According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2021, the average public school teacher salary was $65,000. That’s significantly less than the average salary for other professionals with the same levels of education. There are many reasons for this, but many of the reasons commonly cited are untrue.
In this blog post, the second in the Money Matters: Conversations About Teacher Compensation Series, Gretchen Weber, Senior Managing Director at WestEd, and Ellen Sherratt, Teacher Salary Project Board President, address some of the myths around teachers’ compensation.
Myth 1: Teachers don’t work full time and they get summers off, so they should be paid less than similarly situated professionals.
Gretchen Weber (GW): Some data points to typical teachers working about 54 hours a week, and one in 10 work more than 65 hours. If you take the amount of work teachers do during the school year and equalize it out across a calendar year, they work far more hours than just 40 in a week but don’t get paid for doing that. We often hear a follow up, “What about other professionals who also work more than 40 hours a week? That’s just what being a professional entails.” I’ll point you back to the salary discrepancy, to begin with. So, for teachers, it can feel almost like working a full-time job for part-time pay.
Ellen Sherrat (ES): I’d add a couple of things to that. One is, that as a nation, we’re really trying to recruit and retain more teachers of color right now to better reflect the student population. Gretchen, you noted that teachers work 54 hours a week on average during the school year. That number is 63 hours on average for Black teachers and most likely reflects the fact that teachers of color are in schools that have more challenging conditions and fewer resources to help address them.
Along those lines, the conditions under which teachers are working are incredibly intense. In the book, Teachers Have it Easy, Ninive Calegari, Dave Eggers, and Dan Moulthrop put it best when they said a teacher’s hour is not comparable to, for example, an architect’s hour. Teachers are often so busy keeping 40 students at a time safe and attended to, not to mention engaged and learning, that they can go six hours at a stretch without a moment even to go to the bathroom.
They also note that most occupations allow workers to control their own time at work—to drift off in thought, to surf the web, to get coffee anytime they wish. That’s not so with teaching—a profession that holds its members legally responsible for the well-being of a room full of children for up to seven hours at a time. The intensity of teaching is so great that teachers are the most burnt-out working group according to the 2022 Gallup Poll. Fifty-three percent of K–12 teachers report that they’re always or almost always burned out at work. That far outpaces other professional groups.
GW: I want to add that we can’t escape talking about the last three years. The pandemic certainly exacerbated all of what you just described—the intensity of the conditions, the burnout, the larger numbers of hours Black teachers put in, teachers making up for the under-resourcing of schools.
A recent study coming out of the pandemic found that teachers were 40 percent more likely to report anxiety symptoms than even healthcare workers. Teachers had more anxiety because of the things they were dealing with during that time, on top of their regular tremendous workload.
I also want to comment on the summer argument. Most school years aren’t nine months anymore. Most school years either begin after Labor Day and go through the end of June or run from the end of May until early- to mid-August. A “summer” is more like two months, and in that two-month period teachers are often fulfilling professional development or other licensure requirements. Some teachers have coursework during that time because they’re pursuing advanced degrees. They’re preparing new curricula, serving on district committees . . . all those types of activities tend to get crammed into these two months of the summer, often for no additional pay.
Myth 2: Education budgets are tight, and we can’t afford to pay teachers more.
ES: The fact that the top-performing school systems do manage to afford to increase teacher pay is proof that it can be affordable if we choose to prioritize and do it. Significantly increasing teacher salaries seems an expensive proposition but it’s also expensive to continue on the road that we’re on now. We currently spend $1.3 billion annually on remedial college coursework because students were underprepared. Either because they had no teachers with adequate mastery of some subjects (because in some places we’re relying on long-term substitutes or teachers who didn’t even have access to certain coursework), or because we’re relying on underqualified teachers because of teacher shortages caused by very low salaries.
In 1969, two-thirds of the public school budget went toward staffing costs and teacher salaries. If the same proportion of school funding went towards teacher salaries, today teachers would be paid an average of $140,000 a year, instead of an average of $65,000.
