Average Teacher Salary by State

How much do educators earn in the US?

Teacher standing in front of a class of students raising hands
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There are more than 3.6 million full-time teachers working in public and private elementary, middle, and high schools throughout the United States. Their goals are the same—instruct students in a variety of subjects and help them apply those concepts—but the average teacher salary varies significantly from state to state.

Teacher Salary Disparity in the U.S.

Those who become teachers do so to share their knowledge with children and ultimately prepare them for careers or college. They don't do it for the money. However, teachers have financial needs like anyone else. And while teachers, in general, make less money than others with the same education (at least a bachelor's degree and usually a master's), those working in some states earn considerably less than those employed in others.

For example, in 2017 in New York, which has the highest average salaries, elementary school teachers' average earnings are $80,540, middle school teachers earn an average salary of $80,940, and high school teachers' average earnings are $83,360. Contrast this with Oklahoma, the state with the lowest average teacher salaries. Elementary school teachers there earn an average salary of $40,530, middle school educators average earnings are $42,040, and those working in secondary schools make $41,880.

The disparity in teacher's salaries has nothing to do with their job duties—teachers working in New York State have the same responsibilities as those educating students in Oklahoma. They have similar schedules as well. Teachers spend about seven hours in the classroom each day from Monday through Friday. They also meet with parents before and after school hours. Teachers spend time outside the classroom, including evenings and weekends, preparing lesson plans and classroom activities. 

Traditionally, in schools that are open 10 months a year, teachers get eight weeks of summer vacation, as well as a couple of weeks off for winter and spring breaks. Those who work in schools that are open year-round usually work for nine weeks at a time with three weeks off between sessions.

Teachers who work in states where salaries are lower have even bigger battles to fight. The per-pupil expenditures are usually insufficient there as well, according to an article in USA Today. Lack of resources in their schools and classrooms make their jobs that much more difficult and is a leading cause of stress among teachers. They face challenges such as larger classes and a lack of up-to-date educational tools such as textbooks and classroom technology. Many teachers who work in schools with limited funding spend a portion of their own salaries to buy classroom supplies.

States With the Highest Average Teacher Salaries

The following states have the highest salaries for primary and secondary education, as of 2017.

Elementary School

  1. New York: $80,540
  2. California: $77,990
  3. Connecticut $77,900
  4. Alaska: $77,030
  5. District of Columbia: $76,950
  6. Massachusetts: $76,590
  7. New Jersey: $69,500
  8. Virginia: $68,460
  9. Rhode Island: $67,990
  10. Maryland: $67,340

Middle School

  1. New York: $80,940
  2. Alaska: $79,430
  3. Connecticut: $78,990
  4. Washington, DC: $74,540
  5. Massachusetts: $74,400
  6. California: $74,190
  7. Oregon: $73,630
  8. New Jersey: $71,450
  9. Virginia: $67,770
  10. Illinois: $66,630

High School

  1. Alaska: $85,420
  2. New York: $83,360
  3. Connecticut: $78,810
  4. California: $77,390
  5. New Jersey: $76,430
  6. Massachusetts: $76,170
  7. Virginia: $69,890
  8. Oregon: $69,660
  9. Maryland: $69,070
  10. Illinois: $68,380

States With the Lowest Average Teacher Salaries

In contrast, these states have the lowest salaries for the same teaching levels, as of 2017.

Elementary School

  1. Oklahoma: $40,530
  2. South Dakota: $41,570
  3. Arizona: $44,220
  4. Mississippi: $44,230
  5. West Virginia: $45,530
  6. North Carolina: $45,690
  7. Idaho: $47,630
  8. Arkansas: $48,110
  9. Louisiana: $48,310
  10. Florida: $48,340

Middle School

  1. Oklahoma: $42,040
  2. South Dakota: $42,520
  3. Arizona: $43,670
  4. West Virginia: $45,000
  5. Mississippi: $45,320
  6. North Carolina: $45,690
  7. Arkansas: $49,130
  8. Louisiana: $49,250
  9. Alabama: $49,630
  10. Florida: $49,780

High School

  1. Oklahoma: $41,880
  2. South Dakota: $41,980
  3. North Carolina: $46,370
  4. Mississippi: $46,370
  5. West Virginia: $46,560
  6. Arizona: $48,050
  7. Idaho: $48,540
  8. Alabama: $49,790
  9. Kansas: $50,470
  10. Louisiana: $50,700

(Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics: National Employment and Wage Estimates, May 2017)

Many Teachers Struggle to Make Ends Meet

There have been several news stories—brought to light during the 2018 teacher protests for better pay and school funding that took place around the country—about teachers having to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. After spending their days in the classroom, many spend their nights working in jobs that don't require their professional expertise. Others leave the profession entirely. Some find other careers that take advantage of their education degrees. Others retrain for unrelated occupations.

There are side hustles teachers can do that take advantage of their training. They include:

  • Working at summer camps
  • Tutoring
  • Selling worksheets, lesson plans, or other materials they developed for their classrooms
  • Creating curriculum for publishers
  • Proctoring exams like the SAT or ACT
  • Teaching adult education classes

Those in districts that offer summer school programs can also earn extra money by signing up to work during that time. The question remains, though, as to whether it's fair to expect teachers to put in this additional work on top of a demanding and important job.