Why Doesn’t Society Pay Teachers What They Are Worth? (2023)

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by Jen Hubley Luckwaldt

Why Doesn’t Society Pay Teachers What They Are Worth? (4)

When it comes to choosing a career, you don't have to decide between meaning and money. For example, surgeons earn over $300,000 a year and 96 percent of them say their job makes the world a better place. For many occupations, however, there is a significant disparity between pay and meaning. And because of that disparity, some jobs, like teachers, end up having to leave the profession they felt so driven to go into.

PayScale's recent report, The Most and Least Meaningful Jobs, shows that teachers at all levels report consistently high levels of job meaning. But they also report consistently low rates of pay. Ninety-six percent of postsecondary English language and literature teachers reported high job meaning. That's second only to the clergy for high job meaning. Their earnings also hover around clergy level: $43,600 median pay for postsecondary English teachers, and $46,600 for clergy.

Other teachers report similarly high meaning and low pay. More than 80 percent of Kindergarten teachers, middle school teachers and secondary school teachers say their job makes the world a better place, but all earn less than $45,000 per year.

That’s not exactly poverty-level earnings. The median household income in the United States is $53,046, according to the Census Bureau; a family whose earning members included two secondary school teachers would potentially make $64,200. It's not petroleum engineer money, but it's not peanuts, either. So why do we characterize teachers as low paid workers, especially if their careers offer so many intangible benefits like a consistently strong feeling that teaching makes the world a better place?

Pay vs. Investment

It takes a lot of education to become a teacher, and education, in the U.S., has never been a more expensive investment. Requirements vary by state, but teachers are typically required to complete a bachelor's degree and a teacher preparation program, which sometimes requires a master's degree. And generally, before anybody is allowed to get in front of a classroom, they have to get a state-approved teaching certification, which usually requires spending time as an unpaid student teacher. At minimum, teachers have to complete four years of postsecondary education; in many areas, a master's degree is either an official or informal requirement.

Most teachers are looking at five or six years of preparation for their profession, in an era when the cost of college is rising faster than wages. Tuition and fees for full-time students at four-year schools averaged $14,300 in 2013-14, according to the National Center for Education Statistics – a 45 percent increase from 2000-1. Unsurprisingly, student loan debt has also increased, with 49 percent of first-time, full-time students receiving loans for 2012-3. The average amount of loans also increased for first-time, full-time students, by 39 percent, from $5,100 in 2001 to $7,000 in 2012.

That's a lot of money to potentially owe, if you're going to going to graduate with a master's degree that prepares you for a job that pays so little. Compare that with other jobs that pay more with a master's degree, like a database administrator (median salary for all education levels: $69,626) or a software engineer (median salary for all education levels: $77,982).

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Programs to partially fund or repay loans for teachers' educations can help reduce the debt load, but most have caps, such as the Stafford Loan Forgiveness Program for Teachers, which forgives $17,500 in principal and interest; or the Teach for America program, which offers a chance to win an award worth $11,375; or the TEACH Grant Program, which offers $4,000 a year for eligible teachers who promise to teach high-need subjects in low-income schools. Funding sources like these, while helpful, won't do much to offset the cost of a degree that costs tens of thousands a year.

Women's Work Is Underpaid

Another PayScale report, Women at Work, found that the gender wage gap is largely due to women opting into lower paying professions that give back to the world. The question, of course, is whether those occupations are lower paid because society places less value on jobs that are more focused on bettering society than generating a profit for a company, or because those jobs have historically been held by women, who were less likely to be seen as primary breadwinners and have been less likely to negotiate.

The teaching profession is heavily female dominated, especially for younger students. Ninety-seven percent of kindergarten and 85 percent of elementary school teachers are women; gender parity in teaching staff doesn't occur until high school, when 50 percent of teachers are male. Surgeons, on the other hand, to use our example from earlier, are 76 percent male, and can make nearly 10 times what some teachers earn.

To a certain extent, looking at occupations in this way is always comparing apples to oranges – someone who wants to become a teacher isn't going to be a surgeon, and vice versa. But it's worth asking if high-value, low-paid professions like teaching are caught in a loop: women are taught to value giving back to the world, instead of to their own bottom line, and choose their career accordingly, which results in a female-dominated occupation that continues to pay relatively low wages.