GW: Also, several states, including Delaware, Maryland, and New Mexico, have either passed or proposed legislation increasing starting salaries for teachers to $60,000. Since January 2021, 25 states have enacted or proposed legislation to increase teacher compensation; though for some, it is a very minor increase or more focused on specific roles. And Congress is considering legislation that would raise the minimum teacher salary nationwide to $60,000. How do you afford not to do this when you know that a highly effective teacher in the classroom is the number one school-based factor in student learning? And student learning is one of the major goals of school. Also, we know that low salaries make it really hard to attract people into the profession and to retain others.
ES: And when people in positions of leadership and who have voice in the field just write it off as impossible and unaffordable that is exactly what makes it so.
GW: We’re at a point where teacher shortages are really hitting a crisis level. It’s a combination of a lot of things including not enough people entering the profession and preparation program enrollments dropping, which has been happening for about a decade.
ES: It’s dropped by a third over the last decade.
GW: Right, so now we’re trying to fill openings long-term and using subs and provisionally credentialed or licensed certified teachers and leaving vacancies unfilled. In some places, the shortage of teachers is so acute students are expected to learn without one. How do you effectively educate your students to make them prepared for post-high school experiences including college in this environment?
ES: What message does it send to children about the value of them and the value of their education?
Myth 3: It’s not that difficult to be a teacher. Anyone can do it.
GW: Let’s start with the fact that to be a teacher of record, you have to be able to demonstrate the skills and knowledge for effective classroom practice. While the coursework, field experience, and other requirements vary by state, the one constant is you need a license. To get it, you need to have a bachelor’s degree, and acquiring your state license often requires one or two exams and/or portfolio evaluation and demonstrating subject matter content knowledge about the things you will teach. Then you have to know how to teach, so pedagogical content knowledge is required to be able to do things like predict common mistakes students will make in their learning or manage your classroom in a way that promotes learning. Then, often the third part of the license is a classroom performance assessment, so we know that you can actually work with students. Renewing that license involves professional development and sometimes teachers are required to make advancements in licensure. This is similar to other professions which also require a state license to practice—therapists, accountants, engineers, architects, nurses, lawyers for example.
About a decade ago, states were strengthening entry requirements to the field to ensure high-quality educators, but over the last couple of years, about a dozen or so states have been amending or are considering amending their teacher certification rules for licensure. Some are changing criteria for it, others are expanding the qualifying score on state licensing tests, some are dropping state licenses altogether. I would argue that lowering the bar for what it means to be a highly effective teacher at the same time we have many students who are several grade levels behind in instruction because of the pandemic doesn’t add up. There’s a risk, then, of having less qualified, less experienced, less practiced teachers entering the profession based on the licensure requirements who are teaching students with greater needs.
ES: Because of the learning loss and mental health crisis due to the pandemic, we need teachers who do more than meet those state requirements (requirements which you mentioned are falling) but who are incredible mentors and fully dedicated and available to their students. We need people who have tremendous patience, passion for helping people, the ability to think out-of-the-box, conscientiousness, compassion, flexibility, a sense of humor, strong organizational skills. If you’re going to engage students in the way that they really need right now to be on a path to success we need to pay teachers enough so that they can be happy and well themselves, and not have to work second jobs that distract them from being there for their students.
Here’s a passage from Teachers Have It Easy that I think speaks so well to this issue: “A teacher is also a moral force. The expression ‘pillar of the community’ has no more apt application. It’s no easy task. . . . Few other professions require their members to act with courtesy, with ethical precision, with honor and patience all at all times, inside school or out. Because teachers are role models, there is no margin for error in their personal and public behavior. The teacher must also inspire. The best teachers instill in their students a desire to do great things, to crave learning, to learn to achieve. A teacher, therefore, must be a forward-looking and likely happy individual who is prepared to keep offering an optimistic future vision so students can keep working towards that future vision.” I think that is just so brilliant. What we need right now is teachers who are well compensated, happy, prepared, supported people available for their students. And that is what students need at all times, but especially right now to get past this crisis of learning loss and mental health.
GW: I’ll go a little deeper from there and talk about the complexity of what teaching and learning require. Ellen, you spoke so beautifully about the attributes of the people. I think it’s important that we think about this notion of a profession. I want to articulate the things that make a profession and then we can talk about how that applies to teaching because people often say, “Oh, you just get up and go to school and stand there and tell the kids some information, read from the book, follow the plan in the textbook. Anybody can do that as long as you’re a literate adult.”
