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Flip through your fondest memories and you may come across a recollection of a high school teacher who made a substantial impact—so much so you’re now considering following in their footsteps and becoming an educator yourself. 

And with California consistently ranking as one of the five best states for public high school education,1 why not fulfill your wish by serving as a high school teacher in the Golden State—a region that has been especially hit with teacher shortages?2

If this resonates, you’re in the right place. Here’s how to become a high school teacher in California, and the opportunities it may offer its teacher candidates. 

Explore California Teaching Programs

The Role of a High School Teacher

Children are fascinating regardless of age, but they take on a new level of intrigue in adolescence. From exploring the concept of autonomy to shaping their identities, teenagers are dynamic beings—and the guidance they receive during this era is invaluable.

Unlike elementary and middle school teachers, high school teachers must be well-equipped to handle—and eager to teach—growing teens whose behaviors are vulnerable to the vacillations we all know go hand-in-hand with this age. 

There are also notable differences between how one teaches at an elementary school vs. high school:3

  • Primary school – By and large, elementary school teachers teach multiple subjects throughout the school day, often within the same grade. Elementary school teachers are also often tasked with before and after-school activities. 
  • Secondary school – High school teachers usually teach a single subject—such as English—to students in different grades (and, naturally, age groups). Moreover, high school teachers often play a critical role in a teen’s journey toward higher education by offering mentorship and assistance with state exams and college applications. 

The Significance of Specialization in High School Teaching

One of the beauties of teaching high school is that it enables educators to concentrate on a single subject. This endeavor can be enormously satisfying if you love diving deep into a niche topic.

As part of your teacher preparation, you may choose a highly specialized topic, like human sciences, and share your knowledge with students at various stages throughout their development.

The benefits of honing in on an exclusive subject extend well beyond a teacher’s self-interest. High school teachers can help students determine which subject aligns best with their talents, passions, and aspirations—and provide them with the competence and confidence they need to pursue it after high school comes to a close.

Educational Pathways to High School Teaching

Becoming a high school teacher in California is really about determining if the post is right for you and understanding the teacher credentialing, education, experience, and certifications required. 

Bachelor’s Degree

Your first step towards teacher preparation in the Golden State is to complete a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. Many hopeful high school teachers major in education; others may choose to major in the subject that enthralls them most, whether that’s Japanese or health science.

A quick note about teacher education: You do not need to major in the subject you plan to teach. You might choose to major in philosophy, but eventually teach high school composition—just as long as you pass the CBEST and/or CSET, which we’ll tap into below. 

No matter what you choose to major in as an undergraduate, remember that public school teachers in all 50 states must hold a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in addition to a teaching credential, a topic we’ll dive into shortly.5

Master’s Degree

A master’s degree may not be essential for launching a career as a high school teacher in California, but earning one has a number of benefits:6

  • In-depth knowledge of a particular subject of interest
  • Elevated understanding of education theory and practices
  • Heightened authority and credibility
  • Career advancement and opportunities

A master’s degree may also help you stand out from other applicants when the time arrives to secure a position. Moreover, with in-person, hybrid, and remote education master's degree programs widely available, you have the option of maintaining your job and lifestyle, all while obtaining the skills you need to excel. 

If you still want to work with high school students without being a teacher, there’s other careers to explore as well. As you deepen your knowledge in education, you can elect other specializations at the master’s level, such as school psychology or school counseling

Teaching Credential

Public high school teachers in California must also possess a teaching credential – this is non-negotiable. 

Future high school teachers may choose between a single-subject teaching credential and an education specialist credential, which allows an aspiring special education teacher to work with teenagers with various learning disabilities.

The California Commission on Teaching Credentialing requires you to be enrolled in a teaching program and complete various internships like:7

  • A university or college internship program
  • A school district internship program
  • Experience teaching at a private school

You may acquire a teaching credential through an early completion internship option (ECO)—an accelerated program that helps put teachers at the head of a classroom sooner.

