How Much Do Teachers Make? Average Salary and Statistics

The average starting salary for teachers ranges from $35,510-$45,880 a year. But a teacher's academic credentials and years of experience can impact their salary.
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Jessica Bryant
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Jessica Bryant is a higher education analyst and senior data reporter for BestColleges. She covers higher education trends and data, focusing on issues impacting underserved students. She has a BA in journalism and previously worked with the South Fl...
Published on August 29, 2023
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Lyss Welding is a higher education analyst and data writer for BestColleges who specializes in translating massive data sets and finding statistics that matter to students. Lyss has worked in academic research, curriculum design, and program evaluati...
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Data Summary

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    In 2020-2021, elementary and high school teachers had an average total income of $50,500-$65,400 a year.[1]
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    Teachers' average base salaries during the year ranged from $46,400 at private schools to $61,600 at public schools.Note Reference [1]
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    In 2021-2022, Mississippi teachers made the lowest estimated average salary at $47,162 a year.[2]
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    New York teachers had the highest estimated average salary at $92,222 a year.Note Reference [2]
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    Teachers with doctoral degrees had the highest average base salaries in 2020-2021 at $71,280 at public schools and $60,570 at private schools.Note Reference [1]
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    Earning a master's degree can increase a teacher's average base salary by 27% at public schools and 29% at private schools.Note Reference [1]
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    Female teachers account for over three-quarters of the teaching workforce, but earn slightly less than male teachers, on average.Note Reference [1]
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    A teacher we interviewed saw a salary increase of 38% over the last seven years solely due to performance-based raises.

It's likely you've heard that teachers are underpaid — it's been a widely known fact since the start of public education in the U.S.

This underpaying has only been further highlighted in recent years by the increased challenges facing teachers. From widespread book bans to gun violence on campus and a growing shortage of educational resources, it's no surprise that 55% of teachers now anticipate they will leave the field earlier than planned.[3]

Below we explore teacher salaries throughout the U.S. and ways that some teachers are supplementing their incomes in the face of these challenges.

How Much Do Teachers Make?

The average total income for elementary education and high school teachers in the U.S. as of the 2020-2021 school year was $65,400 at public schools and $50,500 at private schools.Note Reference [1]

This includes base salaries of $61,600 at public schools and $46,400 at private schools plus additionally earned income through sponsoring extracurricular activities, employment in nonschool jobs, and earned bonus pay.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the average teacher pay has decreased in recent years, declining by nearly 8% between 2009-2021.

Average Teacher Pay Over the Years, in Constant 2021-2022 U.S. Dollars
School Year Avg. Teacher Pay
1979-80 $58,016
1989-90 $69,669
1999-2000 $69,647
2009-10 $72,050
2019-20 $70,315
2020-21 $69,976
2021-22 $66,397
Source: NCESNote Reference [2]

However, teachers' salaries can vary greatly depending on their state, the degrees they've earned, and the number of years they've spent teaching.

Average Teacher Salary by State

NCES estimates the average annual salary for elementary and secondary school teachers in the U.S. was about $66,397 during the 2021-2022 academic year.Note Reference [2]

This estimation is about 13% lower than the average annual salary for bachelor's degree workers in the U.S. as of May 2022[4], and teachers in most states still did not fare this well.

Teachers in Louisiana, Florida, West Virginia, South Dakota, and Mississippi had the lowest estimated average salaries during the 2021-2022 academic year. Teachers in these states earned less than $52,400.

Conversely, teachers in New York, Massachusetts, California, the District of Columbia, Washington, and Connecticut earned estimated average salaries exceeding $81,000 a year during the same period, with New York teachers taking in the most at $92,222.

Teacher Salary by Degree Level

Like in many other industries, earning advanced education degrees and certificates can help elementary and secondary school teachers boost their salaries.

During the 2020-2021 academic year, public school teachers who had earned less than a bachelor's degree had an average base salary of just under $55,000. In contrast, the base salary for teachers with a doctoral degree exceeded $71,000 a year.Note Reference [1]

At private schools, the difference in average base salaries for teachers with less than a bachelor's degree and teachers with a doctoral degree was even larger at 68%.Note Reference [1]

Teacher Salary by Years Teaching

Aside from additional education, teachers can increase their salaries by gaining years of experience. During the 2020-2021 academic year, public school teachers with one year of experience or less earned an average base salary of $45,880 a year, while teachers who had been working 30 years or more made an average annual salary of $72,000 — a 44% difference.Note Reference [1]

At private schools, however, the difference in average salaries between teachers with a year of experience or less and those with over 30 years of experience was slightly smaller at about 39%.Note Reference [1]

Still, these salaries can vary greatly depending on a number of factors, including the regulations set in the specific district a teacher works in. For La'Keisha Adams, a high school math teacher at the Dallas-based School for the Talented and Gifted at Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Center, salary increases are performance-based — something she calls unique.

This is not normal by any means, said Adams in an interview with BestColleges. Our district does a really good job of giving us retention incentives depending on your proficiency level ... but from what I've heard from other teachers [in other districts], they get a raise every year [regardless of performance].

La'Keisha Adams' classroom
Dallas high school teacher La'Keisha Adams' classroom. Image courtesy of La'Keisha Adams.

