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Careers in Education

If you have a passion for helping young people grow and flourish, a career in education may be right for you. There are many different careers in education, from classroom teaching to working in the business world. This guide details career options, perks, salaries, growth expectations, and statistics on teaching and other jobs in education.

Perks of a Teaching Career

In addition to the ability to touch thousands of young people’s lives, working in education comes with many benefits that other careers may not offer. For traditional teaching, a few perks include:

  • Teaching Your Passion: Teachers can often specialize in their favorite subjects. If you love science, athletics, or the arts, for instance, you can share that love with young people—and perhaps one of your students will be the next Nobel Prize winner, Super Bowl champion, or Oscar nominee!
  • Job Stability: There is always a need for educators. Additionally, many states offer tenure and have robust performance improvement plans and due process systems for teachers who are struggling, even in at-will states.
  • Built-In Salary Increases: Many people stress over the idea of asking for a raise. In education, particularly at the K-12 level, teachers are often on “salary schedules” that provide clear information about how pay will change based on years of teaching, professional development hours completed, and other factors. No salary negotiations are necessary.
  • Paid Holidays: Depending on your role, you may enjoy paid days or weeks off that are unusual in other fields. Working as a teacher often means lengthier paid breaks during the winter, over Thanksgiving, and in the spring. (Note: this is generally not the case for hourly school employees, such as paraprofessionals or office staff—their time off is usually unpaid.) If teaching in a year-round school, you will likely have the same number of weeks off per year as you would in a traditional school, but they will be scattered throughout the year. Contrary to popular belief, summer break is generally not paid, though many school districts allow you to spread your paychecks over the entire year.

Careers in Teaching: An Overview

Below is an overview of many common careers in teaching, ranging from Pre-K and college instructors to administrators, librarians, and technology specialists.

Each state sets its own licensing requirements for educators, so the expectations mentioned below may be different in your location. Be sure to check your state’s guidelines for more detailed information.


Preschool through High School Teaching

Preschool teachers focus on language development, student behavior, recognition of colors, shapes, letters, and numbers, and developing routines. These skills are taught through many types of learning activities, including interactive play and games.

  • 2018 Yearly Salary (Median): $29,780
  • Career Growth Average and Estimates for 2018–2028: 7% (36,900 jobs)
  • Required Education: An associate degree or early childhood certification is typically required for state-sponsored programs. In public schools, a bachelor’s degree in education or a related field is required.

Instead of focusing on a specific subject, an elementary school teacher usually concentrates on a particular grade level and can teach all subjects to that grade, usually between kindergarten and fifth or sixth grade. Elementary school teachers often work in teams to teach basic math, science, social studies, and English to their students.

  • 2018 Yearly Salary (Median): $57,980
  • Career Growth Average and Estimates for 2018–2028: 3% (53,100 jobs)
  • Required Education: You typically must have a bachelor’s degree in education and be licensed to teach in the state.

Some districts have middle school, grades six through eight, while others have junior high, grades seven through nine. Teachers at this level generally specialize in one or two subjects, prepare students for high school, and help them develop the social skills they will need to succeed in more adult situations.

Core classes typically include:

English/Language Arts
History/Social Studies

  • 2018 Yearly Salary (Median): $58,600
  • Career Growth Average and Estimates for 2018–2028: 3% (21,400 jobs)
  • Required Education: Middle school teachers must have a bachelor’s degree. Many states require teachers to specialize in a specific subject area, while others require teachers to major in elementary education.

High school typically encompasses grades nine through twelve. Teachers often specialize in one or two subjects and teach students in a manner that prepares them for careers or future studies. Some may teach their subjects at standard, remedial, and/or honors or Advanced Placement levels.

Core classes typically include:

English/Language Arts
History/Social Studies

  • 2018 Yearly Salary (Median): $60,320
  • Career Growth Average and Estimates for 2018–2028: 4% (38,200 jobs)
  • Required Education: Requirements are generally the same as the elementary level, but in many states, high school teachers are required to have majored in, and be credentialed to teach, a particular subject.