Explore California Teaching Programs

Gaining Practical Experience 

Hands-on work with adolescent students is foundational for high school teachers in California (and elsewhere). It provides prospective educators with an authentic glimpse into the joys, responsibilities, and challenges of the role. Whether you opt for a multiple-subject teaching credential program or single-subject teaching credential program, here are two primary ways to procure experience before applying for a full-time position: 

Student Teaching

Practical experience isn’t just crucial to your evolution as a successful high school teacher: It’s also mandatory. High school teachers in California must accrue 600 hours of experience in student teaching before they can apply at one of the state’s 1,299 public high schools.8,9

Requirements aside, student teaching is indispensable to learning how to:10

  • Build lesson plans
  • Create, administer, and grade tests
  • Lead group activities
  • Maintain order
  • Evaluate student progress and track student records
  • Engage with students on a one-to-one basis

Additionally, student teaching furnishes you with the chance to explore the “teaching identity” that will ultimately benefit both you and your pupils—a teaching identity that can be magnified and enriched with the constructive evaluation you’ll receive from your cooperating teacher and other faculty members.11

The Role of Substitute Teaching in Career Development

Substitute teaching is a good, practical way to gain an insider’s perspective on high school teaching and fine-tune your skills before taking charge of your own classroom. In particular, substitute teaching may supply you with strengths that are imperative to professional growth, such as:12

  • Public speaking
  • Critical thinking
  • Leadership, communication, and time management

Furthermore, the very nature of substitute teaching “trains” educators to adapt to new environments, technologies, and protocols swiftly and efficiently—and this skill is vital to instructors of any grade. Substitute teaching may also allow you to investigate different California schools and districts to ensure you find just the right fit before accepting a full-time role. 

Certification Requirements in California

Naturally, you must demonstrate that you have the knowledge and proficiency to teach at the high school level in California. As such, you’ll have to pass the following teacher certification tests:

  • California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST) – Consisting of three parts—reading, writing, and mathematics—the CBEST can be taken on-site or remotely.13 You may be able to bypass it if you receive an acceptable score on the ACT or the College Board SAT examination, pass a basic skills test from a state outside of California, or provide transcripts showing you earned a B or higher in courses that demonstrate competency in reading, writing, and mathematics, such as:
    • Rhetoric
    • Algebra
    • Statistics
  • California Subject Examination for Teachers (CSET) – Established by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC), the CSET analyzes your capability to teach either a single subject matter or multiple subjects, depending on the type of teacher  you’ve chosen to become.14

Prospective high school teachers who plan to teach in certain areas—such as Special Education or World Languages—must also pass the required credential exams.

A solid bachelor’s or master’s program will help prepare you for success—both in these teacher certification exams and, more importantly, in the classroom. With plenty of resources available (including sample questions, tutorials, and practice exams), you can walk into a test with complete self-assurance. 

The Alliant Advantage in Teacher Education

Our California teaching credential programs offer committed students the instruction they need to make just such an impact. Experienced and diverse faculty members, enlightening coursework, and a choice between on-campus and online instruction are a few of the traits that help make Alliant International University exceptional.

Learn how to become a high school teacher in California with Alliant by requesting more information today—and savor the exhilaration of working with vibrant, budding adults.


  1. Morse, Robert, and Eric Brooks. “How States Compare in the 2023-2024 Best High Schools Rankings.” U.S. News & World Report, August 23, 2023.…. Accessed January 8, 2024.
  2. Branson-Potts, Hailey. “California’s Teacher Shortage Is Dire.” Governing, August 1, 2023. Accessed January 8, 2024.
  3. Teaching elementary vs high school: Primary differences, December 5, 2023.…. Accessed January 8, 2024.
  4. “Frequently Asked Questions – Becoming a California Teacher.” TEACH California, 2024. Accessed January 8, 2024.
  5. Q&A: Can I become a teacher without a bachelor’s degree?, March 29, 2023.…. Accessed January 8, 2024.
  6. “Is a Master of Teaching Worth It?” CORP-MAT1 (TEACH), July 6, 2021.…. Accessed January 8, 2024.
  7. “How to Become a Teacher in California.” How to become a teacher in California, 2024. Accessed January 8, 2024.
  8. Lambert, Diana. “What You Need to Know to Become a Teacher in California: Quick Guide.” EdSource, March 24, 2023.…. Accessed January 8, 2024.
  9. “Fingertip Facts on Education in California.” Fingertip Facts on Education in California - Accessing Educational Data (CA Dept of Education). Accessed January 8, 2024. Accessed January 8, 2024.
  10. What is a student teacher internship and how to become one - ziprecruiter, 2024.…. Accessed January 8, 2024.
  11. How to become a high school teacher: Requirements and faqs, December 5, 2023.…. Accessed January 8, 2024.
  12. Fagnant-MacArthur, Patrice. What to know before becoming a substitute teacher, 2024.…. Accessed January 8, 2024.
  13. CBEST, 2024. Accessed January 8, 2024.
  14. CSET, 2024. Accessed January 8, 2024.

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