The Teacher Salary Project

The Historic Picture – Teacher Salaries

As a traditionally female-dominated profession, teaching has been vulnerable to discrimination and a low average salary. For generations of women, teaching used to be one of the few possibilities to earn a livelihood if they had to work.

In the 1960s, teaching was considered a good profession for women—but other career opportunities were highly restricted in terms of both salary and opportunity. As more options became open to women, they could earn a much better average salary elsewhere.

Nursing, another profession largely comprised of women, presents a striking difference. Whereas a teacher’s average salary is $58,950, the average salary of a registered nurse is $73,550. A nationwide nurse shortage has led to a reform that includes bonuses, tuition reimbursement, and other career incentives. Meanwhile, a similar shortage of teachers has resulted in increased class sizes and a shorter school week, with no change in average salary.

What is Happening Now

How much of an average salary, you might ask, does a teacher earn in America today? This question isn’t so easy to answer, as the salary of any given teacher will vary depending on several factors.

It may surprise you, but private school teachers earn a lower average salary than their public school counterparts. An average public school teacher (secondary school) earns a base salary of $53,520, whereas in a private school, that same teacher would only make $44,720 as a starting average salary.

In public schools, the average salary of a primary and secondary school teacher starts with a negligible difference: $53,520 average base salary for secondary school teachers vs. $52,620 average base salary for primary school teachers. In private schools, the difference is much greater: on average, a secondary school teacher will earn a starting salary of $44,720, while a primary school teacher will only make $36,260 as a starting salary.

A teacher’s average salary also differs by state. For example, in Rhode Island teachers earn an average salary of $66,477 and in New Jersey the average salary is $69,623, while in West Virginia the average salary is only $45,701. In New York, a teacher’s average salary is $79,637.

The national average starting salary (base salary) for a teacher is $38,617, and the teachers’ overall average salary across America is $58,950.

How People Are Fighting Back

Low-key teacher protests against low average earnings are common around the beginning and end of each school year. More recently, however, long-time average salary stagnation, declining work conditions, and increased living costs have led to a nationwide rallying of teachers. Teachers in New York, Arizona, and North Dakota all cry out the same: It’s hardly possible to live on an average public school teacher salary.

Such protests have prompted a national debate over the importance of teachers and how a low average salary has a negative impact on the education system.

The Future

High-quality learning can’t happen in an overcrowded class with an underpaid teacher. Without a reform in average salaries, teachers will keep bleeding out of the education system, to the detriment of us all. A teacher salary should afford at least a basic decent living wage. This isn’t just about teachers, but about the future of America’s children. The public is in favor of better average salaries for teachers, and this time, the protests are sure to continue, even after the school year ends.