Location Matters

As with all occupations, where you live makes a difference when it comes to pay. The National Education Association lists starting salaries for teachers in each state, and there's a wide variation in pay. For example, for the 2012-13 school year, teachers in Montana averaged $27,274 for their first year; teachers in the District of Columbia earned $51,539 in 2011-2.

Of course, cost of living also counts for something. According to PayScale's Cost of Living Calculator, the cost of living in Washington, D.C. is 38 percent higher than it is in Bozeman, Montana. However, that doesn't completely offset the salary difference.

Cost of Living in Washington, District of Columbia by Expense Category

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Perhaps more importantly, quality of life as a teacher can be very different, depending on location. A recent Career News blog post on WalletHub's worst states for teachers brought former teachers out in droves to weigh in on which states seemed more teacher-friendly than others.

SW in NC writes:

As an educator in NC I've seen many a great teacher rushing out the door to head to second and sometimes third jobs just to provide a reasonable salary to support their families. ...Teachers don't get in this business to get rich, they get in it to make a difference in lives of students. Take money off the table as a hurdle and teachers will pour themselves into their passions to teach. Right now- if you can retire you do so. There is no incentive to get into teaching even with the funding shift to the least experienced teachers that was sold as a raise - which it was not. There are good young teachers but no replacement for experience and having mentor master teachers. Education is the basis of any economy. I wish that was valued as well as teachers!

Why Teachers Leave

No matter what state a teacher works in, the demands and low pay of the teaching profession can make it hard to stay – even for teachers who are dedicated to the profession.

"I loved teaching," says educational content writer and consultant Gina Belli, who taught for over a decade. "I feel more present, more 'myself' when I'm teaching than when I'm doing anything else."

Belli notes the opportunity teaching provides to continue learning, to become invested in the community of the school, and speaks of her students and their parents as feeling like family. When she first began her career, she didn't even enjoy her summers, because she couldn't wait to get back to the classroom.

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"But, eventually, it all started to take a huge toll," she says. "While I wasn't struggling to survive, my salary didn't exactly afford me any luxuries."

In the end, she said, a middle-class lifestyle felt "permanently out of my reach." That, combined with increasing responsibilities outside the classroom, made her decide to "leave the party while I was still having fun."

"I don't regret leaving teaching," Belli says. "I only regret that even though it was so hard to leave, the profession, the culture, made it feel like it would've been even harder to stay."


Are teachers valued in society? ›

Why Teachers Are Important in Society- Why Teachers Matter. Teachers are arguably the most important members of our society. They give children purpose, set them up for success as citizens of our world, and inspire in them a drive to do well and succeed in life.

Why are teachers so underpaid? ›

Teachers get paid so little because education is underfunded in the United States. This equation has other factors, but this is the prime reason. The professional group of teachers has not experienced a salary increase in quite a long time.

Why won t they pay teachers more? ›

A number of factors contribute to how far a teacher's salary goes—family structure, caregiving responsibilities, health issues, and student loans among them. While many teachers in the U.S. must work second jobs to live comfortably, plenty do not. Some of them live in states that pay better than others.

Is being a teacher one of the lowest paying jobs? ›

Of jobs that typically require a four-year college degree, people who educate or work in social services are the lowest-paid; the list includes ministers, journalists, paramedics, and teachers. College education and a professional position do not guarantee financial freedom.

Do teachers deserve more money? ›

Higher Pay for Teachers Means Students Do Better

Students do better when teachers are compensated more. According to one study, a 10% increase in teacher salary would result in a 5–10% improvement in student performance. Students also gain long-term advantages from teacher compensation.

What is society's view teachers? ›

Teaching is viewed by society as a profession reserved for second-rate people, who lack imagination, creativity, independence and social courage, but who have a passion for working with children.

What state has the most underpaid teachers? ›

The state with the lowest average teacher salary in the US is Mississippi, at around $48,000 a year.

