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How Much do Teachers Make?

When you're trying to decide on your future profession, one of the first questions you're likely to ask is what your potential salary will be. This page covers the ins and outs of teacher salaries across grade level and location. Because teacher salaries depend on these and other variables, this page covers those distinctions to give you the clearest possible idea of how much you will make as a teacher.

Within this page, you'll find a general overview of teacher salaries and the different variables that affect pay. Additionally, the page breaks down teacher salaries by grade level and specialty.

Average Teacher Salary

As you consider a teaching career you're probably wondering, "how much do teachers make in a year?" The answer isn't completely straightforward. While the National Education Association (NEA) found that the national average salary for all teachers for 2018-2019 was $61,730, the number doesn't give the entire picture. Different factors such as the grade level taught, location, cost of living in the area you teach, your level of education, the type of learning institution you teach in (public vs. private schools, for example), and even the political climate can affect how much you earn as a teacher.

Factors that Affect Teacher Salaries 

  • Grade Level Taught: For preschool through grade 12 teachers (P-12), the highest earners are typically high school teachers. The lowest paid are preschool teachers, who make an average of about $30,000 less per year than high school teachers. Post-secondary teachers make even more than high school teachers, though you must have a graduate degree to teach at the post-secondary (college or junior college) level.
  • Location: Geography has a lot to do with salary. The NEA found that the highest paid teachers across all subject areas in 2017-2018 are most likely to live in New York, California, Massachusetts, the District of Columbia, Maryland, or Alaska. Teachers on the coasts or underserved areas (i.e. Alaska) seem to make more on average than teachers in the Midwest and South. The lowest paid teachers are in Mississippi, with West Virginia not far behind.

    While you'll find further salary breakdowns by grade level or subject below, the states that consistently make the Bureau of Labor Statistics' list of highest teacher salaries for each grade level include New York, Texas, California, and Illinois.
    • Cost of Living by State: While it's certainly important to look at the salary by itself, many of the higher paying states also have high costs of living as well (e.g., New York, California, and the District of Columbia). This means that although you might make more money in a certain area, the cost of living in that location is so high that your salary doesn't go as far.

      In 2018, EdBuild did an analysis adjusting the cost of living to correspond with salaries. While some states simply have low teacher salaries even with the cost of living adjustment, other states might seem to have lower pay, but when taking cost of living into account, the pay actually goes a longer way. For example, while Mississippi is notably at the bottom of the NEA salary rankings, when average cost of living is considered, it moves to 37th place.
      • Level of Education: While a bachelor's is required to teach in most states, in a 2015 study Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce found that earning a master's degree can make a large difference in salary. For example, median salaries for those with a master's in secondary teaching earn a median salary of $64,000 compared to $48,000 for those only holding a bachelor's degree.
      • Subject: While the variability is less pronounced than with other factors, subject level specialization can make a difference in salary. A study from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce found that the lowest earners are typically language and drama teachers, and the highest earners are physical education and health teachers.
      • Politics: Education is often a hot button issue in politics, and with teachers strikes on the rise and increased attention to education funding, teacher salaries may be affected (both positively and negatively). In 2018, according to Fortune Magazine, labor strikes (especially among teachers) were the most frequent they've been in the past 30 years.

        For teachers, the increase in attention could help increase salaries. Washington State is an example of this. While the NEA's study found the average salary for Washington teachers was $55,693, the estimated 2018-19 salary shot up to 6th in the nation, at an average of $72,965. The sharp rise in salaries may be largely due to the 2018 teachers strikes that led to re-negotiation of teacher salaries in the state.

      Teacher Salaries by Grade Level/Subject

      Grade Level/Subject

      Median Salary

      Top Paid States

      Preschool

      $29,970

      New York, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., New Jersey, Hawaii

      Kindergarten and Elementary

      $57,980

      New York, Massachusetts, California, Washington, D.C., Connecticut

      Middle School

      $58,600

      New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Alaska, California

      High School

      $60,320

      New York, California, Massachusetts, Alaska, Connecticut

      Postsecondary  

      $78,470

      Varies by Subject

      Special Education: Preschool

      $55,840

      New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey

      Special Education: Kindergarten and Elementary School

      $59,390

      California, Washington, D.C., New York, Oregon, Connecticut

      Special Education: Middle School

      $60,250

      New York, Oregon, Connecticut, California, Alaska

      Special Education: High School

      $60,600

      New York, Oregon, California, Connecticut, Alaska

      Substitute Teachers

      $28,270

      Hawaii, Oregon, Alaska, California, Washington, D.C>

      How to Earn More as a Teacher

      If you want to earn as much as you can as a teacher, keep in mind that your salary typically increases the higher the grade you teach. You should also try to find jobs in locations where teacher salaries are known to be higher.

      You may also increase your earning potential by getting a master's degree. In almost every teaching profession, advanced education may be the key to a higher salary. Learn more about state average salaries for teachers with master's degree

      Interview with Amanda Williamson, Fifth Grade Teacher

      Amanda Williamson is currently a 5th grade teacher in Missouri. She has completed nine years of teaching in two different states. Amanda earned her bachelor's degree in elementary education from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She then completed her master's degree in Educational Leadership K-12 as well as her Education Specialist Degree in Superintendency, both at Northwest Missouri State University. Amanda serves on multiple instructional leadership and curriculum development teams within her district.  


