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How to Become a Teacher: Steps to Take from High School

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So much of the college process is focused on just thatwhere to go to college. But that decision involves considerations and exploration that we don’t focus on enough. What you decide to study and available career opportunities are major factors in picking a school. But, so often students don’t know what they might need for their dream jobbecause they haven’t figured out what it is yet. 


Not knowing about different career paths available can mean not taking important prerequisites early enough. You don’t need to know your entire life path when going into college, but taking the time to explore careers that fit your strengths and interests can go a long way in opening up your options down the line.


In this series, we explore careers with the steps you can take starting in high school to achieve them. Even if you don’t have a plan for after college yet, learning about your options early on can help narrow down what you’re looking for.


What does a teacher do?


It seems like a no-brainera teacher, well, teaches. But there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes that you might not realize when you’re sitting in English or Biology class. There are so many types of teachers: pre-k through high school, special education, teacher-librarians, and more. The work they do is just as varied.


One thing that is common among all teachers, however, is that the work doesn’t stay in the classroom. Classroom instruction is just one part of the job, but preparing lesson plans, grading assignments, and other tasks relating to students’ educations are all major aspects of the job. Teachers play a big role in students’ lives. Think back to the teachers you have had. There are probably one or two that stand out, for better or for worse. A great teacher can change a child’s life in profound, lasting ways. This rewarding element is one reason that draws people to the profession.


How much do teachers make?


Teacher salaries are known for being infamously low, but the truth is that they vary wildly from district to district and state to state. They also vary based on what grade you’re teaching and between public and private schools. The following salary information is pulled from U.S. News and World Report based on national data:


Type Worst-Paid 25% Median Best-Paid 25%
Elementary $45,330 $57,160 $73,610
Middle $46,090 $57,720 $73,470
High School $46,990 $59,170 $75,970


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How to Become a Teacher


High School


One of the best things about exploring a career in teaching is that you’re surrounded by people in the profession almost every day. Since you know dozens of teachers already, ask a couple who work in different areas if you can sit down with them and ask about their career path and what their day-to-day jobs are like. If you’re interested in teaching middle or elementary school, try reaching out to a teacher in your district to ask if you can shadow them; that way, you can learn more about the job than you could by just asking questions. You might think you remember your early years in school, but you’d be surprised by how much your older self picks up on in terms of what a teacher is juggling at any given moment.


Another thing you can do in high school is to get involved in extracurricular activities that involve teaching others in some way. This could include tutoring, volunteering for community groups like Girls Who Code or scouting, working at a summer camp, babysitting, and more. These types of activities can start developing the skills necessary, and they can help you decide if you have an aptitude for it.


Of course, you will also want to keep your grades up! Be sure to take school seriously and participate in class, so you can develop better relationships with teachers who might become your future mentor.




Every state has different requirements to become a certified teacher, but most require a bachelor’s degree. The subject you should study in undergrad depends on what and where you want to teach; some states require high school teachers in particular subjects to have studied it in college, for instance. If you would like to teach elementary school, early childhood education might be a good choice of major. 


Teacher Preparation Program


In addition to a bachelor’s degree, you will also need to complete a teacher preparation program. These can be separate programs, or blended with a bachelor’s or master’s degree (while a master’s degree isn’t necessarily required to become a teacher, it is becoming increasingly common). These programs equip aspiring teachers with the skills, tools, and strategies to succeed in the classroom by providing foundational knowledge as well as hands-on fieldwork, commonly known as student teaching. Student teachers work under the supervision of a mentor teacher to plan, deliver, and evaluate lessons.


During or following the preparation program, students are required to take exams in basic skills and the subjects they would teach. These are often fulfilled by the Praxis exams, though some states have other tests that fulfill the requirement or requirements for additional tests before certification. 


Not all colleges have these programs, so it’s important to do your research while you’re making your school list in high school. For instance, many liberal arts colleges won’t have an education program. While you can still become a teacher, you’ll likely need additional training after obtaining your bachelor’s. On the other hand, if you attend a college with a teacher preparation program, you will likely do the program concurrently with your degree.


Alternate Routes


In addition to the traditional path to teaching outlined above, there are other routes for those wishing to become a teacher. Programs like Teach for America and City Year put team members into classrooms and schools located in many states and allow you to begin working as an educator right away. 


Another nontraditional path is to pursue certification via the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE), which is an option for professionals who studied something else in college but wish to pivot to teaching without going back to school for a teacher preparation program. 


The third is teaching in private schoolsprivate school teachers don’t need certification, nor do they necessarily need a teaching degree. Because private schools have more autonomy than public ones, hiring standards vary from school to school. Many still prefer their teachers to have the same certifications and credentials as public schools, however. Also, keep in mind that private school teachers make less on average than public school teachers do


If you’re an aspiring teacher and aren’t sure what colleges are best for you, you can explore schools on our free admissions platform. With your free account, you can not only find schools that will help you reach your teaching goals, but also estimate your chances of acceptance, and gain access to our financial tools.

Short Bio
Anna Ravenelle is a graduate of Cornell University, where she studied English with a concentration in Creative Writing. After spending two application cycles in the CollegeVine applications division, she now uses her admissions experience to help a greater number of students. She resides in New York but her heart has never left New Hampshire, where she grew up.