Nobody can tell you whether you should become a teacher or not, but while there are many reasons teaching is an extremely fun and rewarding career, there are drawbacks to the profession as well.
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Teaching: A rewarding career
The best way to tell if a career is really for you is to get in the trenches and experience a day in the life of a teacher. Teachers do way more behind the scenes work than most people realize. Often, during student teaching, prospective teachers get a taste for how much work teachers actually do on a daily basis. Until you get to that point, here are a few more things to consider if you’re on the fence about becoming a teacher.
Teaching doesn’t end when the final bell rings and you walk out of the building. Many teachers take on extra duties such as coaching, advising clubs, or chaperoning activities. Even if you don’t have an official commitment after the school day has ended, most teachers also take home work they couldn’t get done during the school day such as grading or lesson planning.
And if you’ve managed to go home without anything to do? More often than not, your students will still be on your mind long after you’ve gone home for the day. If they’re not on your mind, you’ll likely find them at the grocery store, at the park while you’re walking your dog, or working the drive thru when you get your coffee. Teachers truly are ingrained in the community and the lives of their students.
As a teacher, you’re constantly in the public eye and teaching is a job that is difficult to truly escape. Especially if you teach in a small town, students and parents will notice your personal life. This can be taxing if you prefer to keep a low key existence.
A teacher’s job is not boring, which is usually good, but it can also make for a very stressful workday. You can plan your lessons for the day and think you have an idea of how the day will go, but when you throw children into the mix, you never know what is going to happen. It can be frustrating to realize you wasted time preparing a lesson that didn’t work or to have to rush to gather a week’s worth of materials for a student who just informed you he’s leaving for vacation tomorrow. You definitely learn to expect the unexpected when you’re a teacher.
Although you should choose passion over money if you want to be truly happy with your job, it is important to note that teachers are notoriously underpaid. On average, teachers make about 20% less than those with the same degree in a different field. What you can make as a teacher depends largely on your location, your education, and your years of experience. Teachers can also make more by adding on extra duties such as coaching or tutoring, but if you’re looking to make the big bucks, teaching isn’t the job for you.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Teacher
It typically takes at least four years to become a teacher as that is the amount of time it takes most people to earn a bachelor’s degree. With student teaching included in most teacher preparation programs, you won’t need to complete any additional coursework, training, or internships to begin teaching once you earn your degree and certification.
However, due to the rigors and requirements of teacher education, many prospective teachers are not able to earn their degree in just eight undergraduate semesters. Many take courses during the summers, load up their course schedule, so they’re taking more than 15 credits per semester, or spend an extra semester at school in order to complete their degree.
Another reason it might take longer than four years to become a teacher is if you earn your degree in a field other than education. We’ll explain more on this below, but this would require you to take some extra coursework and earn your teaching certificate separately from your bachelor’s degree, which would take longer than four years.
Requirements to Become a Teacher
Unsurprisingly, there are quite a few requirements you’ll need to meet in order to be trusted with teaching children. Requirements vary by state, but at the bare minimum, teachers need to have a bachelor’s degree, have experience teaching (usually accomplished through student teaching), and hold a valid teaching certificate in their state (more on how to become certified below).
Surprisingly, you don’t have to major in education to become a teacher. Most prospective teachers do major in either early childhood education, elementary education, or secondary education, but that isn’t the only path you can take.
Many teachers major in other disciplines and earn their teaching certificate separately. This is a great path to follow if you’re not completely sure you want to be a teacher. Earning your degree in a field related to the one you want to teach can also be beneficial to help you become an expert and really gain a deep understanding of the field.
Of those who choose to major in a field other than education, some earn their teaching certificate immediately after finishing their bachelor’s degree while others return to a certification program after they’ve worked for a few years in a different field. Many colleges offer teacher certification programs.
One important caveat to keep in mind is that private schools and preschools may have different requirements for teachers than public schools. While some have less strict requirements, many private schools have higher standards and a set of very specific requirements teachers must meet. Typically, degree and certification programs prepare students to meet all the requirements to become a teacher in their state, but if you are planning on teaching in a different state or in a private school, be sure to research the requirements early on in your education journey.
Regardless of the route you take to earn your degree and certificate, as part of your degree or certification program, you’ll need to complete an internship or field experience, commonly known as student teaching. To prepare for student teaching, you’ll likely have earlier field experiences that mostly involve observing. Many education programs also require early hands on experiences, such as tutoring or volunteering.
Average Teacher Salary
What grade are you teaching? What school are you working in? These are the biggest initial factors in determining 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 a teacher isn’t technically a year-round position, but annual wages are reported.
Average Elementary School Teacher Salary
Per the BLS, in May of 2018 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 $58,230.
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 $37,780, while those in the highest 10% could make as much as $95,270.
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 – 2,510 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 $53,230.
Kindergarten is seen as a separate teaching role by the BLS as well. The median annual salary for kindergarten teachers was $55,470.