What is the average teacher salary? ›

Find out what the average Teacher salary is

The average teacher salary in Ireland is € 37 538 per year or € 19.25 per hour. Entry-level positions start at € 30 000 per year, while most experienced workers make up to € 48 812 per year.

Which state pays teachers the most? ›

Highest-Paid Teachers By State
RankStateAverage Teacher Salary
3New York$57,919
46 more rows
Dec 4, 2022

Are teachers underpaid in the US? ›

Teachers earn 23.5% less than comparable college graduates Public school teacher weekly wage penalty (or premium) for all teachers and by gender, 1979–2021.

Are teachers overworked and underpaid? ›

Four-in-five teachers think burnout is a problem. The same percentage say being overworked spurs unhappiness, and nearly as many say being underpaid is cause for considering early retirement, which 55% say they're doing. There are also fewer teachers going into the profession at large.

What jobs pay more than teaching? ›

Careers are listed based on their average salary, according to current Payscale data.
  • Administration – Principal, Vice-Principal, Superintendent. ...
  • Standardized Test Developer. ...
  • Educational Consultant. ...
  • Homeschool Consultant. ...
  • After School Program Director. ...
  • Curriculum Design. ...
  • Instructional Designer. ...
  • School/Child Psychologist.

What teacher position makes the most money? ›


When you are looking for the best-paid teaching jobs for your area of interest or specialized skill, then you may consider working as a professor in a college or university. A college professor prepares course material, teaches students in a classroom environment, and grades student work.

Who are the lowest paid workers in the world? ›

Countries with the lowest minimum wages below $500 USD per month:
  • Serbia. ...
  • South Africa. ...
  • Tanzania. ...
  • The Central African Republic. ...
  • Turkey. ...
  • Ukraine. ...
  • Uzbekistan. ...
  • Venezuela. Venezuela's national minimum wage is $0.0005 (130.00 Venezuelan Bolivar) per month.
Dec 9, 2022

Are most teachers millionaires? ›

Data from US Census says, there are 7.2 million teachers and 8.6 million people are millionaires. That means P (M | T) is 16.8%, or one in six teacher is a millionaire. That does correct the stereotype I had about teachers.

How much is a good teacher worth? ›

In a recent study, he tried to put a monetary value on good teaching. Hanushek says a good teacher's contribution to the economy could be as much as a half a million dollars per year.

What percentage of teachers are happy with their job? ›

About 60% of teachers are happy with their careers.

With only 28% saying they rated their pay at either four or five out of five stars. The average U.S. public school teacher's salary is $65,090, while the average salary across all occupations for people with a bachelor's degree is $67,860.

How is a teacher accountable to society? ›

It is a measure of the teacher's dedication to his/her job. The expected teacher's behavior in the form of accountability is as follows: A professionally accountable teacher must be excellent not only in the subject to be taught, but also understand the learning requirements of the students.

How does society affect teaching? ›

Lastly, society also influences education by dictating what knowledge is important. The school curriculum is often determined by what will be most beneficial for students in their future careers. However, this means that other areas of knowledge, such as the arts or history, are not paid attention to.

What state treats their teachers the best? ›

Best states for teachers:
  • New York. Score: 59.33. Read more: 5 ways leaders can support Hispanic talent in the workplace.
  • Utah. Score: 57.38.
  • Virginia. Score: 56.13.
  • Florida. Score: 55.92.
  • Washington. Score: 55.71.
  • New Jersey. Score: 54.07.
  • Pennsylvania. Score: 53.80.
  • Massachusetts. Score: 53.21.
Oct 3, 2022

What states lose teachers? ›

Top 10 States with the Worst Teacher Shortages
  • 1. California. Even before the pandemic, the state of California began experiencing mass teacher shortages. ...
  • Nevada. ...
  • Washington. ...
  • Arizona. ...
  • Hawaii. ...
  • Indiana. ...
  • District of Columbia (Washington D.C.) ...
  • Virginia.
Feb 10, 2023

Do teachers make a good living? ›

Yes, educators absolutely do and can live well on a teacher's salary. It's all about what you value. If after reading this post you feel that teaching is not the best career choice for you, that's fine. It's good to know what you want vs.