This is one of my favorite quotes, “thinking that you can be a teacher because you went to school is like saying you could direct a blockbuster film because you went to watch ‘Star Wars.’”
Teaching is a profession. And any profession has four distinct elements. First is a clear and distinct domain of expertise. Secondly, professionals must have the ability to diagnose or assess a problem within this domain of expertise. They must be able to reason and make inferences about the problem. Finally, by using specialized knowledge and professional judgments they must be able to solve or treat the problem and take action on the student’s behalf.
Shouldn’t we be paying teachers as the professionals they are?
Myth 4: Teachers get excellent benefits, especially retirement benefits, so salaries don’t need to be increased.
ES: Bellwether put out a report that showed only half of teachers receive any of their pension benefits at all because you have to stay in your state school system for many, many years to reap those benefits. Only 20 percent of teachers are receiving their full pension benefits. Also, it doesn’t outweigh the low salaries—you have teachers in 43 states who are eligible for at least one type of government assistance benefits and regardless of your benefits, it’s not good to be on food stamps.
I would say that Dick Starz, the MIT economist, put it best in a Brookings article where he said that the bottom line on deciding whether teacher compensation is adequate is whether you’re paying enough to get a sufficiently large supply of sufficiently good employees. And if you feel like you have enough of the teachers that you need in terms of diversity and talent and everything else, then great, the compensation package is sufficient. If you don’t, and I think almost everyone would agree right now we don’t, then you’re not.
It’s just a distraction to talk about the benefits. We need to do market research with teachers on the mix of salary and benefits that would be attractive to them and educate teachers and prospective teachers about the benefits that are available. But right now, the package just isn’t compelling and that’s why we have 62 percent of parents saying that they don’t want their children to become teachers—the highest percent ever. The number one reason they say for not wanting their kids to be teachers is low salaries.
GW: What they really mean is they don’t want their kids living in their basement.
ES: Yes. Adults move in with their parents because they can’t afford rent. The Teacher Salary Project survey in the summer of 2022 found in our unpublished open-response data that teachers in their 40s still have roommates or are still living with their parents.
GW: On the pay penalty—we know there’s about a 19 percent wage gap between teachers and other professionals.
ES: It’s actually up to 23.5 percent now.
GW: That makes our point even better. And when you add benefits to the equation, the compensation penalty was 10 percent in 2019 and it’s 14.2 percent. So, still a growing gap even with salary plus benefits factored in.
ES: And the gap between teaching and non-teaching careers for college-educated individuals was 2.7 percent in 1993 and now it’s 14.2 percent.
GW: So, as an example, registered nurses in the United States constitute the majority of the healthcare workforce and teachers—right—dominate the country’s education system. If you compare the two, last year, registered nurses on average in the U.S. earned $77,500 and nurse practitioners earned $111,000 on average. That’s compared to $65,000 for teachers. Only 9 percent of districts allow teachers—ever in their career, regardless of degree—to earn $100,000. Think about the ROI on earning advanced degrees if you’re planning to stay in teaching.
GW: The bottom line here really is the bottom line. Until we set aside these myths and commit to compensating teachers as we do similarly educated and situated professionals, we’re never going to solve the teacher shortage.
Why do people think teachers are underpaid? ›
A number of factors contribute to how far a teacher's salary goes—family structure, caregiving responsibilities, health issues, and student loans among them. While many teachers in the U.S. must work second jobs to live comfortably, plenty do not. Some of them live in states that pay better than others.Why do teachers deserve to be paid more? ›
Compared to non-teachers, teachers are 30% more likely to work a second job. Increasing teacher salaries would help them maintain their focus in the classroom and improve their morale as they wouldn't need to perform a second job.Why do teachers not get paid enough? ›
Teachers get paid so little because education is underfunded in the United States. This equation has other factors, but this is the prime reason. The professional group of teachers has not experienced a salary increase in quite a long time.What factors impact a teachers salary? ›
- Your education level. ...
