Compared with some other fields, teaching tends to offer more personal rewards than financial ones. But that doesn’t mean that teachers can’t earn more, move up the career ladder and get more exciting job responsibilities if they build up both their experience and educational credentials.
In this line of work more than almost any other, your earnings and advancement opportunities are directly tied to the degree you have. In public school systems – where most graduates with teaching degrees want to work because of good benefits packages – earning more and gaining more control over your professional life will often depend on where you stand in terms of having a bachelor’s, master’s or doctorate degree.
Why and How More Learning Pays Off
While pay and promotions are unpredictable in private schools (as well as colleges and universities) K-12 public school teachers generally receive straightforward pay scales based on degrees earned and years of experience. The current national average for these teachers’ salaries is about $54,500 a year (according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics), but your time on the job and degree will tend to dictate exactly your true salary will fall. Your earnings will also be influenced by the state and district you teach in, as educational standards vary from state to state, and salaries can vary from one town’s school district to another.
You’ll generally see your salary go up over time as a teacher even if you don’t go back to school for a higher degree or get a promotion. That’ because the contracts that teachers’ unions negotiate for their members virtually always include ongoing annual pay raises. And while there’s a good deal of debate going on around the country about rating the performance of teachers, by and large these annual pay raises are still guaranteed regardless of performance in most school districts.
However, you can potentially amplify your earnings a good deal if you add to your educational credentials. That’s true even if you remain in your basic classroom teaching position. On that career path, you might say that an advanced degree offers a measure of “salary insurance,” as you’ll find explained below.
If you have higher ambitions, and hope to be promoted to one of the more senior and higher paying jobs in education, you’re likely to find that you need an advanced degree or degrees to do so. Here’s a general idea of what each type of degree can do for your teaching career.
Earning a bachelor’s degree in teaching is a must for becoming a public school teacher. You must also pass a series of tests from the state in which you want to teach to earn your licensure. It is only with these two credentials that you can apply to become a teacher in the public school system. Once hired, you can expect to earn a pay raise for every year you teach. Annual pay increases of about 2 – 3% per year are fairly standard. But there is little opportunity for advancement for teachers with just a bachelor’s degree. Almost all more specialized teaching jobs require at least a master’s degree to qualify.
Teaching Masters Degree
Master’s degrees for teachers can provide opportunities to specialize, change careers within the educational field, or seek promotion. But you may want to consider one even if you’d like to stay in classroom teaching.
In today’s public teaching system, most teachers eventually earn a master’s degree regardless of their particular career goals. That’s partly because some states now require that after gaining a certain number of years’ experience, every teacher must begin a master’s program to enhance teaching knowledge and stay current in the field of education.
A Higher Salary For What You’re Doing Now
Earning a master’s degree will, in many school districts, automatically get you a pay raise as a classroom teacher of several thousand dollars per year, or 10 to 15% of your current salary. A general masters in education is a popular post grad degree for teachers who want to stick with their current jobs. But if you are interested in a particular specialty, a masters in teaching math, English or some other subject can be beneficial.
If, however, you wish to move out of the classroom to become an administrator, specialist, consultant, or something else in the school system, it’s advisable to choose a more specialized master’s program. Elementary and secondary school administrators earn a median salary of about $90,000. per year in the U.S. according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, while the highest earners in this occupation can make over $120,000. per year.
Online master’s degree are offered by various schools in education administration, teaching leadership and other organizational subjects that can help qualify you for administration.
One caveat: it may not be in your interest to earn a masters degree before you have any real teaching experience. Because any public school you interview with will be required to pay you the higher salary of a master’s degree holder, you may seem like a very expensive hire as a new teacher with an MA or MEd. A safer path might be to earn your teaching bachelor’s degree and licensure, start teaching, and then decide later how what kind of specialized graduate degree program makes sense for you.
Most teachers and specialists never earn a doctoral degree. It requires a big investment of time, money and work to do so, and it’s not a requirement for most jobs within the field of K-12 public education.
But if you have a strong desire to take a specialty you studied at the master’s level and develop it further, a doctorate can pay off, both in terms of a salary and promotion opportunities. Teachers and assistant administrators who want to become a head principal (especially of a secondary school), superintendent or other high-profile administrator will often earn a doctoral degree because it helps distinguish them from other highly qualified candidates.
You might also benefit from a doctoral degree if you wish to train other specialists or teachers in your educational subject area (ES, for example). The Ph.D. degree tends to proclaim you as an expert with a high degree of understanding in the specialty.
Finally, some classroom teachers who genuinely love what they do may earn a doctorate to become a department head or simply gain a higher or more specialized level of knowledge. My own high school English teacher was one such man. He was a Ph.D. and head of the English department, yet he continued to teach English in the classroom right up to retirement. At the end of his career, he was the highest-paid teacher in the district, having earned the highest degree and years of experience per the public teacher’s pay scale.
The choice of a degree is a very personal one that should be well thought-out and researched. If you want to become a public school teacher or you are one already, pursuing higher education can certainly have multiple benefits in terms of your job satisfaction and your earning potential.