What is Secondary Education?
Secondary education generally refers to the academic enrichment of children ages 11 to 18. This is usually described as middle school and high school, although some people use the terms junior and senior high instead. This classification of schooling does not include primary and elementary school, however, which usually pertains to children who are approximately ages five to 10. Age cut-off dates vary by state, depending on local laws. In Alabama, a child must have turned five years old on or before September 1st of the year he or she is to enroll in kindergarten; whole-grade acceleration is permitted assuming the appropriate accommodations are made, and there is no state policy regarding early high school graduation.
While states set their own curriculums, most schools require secondary education students to take a certain number of core courses. These commonly include English, mathematics, general science, health, physical education, social studies, and social sciences classes. Many middle and high schools also offer electives, or optional subjects, which can include drama, dance, choir, band, auto shop, and home economics.
Teaching young children and adolescents is the ideal career choice for those interested in helping younger generations learn about basic school subjects, as well as the application of important life concepts. This field can be extremely rewarding, as educators have the opportunity to see students grow and develop over time. Passing on a love and appreciation for knowledge and learning is also often very satisfying.
You may also choose to seek specialization within the secondary education field. There are a wide variety of positions available for individuals interested in working with a specific sub-group of students. Examples include special education teachers, English as a second language teachers, and teachers for the physically, visually, and/or hearing impaired.
It’s important to realize that every state has unique rules for educators and their own sets of teacher licensure guidelines. Additionally, some states have a variety of associated positions that may or may not be offered in other locations. As a result, many local colleges and universities offer state-specific degrees that can be less relevant outside of their particular region.
Secondary Education Degree Levels in Alabama
There are many different positions available in the secondary education field. Some are more specialized than others, but all require applicants to achieve some level of a higher education degree. Options include associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. Each of these offers its own set of benefits, career opportunities, and drawbacks. Prior to selecting a degree type and program, it’s imperative that you become familiar with Alabama’s teacher licensing regulations. Knowing the state’s certification requirements ahead of time ensures you enroll at a college or university that aligns with your ultimate career goals.
Associate Degree in Secondary Education (AS)
It’s important to realize that an associate degree in secondary education does not satisfy Alabama’s educational requirements for teaching licensure. As a result, this type of degree is most commonly used to prepare students for further education in the field and perhaps allow them to start off with a position so that they can work while they move their education forward. Most programs are designed to help you complete the first portion of a bachelor degree. Graduates generally attain the necessary knowledge needed to pursue enrollment at a four-year institution and your completed credits can be transferred. Always verify that the college or university offering the associate degree is properly accredited, however. If it is not, you may have difficulty transferring some or all of your credit hours.
The majority of associate degree programs in secondary education focus on introducing students to the fundamentals of the field. Topics are likely to include various educational philosophies, instructional strategies, and potential challenges that students may face. These degrees usually consist of 60 credit hours of coursework and take full-time students approximately two years to complete.
Every curriculum is different, but students must usually take both general education and major courses. Some examples include:
- English Composition
- Introduction to Psychology
- Introduction to Education
- Teaching with Technology
- Working with Children with Special Needs
While earning an associate degree in secondary education will not be enough to qualify you to become a certified teacher, you may still be able to find entry-level employment in a middle or high school classroom. Possible job opportunities include working as a teacher’s aide or tutor.
Bachelor's Degree in Secondary Education (BS)
The state of Alabama requires all prospective teachers to hold at least a bachelor’s degree to qualify for employment. While most professionals choose to earn degrees specific to the education field, there are alternative teacher certification options available to graduates who majored in other subjects. Bachelor degree graduates can attain a Class B Teacher Certification, which allows them to teach grades six through 12.
Most bachelor degree programs in secondary education consist of 120 credit hours of coursework and take full-time students approximately four years to complete. If you plan to attend classes part-time, however, it may take one to two years longer. Students will be required to complete a teaching practice and internship during at least one semester, known as student teaching.
Every institution is different, requiring both general education and major coursework in a specific academic field. Concentrations include English language arts, mathematics, and general science. Outside of concentration-specific classes, topics you are likely to see consist of:
- Social Psychology Foundation in Education
- Assessment of Classroom Learning
- Instructional Accommodations for Secondary Schools
- Special Accommodation Strategies
- Diversity in the Classroom
It’s important to note that Alabama also requires secondary teaching candidates to complete an approved educator preparation program. All programs are overseen by the Alabama State Department of Education (ALSDE). Earning a degree from a college or university that does not have formal approval from the ALSDE or is not accredited by one of the six regional accrediting bodies will make gaining teacher certification in Alabama difficult, if not impossible.
Master's Degree in Secondary Education (MS or MC)
While a bachelor’s degree in secondary education is enough to qualify you for certification and most teaching positions within your concentration, earning a master’s degree can make you more marketable. Completing one of these programs will provide you with more knowledge in the field and is ideal if you are interested in becoming a school administrator. Graduates may begin their careers at a more advanced level, can be promoted faster, and often make a higher starting salary. Having a graduate degree will also help you stand out more among other candidates.
