Teacher Salaries and Benefits

Updated on Dec 8, 2010

Although it is true that few people will say that they went into teaching for the salary (many of these teachers' first professions began at higher starting salaries than most teaching jobs), there is tremendous room for growth and extra income.

Median Salaries

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) studied U.S. teachers' salaries and concluded there is a wide range both within and among states. Keep in mind that the salaries are as varied as the cost of living in each state. For example, it may cost you twice as much for housing in New York or California as it does in Alabama; the salaries reflect such differences. In fact, New York and California currently offer among the highest average teacher salaries.

The graph titled Median Salary of K–12 Teachers takes into account all K–12 teachers in the United States. For the average teacher, salaries are highest at the high school level.

Median Salary

Remember that these are salary ranges. Some teachers earn more, and some earn less. And don't forget benefits. In addition to salary, most school districts pay into a retirement system and offer benefits such as medical insurance as part of the employment package.

How Your Salary Grows

In teaching, years of experience make a difference. The second graph shows that the median starting salary for a teacher is around $34,000. Teachers employed in a public school setting are considered government employees. There are generally salary steps with yearly increments. In some districts, it may take 25 years to reach the top step. As you gain credit for each year, you move up the salary scale. It may take a few years for a teacher to move beyond this starting salary. However, after five or more years, the salary begins a steady increase.

Most districts also give you credit for courses completed. This benefit varies from district to district, but the concept is the same. As you continue your education and earn more credits, you earn more money. A master's degree, either an MA in education or a Master of Education degree, gives a teacher's salary a boost. In many districts, those with master's degrees make about twice as much as those with bachelor's degrees.

How Your Salary Grows

There is more good news. Teachers can earn additional money by helping with extracurricular or cocurricular activities. Departments need leadership, student council government needs supervision, teams needs coaches, and plays need directors. If you have a hobby that you'd like to share with students, maybe you can sponsor an after-school club. You can also help with after-school tutoring programs, administering and grading placement exams, or even teach summer school. Any of these activities adds to your base salary.

Hiring Trends

Over the next ten years, many baby boomers will retire and leave teaching in large numbers. It's estimated that more than a million new teachers will be needed to replace them. In addition, hundreds of thousands of new teachers will be needed to keep pace with the anticipated growth of student populations.

The job market for teachers fluctuates by subject area, year, and geographical location. Because the U.S. government is placing a priority on education, there will be growth throughout the country in many educational areas. In fact, during his first Congressional address, President Barack Obama pledged to curb dropout rates, increase college-going rates, and improve teacher performance. He also promised to focus on merit-based pay for teachers, a system in which pay is based on performance.

How Recession Affects Education

Unfortunately, the worldwide recession of 2009 had a negative impact on school systems in some areas of the country. Some schools implemented hiring freezes, increased class sizes, and/or cut courses offerings. The impact on hiring new teachers was not estimated to last more than a few years, however.

On the positive side, President Obama's stimulus package included $115 billion in education aid, some of which will be used to prevent teacher cuts and layoffs.

There are about 14,000 school districts nationwide, and each local school board can determine which positions they want to add or delete. Sometimes, the size of a class is set by board policy or by contract. Therefore, as the community changes, so will the demographics of the school. Many suburban communities were developed as cities expanded. Young children needed schools, which were built to accommodate those needs. As the children grew and left home, the schools changed and, in many areas, were closed.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook indicated that the job market for all teachers is growing at a rate as fast as the average for all other occupations with a 12% increase between 2006 and 2016. This increase will create about 479,000 additional teacher positions. Teacher candidates will have particularly good prospects in high-demand fields like math, science, and bilingual education, or in less desirable districts.

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