Teacher Salary, Career and Benefits Guide

Many people may find teaching to be a rewarding career, as it provides the opportunity to help future generations learn and discover their passions. It may also offer stability and salary growth opportunities, depending on your education and experience. This guide explains what you might expect from a teaching career, estimated salaries for teachers based on location and specialty, and how continued education like a master’s degree may help you advance your teaching career.

Why Become a Teacher? 

There are a wide variety of reasons for becoming a teacher. Motivations to become a teacher might include:

  • A passion for working with children, teens and young adults.
  • A desire to pass on knowledge and inspire others to pursue their goals.
  • A sense of enjoyment gained from working in a classroom/school environment.
  • A love for learning and knowledge.
  • Interest and expertise in subjects taught in educational environments.
  • A desire for predictable work schedules and summers off from work, depending on the role.
  • Interest in mentoring others and being a role model.
  • A desire to work in a career in which every day brings new challenges and opportunities.
  • The ability to see the direct results of your work.
  • The opportunity to build relationships among students, parents, school leadership, other educators and communities.

Many people can remember and were influenced by at least one of the teachers they’ve had in school. A teaching career may allow professionals to directly influence their students and improve the lives of those they work with.

Types of Teaching Jobs and Careers in Education

Teachers work in a variety of educational environments. Teachers teach all ages, from primary school age through adulthood.

As a teacher, you might specialize in a certain subject and teach high school or postsecondary students. Elementary school teachers may teach a variety of subjects to a single class. 

Teaching job titles vary. They include roles like:

  • Preschool teachers
  • Kindergarten teachers
  • Early childhood educators
  • Middle school teachers
  • High school teachers
  • English teachers
  • ESL teachers (English as a second language)
  • History teachers
  • Math teachers
  • Special education teachers
  • Music teachers
  • Science teachers
  • Physical education teachers
  • Adult and continuing education teachers

Some teachers go on to pursue school leadership roles, like principals, and become a school administrator. As a teacher, you may stay in the classroom, change the age group or subject you teach, or move into administration. There are many opportunities for variety and career growth in education.

Degree Requirements for a Teaching Career

Unless you’re a teacher assistant, a bachelor’s degree is generally one of the requirements for becoming a teacher who works full-time in a classroom. Here are the types of education positions you might be able to pursue with each type of degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

To teach at the early childhood education/elementary education/secondary education level, you don’t necessarily need a bachelor’s degree or Master of Education. While all states require public school teachers to be licensed or certified in the particular grade level that they will teach, all states offer an alternative route to licensure or certification for those who already have a bachelor’s degree but lack the education courses required for certification. With a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in another field, you may be able to obtain a teaching certificate to become a teacher.

If you’re interested in teaching ESL, you may want to research programs that prepare you for that specialty, like a Master of Arts in Teaching – TESOL program that helps prepare students to pass the standardized Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).

If you want to teach a specific subject at a high school, community college or university, you might consider pursuing higher education in your subject of interest.

Other specialized degrees may help you pursue specific roles in education. For example, with a Master of Library Science, you might pursue a job as a school librarian. A Master’s in School Counseling may lead to a school counselor career.

If you want to teach at the college or university level, the BLS reports a doctoral degree in the field you teach may be required. Some community colleges and four-year colleges or universities may accept a master’s degree to teach, such as when the teacher is studying toward a doctorate.

A master’s degree or higher is also typically required for administrator and educational leadership roles, such as elementary, middle and high school principals and postsecondary education administrators.

States with Best Teaching Salaries

The top-paying states for teachers depend on a variety of factors, including the demand, the cost of living and the teacher certification requirements by state. Among employment of kindergarten and elementary school teachers (except special education) and middle school and secondary school teachers (except special and career/technical education), the BLS reports that in 2020, the following states were in the top five highest-paying states for each role: 

  • New York
  • Connecticut
  • Massachusetts

Also in 2020, California ranked in the top five for pay for elementary school teachers (except special education) and middle school and secondary school teachers (except special and career/technical education).

The following are the 2020 median annual wages for each role for the entire United States, according to the BLS.

The median annual wage for postsecondary teachers varies, depending on the subject you teach and the school environment. For example, the 2020 median annual wage for law teachers, postsecondary, was $116,430. For postsecondary teachers in state colleges, universities and professional schools, the 2020 median annual wage was $80,790.

