Early Childhood Education

How Much Can Kindergarten Teachers Earn in 2023?

How Much Can Kindergarten Teachers Earn in 2023?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, kindergarten teachers earned a median annual income of 60,900 in 2021. Public schools pay on average about 33 percent more than private schools. Image from Unsplash
Tom Meltzer profile
Tom Meltzer March 8, 2023

Some kindergarten teachers earn $98,000 a year. That likely won't be you, but you can still make a respectable living teaching five- and six-year-olds to read, add, subtract, and get along.

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Kindergarten teaching—how hard could that be? It’s just a bunch of adorable little tykes playing all day long, right?

That’s the common misconception about kindergarten, and, according to a teacher-blogger at The Kindergarten Connection, it couldn’t be further from the truth. If you’re interested in teaching kindergarten because you’re hoping to cash an easy paycheck, think again.

Kindergarten is when kids first need to get serious about learning. Yes, some of them have previously attended preschool, and some might even know how to read, add, and subtract. But kindergarten is the first time they’ll be expected to learn something, and for many, it will be their first experience with letters, numbers, and glue sticks. It’s also where students learn to interact with one another and how to behave in a group. These are huge learning objectives, and they do not come naturally. This isn’t leading-baby-turtles-to-water teaching. This is trying-to-get-baby-turtles-in-a-single-file-line-to-go-to-lunch teaching.

Early childhood learning lays a crucial foundation for lifetime learning. As a kindergarten teacher, you will be a steward of a critical phase in each of your students’ lives.

Well then, a job like that ought to pay a bundle, right? Sadly, no. But teacher pay isn’t quite as bad as you’ve perhaps been led to believe. To get a better sense of how much kindergarten teachers earn, read on. In this article, we’ll cover:

  • What is a kindergarten teacher?
  • How much do kindergarten teachers earn?
  • What impacts a kindergarten teacher’s salary?
  • What degrees do you need to become a kindergarten teacher?
  • What is the typical career path for a kindergarten teacher?
  • Should you become a kindergarten teacher?

What is a kindergarten teacher?

Kindergarten is a pre-number-grade school level for children ages five (and sometimes six) years old. Some, but not all, students in a kindergarten class will have attended some form of preschool before entering kindergarten. This means that some students enter kindergarten with classroom experience, and others do not.

According to Scholastic magazine, the purpose of kindergarten is to:

  • Introduce students to the experience of attending school
  • Introduce students to reading, writing, mathematics, science, and social studies
  • Help students develop social skills (e.g., cooperation, communication)
  • Promote students’ self-esteem
  • Develop students’ motor skills (e.g., game-playing, creating art)

Kindergarten teachers lead kindergarten classes, which typically have 15 to 20 students in them (some states limit class size by law, others do not). Some kindergarten teachers—particularly those with larger classes—are assigned a teaching assistant to help them manage the class and handle the workload. During a typical day, a kindergarten teacher:

  • Reviews and corrects students’ work
  • Leads instruction in academic subjects
  • Monitors students’ small-group activities
  • Organizes and supervises student presentation sessions
  • Reads to students
  • Supervises play
  • Works one-on-one with students
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How much do kindergarten teachers earn?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, kindergarten teachers earned a median annual income of $62,690 in 2023. The job website Salary.com reports a median income of just over $60,000 for kindergarten teachers, with salaries ranging from below $41,000 to above $83,000. Glassdoor’s data places average salaries for kindergarten teachers at around $62,000. Public schools traditionally pay better than private schools or child day care centers. There were approximately 125,000 kindergarten teachers in the United States in 2023, a number projected to remain the same throughout the next decade.

Kindergarten teachers don’t have tons of homework to grade, but that does not mean their job starts with the first bell and ends with the final bell. Like other teachers, kindergarten teachers must prepare lessons, maintain paperwork, communicate with parents, and fulfill numerous other obligations that can keep them busy long after the last child has gone home. Most kindergarten teachers work a ten-month school year with two months off in the summer, allowing them to earn additional income through summertime jobs. Those who work in year-round schools (typically nine to ten weeks of schooling followed by a three-week break) may find it harder to supplement their income with second jobs.

What impacts a kindergarten teacher’s salary?

Several factors can impact a kindergarten teacher’s salary. They include:

  • Employer
  • Experience level
  • Academic credentials
  • Specialization
  • Location

Employer

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, approximately 89 percent of all full-time teachers teach in public schools; the remaining 11 percent teach in private schools. The difference in income between public and private school compensation is significant. On average, private school salaries are only 75 percent of public school salaries. A teacher’s experience level impacts that number; for teachers with two to four years of professional experience, private schools pay 83 percent of what public schools pay. The pay difference increases with accrued experience, as public schools typically offer more generous raises than do public schools.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a small number of kindergarten teachers work in places other elementary schools. Of the nation’s ~119,000 kindergarten teachers:

  • About 1,190 work in child daycare centers (average wage: $39,470)
  • About 320 work for religious organizations (average wage: 43,120)
  • 130 work for civic and social organizations (average wage: $38,860)

Experience level

The National Center for Educational Statistics provides the most robust data set on teacher salaries. It does not disaggregate salary data by grade level, but it does report salaries by years of experience. It shows, unsurprisingly, that salaries increase as teachers accrue classroom time. According to this data set, the average annual income for public-school teachers in 2021 (the last year for which data is available), by experience, was:

  • One year or less: $50,140
  • Two to four years: $52,750
  • Five to nine years: $57,420
  • 10 to 14 years: $63,350
  • 15 to 19 years: $70,020
  • 20 to 24 years: $75,350
  • 25 to 29 years: $77,300
  • 30 or more years: $77,750

Academic credentials

As a general rule, teachers with graduate degrees earn more than teachers whose terminal degree is a bachelor’s. At all grade levels, teachers with a master’s degree earn 26 percent more than their peers who hold only a bachelor’s.

