teacher who completed his or her degree 15 years ago, so to will new teachers learn more current information than you did. Research in the area of education is always evolving. Information in the subject area you teach will continue to expand. Maintaining a ready-to-learn mindset as a teacher improves satisfaction with the profession, maintains interest, and serves your students well, in addition to meeting a state mandated continuing education requirement.
There are many courses and classes available, and many national teacher organizations sponsor annual conferences or workshops to allow you to fulfill your commitment to learning and connect with other education professionals. The National Education Association (www.nea.org) is a general organization for all teachers, but there are also associations for teachers of English, reading, science and mathematics and many other specialty areas. Connecting with these organizations can help you find educational opportunities, read current research through their publications and maintain an awareness of the changing principles of education or the impact of legislative change.
Additionally, there are supplemental certifications in various areas that can be acquired one you are working as teacher. These certifications are separate from the certification issued by the state that allows you to teach, but can be taken to demonstrate additional competency or special abilities. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (www.nbpts.org), for instance, offers supplemental certifications for specialization in certain subjects, or working with certain ages. Additional certifications or credentials can enhance earning potential in some districts, and may make a teaching candidate more desirable when it comes to hiring.