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Teacher Compensation: Fact vs. Fiction

Tired of hearing the myths used to keep educator salary inadequate? Here are the facts to clear up those misconceptions.
Published: 09/01/2018

According to the Learning Policy Institute (see downloads section for full report), almost 20% of teachers leave the profession because of low pay. Here’s how to counter some of the fallacies about teacher compensation.

Fiction: Teachers earn as much as comparable professionals for the amount of work they do.

Fact: In our 2020 Rankings and Estimates, NEA found that the national average teacher salary is $63,645. However, teachers’ economic position has worsened over time. Inflation has eroded most of teachers’ salary increases: over the past decade, the average classroom teacher salary has increased 14.1%. But, after adjusting for inflation, the average salary has actually decreased by $1,122, or 1.7%.

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) notes that comparable professionals with similar education earn higher salaries. Nationally, teachers earn 19% less than similarly skilled and educated professionals. This "teaching penalty" has increased significantly over the 20 plus years, from 6% in 1996 to 19% in 2019.

Fiction: Teachers are well paid because they have summers off.

Fact: Students have summers off. Teachers spend summers working second jobs, teaching summer school and taking classes for certification renewal or to advance their careers. Teachers are only paid for the days they are contracted to work.

Most full-time employees in the private sector receive training on company time at company expense. Teachers seeking to advance must earn higher degrees or certifications on their own time.

In addition, the previously cited EPI data compares salaries on a weekly basis, so the false argument about summers off does not change the fact that teachers are underpaid in comparison to other professionals.

Fiction: Teachers only work 6-7 hours per day.

Fact: Teachers work longer than the contracted workday

While seven hours is the contracted workday, teachers must do significant amounts of work such as grading papers and revising lesson plans on their own time, after school, and on weekends. As classes become larger and school districts change curriculums, this becomes more arduous. Teachers are often not compensated for before or after school bus duty and other similar responsibilities. Stipends for coaching or advising clubs are modest at best.

Fiction: Teaching is easy so anyone can do it.

Fact: Teachers, like many professionals including accountants and engineers, are trained, certified professionals. They have college degrees plus teaching credentials. Many have advanced degrees and have completed extensive coursework in learning theory and educational practice. For most, teaching is a calling. However, the intrinsic rewards of an educational career should not be used as a rationale for low salaries.

Because of low pay, new teachers often cannot pay off their student loans or buy homes in the communities where they teach. Teachers and other certified educators often work two or three jobs to make ends meet. The stress and exhaustion can become unbearable – forcing people out of their vocation. In addition, harsh evaluation policies, worsening working conditions, and lack of professional support are pushing more teachers out of the profession.

If school districts want their students to have the most professional teachers, they must pay a professional salary.


Teachers are well paid because they have summers off.


Teachers spend summers working second jobs, teaching summer school, or taking classes (that they pay for) to advance their careers.

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