Is a teacher salary good in USA? ›

How Much Does a High School Teacher Make? High School Teachers made a median salary of $61,820 in 2021. The best-paid 25% made $78,780 that year, while the lowest-paid 25% made $48,830.

How much do teachers get paid in Dubai? ›

The average salary for Teacher is AED 10,000 per month in the Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The average additional cash compensation for a Teacher in the Dubai, United Arab Emirates is AED 5,000, with a range from AED 640 - AED 76,320.

What state has the highest teacher shortage? ›

For the 2022-2023 school year, Michigan had the most teacher shortages in math, science, world languages, health and physical fitness, art and music, language arts, English as a second language, special education, social studies and career and technical education, according to U.S. Department of Education data.

What state has the best education? ›

Public School Ranking by State
Overall RankStateTotal Score
3New Jersey64.05
47 more rows
Jul 25, 2022

Who are the highest paid teachers in the world? ›

Teachers in Luxembourg earn 30% more than any other teacher in the world, with a starting salary that exceeds nearly every other nation's maximum teacher salary.

Are American teachers quitting? ›

After two years of weathering pandemic disruptions, safety concerns and tense public scrutiny, burned-out teachers have quit the profession in droves.

Are teachers valued in the US? ›

Even though U.S. teachers report being largely satisfied with their jobs and career, only 34% believe that teaching is valued by U.S. society. The perceived value of the teaching profession by society is important in attracting, recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers.

Are teachers undervalued? ›

The challenges

Teaching is historically undervalued, according to Livers. She said, “Teachers are underpaid, benefits are always unstable and the workload keeps increasing.”

What is the easiest job with high pay? ›

21 Easy Jobs That Pay Well
  • Personal shopper. Average Annual Salary: $49,000. ...
  • Insurance specialist. Average Annual Salary: $33,000. ...
  • Personal trainer. Average Annual Salary: $38,000. ...
  • Massage therapist. Average Annual Salary: $38,000. ...
  • Graphic designer. ...
  • Flight attendant. ...
  • Electrician. ...
  • Freelance photographer.
Jan 23, 2023

Is $30 000 a year a good salary? ›

Yes, $30,000 is a good salary for recent graduates in most professional industries. However, this can differ depending on the graduate's field. For example, an entry-level journalist can expect to make $35,000 per year on average.

What jobs are teachers leaving for? ›

31 Jobs for Teachers Who Want To Leave the Classroom but Not Education
  • Educational Policy Expert. ...
  • Curriculum Writer/Creator. ...
  • Coach/Mentor. ...
  • Educational Technology Consultant. ...
  • Online Educator. ...
  • Community Director. ...
  • School Counselor. ...
  • Corporate Trainer.
Dec 6, 2022

How to make 6 figures as a teacher? ›

How to make more money as a teacher
  1. Find opportunities to earn supplemental money at your school. ...
  2. Do research on your location's pay rates. ...
  3. Earn an advanced degree. ...
  4. Take advantage of professional development opportunities. ...
  5. Transition to an administrative career. ...
  6. Offer tutoring options.
Mar 8, 2021

Are teachers happy with their salary? ›

Overall, 45 percent of teachers agreed that they were satisfied with their salary, and 55 percent disagreed (FIGURE 1). In both traditional public and charter schools, 45 percent of teachers agreed they were satisfied with their salary.

What type of teacher is most in demand? ›

Which teaching subject is most in demand? While specific needs vary by institution, science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are subjects that are always in high demand.

What is the hardest job of a teacher? ›

Teachers work long hours for low pay, grading papers at night and planning lessons on weekends. They're faced with instructing large classrooms of kids who can smell fear, and the arguably more daunting task of dealing with their parents if things go wrong.

What is the highest paying position in a school? ›

1. Chief Academic Officers. If you become a chief academic officer, you can expect to earn an average salary of $117,541 a year. Chief academic officers are also known as directors of education.

