In an age of savants and freelancers, there is no exhaustion to our need of specialized knowledge. If you need something done, chances are there’s someone out there that can do it for you through a platform like Upwork or Fiverr. However, one area that continually gets revisited in our changing landscape is the role of a teacher.
Some might say we’ve exaggerated their importance, citing non-conventional ways of obtaining knowledge à la digital certifications or bootcamps. It is sort of an idealized profession in a sense. Everything we need to know is on the Internet, right? Still, what most people entering the field want to know is, does being a teacher pay well?
Reports have shown a divided consensus on fair pay and benefits. Teachers themselves have stated hardships in having to pick up two or more jobs to make ends meet. In other cases, it seems this sentiment is greatly exaggerated, or at the very least anecdotal. A soft answer would say that, in comparison to other jobs, teachers have it pretty good. They have consistent work, a good schedule, an unbeatable pension, a quality retirement plan, and tenure. But the true answer is: it depends on you.
What is the average pay for a teacher?
Obviously, states will pay you differently for your services. At the time of writing (2021), the national average K-12 teacher salary is $64,524, according to World Population Review. The highest paying state is New York ($85,889), while the lowest paying state is Mississippi ($45,105). This is where the conversation gets tricky because everyone’s living situation is different. Children, bills, food, what your significant other is making, and other expenses will add onto budgeting constraints. That’s not even mentioning that the average starting salary for new teachers is around $41,163.
Many cite not doing it for the money, but if you’re trying to put food on the table for yourself or for your kids, the stressors increase. An increasing tide of online opportunities makes for a little more flexibility, including teaching English as a 2nd language to children. The key here is the overall packaged deal. What personal research can you do to make sure you land the best job for your particular skills, interests, and financial needs? Remember: being a teacher comes with a lot of responsibility but a decent amount of choice.
What jobs compare in pay?
Using the 60K threshold, the following jobs pay similarly:
- Electrical foreman
- Massage therapist
- Dental hygienist
- Truck driver
Of course, the above jobs could also pay more. The reason why teaching positions are so sought after is that the demand for them greatly outnumbers the actual need for them. It’s not a very competitive field, say, compared to getting a job as an engineer. The pay is higher, yes, but the competition is high.
The criterion for teaching is very broad. There are many skills you need such as leadership, empathy, and communication. You don’t necessarily need higher education to teach you these skills; they’re learned from the environment you surround yourself with. Hard skills, like coding, are more quantifiable and very desirable.
Most teaching positions require at least a bachelor’s degree in education. There is a lot of leniency when it comes to GPA average—3.0 at the least. Tack on a master’s degree, and you may find yourself making a bit more each year. Like any program, it’s a major time commitment and investment. The degrees you attain are classified by what grade level you’d want to teach—high school, middle school, or elementary. They will also pay differently, the lower education levels typically offering less than the higher education levels.
What teachers get paid the most?
According to Glassdoor, the highest paying teacher jobs are:
- High School Chemistry Teacher ($39,900-$72,000)
- Bilingual Education Teacher ($46,000-$75,000)
- Special Education Teacher ($37,000-$78,000)
- Superintendent ($79,000-$155,000)
- Assistant Principal ($59,000-$130,000)
- Librarian ($38,000-$82,000)
- Curriculum Developer ($46,000-$83,000)
- High School Math Teacher ($37-$66,000)
(It’s worth noting that these are estimates and not exact numbers.)
How long does it take to get a teaching certificate?
The path to getting a bachelor’s degree in education is traditional—4 to 5 years at an accredited university. This is the bare minimum. On-site experience, certification, and specific state rules are also at play. Even so, there are alternative means available. For example, California has a shadowing program (called University Internships) that can take place of a bachelor’s in education, provided you put in the hours and do good on the tests. New York has four different certificates (Transitional A, B, C, and G) that are foundationally similar but different in what they require and who they accept.
There are plenty of schools in each state that offer bachelor’s degrees for a spectrum of prices—around $10,000-$70,000. The fees for the Praxis test or other certifications is the cheapest part, costing a modest $35-200. As stated earlier, teaching is an extremely secure job with great benefits.
What jobs can a teaching degree be used for?
Besides teaching, you can use your degree for a lot of other jobs. Teaching is a well-respected profession, and the skills are, at the very least, transferable. You can use it as a steppingstone into a more profitable career. For example, a financial advisor or writer might be in your wheelhouse just because of what you’ve learned by being a teacher.
A lot of teachers also market their skills for private tutoring. This has the potential for lower stress, more flexibility, and a stronger connection between you and the student. Private tutors can teach a variety of subjects such as math, science, and English. It has similar pay to a regular teaching position provided you put in the work. In short, there’s no need to stay dissatisfied. There are plenty of options at your disposal.
Is being a teacher an easy job?
You don’t really catch a break during the school day. You have to be present, alert, and sharp at all times. You don’t get many private moments to yourself. Some would consider these things par for the course. After all, a contract to work anywhere is both a sacrifice of your time and energy. You’re essentially paying with these things as well. It requires outside time to grade papers and assignments. It requires precision because the students are dependent on you for quality feedback. It is essentially a giant ripple effect—starting with you, flowing through the students, and back to the parents.
Truthfully, there’s no accurate way to measure difficulty. What are a person’s other time commitments? What grade level are they teaching? What is their capacity for other people? Are they entering this field young or transferring from some other career? Is their teaching style engaging, or do they find talking to others boring? For those that find teaching a calling, it would probably be classified as easy and rewarding. For others, it might present a unique challenge that requires some sort of paradigm shift.
So, does being a teacher pay well?
Overall, yes, being a teacher pays well. Despite all the conversation about unfair pay, everyone has some benefit in their respective field that someone would kill for. A teacher’s tenure exists in no other career. Having summers off is also an enticing prospect to many. If spending time with your family is a priority for you, then you might find yourself going down this path.
However, yo also have to work hard at your craft, continually renewing your certifications. You have to face the day with an open mind and a smiling face. There’s always going to be someone making more than you, and there may be some unfair discrimination with regards to subject matter and grade level. As the late Norm MacDonald quipped, “It’s a person that shows up at a school and is the tallest person in the class.” In all seriousness, it is often repeated that teachers are not smart or complain too much. Some teachers may be like this, but it is a blanket statement that hurts everyone.
Maybe all teachers are looking for is some well-deserved respect. They influence and shape the kids of the next generation, which comes with a lot of pressure. Understandably, teachers should be paid well, and it comes down to another question of whether our education system is doing enough to promote fresh perspectives, creativity, and the evolving definition of a career.
If you’re thinking about becoming a teacher, start with low expectations. You may not get exactly what you want in the beginning, but there’s so much opportunity for growth that you’ll find exactly what you need before you know it.