Special education is offered at all levels of Pre-K through high school in public districts. Though the day-to-day work will look different based on the age group taught, the overall expectations are the same. Students will often be on individualized education plans (IEPs), which are legal documents that inform how students should be educated. In some schools or districts, special education teachers can focus on specific needs, such as autism, behavior disorders, or students who have challenges with executive functioning.

Special education teachers work with children with disabilities in a small teacher-to-student ratio. They pay close attention to student learning abilities and tailor their teaching accordingly.

Elementary School Special Education Teacher

  • 2018 Yearly Salary (Median): $59,390
  • Career Growth Average and Estimates for 2018–2028: 2%–3% (14,500 jobs)
  • Required Education: Some states require a bachelor’s degree in special education, while others require a master’s degree in special education. All teachers must be licensed.

Middle School Special Education Teacher

  • 2018 Yearly Salary (Median): $60,250
  • Career Growth Average and Estimates for 2018–2028: 2%–3% (6,800 jobs)
  • Required Education: Some states require a bachelor’s degree in special education, while others require a master’s degree in special education. All teachers must be licensed.

High School Special Education Teacher

  • 2018 Yearly Salary (Median): $60,600
  • Career Growth Average and Estimates for 2018–2028: 2%–3% (6,800 jobs)
  • Required Education: Some states require a bachelor’s degree in special education, while others require a master’s degree in special education. All teachers must be licensed.

Gifted and talented teachers work with students who need more rigorous work. Students can be recognized as gifted not just in academics, but through art and other forms of communication and expression. Though Individualized Education Plan (IEP) requirements vary by state, gifted teachers are frequently considered part of the special education team. It is not uncommon for these educators to travel between schools or have their students bussed to them for instruction.

Depending on the state IEP requirements, salary will be similar to either a traditional teacher (Salary:$57,980$60,320. Career Growth: 3%4%) or special education teacher (Salary: $59,390–$60,600. Career Growth: 2%–3%)

Electives teachers, often called “specials” teachers at the elementary level, teach any non-core classes—that is, they do not teach English, language arts, math, science, history, special education, gifted education, or English as a second language unless they teach those in addition to their elective courses.

Electives offered vary by state and district, and the teachers are almost always paid at the same rate as their peers; it is a common misconception that teaching science, for instance, will inherently pay more than art. Elective courses include, but are not limited to:

  • Art (general art, photography, ceramics, etc.)
  • Career and Technical Education
  • Computers/Technology
  • Foreign languages
  • Music (choral, orchestral, band, etc.)
  • Physical Education (may include health)
  • Theater (acting, technical theater, theory, perhaps dance, etc.)

Career and Technical Education (CTE) teachers train students seeking to work in a specific career, such as cosmetology, business, or construction. Training location can vary by subject and isn’t always in a traditional classroom. For example, a culinary teacher would teach in a kitchen or cafeteria.

  • 2018 Yearly Salary (Median): $56,750
  • Career Growth Average and Estimates for 2018–2028: Decline of 1% (-1,800 jobs)
  • Required Education: CTE teachers usually must have a bachelor’s degree in the subject they want to teach through a teacher education program. Other requirements include being licensed and having work experience. Some states offer a licensing program for those who have work experience but no a degree.

Those who teach English to speakers of other languages, sometimes called ELL, ESL, or ESOL teachers (among other titles), work with students who do not speak English as their native tongue. They work not just on academic skills like reading and writing, but also on everyday conversation skills.

Pay rate and required education are generally similar to those of traditional classroom teachers (Salary:$57,980$60,320. Career Growth: 3%4%), though ESL teachers usually need a license or certification in this field in addition to the standard teaching degrees.

Substitute teachers take over for full-time educators who call out sick, take personal days, or otherwise need someone to cover their classes. Though it is not common, some schools hire full-time substitutes who are in the building daily to cover classes as needed. Subs may also take on long-term positions for teachers who are out on leave. Depending on the school or district, substitutes may have a say in the classes or grade levels they agree to cover. They are typically paid an hourly rate.

Though frequently categorized together for statistical purposes, these careers often have different requirements.

Paraprofessionals: These employees often work with special needs populations, one-on-one or in small groups. In upper grades, they will attend classes with their charges and assist them with their academic and/or social needs in those settings. Though not universally required, “paras” sometimes need to have certifications.

