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Today's High School Teacher: What it Takes to Succeed

written by: Pauline H. Gill•edited by: Wendy Finn•updated: 2/8/2013

High School teachers must know their content well and how to run a student-centered class effectively. This is an incredibly rewarding career path for those passionate about their subject and helping young people.

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    Direct Instruction and Student-Centered Learning

    Fifty years ago, the average high school classroom was led by direct instruction. It was a highly structured class where the teacher Teacher in classroom giving lesson uid 1284433 taught by lecturing. Students took notes and were later tested on the information.

    Now there is a movement towards models based on facilitated learning or classes that are student-centered. There is more interaction between the teacher and student, as well as between students. These models are based on the methods of Carl Rogers, a psychologist who believed in a classroom where the student could explore learning. The book, Models of Teaching, uses the ideas of exploratory learning. The concepts slowly entered mainstream education through the 1980s and 1990s; today, the models are part of most classrooms.

    Teachers still use direct instruction, but today direct instruction usually consists of min-lessons where the teacher introduces the material, explains the process, and delegates students to take leadership roles as they work on projects and problem-solving tasks. This change in the teacher's role means more preparation for the teacher. High school teachers need to have a full understanding of their subject matter, and they must learn how to manage a classroom that is more interactive than the classrooms of the past.

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    The average high school class is 60 to 90 minutes in length. This is called block scheduling and allows students more time to work in groups, do research, or work on problem-solving tasks. Few schools have seven periods a day of 45-minute classes. Most block scheduling runs through a two-day cycle. Classes that used to meet every day, now meet two to three times a week making lesson planning more detailed and specific to optimize time management. There is less class time to cover more material.

    Time management is only one challenge. The field of education is changing every day to keep up with federal and state mandates requiring additional assessment. High school teachers are not only faced with mastery of subject material, they are faced with class management skills and teaching students of different levels of ability.

    Tracking or homogeneous classes are few compared to the past. More schools have stopped tracking and now place students in heterogeneous classes where the level of ability can vary from a basic skilled student who is reading at the sixth-grade level to a student who is reading at the twelve-grade level. Teaching to such diversity requires skill. Some teachers opt for cooperative learning situations where students work in groups that include the slower student and the advanced student. This can put a burden on the advanced student who must direct the slower student. It can be difficult for the teacher who must see that all students' needs are met, and they can pass the district and state assessments.

    Smiling teacher holding book uid 1283956 

    In the states' attempt to keep students in school, teachers face ever-changing classrooms. Students may be in and out of the classroom for special assistance or coming back from an alternative school. This disruption makes it difficult for the teacher to create a cohesive learning environment.

    Adapting to change is one issue, but meeting budget challenges is another issue. With budget cuts and state mandates, teachers have extra workloads and larger classes. School districts continue to struggle finding qualified teachers as more decide to look toward other fields for better salaries and less demands. Districts now assign experienced teachers to help new employees adjust. These teachers are responsible for evaluating, guiding, and encouraging new teachers in hopes that they will stay in the field.

    And yet, people still go into the field of education and teach until retirement. Perhaps it's a love for the subject material, or it's a desire to mold the minds of young people and inspire life-long learning. Whatever their reason, teachers will continue to teach regardless of pay and constant challenges.