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Teaching myths

Myth #1: Teaching pays a lot less than other jobs you can get with the same degree.

Many people do not consider a career in teaching because they believe their earning potential is higher in other careers. They believe that starting salaries are low and that a degree in math or science education is not worth the investment.

To investigate this myth, let’s take a look at four profiles of actual secondary math and science teachers.

Comparison with other professionals who have similar types of education

Note: High School Teachers are the only category shown that represent a 9 month commitment. Others are 12 month.

Dotted bar indicates teacher salaries once $6 - $8 K is added for extra-curriculars, which is a typical addition to teachers’ salaries.

* American Institute of Physics Statistical Research Center, 2011 & 2012.

A study that considered graduates with a bachelor’s degree in math, chemistry, and physics found that the highest earners are those with a physics degree. In contrast, high school teachers within any given public school typically earn the same salary, regardless of their discipline specification.

Comparing earners of a bachelor’s degree in physics across all sectors, high school science teaching is placed near the middle of the pack for starting salaries. Considering teachers are typically on a 9-month salary, a fairer comparison, which considers the amount of money a teacher could earn during the summer months or for other activities/employment, significantly increases the potential for earned income.

Teacher salaries are highly variable

Broad analyses of average or median teacher salaries can be deceiving, especially in school districts where the majority of teachers are early in their careers. Many factors influence teacher salary, including the following:

  • Cost of living: Teachers in urban and suburban communities are more likely to have a higher base salary as compared to teachers in rural communities.
  • Public/private salary systems: Most public schools have fixed salary scales that increase base pay annually due to inflation, experience, education, and additional job responsibilities. These salary tables are publicly available and typically easy to find online. Some schools, especially private schools and high needs communities, may allow salary negotiation and signing bonuses.
  • Experience: Teachers are typically rewarded for each additional year of experience with a salary increase.
  • Education/certifications: Teachers typically receive salary increases for additional graduate credits related to their teaching assignment, and some schools reward teachers financially for receiving National Board Teacher Certification.
  • Additional job responsibilities: Schools frequently offer additional salary for serving in leadership positions such as department chair/lead, as a mentor to new teachers, and for supporting students through academic and extracurricular coaching. Additional pay amounts are also publically available.
  • Economy: Local, state, and national economies can strongly influence base salary pay.

There are many hidden financial benefits to teaching that go beyond salary

These benefits can include the following:

  • Flexible non-contact time: Most teacher contracts oblige teachers to ~180 days of contact time with students, allowing teachers to use extended school breaks for professional growth and personal time.
  • Family-friendly work hours: Many teachers are able to sync their official work day with their own children’s school hours, and be present with their families during the summer and academic year breaks, saving thousands in childcare costs.
  • Regular and reliable schedule: School schedules are set and published before the school year begins making it possible for teachers to schedule their personal time in advance. It is not uncommon for employees in private industry to learn about travel or other scheduling commitments a few short weeks in advance.
  • Student loan forgiveness: There are Federal Student Loan Forgiveness programs for teachers for Direct Subsidized, Direct Unsubsidized, and Perkins Loans (see current information). Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans allow up to $17,500 for teachers who are a highly qualified math or science teacher in a high needs secondary school after completing 5 consecutive years of teaching. Perkins Loans offer up to 100% cancellation prorated by year: 15% /year years 1 and 2 (includes interest accrued during the year), 20%/year years 3 and 4, and the final 30% after year 5. Deferment for Perkins Loans is available while teaching full time math or science.
  • Tuition reimbursement: Some schools provide reimbursement to teachers who opt to take graduate coursework, allowing them to pursue graduate degrees at little to no cost. In turn, the additional earned credits or degrees can result in an increased salary. Note: There are graduate programs designed for practicing teachers while teaching full time. These programs utilize online coursework and offer some coursework during the summer.
  • Pension and retirement: Most public schools offer pension or retirement packages that allow teachers to retire early (before age 65) and to maintain a significant amount of their income even after they stop teaching.