Teachers’ Aides: These professionals often work with a teacher who has students with distinct needs, such as behavioral issues or English language learners, but do not have IEPs to meet those needs. Their jobs are frequently similar to those of paraprofessionals.

Teachers’ Assistants: This is a broad category that may encompass the previous two jobs or may refer to employees who help teachers with paperwork and other non-instructional tasks, such as grading or creating bulletin boards.

The information below refers to teachers’ assistants, though as mentioned above, may be similar for all these careers:

  • 2018 Yearly Salary (Median): $26,970
  • Career Growth Rate for 2018–2028: 4% (55,400 jobs)
  • Required Education: Minimally, a high school diploma or GED, though often some college is required; certification may be needed.


Post-Secondary Education Teaching

Whether they are college professors, assistant professors, associate professors, or lecturers, educators at colleges and universities help undergraduate and/or graduate students earn their degrees. Aside from teaching, educators (usually professors) conduct academic research in their field and publish their findings through academic journals and books. Professors teach at the university and college level in their choice of subject and area. They lecture and grade students who are working towards a degree and starting a career.

  • 2018 Yearly Salary (Median): $78,470
  • Career Growth Average and Estimates for 2018–2028: 11% (155,000 jobs) but can vary by subject.
  • Required Education: Requirements vary depending on the subject and educational institution. Typically, professors at universities are required to have a doctoral degree. Some schools will hire people who are currently earning their doctoral degrees. Assistant professors, guest lecturers, etc. may not need a doctorate.

Adult educators teach adults wanting to complete their General Education Development (GED, or high school equivalency exam) or learn a new skill. Teaching usually takes place at community colleges.

  • 2018 Yearly Salary (Median): $56,630
  • Career Growth Average and Estimates for 2018–2028: Declining by 10% (-7,000 jobs)
  • Required Education:A bachelor’s degree is required, but some community colleges require a master’s degree. Work experience is encouraged.


Careers in Administration

If you’re interested in overseeing schools, handling daily operations, and managing teachers and students, a career as a principal, vice principal, dean, or superintendent may be a good option for you. These positions make sure schools are functioning well, both educationally and financially.

Principals manage staff, curriculum standards, school budgets, and school activities. They represent their school with district-level administration, interpret and report on data, and often create and run professional development activities. Principals also manage disciplinary and career development issues with teachers, and they are sometimes involved with the same for students.

  • 2018 Salary (Median):$95,310
  • Job Growth 2018–2028: 4% (11,200 jobs)
  • Required Education: Most schools require a master’s degree in either education administration or leadership. A minimum number of years of classroom teaching, varying by state, is generally required.

Depending on the institution, assistant or vice principals may divide their responsibilities or work collaboratively to support the work of principals. These administrators are usually more involved with student discipline than principals.

  • 2018 Salary and Growth: Governmental sources do not separate this data from that of principals (Salary: $95,310. Career Growth: 4%).
  • Required Education: Most districts require that assistant principals have, or are working towards, a master’s degree in education administration or leadership. As with principals, most states also require a minimum number of years in a classroom.

Superintendents oversee school districts, budgets, school programs, facilities, and staff. They are the top managers of school districts, taking their direction from the local school board. They must work with all stakeholders — including teachers, parents, students, and community groups — in their efforts to ensure successful schools.

  • 2018 Salary and Growth: Not available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics
  • Required Education: Varies by state, but a minimum of a master’s degree is generally required. Some districts require classroom experience, while others do not.

Instructional coordinators and curriculum developers evaluate and craft curriculums and assess how well they’re used in classrooms. They also train and mentor teachers in curriculum content and programs, analyze student testing data, and set up training conferences and programs.

  • 2018 Salary (Median): $64,450
  • Job Growth 2018–2028: 6% (11,500 jobs)
  • Required Education: A master’s in education or curriculum and instruction is needed. Some are required to major in a specialized field.


Careers in Student Counseling or Mental Health

Plenty of education jobs exist outside the classroom or administration. For instance, if you’re interested in applying a social work degree to an education position, jobs like school counselor, school psychologist, and career advisor could be very fulfilling.

