Are high school teachers in the US highly paid?
High school teachers (and teachers in general) are responsible for raising the next generation of youth. They'll become the workforce, decide who our representatives are - the future of the country. It logically follows that teachers should be paid well, for having such a key role, right?
This couldn't be further from the truth. The average public school teacher in the US makes $56,000 per year, but this number drops significantly in more conservative states like Oklahoma and South Dakota, where teachers make just above $40,000 a year. In these states, teachers report having to work part-time jobs in addition to school, and during the summer as well. Kind of eliminates the argument that teachers should make less because they work less, huh?
That brings me to my next point. The hourly wage for US teachers isn't that low (though it certainly isn't high), because high school teachers are generally paid for working typical school hours, which are shorter than the typical 9–5 job. However, with most 9–5s, work ends at 5 o' clock (experiences vary for some jobs), but teachers have to continue grading papers, making tests, making homework, and planning lessons even after work ends, oftentimes late into the night. If this is calculated into hourly pay, as they should, because the above are necessary for the job, the rates drop substantially.
Even more unfortunate is the situation in inter-city schools, where education is both needed and forsaken the most. Teachers at inter-city schools are often volunteers and the pay is abysmal. The drop-out rates in these schools are shockingly high, and an education in these areas is crucial for the US to move forward as a country. Yet, with teacher wages so low, causing them to have to work part-time jobs on the side, such an education certainly cannot be realized at a national level.
Case in point: US teachers need to be paid more. This is perhaps the most fundamental issue with the way the US is handling its problems - start from the grassroots then work your way up.
High school teachers in the US are not highly paid anywhere like a competitive salary given their level of education, but in some states are reasonably well compensated. As compared to Europe, while absolute salaries may or may not equal to what a teacher makes in a country like Germany, German teachers are paid much more in line with what other highly educated professionals make, like doctors and lawyers, and have much higher status, while quite obviously in the US that is not the case.
That said, depending on the state teacher salaries and retirement benefits vary from very poor to very reasonable, considering that teachers only work ten months a year, and pensions are rare these days in most work areas. The south, west and midwest fare badly, while some east coast and west coast states pay experienced teachers pretty well. The determining factor beyond local prosperity is whether teachers are effectively represented by unions or teacher associations.
Teacher unions are odious to a lot of conservatives because they are almost always reliably leftist and stick their collective noses into business which bears little relation to education. And union rules and interests tend toward traditional protections of seniority rather than promotion of talent or hard work. On one occasion my own teacher association fought to reduce the differential the district wanted to pay National Board Certified Teachers in the interests of "fairness." This the same reason that unions oppose performance based pay systems, which are problematic, but do produce pretty good salaries for teachers who are either good, or can effectively game the system. Under either system the result can be that the laziest and worst teachers are paid the most, though presumably performance based systems reduce this risk somewhat. On the other hand the wearisome nature of a profession that doesn't pay as well as it should, often forces out talented teachers with experience, as well as promising new teachers.
Unfortunately, there appears to be no reasonable solution to the problem, absent a kind of collective societal decision to raise the status of teaching, make pay commensurate, and then hope that produces more talent in the classroom. That will never happen because Americans expect schools to do too much, which requires too many teachers and school personnel, which raises all costs almost uncontrollably. Schools in the US today are effectively gigantic transportation systems, food service systems, social welfare systems, day-care systems, prison systems, and almost incidentally providers of education. Within that gigantic matrix of interests, teachers are not that important.
Highly paid? No. Paid well? Depends. Paid evenly? No.
Starting salaries are very, very low. However, pay is directly connected with location (school system), seat time (how long you've been teaching), and highest degree. At the bottom, some make as little as half of the US national average (currently around $48,000). At the top end of the scale, people are paid far more than I make (and will ever make) as a computer science professor.
If you are in a field with fewer candidates than jobs (especially math and especially especially computer science), you can earn more. This is not because these positions pay better, but because you can choose to work in a district that pays better. This is also true for experienced teachers in all fields who have really good reputations.
You can earn even more money if you go into administration; I have a colleague who was a high school principal, and took a faculty position here as a retirement job, and her pension is bigger than her paycheck. However, you need to be in it for the long term; the pay doesn't get big very fast, and you will probably have to earn a master's degree.
Every state published salaries for teachers, although municipalities can and do normally supplement this pay. This is mostly public information.
Sadly, there's a problem that I perceive as bigger than low initial pay, which is respect. We used to consider teachers as being valuable, but recently, some politicians have turned them into demon leeches on government.
I would make more money in many other fields with a Masters degree and 20 years experience. My daughter makes almost double what I make with a Bachelors degree in engineering and 7 years experience. Some have secondary jobs to make ends meet. I have one because I was furloughed (budget cuts) from a position that paid better than the one I have now, so I need the extra income to pay my mortgage. You can't go into the teaching field and expect to get paid what others at your level of education and experience get paid. You work to make a difference in the lives of your students and to feel good about what you do for a living. Summers really aren't time off. They're time to take classes and catch up on all that doesn't get done while school is in session. Anyone who thinks we do this for any other reason than helping kids needs to volunteer in a classroom for at least a day. Shadow a teacher and really try to see things from their perspective. It has been my experience that most teachers are competent and care deeply about the job they do.
Of course. Any schoolteacher in Southern California is well within the top 1% income earners of the world. If you're thinking about moving here to teach, it's very lucrative.
My public school district had traced salaries that dipped into the six figure range. To get the job, you need a credential. Bilingual science teachers are very very demanded. Not much unemployment there.
Kind of like first past the post, it doesn't matter if you have 200k debt from a private school or a local bachelors from a state university, once you're credentialed you will earn the same salary (if you have the same amount of credits). Be pragmatic.
The more credits you have the more you get paid (phd>masters>bachelor) and there are various requirements to teach depending on the state. A private school may not require a credential but they usually pay less.
Besides that, pay is based on years of experience, so start early.
It's a very good life in the long run when you work for the right district. Work at a nice school with nice kids in a nice neighborhood and you'll share that sunny life too. Nothing wrong with that.
Top 1% in the world, after all.
If you really care about discretionary income, find a high paying district with struggling outlier schools and work there. The property prices around poor schools are proportionate to the quality of the school. (I spotted a 3 bedroom two bathroom house next to a struggling middle school within my district for only 80k! That's quite cheap in Southern California. Nice neighborhood too. Pick it up, put it next to the best school in the district, and it's a million dollars.)
Low monthly payments and a six figure income in your 30s, nothing wrong with that.
Honestly these kinds of jobs are a hedge against inflation. 50 years ago a new could buy a new Porsche for one year starting salary (5k). Today you can buy a new Porsche for one year starting salary (46k).
It depends on where in the U.S. you're looking. Typically high school teacher salaries are somewhat reflective of the local economy. In the suburbs of New York City (Long Island, Westchester) it is not uncommon for a public school teacher with a masters degree and 15–20 years of experience to earn $100K a year. But...(and this is a HUGE but....) the average home on Long Island is $385k to 500k. By comparison, the same teacher in Omaha might expect to make about $55K a year, but will find a similar home for $175K. So - it is all pretty relative.