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Money Talks

Kristen Loschert

Understanding salaries can make the difference between a good job offer and a great one.

Congratulations! You completed your coursework, presented your portfolio, sailed through your interview, and received your first job offer! Now you can call yourself a real teacher, and you’re already looking forward to setting up your classroom. 

Before you accept that new job, have you considered what you are getting? Sure, money wasn’t the reason you became a teacher. But once you graduate and enter the “real world,” it will make a difference.

So, how can you tell whether that shiny new job offer really passes muster?  Look at the bottom line—how much will you get paid?

A high starting salary should be a new teacher’s number one consideration, says Bob Willoughby, associate director of research for the New Jersey Education Association. 

Whether a teacher stays in a district for one year or 10, that initial paycheck will impact his or her cumulative career earnings, he says, so beginning educators should seek out districts with the strongest compensation packages.

New teachers also need to monitor their overall workload and find a salary that compensates them accordingly, says Bill Raabe, director of NEA’s collective bargaining and member advocacy department.

Although districts should pay teachers for assuming new responsibilities, like coaching a sports team or supervising a club, realistically new teachers won’t be able to access such perks—at least not at first, he says. 

“The reason the basic salary is so important is you don’t have as much time to do extra duties because you are spending so much time preparing to be in the classroom,” says Raabe. “If there are too many ways to earn extra money, then your basic salary may not be that great.”

Once you know what a district pays during your first year, look at the salary schedule, which outlines how much you will earn for future years of service. Ideally, teachers should advance one “step” on the schedule for each year of teaching experience they accrue until they reach the district’s maximum salary, which they should achieve in the fewest years possible, says Willoughby. 

In other words, the best salary schedules have the fewest steps because they allow teachers to earn higher salaries sooner.

At the same time, the salary schedule should compensate teachers for professional development and the advanced degrees they earn during their careers, Willoughby  adds. Likewise, nontraditional students should explore whether a district credits their nonteaching work experience toward their total years of service.      

In addition to analyzing their total salary, new teachers need to look at their take-home pay, says Raabe.  Once you subtract taxes and other deductions, how much money will you receive each week? That figure may decrease if the school district also deducts health and other insurance premiums or pension contributions, Raabe says, which ultimately cut into the amount left for your living expenses. 

Prospective teachers also can compare salaries between school districts by contacting their state affiliates for salary information or by reviewing school district Web sites, Raabe adds. For salary comparisons by state, check out the State Stats.

Ultimately, you simply should get paid what you are worth.

“You have to believe you deserve it. That’s one of the things I have found with

our new teachers, their expectations are not where they should be,” says Willoughby. “They deserve a good quality salary and they shouldn’t be shy about it. … You do good work for good people, and you ought to be paid a professional salary for it.”

Here's more information on teacher salaries.

Want to join the fight for professional pay for America ’s educators? You can join NEA’s efforts to ensure a minimum $40,000 salary for all teachers and a living wage for education support professionals. Learn more.

Because We’re Worth It

Just as one about to be married does not want to ponder the shocking statistic that nearly half of all U.S. marriages end in divorce, a soon-to-be teacher does not relish hearing that nearly half of all new teachers leave the profession within five years (in fact, some 20 percent leave after just one year). But ignoring these statistics won’t get us any closer to changing them.

Truth is, a big part of the turnover problem is salary-related. Teachers are paid less than those who work in other professions requiring similar education and responsibilities.

Teacher salaries have risen a scant 0.8 percent since 1996, says the Economic Policy Institute. That’s a whole lot less than the 12 percent increase other college-educated workers have enjoyed over the same period.

NEA Today profiled six teachers and education support professionals in the November 2006 issue and found that those numbers mean uncertain futures and second jobs for people like second-year teacher Allison Wegg:

An empty cupboard, A full slate of bills.

If Allison Wegg had more money, she wouldn’t eat quesadillas every night. “I’d probably buy better groceries,” she says—like strawberries. Oh, the life of a new teacher, earning $30,000 and living in one of the nation’s most expensive cities. She lives in a $500-a-month, one-room apartment in the center of Seattle. To make space for her couch, her bed sits on a loft. “I don’t think I’ll ever have a house in Seattle, unless I marry a millionaire,” she says.

For now, Wegg relies on the generosity of her parents. Her mother, who is a bookkeeper, has tallied the cost of their loans at more than $10,000. “I want to show them that I can make it,” Wegg says. “But every month, I end up overdrawing my checking account or taking a cash advance on my credit card.”

This will be Wegg’s second year as a full-time special education teacher in Kent, Washington. And, even though her job means she drives an unreliable car, can’t afford graduate school, and eats too many nachos, she loves it.“I see myself teaching forever,” she says.

—From “Why Money Matters” by Mary Ellen Flannery. NEA Today, Nov. 2006.

Here Comes the Neighborhood!

In an effort to jumpstart revitalization areas, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) launched a program that offers HUD-owned single family homes at a 50-percent discount to eligible teachers, law enforcement officers, and firefighters/EMTs.

 The Good Neighbor Next Door Program is open to teachers employed full-time by a state-accredited school that provides direct services to students in the area where the home you are purchasing is located. 

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