- Years of experience. ...
- Location of your School. ...
- Elementary vs. ...
- Public vs. ...
- Teaching students with disabilities. ...
- Becoming a coach. ...
- Teachers' unions.
It's estimated that teachers make about 1,500 decisions every school day. When you combine those decisions with all the necessary self-regulation involved with teaching kids, it's no wonder our willpower is gone by five o'clock. We are exhausted.Are teachers happy with their salary? ›
A higher percentage of teachers who were dissatisfied with their salary agreed, “The stress and disappointments involved in teaching at this school aren't really worth it” (30 percent), “If I could get a higher paying job I'd leave teaching as soon as possible” (45 percent),“I think about transferring to another school ...Why teachers should be paid based on performance? ›
Performance-based pay not only allows teachers to earn more money, but it also motivates them to meet specific goals. It is a win-win situation for both the teacher and his or her students. The teacher earns more money, and as a result, their students receive a better education.Can you negotiate more money as a teacher? ›
Some teaching salaries have room for negotiation, while teachers in other jobs agree to employment contracts at rates determined by a salary chart without any room for negotiations. Instructors working in the private industry have the widest range for salary discussions.Are teachers underpaid in the US? ›
Allegretto found that teachers are paid, on average, 23.5% less than other educated workers who choose other professions. “Even ones who want to become teachers often say they're not going to be because they know they're going to fall further and further behind,” she said.Who is the richest teacher in the world? ›
One of the world's richest women just married a science teacher. The new marriage of MacKenzie Scott, ex-wife of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, and Dan Jewett was first reported by the Wall Street Journal on Sunday. This must make him the world's richest teacher, right?!
Why do teachers get apples? ›
In the United States, early American children gave teachers apples because the “families whose children attended schools were often responsible for housing and feeding frontier teachers,” according to a PBS special, titled “Frontier House, Frontier Life,” and noted in Smithsonian Magazine.What 4 factors will affect your salary? ›
- Credentials. ...
- Experience and skill. ...
- Industry or employer. ...
- Job tasks. ...
- Geographic location. ...
- Success and performance.
Studies show higher teacher pay can improve teacher quality and reduce turnover, which are associated with improved student performance. A study of roughly 10,000 school districts, which isolated variables affecting student achievement, found increased teacher pay resulted in a small improvement in student performance.What is the most important factor as a teacher? ›
Communicating clearly and effectively with students is crucial for teachers. The goal is to teach in a way that your students will be able to comprehend, so monitoring their success and accepting feedback from them can be helpful when learning how to tailor your lesson plans to their individual needs.What is the #1 reason teachers quit? ›
Beyond compensation, these educators also feel overworked and undervalued. Nearly 75 percent of respondents who cite expectations as a top reason they plan to leave say they have too much work to do each day and that there aren't enough teachers to carry the workload.Why do teachers not want to teach anymore? ›
Unfortunately, there are many reasons why teachers quit. Many enter the profession wanting to make a difference in the community and their students' lives. However, they quickly realize they are stifled by unrealistic expectations, ever-changing initiatives, limited opportunity for growth, and lack of support.Why is being a teacher so hard now? ›
The stress and pressure that comes from the job have become increasingly overwhelming. Long gone are the days of just teaching content. Teachers are expected to do more with less time and less financial support. Each year something more is added to our plates, but nothing is taken away.Which type of teacher makes the most money? ›
When you are looking for the best-paid teaching jobs for your area of interest or specialized skill, then you may consider working as a professor in a college or university. A college professor prepares course material, teaches students in a classroom environment, and grades student work.
Which teaching subject is most in demand? While specific needs vary by institution, science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are subjects that are always in high demand.Where is the best place to live as a teacher? ›
New York is the best place in America to be a teacher, according to a new report published Monday. The report from the personal finance website WalletHub compared all 50 states and Washington, D.C., along 24 metrics around opportunity, competition and academic and work environment.
Do teachers have good work life balance? ›
Almost three-quarters of teachers (73 percent) report they often find work stressful. As a result, they're more likely to leave work physically and emotionally exhausted and to bring work home. A teacher who fails to strike a balance between work and private life risks becoming burned out.Do teachers have good job security? ›
According to the National Education Association, the teaching profession is one of the most secure professions, with a job security rating of 4.4 out of 5.How many teachers actually like their job? ›
About 60% of teachers are happy with their careers.