Most master’s degree programs consist of 60 credit hours of coursework and take full-time students approximately two years to complete. Students often take fewer general education courses, instead focusing on enhancing content knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, and educational research abilities. They may also choose to pursue opportunities in related areas such as curriculum and instruction, technology, educational administration, and organizational leadership. A thesis or capstone project may also be required.
Every college and university is different and your selected concentration may impact your degree requirements, but some common offers are:
- Modern Secondary School Programs
- Foundations of Professional Studies
- Introduction to Educational Research
- Computer-Based Instructional Technologies
- Improving Secondary School Instruction
In addition to teaching jobs, graduates will qualify for a number of education and education-related positions. Some exciting career opportunities include education administrator, education policy analyst, learning director, curriculum developer, corporate trainer, and private tutor.
PhD Degree in Secondary Education (PhD)
A doctoral degree is not required for most jobs in secondary education, but earning one can be beneficial. It’s important to realize, however, that most people who choose this type of degree are less interested in providing instruction to students. Instead, graduates often pursue work in educational research, policy creation, and/or the development of future professionals in the field. Some higher education institutions do require professors to have a doctorate in order to teach undergraduate and graduate-level classes.
In most cases, doctoral degree programs focus on developing leadership and research skills. They are generally designed for experienced teachers with an interest in improving student learning through system-wide improvements. Program lengths vary, but usually consist of between 90 and 120 credit hours and take full-time students five to seven years to complete.
Every institution is different, and curriculum is often based on student interest but required courses may include:
- Supervision and Personnel Management
- Organizational and School Management
- Introduction to Curriculum and Instructional Leadership
- Overview of Curriculum Processes
- Action Research and Data Analysis
Graduates can qualify for a wide range of positions in the education field. Individuals with this type of degree commonly find employment as college presidents, chief learning officers, college professors, school superintendents, university provosts, school principals, academic deans, and executive directors of education.
Become a Secondary Educator in Alabama
There are many different positions available in the secondary education field. Some are more specialized than others, but all require applicants to achieve some level of a higher education degree. Options include bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. Each of these offers its own set of benefits, career opportunities, and drawbacks. Prior to selecting a degree type and program, it’s imperative that you become familiar with Alabama’s teacher licensing regulations and requirements. Knowing the state’s certification requirements ahead of time will ensure that you enroll in a college or university that aligns with your ultimate career goals. Alabama even provides a list of State-approved Educator Preparation Programs, which are the only programs in the state that fully prepare you for Alabama teacher licensure.
No matter what position you want to hold, you’ll need to complete at least a bachelor’s degree from one of these approved teacher prep programs. A bachelor’s degree will include around 120 credit hours of education that will prepare you with knowledge of pedagogy and teaching techniques and a real-world experience of teaching at your chosen level called student teaching. Once you complete a full teaching program and pass all required courses, you may apply for initial certification through the school you attended. For secondary education teachers, you will need to complete the Alabama Educator Certification Assessment Program (AECAP). This requires that you pass PRAXIS tests that cover principles of learning and teaching, an educative teacher performance assessment, and a PRAXIS subject assessment to ensure that your knowledge of your chosen teaching subject is complete. (https://www.ets.org/praxis/al/overview) And teachers must also pass a background check when they apply for certification, which will involve fingerprinting and a thorough background check run through the Alabama and Federal Bureaus of Investigation (ABI & FBI).
One of the first and most important steps in becoming a secondary education professional in Alabama is determining which field you are most interested in. There are a wide variety of options available to Alabama students and most online academic programs are tailored specifically to prepare students for work in a particular area. You will need to identify your preferred career path prior to enrolling in a program. Some of the most popular options include:
- Middle School Education
Middle school educators generally work with students in grades six through eight. Their primary responsibility is to help young people build on the fundamental principles learned in elementary school. They also strive to ensure students are prepared for future academic success in higher grade levels. These professionals create lesson plans, assess student abilities, teach subject matter, enforce classroom rules, prepare students for standardized tests, and communicate with parents/guardians. Most middle school educators require a bachelor degree with a concentration in the content area they plan to teach.
- High School Education
High school educators typically work with students in grades nine through 12. Like middle school teachers, they help young people build on the fundamental principles already learned. Their ultimate goal is to prepare students for successful careers or further post-secondary education. These professionals create lesson plans, assess student abilities, teach subject matter, enforce classroom rules, prepare students for standardized tests, and communicate with parents/guardians. Most high school educators require a bachelor degree with a concentration in the content area they plan to teach.
- Special Education
Special education teachers usually work with young people who need extra support or more advanced learning programs. They regularly assist students with physical disabilities, learning disabilities, sensory impairments, speech and language difficulties, social conditions, and social and mental health needs. These professionals are primarily responsible for ensuring students have a safe, stimulating, and supportive learning environment in which to thrive. Duties vary, but may include teaching individuals or small groups, preparing resources, assessing work, adapting conventional teaching methods, using special equipment, collaborating with classroom teachers, and working closely with parents/guardians. Generally, professionals in this field require a bachelor degree with a specialization in special education.
