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How Do Teacher Salaries Compare with Other Occupations?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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Calculating the relative value of teacher salaries can be somewhat tricky, as the amount of time teachers work can vary widely depending on the state, district, school, and individual teacher. Teacher pay is relatively high in terms of per-hour payment, if a minimal amount of work and effort is assumed. Many teachers, however, spend extensive periods of time at home designing lesson plans, coming up with innovative ways to engage their students, and giving feedback on assignments. If all of this time is taken into account, the relative worth of teacher salaries can diminish a great deal.

Teacher salaries vary quite a bit based on the state the teacher teaches in. For example, a report by the American Federation of Teachers reported average salaries on the national level to be $51,009 US Dollars (USD) in 2006-2007. Teachers in the state of California had an average salary of $63,640 USD, 125% of the national average. At the other end of the spectrum, teachers in South Dakota had an average salary of $35,378 USD, 69% of the national average. Of course, these numbers also reflect the cost of living in their relative states: the three highest-salaried states, California, Connecticut, and New Jersey, are also three of the most expensive to live in, while the three lowest-salaried states, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Utah, are three of the cheapest states to live in.

The level of education achieved also impacts teacher salaries quite a bit. The average salary for a teacher with a Bachelor’s Degree, for example, was $38,332 USD. This is quite a bit lower than the average salary for a teacher with a Master’s Degree, which is $67,887 USD. This difference in salaries becomes even more apparent as longevity comes into play, with teachers who have been teaching for longer making quite a bit more money than recent teachers. And the numbers become even more dramatic when looking at those who teach in metropolitan areas.

Those who teach in cities also make substantially more than those who teach rurally, generally speaking. For example, a teacher with a master’s degree with maximum longevity, teaching in Santa Ana, California, had a salary of $94,585 USD. In New York City the salary was $94,154 USD, and even in Oklahoma City, at the bottom of the list of large cities surveyed, the salary was $47,850 USD. This is quite a bit different from the salary of entry level teacher salaries, which in Oklahoma City were $31,950 USD, and in New York City were $45,530.

When compared to many other professional fields, of course, teacher salaries are still relatively low. The median salary for an emergency room doctor, for example, is $173,445 USD, and the median salary for a pediatrician is $120,412 USD. But when compared to even some high-paying professions at their starting grades, salaries do not appear too terribly low: a starting lawyer has an average salary of $57,013 USD, and a lawyer who had been working less than five years has an average salary of $64,063 USD. And when compared with other professions, teaching fares even slightly better: the average editor makes $53,143 USD, the average gardener makes $31,000 USD, and the average executive chef makes $75,596 USD.

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Discussion Comments
By anon991652 — On Jul 06, 2015

When making the comparison of salaries for teachers with Bachelor's Degrees with those who have Master's Degrees, there must be other factors at work. The way those figures are presented would indicate that a teacher could increase their annual salary by nearly $30,000 just by earning a Master's Degree. If the district in which I work is any indication, this is far from the truth. The difference in pay for a teacher with a BA versus an MA is anywhere from $3000 - $7000 (until a teacher gets past step 13 where a BA no longer gets a step increase so the gap widens significantly)

By anon946119 — On Apr 17, 2014

I don't think you should be allowed an opinion of high school teachers until you teach for a year. Then you'll sing a different tune. I so wish everyone had to teach for a year, so teachers could stop hearing all the crap from everyone. Go teach and then talk! I dare you! I doubt you'd make it through the year.

By anon329933 — On Apr 12, 2013

I live in New York City and teach in the South Bronx. I put my heart, brain and physical well being on the line every day. I work nights and weekends because I must do about four hours of work outside of the classroom each and every day.

During the evenings, I call parents, grade papers, design lessons and take classes for professional development. Every three years, I am required to prove that I have gotten 180 hours worth of professional development credit, all at my own expense. So no, I don't get summers off. I am either working or learning to be a better teacher.

Also, in addition to spending my own money for professional development, I spend about a thousand dollars per year in my classroom on supplies my school no longer buys, as do most teachers I know. We may also pay for kids to go on field trips when their parents send them to school without funds. We may buy them food when they have none and we may buy them uniforms when their families cannot afford to replace the slacks with broken zippers or the shirt with a stain. Anyone who thinks for a second that teachers are overpaid should do my job for a day. Just one day.

By Moldova — On Jan 19, 2011

Comfyshoes- I agree as a matter of fact the state of Florida tried this measure but Charlie Crist the Governor vetoed the bill.

It also eliminated teacher tenure for incoming teachers and would only allow one year contracts at a time.

This gives the schools an opportunity to fire teachers that are not meeting expectations rather than waiting for their contract to be up.

Teachers protested and many of the schools did not have enough teachers to conduct a regular school day.

I really felt that this was wrong because they were hurting the children and did not take this into consideration.

I realize that there were other controversial measures that tied a percentage of the teacher’s salary review with the FCAT standardize scores which was the largest point of contention..

By comfyshoes — On Jan 16, 2011

Bhutan-People often talk about how low the teacher’s salaries are but at least they do get a lot of time off and tend to get off work by at least 4:00 PM with no weekend work.

They also get to take summers off, have a spring break vacation, as well as a Christmas break. They also get to change the lives of children.

I think that there really needs to be merit pay for some teachers because it seems unfair to pay a dynamite teacher the same as an underperforming teacher which is how the system is currently set up.

By Bhutan — On Jan 16, 2011

Oasis11-Substitute teacher salaries range from $80 to $100 per day. Teacher assistant salaries tend to range from $8 to $12 per hour and require a CDA license if you are working with children in preschool and kindergarten.

As far as high school teacher salaries go there really is no difference between the traditional teacher salary schedules. For example, a Bachelor degreed teacher the salary is $38,000, but if the teacher has a Masters degree the starting salary is $40,000. A teacher with a specialist degree would start at $42,000, and teachers with a doctorate earn $45,000 per year to start.

By oasis11 — On Jan 13, 2011

The salary of a teacher really depends on the size of the school district.

Usually larger metropolitan areas tend to offer the highest paying teacher salaries. For example, in Miami Dade county school district offers the highest salaries within the state of Florida.

They use a teacher salary schedule in order to determine what the corresponding salary should be. The elementary school teacher salaries start at $38,000 and then each subsequent year increases by about $300 per year. When a teacher reaches her 10th year then the raises become more prominent and raises of $2,500 become the norm.

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