While many teachers say they find their work fulfilling and are generally happy with their work environments, many are dissatisfied with their salaries. With only 28% saying they rated their pay at either four or five out of five stars.
TPT exists to unlock the wisdom of teachers everywhere and empower them to teach at their best. We're the go-to platform for supporting educators with the resources they need to teach successfully in an ever-changing education landscape.Why is pay for performance controversial? ›
While performance-based pay structures may encourage employees to work harder, they also can cause higher stress levels in workers and lower job satisfaction. Performance-based pay is compensation that's tied to employees' contributions to a company.How do you reward a good teacher? ›
- Lifesaver Award. ...
- Teacher of the Week. ...
- Professional Lunch. ...
- Beat the Buses. ...
- Time. ...
- Principal's Parking Spot. ...
- Teacher Profile on the Morning News. ...
- Professional Development Lead.
Start with a figure that's no more than 10-20% above their initial offer. Remember, you're applying for entry level, and you shouldn't expect something on the higher range. Consider negotiating lower if 10-20% places you above the average.Is it awkward to negotiate salary? ›
Even 70% of employers expect salary negotiation after an initial job offer. Still, less than half of job seekers negotiate at all. If you feel intimidated or uncomfortable about asking for more money, you aren't alone.Is it appropriate to give a teacher cash? ›
If you suspect that your child's teacher is not making a living wage, by all means feel free to individually give them presents of gift cards, useful items, or even cash — if and only if you can afford it, yourself, and if the gifts fall within the ethics of the particular school.What state are teachers paid the least? ›
The average salary for teachers was $49,583 in Florida—the second lowest in the country after Mississippi. All other occupations averaged $51,950, a 4.6 percent difference.
What is the US average teacher salary by year? ›
The average Public School Teacher salary in the United States is $56,334 as of March 28, 2023, but the range typically falls between $47,042 and $68,699.What is the average teacher salary across the US? ›
In 2021, the average K-12 public school teacher nationwide was paid $65,090. Average teacher pay was the highest in New York at $87,738, followed by Massachusetts and California. In three states — Mississippi, Florida, and South Dakota — teachers made less than $50,000 on average.How to get rich on a teachers salary? ›
- Find opportunities to earn supplemental money at your school. ...
- Do research on your location's pay rates. ...
- Earn an advanced degree. ...
- Take advantage of professional development opportunities. ...
- Transition to an administrative career. ...
- Offer tutoring options.
Economist Eric Hanushek has been researching education and the economy for four decades. In a recent study, he tried to put a monetary value on good teaching. Hanushek says a good teacher's contribution to the economy could be as much as a half a million dollars per year.What salary is rich in America? ›
Based on that figure, an annual income of $500,000 or more would make you rich. The Economic Policy Institute uses a different baseline to determine who constitutes the top 1% and the top 5%. For 2021, you're in the top 1% if you earn $819,324 or more each year. The top 5% of income earners make $335,891 per year.What is the symbol of a good teacher? ›
The tradition of giving an apple to a teacher started in the 1700s before governments around the world paid for the education of its people.What is the symbol for teachers? ›
An apple for the teacher is the most popular symbol associated with educators, but there are some others as well: Book. Pencil.Why do teachers hate chewing gum? ›
Chewing gum acts as an incredible distraction to students and teachers. In a recent study, 78% of teachers felt that gum chewing was distracting to themselves and other students during discussion time.What is wage discrimination? ›
Wage discrimination means paying someone less because of their gender, race, age, or religion. Paying an employee less because of any protected characteristics violates the law.What is the downside of salary? ›
The drawbacks of receiving salary pay include: No overtime: Companies are not required to pay overtime to salaried employees, although some do. If you work 60 hours in a week rather than just 40 hours, you may not be eligible for overtime pay or compensated for your time.
What is the second highest paying job in the world? ›
- Chief Executive Officer (CEO) ...
- Medical Professionals. ...