Top Average Elementary Teacher Salary

The best-paying states for kindergarten and elementary teachers tend to have salaries that reflect the cost of living and the demand for teachers in those states. The following are the 10 top-paying states for an elementary school teacher mean salary as of May 2020, according to the BLS:

  1. California: $85,110
  2. Massachusetts: $84,810
  3. New York: $84,380
  4. Connecticut: $79,610
  5. District of Columbia: $78,840
  6. Maryland: $77,470
  7. Alaska: $74,720
  8. Washington: $74,400
  9. New Jersey: $73,330
  10. Virginia: $72,620

Top Average Middle School Teacher Salary

The best-paying states for middle school teachers tend to be similar to those of elementary school and high school teachers, due to cost of living and demand. The following are the May 2020 10 top-paying states for a middle school teacher mean salary according to the BLS:

  1. New York: $89,150
  2. Massachusetts: $82,610
  3. California: $81,940
  4. Connecticut: $81,140
  5. Alaska: $80,260
  6. District of Columbia: $79,110
  7. Maryland: $77,770
  8. Washington: $76,370
  9. Rhode Island: $76,050
  10. New Jersey: $74,950

Top Average High School Teacher Salary

A high school teacher salary will vary depending on your experience and where you live. According to the BLS, these were the 10 top-paying states for a high school teacher mean salary as of May 2020:

  1. New York: $88,890
  2. California: $86,900
  3. Massachusetts: $84,130
  4. New Jersey: $78,900
  5. Connecticut: $78,510
  6. Maryland: $78,510
  7. Washington: $77,140
  8. Rhode Island: $76,270
  9. Illinois: $76,010
  10. Alaska: $75,790

Top Average Postsecondary Business Teacher Salary

A postsecondary teacher salary will depend on your education and experience level, where you live and the type of school where you teach. College professors and university teachers with higher education may be able to earn more depending on the subject they teach, as well. Because the BLS places each postsecondary subject in its own category, here’s a look at the 10 top-paying states for postsecondary teachers in the subject of business, based on median annual wage as of May 2020. You can use this information as an example when evaluating all subjects.

  1. Massachusetts: $132,990
  2. Rhode Island: $131,590
  3. California: $126,670
  4. Maryland: $125,950
  5. District of Columbia: $125,460
  6. New York: $120,740
  7. New Jersey: $119,950
  8. Alaska: $115,570
  9. Illinois: $114,940
  10. Iowa: $114,380

Other Top Salaries in the Education Field

You may decide to use an education degree or higher education degree to pursue a different type of role in the education field, like school superintendent, college administrator or principal. Take a look at median annual salaries for other roles in education, as reported by the BLS in May 2020.

Teacher Benefits

There are many benefits of being a teacher, depending on your career goals and desired work environment. Typically, teachers are entitled to health insurance for themselves and their family members, including medical, dental and vision coverage. Teachers also are entitled to sick days and paid leave.

Another benefit of being a teacher is the work schedule. While many teachers do work for their classes outside of normal school hours, teachers can typically expect a set schedule of when they’ll need to be in a classroom and any office hours they have to fulfill. For elementary, middle and high school teachers, there are also typically extended breaks for students and faculty, such as summer vacation and spring break.

With online capabilities, teachers may not be required to live in one location, either. There are virtual schools and classes that may enable teachers to teach from anywhere in the world.

FAQs About Teaching Careers

Teaching can be a rewarding profession, but since it requires higher education, you may want answers to frequently asked questions about teaching before you commit to a teaching career. Here are some common questions about teaching careers.

Why Are Some Types of Teachers Paid More?

What is the highest-paying teacher job? Teacher salary depends on a variety of factors, including experience, area of expertise and job environment. According to the BLS, some of the higher-paying teacher jobs based on median annual wages in May 2020 were in universities and colleges. These roles typically require at least a master’s degree. They include: law teachers, $116,430; economics teachers, $107,260; engineering teachers, $103,600; and health specialties teachers, $99,090.

What Teaching Jobs Are In Demand?

According to the BLS, the job outlook for kindergarten and elementary school teachers and middle school teachers has a projected growth of 7% from 2020 to 2030, which is as fast as the average for all positions. The demand for teachers in postsecondary teaching positions is higher, with employment between 2020 and 2030 expected to grow 12%, much faster than average.

What Is the Job Outlook for Teachers?

According to the BLS, teaching job outlook across school levels is positive. Each year from 2020 and 2030, the BLS projects, on average, 111,500 additional kindergarten and elementary teacher jobs, 44,800 more middle school teacher jobs and 78,200 new high school teacher jobs. The career outlook for postsecondary teachers is also promising. There were 1,276,900 postsecondary teacher jobs in 2020, and 156,700 jobs are expected to be added each year by 2030.

Is Becoming a Teacher Worth It?

The answer to this question depends on what’s important to you. Based on where you want to work, your career goals and what kind of income you want, you may find a teaching career to be both intrinsically and extrinsically fulfilling. In a 2018 Teaching and Learning International Survey, 90% of U.S. teachers said they were satisfied with their jobs.

Last updated January 2022