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A common misconception is that teaching at the secondary level is the same as teaching at the collegiate level. While both forms of teaching certainly share some overarching characteristics, college differs from high school considerably due to divergence in educators’ educational backgrounds and experiences and the structure of the academic programs they teach in.

High School Teaching Focuses More on Pedagogy

High school teachers often hold a Bachelor’s degree in secondary education. While this degree is specialized in an academic area of interest—such as history, English, or math—it predominantly centers around pedagogy, the method of teaching. As a result, high school teachers are well-versed in pedagogical techniques that assist in the dissemination and acquisition of knowledge. They may incorporate activities that aid coursework or implement tactics that help students better learn and retain information. Teachers who hold Master of Education degrees often specialize in curriculum and instruction, which furthers their pedagogy and teaching.

College professors don’t typically have such extensive training in pedagogical approaches as high school teachers. While professors gain experience in the classroom often through teaching assistantships in graduate school, they have been predominantly trained as experts in their research fields. As a result, there may be less of an emphasis on pedagogical approaches and more on subject material alone.

College Teaching is More Hands-off

Where high school teachers may check for completed homework and write notes on the board for students to copy into their notebooks, professors are more likely to take a hands-off approach. Instead of checking for homework, professors may assume students completed homework and expect performance proficiency in the next class. Professors may lecture for entire class periods or open the class up for discussion, in which they guide the class through critical readings and analysis of course material, requiring students to conceptualize and document their own class notes.

As high school teachers have a strong foundation in pedagogy, they impart knowledge and walk students through thinking processes and other interdisciplinary connections. High school teaching is more focused on providing students with a supportive and constructive environment where students are better able to acquire knowledge and the necessary skill sets that will carry over into other areas of their development.

Professors, on the other hand, may provide resources and material, but will often leave students to synthesize analyses and ideas themselves. College teaching provides an environment with minimal guidance that promotes agency and self-direction in students.

Regardless of the different approaches, both levels of teaching seek to provide students with knowledge that will carry them through various stages of their development. High school teachers and college professors, alike, aspire to set their students up for academic and personal success.