Teacher Salary by Location: Urban, Suburban, and Rural

Choosing to work at schools in certain areas also impacts teachers' salaries. During 2020-2021, public school teachers employed in suburban areas made an average base salary that was 24% higher than the mean salary of teachers in rural areas.Note Reference [1]

Teachers employed at private schools in cities earned salaries that were about 46% higher than teachers employed at private schools in towns.Note Reference [1]

Teacher Salary Demographics

Female teachers accounted for 76% of both public school and private school instructors in 2020-2021. Yet, they earned 3% less than their male counterparts at public schools and 15% less than male teachers at private schools.Note Reference [1]

Much like in many other industries, Black and American Indian/Alaska Native teachers at public schools and Black and Latino/a teachers at private schools earned the least of all teachers in 2020-2021.Note Reference [1]

At public schools, Asian teachers earned the most with an average base salary of $70,250 a year. They earned 13% more than Latino/a teachers, who had the next highest base salaries in 2020-2021, and 35% more than American Indian/Alaska Native teachers, who had the lowest base salaries during the year.

Asian teachers were also the highest earners at private schools in 2020-2021, with an average base salary of $51,670 a year. They earned about 21% more than Black teachers, who had the lowest base salary at the time.

Why Are Teachers Underpaid?

Public elementary and secondary schools in the U.S. earn money through local, state, and federal funds. When funding is low, budget cuts are made, and, as a result, teachers often see stagnant salaries.

At private schools, however, teacher salaries are determined individually. Some experts have argued that private school salaries are able to remain so low because the working environment is better so instructors are willing to take a pay cut.[5] Colin Sharkey, the executive director of the Association of American Educators, agrees.

Colin Sharkey
Colin Sharkey, executive director of the Association of American Educators. Image courtesy of Colin Sharkey.

There are some jobs that no matter how much you're willing to pay me, I may not be ... capable of doing them for too long because of how unfulfilling, unrewarding, emotionally draining they are, said Sharkey in an interview with BestColleges. Teachers are no different. For those [who] picked the private school over the public school, even though they have less pay, [they are] absolutely receiving the other fulfilling components of being an educator, which are better working conditions.

Further, private schools are generally able to keep teacher salaries low because they're able to fulfill their hiring goals without increasing them, said Sharkey.

Educator pay becomes complex, he said, due to the vast range of factors that determine teacher salaries and the ways policy initiatives often fall short, especially when collective bargaining attempts for higher salaries do not represent all teachers.

But overall, what really keeps teacher salaries low is an inability to quantify their importance.

We underpay educators because there's a disconnect between the value of their impact and how much we're investing in maintaining that profession, he said. So yes, you can get up to six figures teaching in some places, but you have to be drawn into the profession in the first place to ever get to that point.

With starting salaries for teachers hovering around $40,000 a year, there's not much appeal for young people to join the profession, he said.

How Teachers Can Increase Their Income

While earning additional degrees and certifications can often help teachers increase their income, it isn't a guarantee. Further, the cost of obtaining a master's in education (M.Ed.) or other certifications can sometimes outweigh the benefits.

I remember telling friends, It's ridiculous that I am a teacher with a master's degree — I have a whole career — but I am struggling to make ends meet, said Adams of her first year teaching for a $51,000 salary.

Now, as she enters her seventh year teaching, she will be making $70,500 a year. But she does not attribute her salary growth to her master's degree — something she's grateful to have obtained on a full-ride scholarship. Instead, she believes her salary growth boils down to continued performance gains.

Adams takes in additional income through private tutoring, babysitting, and posting her original activity plans for a small fee on Teachers Pay Teachers.

This is not at all uncommon. During the 2020-2021 academic year, approximately 17% of teachers at both public and private schools took in additional income from job(s) outside of the school system during the school year.Note Reference [1] Nearly an equal percentage (16%) were employed in nonschool jobs during the summer.Note Reference [1]

Many teachers also earn additional income from their involvement in extracurricular activities within the school system. This can include coaching, student activity sponsorship, or teaching evening classes. However, compensation for these programs can vary greatly depending on the school.

At Adams' school, teachers are required to sponsor at least one club, which typically does not come with any additional compensation. For a handful of clubs, however, teachers may be offered a small stipend of $1,000-$1,500.

Overall, utilizing your skillset to offer services like private tutoring and looking for in-school opportunities to head clubs and activities are some of the best ways for teachers to increase their income without taking on the large, additional costs that would come from pursuing further education.

Frequently Asked Questions About Teacher Salaries

How much do high school teachers make?

The average base salary for high school teachers was $62,670 at public schools and $51,340 at private schools during the 2020-2021 academic year.Note Reference [1]

How much do private school teachers make?

Private school teachers earned an average base salary of $46,400 a year as of 2020-2021. In total, when factoring in additional earned income from school and nonschool sources, private school teachers made an average total income of $50,500 a year.Note Reference [1]

What is the starting salary for a teacher?

Public school teachers earned an average starting salary of $45,880 a year during the 2020-2021 academic year. Private school teachers made an average starting salary of $35,510 a year.Note Reference [1]