Teaching at the high school level is very challenging work, but for people who are interested in technology and who enjoy working with young people, high school teaching can be a very rewarding career. In order to prepare for this career, it is necessary to earn a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university with a major in technology, computers, industrial technology, or electronics. State and provincial laws require that all potential teachers be licensed, and this requires course work and student teaching experiences that lead to earning a teaching certificate. Many states and provinces also require competency testing to guarantee that teachers have a minimum level of skills in math, English, and the humanities.
While academic credentials are important, prospective teachers also need to develop strong communication skills. Teachers need to explain complex information, resolve conflicts, and deal effectively with students, parents, and administrators. Effective teachers need organizational skills that will allow them to keep their students on task, even when students are working on different projects or at a different pace. Supervising a group of students requires great concentration. Teachers are responsible for student safety and attendance as well as student achievement. Teachers frequently compare their job to juggling several projects at once.
Two of the most important tasks that any teacher will face are determining what skills and knowledge students will need to learn and developing the projects, assignments, and activities that will allow them to meet these goals. This process of curriculum development is an ongoing part of a teacher's work. Teachers must also meet the challenge of motivating disaffected students who, because of family issues, economic problems, or personal crises, are unable to focus on school work. Working with young people requires a sense of mission and compassion. The most successful teachers are people who enjoy working with young people more than they care about the subject matter; people who teach kids, not school.
Opportunities for high school technology teachers will increase due to the rising number of school-age children and because of the expanding interest in technology. Teacher retirements will also create opportunities.
Marilyn Donovan teaches keyboarding and cooperative education at Rolling Meadows High School in Rolling Meadows, Illinois.
How did you become interested in technology?
I became interested as new developments occurred in word processing, starting with electric typewriters, stand-alone work processing, and finally computers.
Why did you decide to become a teacher?
I worked as a secretary for seven years and decided that I wanted to teach other office skills. I learned office skills from experience, and I thought that I would like to help young people learn these skills before they entered the job market.
How would you describe a typical workday? What kinds of activities tend to dominate your day?
I teach keyboarding for three class periods every day. I grade papers for one and a half to two hours every day. The remaining part of my workday is spent coordinating satellite programs for work study and teacher aide preparation.
If someone asked for your advice on how to become a good teacher, what skills and qualities would you suggest that they try to develop?
Teachers have a powerful influence on their students. They need to make a genuine effort to be fair to these students. Kids can tell if you have favorites, and they resent it very much. We all need to work on staying open-minded. There are lots of ways to approach problems, and we have to be careful not to fall into a "they've always done it this way" syndrome. We also must remember to treat students with kindness and respect. Even the most challenging students respond to a caring, interested teacher. We need to emphasize the positive things that students do, and whenever possible, we need to relate the activities that we do in class to real-life activities.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
I would call it a tie between keeping up with the paperwork and dealing with extreme behavior problems. The extreme behavior problems take such a disproportionate amount of my time and energy that I worry about shortchanging my other students.
What class or experience was most helpful to you in becoming a good teacher?
I think that my special education and psychology classes were a big help for me, but overall experience is also helpful. I have learned a lot from my students over the last twenty-four years-especially from my mistakes.
If you could change one part of your job description, what would you add or delete?
I would eliminate a lot of the paperwork. Progress reports and notices to parents take a huge amount of time.
When you started teaching, was there one suggestion or piece of advice that you wish someone had given you?
When I first started teaching, I was very idealistic. There were several older teachers who couldn't wait to shoot down every idea I had on units that I wanted to teach. I wish that someone would have encouraged me to try the new things I wanted to do instead of discouraging me. I had a lot of enthusiasm that the other teachers seemed to resent.
Many school districts acknowledge the importance of computer education by requiring keyboarding for all high school students. Students learn the computer keyboard, practice work processing skills, and learn how to use different software programs. As part of this course, students also learn how to format business letters, resumes, and reports.
People who are drawn to high school teaching enjoy working with young people and enjoy the social activities that make up life in a high school. Teachers work five class periods a day, have a free lunch and conference period, and have a supervisory or tutorial session as a sixth assignment. Teaching is a very demanding profession. Teachers must help students master content and develop skills, maintain order in the classroom, help students with emotional and academic problems, meet with parents, provide information for staff, produce parent notices, grade work, develop the curriculum, and evaluate student progress. In recognition of the demands that the profession makes on teachers, schools typically offer several breaks a year and an extended, but unpaid, vacation during the summer.
At a minimum, keyboarding teachers need a bachelor's degree in education with a minor in technology, or a bachelor's degree in vocational education combined with a teaching certificate to qualify for a job. These credentials will take roughly four years to earn while studying at an accredited college or university. Successful teachers have strong communication and interpersonal skills, enjoy working with young people, and are extremely organized. In a typical workday, a high school teacher may work with 150 students, all of whom need instruction and attention.
The salary schedule for all teachers depends on salary schedules that each school district in the United States and Canada determines, so salaries vary widely. In general, the national average for high school teachers is $34,000.