What degrees pay over 100k? ›

30 Highest-Paying Bachelor's Degrees Table of Contents
  • Petroleum Engineering.
  • Operations Research.
  • Marine Engineering.
  • Computer Engineering.
  • Systems Engineering.
  • Chemical Engineering.
  • Electrical Engineering.
  • Computer Science.
Mar 2, 2023

What is the highest paying job in the world? ›

1. Chief Executive Officer (CEO) This post comes with a lucrative salary and high authority, with an overall employment rate supposed to show an average rise of 8% between 2020 and 2030.

What is highest paying job in USA? ›

Here are the highest paying jobs of 2023:
  • Anesthesiologist: $208,000.
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon: $208,000.
  • Obstetrician and Gynecologist: $208,000.
  • Surgeon: $208,000.
  • Orthodontist: $208,000.
  • Physician: $208,000.
  • Psychiatrist: $208,000.

What country has the worst pay? ›

These are the worst countries in the world to live for minimum wage earners, 2020
RankCountryGross Minimum Monthly Wage (USD)
50 more rows
Jan 14, 2020

What is the least popular job in the world? ›

The 30 Least Desirable Jobs in the World
  • Cleaner. ...
  • Telemarketer. ...
  • Soldier. ...
  • Trucker. ...
  • Customer Service Representative. ...
  • Social Service Worker. ...
  • Slaughterhouse Worker. ...
  • Miner.
Sep 14, 2022

What is the best minimum wage in the world? ›

Australia has the highest minimum wage per month in the world. The monthly minimum wage rate in Australia is set at USD 14.54. This is according to a report by World Population Review. It is followed by Luxembourg with a USD 13.67 monthly minimum wage.

Why are teachers very important in every society? ›

They provide education and impart knowledge

Your key to success and prosperity is education. In both our personal life and future careers, education is crucial. Without dedicated teachers, prosperity and success might only be aspirational ideals. Teachers have a significant impact on the achievement of many people.

What is the value of teachers? ›

A teacher can be a best friend, a third parent, an inspiration, a role model, a well-wisher, etc., for the students and guide them on the right path to succeed in life. A teacher not only makes every student knowledgeable but a better human being with all the moral values.

Do we value education as a society? ›

The value of education in society has become so high that most young people go on to higher education by default, and are willing or compelled to face considerable financial burdens for the privilege. Fig. 1 - Education is an incredibly valuable asset for people.

Why teachers are leaving the profession? ›

Many of the predominant challenges teachers face, including safety concerns, low salaries, funding deficits and declining mental health, are not new issues — but the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has intensified existing problems within the profession.

Why does everyone become a teacher? ›

If you ask prospective teachers “why do you want to become a teacher”, the majority of them will likely mention the ability to make a real difference in the lives of the children they will one day teach. Each day that you work with students, you have the potential to make a lasting impression.

How underpaid are teachers in the US? ›

Teachers earn 23.5% less than comparable college graduates Public school teacher weekly wage penalty (or premium) for all teachers and by gender, 1979–2021.

Which country respects teachers the most? ›

In countries like China and Ghana, society sees teachers as highly competent and, at the same time, they are viewed with great respect. The opposite is true in countries like Peru, Greece, and Israel.

Which US state has the best teachers? ›

New York

Are teachers really important? ›

Teachers are important because they change lives, inspire dreams, and push the limits of human potential. A teacher's job is to nurture, teach, and raise children to become useful to society. Teachers' role in the classroom, society, and the world at large has taken a different turn from what it was back in the day.

What is the main purpose of a teacher? ›

The primary role of a teacher is to deliver classroom instruction that helps students learn. To accomplish this, teachers must prepare effective lessons, grade student work and offer feedback, manage classroom materials, productively navigate the curriculum, and collaborate with other staff.

How important is a teacher in our life? ›

Teachers play a very important role in shaping the future of their students. Right from kindergarten to university, they are the ones who impart knowledge and teach us about everything important. Moreover, they also teach us about ethical values and imbibe in our moral values.

Why education is better than money? ›

Money may allow us to have more control over our lives, but it is education that allows us to contribute to society. Although money is useful, an educated individual understands how to make money in the first place. Education has the potential to open up job opportunities.

What is the true value of education? ›

The true value of education lies in the way it enriches the mind, by providing knowledge that enables the individual to make proper choices. He or she does this with full knowledge of the consequences.


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