Teaching is a passion and a calling. But if you’re going to devote your life to it, it will also have to be a living. And a living is something that needs to be anticipated and budgeted for. As you consider a future career in teaching, it helps to know what your salary might be at the outset.
As you probably already know, teaching is unlikely to make you rich… but in most cases, it won’t make you poor, either. Still, it’s important to understand that teacher salaries vary a lot, depending on the state, city, and school district. To decide where you want to get a job—and where you can afford to work—it’s best to look up some of the statistics.
The National Education Association’s statistics on average teacher pay by state and territory is a good place to start. At a glance, the NEA report seems to indicate that the best average starting salaries for teachers are in the District of Columbia ($51,539 per year), New Jersey ($48,631 per year), and the Federal Education Association, which employs teachers at military bases ($45,751 per year).
Add some more statistics to the mix though, and the NEA figures tell a different story. You see, to really know if a starting teacher salary is good, you need to take into account the cost of living where you’ll be teaching. DC and New Jersey have very high costs of living on average. And the FEA employs teachers anywhere where there’s an army base. This could be in a small town where you can live cheaply, a large expensive city, or an overseas site where the cost of living is hard to determine without careful research.
A look at a list of US states by cost of living helps put the NEA data into perspective. It’s worth noting that Texas is in the top five cheapest states in the US, which may make its almost 40K a year average starting salary ($38,091 to be precise) one of the best on the NEA’s list. Wyoming is in the top 15 cheapest states, which means it’s possible that their opening teacher pay of $43,269 a year could be the very best pay on the NEA’s list.
Similarly, the seemingly low pay (just above 30K annually) for beginning teachers in Iowa and Oklahoma may not be so bad, given that these are the two least expensive states to live in. On the other hand, the low thirty thousand entry pay figures seen in states with average cost of living such as Georgia or Wisconsin represent a less-than-great salary. Oregon, one of the most expensive states to live in, also pays about $33,000 a year, making it possibly the lowest-paying state for entry level teachers relative to cost of living.
And of course, it’s important to consider different costs of living within a state. Texas may be cheap overall, but there’s a huge difference in the cost of living in Dallas versus a smaller town like Whitesboro.
Ultimately, you can expect your entry level pay as a teacher to be roughly 30,000 a year at the lowest and approximately $50,000 a year at the upper end. You may also find some outliers—small rural public schools and smaller religious schools sometimes pay closer to $25K, and certain highly prestigious private schools can pay well over $50K annually. When considering entry level pay, be sure to look at the cost of living at the school’s location as well as your own financial responsibilities and your “comfort zone” in terms of the extra money you want for savings and leisure.