Average Middle School Teacher Salary
Middle school teachers aren’t as plentiful as elementary school teachers in the U.S. – the BLS counted 609,970 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) in May of 2018 was $58,600.
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 $39,090. Interestingly, however, the ceiling isn’t quite as high as that of elementary school; the highest 10% of middle school teachers made $93,180.
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 66,470, followed by California with 46,500. New York comes in at a fairly distant third with 39,950 middle school teachers.
Average High School Teacher Salary
With approximately 1.05 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 $60,320 in May of 2018.
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 $39,740 while the 90th percentile (the highest 10%) makes $97,500.
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 1,490 high school teachers in the local government have a mean annual wage of $56,490, while the 1,460 in state government had a mean annual wage of $72,340.
Teacher Salary Comparison Based On Years Of Experience
The level of experience is the most important factor in determining the salary. Naturally the more years of experience the higher your wage.
A Teacher with less than two years of experience makes approximately 43,200 USD per year. While someone with an experience level between two and five years is expected to earn 55,600 USD per year, which is 29% more than someone with less than two years’ experience.
More so, an experience level between five and ten years earns a salary of 76,700 USD per year, which is 38% more than someone with two to five years of experience.
Additionally, Teacher(s) whose expertise spans anywhere between ten and fifteen years get a salary equivalent of 95,000 USD per year.
If the experience level is between fifteen and twenty years, then the expected wage is 102,000 USD per year, 7% more than someone with ten to fifteen years of experience.
Finally, a teacher with more than twenty years of professional experience gets a salary of 109,000 USD per year, 7% more than people with fifteen to twenty years of experience.
Teachers average salary in based of level of experience in summary
0 – 2 Years – 43,200 USD
2 – 5 Years +29% – 55,600 USD
5 – 10 Years +38% – 76,700 USD
10 – 15 Years +24% – 95,000 USD
15 – 20 Years +7% – 102,000 USD
20+ Years +7% – 109,000 USD
Teacher Salary Comparison by Education
There is a common saying that, “in order to earn more you have to learn more”. We all know that higher education equals a bigger salary
When the education level is Bachelor’s Degree, theaverage salary of a Teacher is 54,000 USD per year while a Master’s Degree holder gets a salary of 86,700 USD per year.
Many people pursue higher education as a tactic to switch into a higher paying job. The numbers seem to support the theory.
Teacher Salary Comparison by Gender
While Male teachers earn 76,200 USD, Females earn about 72,400 USD
Teacher’s Average Annual Salary Increment
Teachers in the United States observe a salary increase of approximately 11% every 17 months.
Salary increments vary from individual to another depending on the above mentioned factors, but your performance and contribution to the success of the organization remain the most important factors in determining how much and how often you will be given a salary increase.
Some states pay teachers significantly more money than others do. The New York teacher salary, for instance, is much higher on average than the teacher salary in Missouri. The five highest-paying states based on starting salary are:
District of Columbia ($56,313)
New Jersey ($53,177)
Teachers working in these states are likely to earn relatively high amounts early on in their careers. One of the most important things to keep in mind when looking at state-specific salary information is that the cost of living in some states is significantly higher than in others. For instance, in a general sense, living in the District of Columbia or California is much more expensive than living in states like Mississippi or Arkansas. This is not to say that higher wages do not benefit teachers in states with higher costs of living; it just means that the numbers on their own do not always tell the full story. It is important to keep a variety of factors in mind when looking at potential places to live and work as a teacher.
Teacher salaries increase over time as teachers learn their crafts and become master teachers. There is also variation in pay levels based on where in a state teachers live, how much funding a particular school district receives, and more. The five highest-paying states based on the top salary of teachers are:
District of Columbia ($116,408)
New York ($94,541)
Teachers are likely to be paid more if they live in high-income urban centers and if they have significant experience in the teaching profession. Living and working in these states is by no means a guarantee that you as a teacher will make a certain amount of money; these are averages that combine a wide variety of factors.
Lowest-Paid States for Teachers
How much do teachers make a year in states that are less affluent? Teachers who are living and working in states with lower average pay might find that they are dealing with a variety of issues that are caused by and exacerbated by a lack of funds. Places where teachers are not paid very well are often also places where schools have relatively little funding to begin with, which can impact students’ education as much as it can impact teachers’ livelihoods. Teachers may find that they need to be more creative when it comes to developing effective instructional methods in the absence of adequate support and funding.
Low wages can be particularly challenging for teachers who are trying to launch their careers. The five lowest-paying states based on starting salary are:
Although teachers in these states do not make as much money as other teachers around the country, they also typically experience a lower cost of living. There is also variation in any state that will impact how much money an individual teacher can make. Nonetheless, some states have lower salaries even for experienced teachers. The five lowest-paying states based on the top salary of teachers are:
Of course, being a teacher is about more than just salary. Teachers are needed everywhere, and many people elect to become teachers for reasons that have relatively little to do with salary and much more to do with helping a younger generation to learn. However, earning a living wage is an essential part of any career, so there are many factors to weigh when choosing a place to become a teacher.