Although some may be surprised to hear this, most schools and school districts apply the same pay schedule to all teachers, regardless of the age groups they work with. Officially, teacher pay is linked to the teacher’s highest level of education and their experience, not the ages of the children they teach. And yet, as I recently mentioned, teachers who work with younger learners make less on average.
Moreover, high school teachers make more on average than any other K-12 teacher—in most cases. While there are a few exceptions (such as Alaska, where middle school teaching pays better), you can look in just about any state and see high school teachers out-earning their middle school and elementary school colleagues.
To give one typical example, New York state high school teachers earn a little over $75K a year, compared to just under $73K for middle school teachers (source: Teach.com). High school teachers’ $1,000 to $2,000 per year advantage plays out in most other states and is also evident in the national averages for high school and middle school teachers. As reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national average salary for high school teachers is $56,310 per year, compared to average annual earnings of $54,940 for middle school teachers nationwide.
So what is going on here? If pay schedules are the same for all teachers in the K-12 system, why do high school teachers typically out-earn middle school teachers by one or two thousand bucks a year, and out-earn kindergarten and elementary teachers by around three thousand? Well, as you’d expect from the salary schedules, it all comes down to a matter of training and credentials.
Kindergarten and elementary school teachers can earn more money by holding a master’s degree, just like middle and high school teachers. However, K thru elementary instructors are not actively encouraged to have a Master’s degree. In contrast, subject area teachers who work with adolescents and teens are encouraged to go to grad school.
Furthermore, in some school districts high school teachers are all-but-required to hold a Master’s. A graduate degree will often be listed as a preferred qualification for high school teaching applicants. Some states even require high school teachers to earn a master’s degree upon hire if they don’t have one when they first start teaching. And when a Master’s degree is a requirement, schools can be very generous with tuition reimbursement for their high school teachers.
In general, high school teachers receive more incentives and greater funding for professional development of all sorts, including graduate school, training workshops, and so on. As a result, high school teachers are much more likely to earn a degree that places them in a higher paygrade or complete some other form of teacher training that makes them eligible for a raise.
Still, it’s important to remember that, thanks to the uniformity of pay scale, high school teachers all start out at the same level of pay as other first-year colleagues with comparable training. A first-year high school teacher with a bachelor’s in English would earn the same as a first-year kindergarten teacher with a four-year degree in education. But in most school districts, the high school teacher would then gather more credentials and earn higher pay more quickly, often with the support and encouragement of the school district.