For some people, thoughts of high school evoke images of old friends, sports games, and long nights studying. And for some, their minds jump to memories of their favorite teachers who imparted wisdom and advice that helped them through their adolescent lives.
High school represents some of the most important formative years in any student’s life. In addition to being introduced to new ideas, new activities, and new friends, high school students go through a number of transformations that lead them to adulthood.
Guiding their students through these formative years, high school teachers employ expert teaching practices and knowledge of their students' learning skills to push their students to the best of their abilities.
But before becoming teachers, they must first undergo the teacher certification process – a rigorous set of standards proving they have what it takes to effectively teach their students.
What is secondary teacher certification?
Experts developed the teacher certification process to test potential teachers on their knowledge of teaching methods and subject knowledge. For potential high school teachers, the certification process generally focuses on what subject a teacher specializes in.
For example, a potential English teacher would demonstrate his or her knowledge of literacy and writing practices in order to become certified in English.
The certification process is different for each state, so to find your state's exact requirements, check out the map of state teaching certification requirements.
But before potential high school teachers undergo the certification process, they must immerse themselves in the subject matter that they wish to teach.
Knowledge of subject matter
During high school, students learn about a variety of subjects each focusing on different skills and experiences.
But to effectively learn about these subjects, students must have good teachers who are well-versed on the subject matter at hand. For example, a teacher who leads a math class will likely not have the skills or knowledge necessary to effectively lead a science class.
Typically, students are enrolled in English classes, math classes, social studies classes, and science classes during high school. Each of these subjects have unique aspects that their respective teachers must understand fully before becoming capable educators.
Potential English teachers must be masters of the literary arts, teaching their students that language gives them the power to shape and make sense of life experiences. English teachers understand that it is language that allows people to share their stories, traditions, and beliefs, and helps them to explore new worlds.
High school English teachers have expert knowledge of literature, including traditional and contemporary fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and other print texts. They are able to interpret meaning and style of various types of literature, and explain allegories and symbols to their students.
English teachers understand the best methods to develop their students' reading skills and abilities to comprehend, interpret, and analyze various texts on a critical level. This includes helping students to find personal meaning through discussion and writing, offering insight into the thinking process and strategies used by skilled writers.
Potential English teachers must have a firm grasp on how various reading techniques like activating prior knowledge, construing meaning, and applying cueing systems.
Because high school is a period where many students are further developing their writing habits, teachers should understand conventions of grammar, like syntax, sentence types, sentence structure, and punctuation.
For more information on high school English teaching certification, click here.
Moving beyond basic mathematical functions like addition and subtraction students learn during elementary school, potential math teachers must become experts in complex math topics that students are required to learn in high school.
To meet certification standards, math teachers must have a broad and thorough understanding of numbers, operations, algebra, functions, geometry, trigonometry, data analysis, statistics, and calculus. Effective math teachers impart problem-solving techniques on their students so they can approach these subjects with greater ease.
Algebra teachers must demonstrate an understanding of the properties of prime, even, and odd numbers to become certified. They also must solve ratios, proportion, percentage, and average problems during certification examination.
Math teachers must also understand how to link these topics to other parts of math instruction like geometry. They understand the relationships between different shapes like squares, rectangles, and trapezoids, and how to solve problems using angles, properties, and radii.
Certified math teachers are also able to relate in-class material to real-world applications. Studies show students are more interested in subject matter when teachers present them with examples from life, so math teachers must understand how the facts they teach are usable.
For more information on becoming a certified math teacher, click here.
History contains some of the most important lessons for future citizens of a democratic country, making social studies a key subject for high school students. To become certified, social studies teachers must demonstrate a good understanding of history, civics, geography, and economics.
History gives students an opportunity to explore past narratives and examine the lives of important historical individuals.
Social studies teachers should understand how to relate the lives of past historical figures with the lives of current leaders and politicians to spark student interest. This shows students that they are part of “living history” and that history isn't simply an unchanging series of past events and dates.
To become certified, social studies teachers also have knowledge of how politicians allocate and distribute resources through history, and how they arrive at decisions they make. They understand that to explore economics means to examine the extent to which costs arise from economic choices.
Social studies teachers understand how markets and prices spur competition and growth, and how to measure the economic performance of a country. They also understand the politics and civics that lies at the heart of economics.
The certification process tests potential social studies teachers on their knowledge of civics and government, including the theoretical underpinnings and founding documents that make up the world's governments.
They must demonstrate a thorough understanding of concepts like centralization and decentralization, and how complex political ideals, institutions, and practices affect individuals and groups.
For more information on how to become a certified social studies teacher, click here.
Exploring the complexities of life around them, science fits naturally into the activities of high school students. And for high school students with effective science teachers, science class is not only informative, but also exciting and engaging.
To become certified, potential high school science teachers must demonstrate an understanding the nature of science as inquiry, and know the fundamental concepts, laws, and theories behind earth and life sciences.
High school science involves the building of a consistent, testable view of how the world works, something high school students naturally question. Science teachers understand the origin, structure, and composition of the universe and the planets and creatures comprising it.
Before certification, potential science teachers should show how biological characteristics transfer from one generation to the next. They also understand the structures and functions of cells, and the implications if they stop working.
They also understand matter and atoms, and how they make up the world. They use this knowledge to explain, interpret, and predict changes in the world to their students. By answering questions and explaining concepts that guide the scientific process, potential science teachers can help instill a sense of inquiry in their students.
For more information on becoming certified as a science teacher, click here.
Becoming a certified high school/middle school teacher
High school and middle school focuses on expanding the knowledge and desire to learn of students, and requires effective teachers. Teachers must have a thorough understanding of the different subjects students learn about, and must have a desire and drive to be an engaging school leader.
If you're interested in becoming a high school teacher, learn more about the teacher certification process in your state, here.
Effective Teacher Qualities
In the hustle and bustle of high school life, it can be easy to forget that simply being knowledgeable about a subject isn't enough to be considered a good teacher. While many teachers gain an expertise on a subject, it's their attitudes and approaches that sometimes truly engage students.
In “Seek Balance, Connect With Others, and Reach All Students: High School Students Describe a Moral Imperative for Teachers,” published in The High School Journal, researchers asked students to note what characteristics good teachers have.
In the article, authors Jean Whitney and others polled 271 students from a high school and asked them to reflect on teachers they admire. Whitney found that responses fit into five general categories.
First, students said they want teachers to show concern for student individuality. Students don't want to be lumped into one general “one-size-fits-all” education model. They noted that many students learn at a different pace, and that they appreciated when teachers adjusted lessons and spent time personally talking to the students.
Second, students said they appreciate when a teacher demonstrates a desire to teach. Teachers should be enthusiastic and excited about the material. Students with engaged teachers said they felt a similar draw to become engaged in the subject at hand.
Third, teachers should avoid extremes. Students didn't want a teacher to appear overly strict, while also didn't want a teacher who was overly dismissive of bad behavior. Teachers must toe the line between fun and engaging if they wish to be seen as effective.
Fourth, teachers must exhibit knowledge about a subject. Students say they respect teachers who understand what they're teaching, especially when they can relate it to the world around them. One example a student gave was relating a social studies lesson to a current news event.
Finally, teachers should maintain an atmosphere for student learning. Students said they enjoyed learning activities that were both demanding, while also fun. For example, students stated they enjoyed working in groups, creating projects, going on field trips, and learning through skits.
Teachers who exhibit these characteristics are better equipped to engage the students around them and impart their subject knowledge.