- Gifted and Talented Education
Gifted and talented education (GATE) teachers often work with students who are designated as advanced or high-ability learners. This can refer to academic, intellectual, or creative capabilities that result in functionality beyond current grade levels. GATE teachers are responsible for creating a learning environment that is encouraging and appropriately challenging. They use specialized skills to develop and/or adjust assignments, assess student performance, provide post-secondary education advice, and coordinate with parents/guardians. Generally, professionals in this field require a master’s degree specific to teaching advanced learners.
Secondary Education Administration
Secondary education administrators may work as school principals, superintendents, or directors of specific school programs. While they interact with students less directly than teachers, these professionals fill an incredibly important role. Job responsibilities will depend on the specific position title, but may include managing budgets, hiring teachers, developing academic policies, and ensuring the safety of students and staff members. It’s not uncommon for secondary education administrators to have a master’s and/or doctorate, as well as several years of experience teaching in classrooms.
While it’s important to have a general idea regarding which career type is most appealing prior to enrollment, there are some programs that may be applicable across multiple careers. Make sure you consider all of your options carefully before deciding on a single college or university program. It is a good idea to research each possibility to determine exactly what jobs you will qualify for after graduations.
Top College Programs in Alabama for Secondary Education
There are numerous colleges and universities in Alabama that offer secondary education programs. Options are varied, ranging from associate-level degrees to doctorates. Some of the most prominent programs include:
- University of Alabama – Bachelor of Science in Education (BSE) – Secondary Education
The University of Alabama offers four relevant degree opportunities, chief among them being the Bachelor of Science in Education (BSE) with a concentration in secondary education. This option also leads to the Alabama Class B professional certificate. Specialization areas include English language arts, foreign language education, mathematics, general science, and general social studies.
- University of Alabama at Birmingham – Bachelor of Science in Secondary Education – English Language Arts
The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) offers a Bachelor of Science in Secondary Education for English language arts. This teacher certification degree prepares future educators to recognize and meet the evolving needs of students in today’s classrooms. This specialization is broad including composition, theatre, mass communications, public speaking, and literature. Graduates are capable of teaching grades six through 12.
- Samford University – Secondary Education Program
Samford University offers a secondary education program. This degree helps students become masters of both content and pedagogy, preparing them to teach grades six through 12. Teacher certification is available in English language arts, math, world languages (French, German, and Spanish), and general social studies. All programs consist of 128 hours of coursework except general social studies, which requires 142 credits to complete.
- Auburn University – Master of Education – Science Education
Auburn University offers several relevant degree opportunities, including the Master of Education in science education: general science, biology, chemistry, or physics. This option is specifically designed to ensure program participants obtain the necessary knowledge, skills, and dispositions to help students learn. This degree includes Clinical Residency, as well as assistance applying for teaching certification leading up to graduation.
Careers for Secondary Education Graduates
Once you have earned a degree in secondary education, there are a wide variety of careers you may be qualified to pursue. Salaries and responsibilities vary, depending on the job you ultimately select. Some of the most common options include:
- Teacher Assistant
Teacher assistants often lack certification but support licensed teachers by providing additional attention and instruction to students in the classroom. While they rarely create lesson plans, they regularly reinforce the material within them and may work one-on-one with students to ensure the information is understood. These professionals also help with recordkeeping, behavior management, material preparation, and child supervision.
- Middle School / Junior High School Teacher
Middle and high school teachers provide instruction to students in grades six through 12. They generally specialize in a specific content area (i.e. English, mathematics, general sciences, etc.) and help prepare students for future learning and/or successful careers. Teachers regularly create lesson plans, assess student abilities, teach subject matter, enforce classroom rules, prepare students for standardized tests, and communicate with parents/guardians.
- Special Education Teacher
Special education teachers work with students in need of some extra support in and out of the classroom. Student needs vary significantly, ranging from physical disabilities and sensory impairments to learning disabilities and social disorders. Their primary responsibility is ensuring all students are provided with a safe, stimulating, and supportive learning environment. Specific duties vary depending on the individual or individuals they are assigned to.
- Instructional Coordinator
Instructional coordinators, or curriculum specialists, are responsible for overseeing school curriculums and teaching standards. They often develop educational materials and then assist teachers and principals in implementing them. Additionally, these professionals are in charge of assessing the effectiveness of the curriculum and analyzing students’ test data. It is not uncommon for them to train, mentor, and observe teachers in the classroom.
- School Guidance Counselor
School guidance counselors help students develop the social and academic skills necessary to succeed in and outside of the classroom. They are also often responsible for assisting students in identifying and overcoming obstacles that may inhibit learning. Because these professionals may work with individuals facing a wide range of challenges, they often collaborate with teachers, administrators, and parents.
- School Principal
School principals are often the face of the school. They oversee the logistics of the school’s day-to-day operations. This means taking on a significant amount of responsibility, from managing the budget and setting schedules to hiring teachers and handling public relations issues. While these professionals often have their own offices, they spend a large portion of their time interacting with students, handling disciplinary issues, sitting in on classes, and attending off-site meetings.