       1. Did you expect to earn more or less than you did starting as a teacher? Were you surprised by your starting salary?


      When I first began teaching, my salary was what I expected it to be. I have spent most of my teaching career in large, successful public schools that pay well compared to their peer districts - so I wasn't disappointed when comparing my salary to other educators in smaller districts or inner-city districts. However, I was disappointed when my younger siblings and friends got their first jobs (not as teachers) and made more than I did starting out. In fact, many non-educators I know with a standard four-year degree earn as much as I do now with nearly ten years of experience and two graduate-level degrees. Of course, I have a lot of student loan debt because of my graduate degrees, which makes my salary feel even lower. The thing I consider now in my salary are my benefits. While many of my peers make as much or even quite a bit more than me, they are paying significantly more than me for insurance and benefits and have to work harder to invest for retirement than I do. 


      2. Are teachers typically paid a salary or they paid hourly? 


      Most certified teachers are paid a salary. Many adults that work in education but are not considered "certificated" (or teachers in most cases) are paid hourly. For example, paraprofessionals, support staff, and custodial workers are paid hourly. Districts still adhere to a strict hourly work requirement for teachers that is typically under 40 hours a week. Districts that are union-driven struggle to get staff to do anything outside of their required hours even though staff are paid salary and not hourly. 


      Another thing to note about salary in teaching is the pay dates. Many districts pay their staff only once a month, however there are districts beginning to pay their teachers twice a month. For many teachers, in their first ever contracted job or when starting in a new district, may go 30 days before receiving their first paycheck. For example – one district here in Missouri pays their teachers once a month from August to August. They pay their staff on the 25th of the month. So first year teachers or new to district teachers begin work early in August but don't get their check until the end of the month. If you are coming from a previous teaching job, this likely won't be a problem as you carry your salary over from that job, but as a teacher right out of college, this first month of teaching can be very difficult financially. 


      3. Are you given raises? If so, how often? What factors determine whether or not you are given a raise?  


      Most school districts have a standard "salary schedule" in which your salary is determined by your years of experience as well as your level of degrees. Teachers are never guaranteed to be placed on the schedule according to their years of experience - districts can opt to put you wherever they choose. In this system, each year of experience a teacher gains moves them up on the salary schedule (if approved by the board). Each district makes their own payment schedule and determines if the schedule should be adjusted over the years for cost of living changes and inflation. Districts have the right to freeze the schedule at any time and not move teachers up if they cannot afford it. At the start of the school year, the movement of staff up the payment schedule must be approved each year by the board. 


      In some districts there are opportunities to serve on committees or teams that give teachers stipends for their work. This is another way to add to your salary each year. However, it does often come with extra time commitments and work. Sometimes these are paid in lump sums and sometimes they are spread out over your paychecks. 


      4. Did earning a graduate degree help you earn more money? 


      Earning a graduate degree did help me earn more money – however, since I could not afford to pay cash for graduate school, I am paying those student loans with the extra money I am making. When I began graduate school, I did the math on how long it would take for my salary increase to go into my pocket instead of toward loans. If I pay only using the salary increase that I have from my first master's degree to pay towards my loans (which does not cover the quickest and lowest interest pay-off option), it will take me approximately 15 years, give or take with interest rates. In order to pay them off quicker I would have to pay more out of my salary, making it lower than it was before the student loan debt. Once I went back for another graduate degree, the pay increase from that degree would not benefit me at all unless I used it to get a position outside of the classroom one day. Otherwise, the cost of the degree would basically break even with the pay increase I would get from it. 


      Ultimately, it is smart as a teacher to get a master's degree. Many districts quit providing pay increases after so many years without a graduate degree of some sort. This is not negotiable. If you retire in teaching, the cost of the master's degree would be paid off. If you can find a program or district that helps or completely pays for your graduate degrees, this is the best route and worth whatever extra work comes with it. I regret not going that route. 


      5. Are you expected to spend any of your own money on school supplies, office decorations, or anything else? If so, how much? (if you are given a stiped for this, please elaborate)


      Most established, public schools do not expect teachers to buy any supplies with their own money. However, it is absolutely impossible to start and maintain a classroom without spending your own money. If you are fortunate enough to work in a district where families are financially secure, many of them will donate items to your classroom which is very helpful, but this is not always the case. Many teachers, myself included, who work in districts that have a high rate of poverty, spend a lot of their own money on their students because it is very difficult to see children suffer and do without when it is not their fault they are in that situation. 


      All the school districts I have worked for have given teachers a stipend at the beginning of the year for classroom items. One school gave teachers $250 – however, none of their students came with supplies as that was not required in that district. Another district changed from year to year, but was in the range of $100-$150 for teachers each year. This amount includes any supplies you need to do your job. A few examples might be: small group supplies, individual student whiteboards, grading materials, turn in baskets, classroom set of scissors, extra glue and pencils and all types of paper, folders and organizational materials, and so on. It is impossible to buy what you need to do your job well and keep kids engaged with the stipend schools provide to teachers.