Elementary school counselors focus on addressing behavioral and/or learning issues. Middle school counselors help students prepare for high school and help with personal or academic problems. High school counselors help students earn their high school diplomas by advising them on courses. They provide information on applying to college and financial aid and help with post-high school planning. They also help with personal or academic issues.

  • 2018 Salary (Median): $56,310
  • Job Growth 2018–2028: 8% (27,200 jobs)
  • Required Education: Most states require counselors to have a master’s in school counseling or a related degree. Counselors must be licensed. An internship may be required to get certified.

School psychologists help students with behavioral and social problems to get support and better their educational experience. They compile and evaluate student psychological assessments to share with parents and teachers and to determine the best support systems for them.

  • 2018 Salary (Median): $76,990
  • Job Growth 2018–2028: 11% or higher (14,600 jobs)
  • Required Education: This career usually requires a master’s or doctoral degree and a license, depending on the state.


Other Careers in Education

We know teachers can do just about anything, but there are many jobs outside of the classroom that teachers are especially well-suited for. These are a few options:

Instructional technologists work with schools and districts to use technology to support educational goals. They may develop new programs, assist teachers in using these innovations in their classrooms, and participate in curriculum development.

  • 2018 Salary (Median): $64,450
  • Job Growth 2018–2028: 4%–6% (18,600 jobs)
  • Required Education: You will generally need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in instructional technology or a related field.

School librarians help students find information and conduct research and keep libraries organized. They may also support literacy projects.

  • 2018 Salary (Median): $59,050
  • Job Growth 2018–2028:6% (8,500 jobs)
  • Required Education:Most jobs require a master’s degree in library information science—a degree in education may not qualify you for employment. Some positions may also require a teaching credential.

Writers on education typically work on a freelance basis for a variety of journals. Due to the increased desire for articles written for those with “boots on the ground,” the writers ideally have recent teaching experience. As these are on a freelance basis, salaries and education requirements vary.

Using sites like Teachers Pay Teachers, many educators are making extra money by creating and selling lesson plans to other teachers. People are looking for high-quality and affordable plans they can quickly implement in their classrooms, and other teachers are generally the best resource! This is a job wherein you can set your own hours and prices, so pay varies widely.

In the school setting, training and development specialists help create and conduct training programs for employees —including classroom teachers, administrators, and other staff — to expand their skills and knowledge.

  • 2018 Salary (Median): $60,870
  • Job Growth 2018–2028: 9% (28,900 jobs)
  • Required Education:A bachelor’s degree in training and development, human resources, education, or instructional design is often required. Work experience in training and development may also be required.

There are a variety of types of jobs in education policy, all of which help to form the standards and regulations surrounding our public school system. These jobs include:

  • Education Policy Advisors, who build and maintain relationships with all stakeholders and make recommendations for adjustments based on those relationships
  • Education Policy Analysts, who examine our current education system and see if the rules and regulations in place are allowing students and teachers to reach goals
  • Education Researchers, who develop and implement academic studies related to education and help legislators to make decisions accordingly—or, in some cases, create education legislation themselves
  • Education Program Analysts, who usually work directly for the government and use data to support policymakers in their decisions

State-by-State Salary Expectations for Teachers

Several factors go into determining a how much money a teacher makes. Base salary will usually depend on the grade level taught, years of experience, the type of institution (public or private schools, or non-traditional settings like juvenile detention centers, hospitals, film and television sets, working from home, etc.), and local cost of living. Pursuing additional education, both in the form of higher degrees and professional development certificates, may also increase salaries.

While many educators work in the state in which they attended college or they grew up, if you’re willing to relocate, it may be worth investigating the pay in your states of interest. But remember, the cost of living is not factored into most lists of the “best paid states,” so be sure to verify that the pay and cost of living in your chosen areas will allow you to live in your preferred manner. Suburban areas may pay more than rural, for instance, but the cost of living is also generally higher.

Below, you can find each state’s mean salary for elementary through high school teachers. The information is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is the most recently available as of January 2020.

Annual Mean Teaching Salaries by State as of May 2018


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