Job-posting website Salary.com reports kindergarten teacher salaries by highest academic degree. It indicates a lower premium for earning a master’s degree. According to Salary.com data, kindergarten teachers with a bachelor’s earn between $58,236 and $64,439 per year; those with a master’s earn between $59,035 and $65,382 per year. That’s about a one percent increase in income for the graduate degree.

School districts tend to be transparent about their compensation systems (by necessity, since they are publicly funded), so you can quickly determine whether a state or school district offers additional pay to teachers who hold graduate degrees. Just visit the state board of education’s—or the local school district’s—website to learn whether they reward advanced degrees.

Specialization

Most school systems are willing to pay more for teachers who have developed specializations. Consider becoming a literacy coach or a special education teacher. Note, however, that most specialists work across classrooms and grades; they are not tied to a single group of students or a grade level. If your ambition is to teach kindergarten, specializing may prevent you from working with this age group full-time.

Location

Teacher pay is set by the states, with local governments sometimes making adjustments (so that teachers in one county may earn slightly more or less than teachers in neighboring counties). The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the states paying the highest wages to kindergarten teachers are:

  • California ($85,760)
  • Massachusetts ($85,470)
  • New York ($84,530)
  • Connecticut ($80,410)
  • Oregon ($77,920)

States hiring the greatest number of kindergarten teachers are:

  • Texas ($59,270)
  • California ($85,760)
  • Florida ($59,040)
  • New York ($84,530)
  • New Jersey ($72,170)

If you’re looking to make your fortune as a kindergarten teacher, try finding a job in Los Angeles, CA (average wage: $95,420, Kingston, NY ($92,160), or Salinas, CA ($90,490). Most of these municipalities, alas, hire relatively few kindergarten teachers, and—at these wages—presumably, all the jobs are filled. Note also that high salaries almost always correlate with a high cost of living locally.

What degrees do you need to become a kindergarten teacher?

To teach kindergarten in a public school, you will need to earn a bachelor’s degree. Most kindergarten teachers complete a bachelor’s in education with a focus on early childhood education or child development.

That said, your bachelor’s degree need not be in education. Earning a bachelor’s in education has two primary benefits:

  • Your undergraduate curriculum will focus on the skills and knowledge you need to be an effective teacher
  • Your undergraduate curriculum will include mandatory teacher-preparation coursework that those who do not major in education will not have

So, if you get your bachelor’s in, say, history or biology, and then you decide you want to teach kindergarten, you will then have to complete a teacher preparation program before you can apply for your initial teaching license. A teacher preparation program can take between a few months and two years to complete, depending on what courses you completed in attaining your bachelor’s degree.

You do not need a master’s degree in teaching nor a master’s in education to teach kindergarten, but as discussed above, earning a master’s may trigger a pay raise. A Master of Education degree also prepares you to transition from the classroom to administrative roles (e.g., school principal, curriculum specialist) should you wish to later in your career.

What is the typical career path for a kindergarten teacher?

Typically, kindergarten teachers earn a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education or child development, then find a job leading a kindergarten classroom. From there, many remain kindergarten teachers throughout their careers. It is their dream job, so where is there to move on to?

Others may eventually earn a master’s degree to seek opportunities at libraries, education publishers, school front offices, school boards, and local, state, and national governments. Do you dream of writing children’s books? There could hardly be a better training ground than a place where you read to and are surrounded by children all day long. You couldn’t ask for a better focus group. Your options for a new career, should you want one, will be limited only by your imagination, your skills, and your training.

Should you become a kindergarten teacher?

On the “how much do you love children” continuum, are you more Mr. Rogers or WC Fields? As a kindergarten teacher, you will constantly be surrounded by children—often behaving badly and expectorating freely. If you don’t love them, you’re in the wrong business.

You also need to be satisfied with a less-than-extravagant income. You won’t starve as a kindergarten teacher, but you’ll need to keep a tight budget, particularly if you have student debts, car loans, and other obligations to meet. It can be done, but it might mean extending that ramen-based college diet for a few more years.

If none of that puts you off and you’re committed to the task of shaping tomorrow’s citizens, you will likely love this job. It’s not as easy as some people think. However, in the end, you’re still be working with (mostly) adorable kids at a fascinating juncture in their lives, when everything is interesting and scary and potentially a lot of fun. You’ll catch some of that if you’re at all cut out for this job, and that will help make the ramen go down a little easier.

(Last updated on May 28, 2024)

Questions or feedback? Email editor@noodle.com

About the Author

Tom Meltzer began his career in education publishing at The Princeton Review, where he authored more than a dozen titles (including the company's annual best colleges guide and two AP test prep manuals) and produced the musical podcast The Princeton Review Vocab Minute. A graduate of Columbia University (English major), Tom lives in Chapel Hill, NC.

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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