- Corporate Lawyer. ...
- Investment Banker. ...
- Data Scientist. ...
- Project Manager. ...
- Senior Software Engineer. ...
- Web Developers.
The impact on your pay depends on your district and point in your career at which you earn your credits. Your California teacher salary is largely determined by where you teach. The compensation for instructors with similar credentials and experience can vary widely depending on their region and school district.What is the most quality of a teacher? ›
Some qualities of a good teacher include skills in communication, listening, collaboration, adaptability, empathy and patience. Other characteristics of effective teaching include an engaging classroom presence, value in real-world learning, exchange of best practices and a lifelong love of learning.What difference does a great teacher make? ›
They instill hope and challenge each student to take a risk with courage and belief in self. They encourage them. Great teachers help them learn if they fail and joyfully celebrate their successes. Great teachers arrive each day ready to teach…even though not every student comes wanting to learn.What are the 5 qualities of a good teacher? ›
- Patient and approachable. They say that 'patience is a virtue', and this couldn't be more true for teachers. ...
- Enthusiastic. ...
- Strong communication skills. ...
- Strong knowledge and a solid education. ...
- Disciplined and professional.
An incomplete understanding of a specific skill, such as calculus or inorganic chemistry (as long as it is not one for which you are interviewing) Lack of or too much spontaneity. Fear of public speaking. Lack of work-life balance.What is the most essential trait a teacher must have? ›
- Empathy and compassion. ...
- The ability to let students experiment, while keeping them focused. ...
- A belief in the power of the arts (and play) for learning. ...
- A sense of fairness and social justice. ...
- A willingness to learn from your students. ...
- A desire for continuous improvement.
Allegretto found that teachers are paid, on average, 23.5% less than other educated workers who choose other professions. “Even ones who want to become teachers often say they're not going to be because they know they're going to fall further and further behind,” she said.Why do teachers give so much homework? ›
Teachers assign homework for students to get more practice. This is a good thing for students if they are getting the right amount of it. When they are given excessive amounts of homework, it is causing them to have bad outcomes, instead of learning the right way of doing things.Which states have the highest teacher shortages? ›
According to U.S. Department of Education data from the 2022-2023 school year, Maine is experiencing the most teacher vacancies in special education, math, science, language arts, early childhood, elementary core subjects, art and music, and career and technical education.
Where are the lowest paid teachers in the US? ›
The average salary for teachers was $49,583 in Florida—the second lowest in the country after Mississippi. All other occupations averaged $51,950, a 4.6 percent difference. In Colorado, teachers earn on average $60,611, about 3 percent less than the $62,900 of other occupations.Are teachers among the most educated yet their pay lags? ›
Although teachers are among the nation's most educated workers, they earn far less on average than most other highly educated workers and their earnings have declined since 2010. More than 95% of elementary, middle and high school teachers have a bachelor's degree or more.How do you tell a teacher they are giving too much work? ›
- Give the teacher specific examples of what “too much homework” looks like for your child.
- When you come up with a plan, suggest solutions and keep the focus on your child's struggles.
- Check in with the teacher after a few weeks to talk about whether the plan is working.
You have legal rights to put limits on your child's homework time. When homework begins to erode family relationships and/or increases the students anxiety, its time to make modifications.Why do teachers give so much homework on weekends? ›
They mostly assign it as extra practice or make-up work. According to Learning Lift Off, one huge reason for teachers giving weekend homework is to complete their lesson plans. Many teachers simply don't have enough class time in order to complete their assigned plans and have no choice but to assign weekend homework.Where are teachers quitting the most? ›
In Washington state, more teachers left the classroom after last school year than at any point in the last three decades. Maryland and Louisiana saw more teachers depart than any time in the last decade. And North Carolina saw a particularly alarming trend of more teachers leaving mid-school year.Why is teaching so hard this year? ›
Teaching is arguably more difficult now than it has ever been for a variety of reasons, including learner behavior, fast-changing technology, and poor compensation.Which teaching subject is most in demand? ›
According to the Department of Education, the past few years have shown an increased shortage of teachers in certain subjects and an oversupply in others. High demand jobs exist in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects and local languages.