The job of a teacher is one of the most important and, sadly, thankless occupations. Your job is to educate children and better prepare them for the world that awaits as they get older, help set them on a successful path and be a stable presence in their life. It's a lot to ask of a person.
Does the importance to this task at least lead to a healthy living wage? Short answer: not really, unless you live in certain states teaching at certain schools. A large percentage of teachers in the U.S. don't even make above the average wage of all occupations. And as recent teacher's strikes in areas like West Virginia and Los Angeles have shown, decent pay is far from the only thing teachers are fighting for.
If you're looking to get into the world of teaching, where you are and where you teach generally dictate the average wages. So what are the average salaries for a teacher in this country?
Average Teacher Salary
What grade are you teaching? What school are you working in? These are the biggest initial factors in determining what the average salary of a teacher will look like.
When the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) updates its occupational employment statistics, it breaks up schoolteachers into categories. The three broadest categories they use are elementary school teachers, middle school teachers and secondary school teachers, which we more colloquially refer to as high school teachers. It can't provide hourly wages, as the role of teacher isn't technically a year-round position, but annual wages are reported.
Average Elementary School Teacher Salary
Per the BLS, in May of 2017 elementary school teachers, a wide umbrella for those who teach elementary level education to kids (excluding special education, a separate occupation with its own set of skills), had a median annual income of $57,160.
This number would be above the average salary in the U.S., but it's the median of an awfully wide range of salaries. Elementary school teachers in the bottom 10% of income only made around $37,340, while those in the highest 10% could make as much as $92,770.
The overwhelming majority of the 1.41 million elementary school teachers used to find these figures worked in elementary or K-12 schools. The second highest concentration (a very distant second) of them were employed in religious organizations - 2,290 teachers as compared to the 1.4 million in elementary/secondary schools. The mean annual wage for elementary school teachers at these religious organizations was $51,440.
Kindergarten is seen as a separate teaching role by the BLS as well. The median annual salary for kindergarten teachers was $54,230.
Average Middle School Teacher Salary
Middle school teachers aren't as plentiful as elementary school teachers in the U.S. - the BLS counted 622,340 of them - but they make, on average, a slightly higher salary than elementary school teachers. The median salary of these middle school teachers (again excluding special education teachers, as well as career/technical education) was $57,720.
The salary range of middle school teachers is fairly similar to that of elementary school ones. The floor is slightly higher, as the bottom 10% make around $38,540. Interestingly, however, the ceiling isn't quite as high as that of elementary school; the highest 10% of middle school teachers made $91,670.
Unsurprisingly, the states with the largest amount of middle school teachers employed tend to be among the more heavily populated ones. Texas is first by a wide margin with nearly 70,000, followed by California with just over 50,000. New York comes in at a fairly distant third with 39,390 middle school teachers.
Average High School Teacher Salary
With approximately 1.03 million of them in the U.S., there are considerably more high school teachers than middle school teachers, and they continue the incremental progress of slightly higher salaries the higher the grades you teach. The median annual wages for high school teachers (special and technical education excluded) was $59,170 in May of 2017.
The bottom and top 10% of high school teachers each make more than their elementary and middle school counterparts; the 10th percentile of high school teachers make $39,080 while the 90th percentile (the highest 10%) make $95,380.
Thousands of secondary school teachers do their job for local and state governments, and it appears to be one of the more lucrative industries for teachers. The 1,810 high school teachers in the local government have a mean annual wage of $69,730, while the 1,440 in state government had a mean annual wage of $71,100.
Average Teacher Salary by State: The Wide Income Gap Between Teachers
Besides the grade you teach, the other definitive factor in the salary a teacher makes is where in the U.S. you will be teaching.
The states that have the highest and lowest wages likely won't be surprising. States with higher than average salaries for teachers have higher populations, more high-income families, more private schools and closer proximity to prestigious universities. States with the lowest wages for teachers, on the other hand, have a higher concentration of low-income families and far less government funding for their public schools.
For elementary school teachers, the state with the highest wages is New York, with a mean annual wage of $80,540. California, Connecticut and Alaska are relatively close at second, third and fourth with mean annual wages of $77,990, $77,900 and $77,030, respectively. District of Columbia is fifth at $76,950.
These are all significantly above the average wage for teachers, and workers overall in America. Other states are far below these salaries. Mississippi elementary school teachers, for example, have an annual mean wage of $44,230. In South Dakota, that number is just $41,570. Oklahoma's elementary school teachers have an annual salary of $40,530 while those in Puerto Rico make just $36,070.
The numbers aren't much different for middle school teachers, and in some cases are actually worse. New York, Alaska, Connecticut and the District of Columbia are all once again in the top five for salaries (New York in first again with mean annual wages of $80,940), with Massachusetts in fifth place with $74,540 in mean annual wages. In Alabama, though, their average annual wage is just $49,040. Arizona middle school teachers make an average of $43,670 a year - less than their elementary school teachers (this is also true in West Virginia). And once again, teachers in Puerto Rico struggle to earn a living wage more than anywhere else, with a mean annual wage of just $22,180 for their middle school educators.
Alaska takes the top slot among states with the highest annual wages for high school teachers, with a mean annual wage of $85,420, while New York is a close second at $83,360. Connecticut, California and New Jersey round out the top five, each topping $76,000. These all contrast very starkly with states like North Carolina or Mississippi, where the mean annual wage for high school teachers is just $46,370. And even these states are in slightly better shape for teachers than South Dakota ($41,980), Oklahoma ($41,880) and Puerto Rico ($35,120).
What Is the Job Outlook for Teachers?
Job outlook for teachers in the U.S. is currently on par with the average outlook of all occupations. From 2016-26, middle school and high school teacher jobs are expected to increase by 8%, while kindergarten and elementary school teachers are estimated at a 7% increase.
That the job outlook for teachers would only be average despite the clear importance of the position in society. That need for teachers makes it hard for it to realistically have a large decrease, but current population growth is nowhere close to the sort of level that would necessitate major growth in the field.