Being an English teacher requires unique talents. Not everyone can get a group to read The Scarlet Letter and perhaps even get a few to enjoy the experience.
But English teachers do so much more than introduce kids to old books with off-putting cover art and intimidatingly long sentences. English teachers help students develop communication skills through written essays and class discussions. Knowing how to read, write, and speak is a critical workplace skill. It’s also pretty important in the rest of your life.
Unlike Charles Dickens, English teachers do not get paid by the word. An English teacher’s income usually depends on where they teach, how many years of experience they have, and their education level (as is the case for nearly every teaching position). According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, English teachers at the high school level earn a median income of $61,800. Middle school teachers earn, on average, $61,300 per year.
How much you’ll make as an English teacher may be substantially more or less. It’s impossible to determine precisely how much an English teacher earns without knowing job specifics. However, it’s possible to know more than just what the national averages tell us. Read on to learn:
English teachers work in secondary schools (middle and high schools) where classes are devoted to a single subject—elementary school educators teach English alongside the other core subjects. There are several degree paths to becoming an English teacher, including:
After completing your education and fulfilling fieldwork requirements, you will be eligible for licensure. Remember, each state has specific licensure requirements, which may include passing a state-specific proficiency exam or a general Praxis exam. Some states require teachers to earn a master’s degree after a certain number of years to maintain their license, but in no state is a master’s required initially.
English teachers earn just as much as their peers after considering education, experience, and geographic factors. The median pay for a high school English teacher job is $61,800; for middle school teachers, that figure is $61,300. These numbers are only averages. According to the BLS, states like New York, California, Massachusetts, and Connecticut offer the highest pay in the nation—with average salaries ranging from around $84,000 to $92,000. Of course, the cost of living in these states is usually higher as well, so you may actually live better on less elsewhere. According to EdSurge, teacher salaries go the furthest in Michigan, Illinois, and Pennsylvania.
The district you teach in can play a larger role in determining salary than the state. According to the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), teacher salaries are determined by individual school districts, which use what’s called a “step and lane” system to grant raises. Teachers usually start at the bottom and then work their way up the ladder to higher salaries; it usually takes 24 years and a master’s degree to reach the maximum salary level. In this study, the average (adjusted for cost of living) starting salary is $44,236, and the maximum is $78,947—though again, it could be higher or lower depending on where you live.
While this article focuses on English teachers at the secondary level, it’s worth mentioning that postsecondary English language and literature teachers earn an average annual wage of $80,180—with the top ten percent of salaries coming in at over $140,000 per year. Getting one of these positions likely requires a master’s degree, if not a PhD.
There aren’t many ways for English teachers to increase their salary, aside from moving to a better job market. One thing you should consider is earning a master’s degree, even if it isn’t a requirement to renew your teaching certification (as it is in Connecticut, Maryland, or New York).
A master’s degree boosts your salary by about $2,800 in the first year and up to $7,000 per year later, depending on your district. Salary differentials for master’s holders top out around $40,000, but most don’t earn nearly that much more than their bachelor’s degree-holding counterparts. On the other end of the spectrum, not every district offers a raise to those with a master’s.
It’s important to consider the cost (time and money) of earning a master’s. According to US News & World Report, an online Master of Arts in Teaching costs between $8,000 and $20,000—the numbers are similar for in-person programs. Most master’s degree programs take two years to complete full-time, and longer for part-time students. When considering the return on investment on your master’s, take into account the cost both in dollars and time. Remember also that the master’s will not only improve your earning potential; it also represents professional development that will improve your teaching skills.
Scholarships, fellowships, and financial aid can help offset the cost of a graduate degree. For example, New York offers a full scholarship to qualifying teachers looking to earn a master’s. Students in the Master of Education (MEd) program at Merrimack College qualify for a full-tuition fellowship. Finally, graduate students can also apply for FAFSA assistance, which leads to loans and grants. These strategies do not increase your salary, but they can help you keep more of it by not spending as much on student loans.
Earning a master’s degree and accruing experience are the best ways to increase your earnings as an English teacher. However, there are other possibilities. Some states offer bonuses to teachers who promote student success, for example.
In Florida, teachers can earn up to $15,000 in bonuses by earning Highly Effective state VAM scores. In addition, the state awards AP teachers a bonus of $50 for each student who takes the AP exam and scores at least at 3. In Arizona, schools receive the bonuses and give at least half to qualifying teachers, and distribute the rest to programs, according to The Arizona Republic. Other (non-AP) incentive plans include IMPACTplus in Washington DC, which allows teachers to earn up to $25,000 in bonuses and increase their base salaries by $27,000 for increasing student achievement.
Though it may be tough, teachers can also take on side jobs to earn extra cash. You may decide to tutor on the side, though many states have laws to prevent a conflict of interest. You could also work at a summer program during your two months off. Walt worked at a car wash in Breaking Bad, after all. Even though these things are possible, you may not want to do them. Teaching English is a taxing job, and it’s important to relax.
Teachers enjoy great benefits, though they aren’t enough to compensate entirely for lower salaries. Teachers usually receive health insurance (including dental) and a robust pension plan. According to the US Department of Education (DOE), “the present structure of the teacher compensation package is ‘back-loaded,’ or organized to reward career service; this is a practice that comes at the expense of entry-level salary, which is artificially depressed to afford the total compensation packages of more senior teachers.” The DOE believes the system needs an update to encourage better teaching practices, but that’s how it currently works. The bottom line is right now, the more years you teach, the better your earnings outlook.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, teachers earned 70 percent of their total compensation in the form of direct wages in 2021, whereas other professions earned 78.5 percent in wages. This translates to a nine percent benefit advantage for teachers over the average worker. However, it’s not enough to make up for the total compensation penalty of 14.2 percent (calculated by subtracting their 23.5 percent wage penalty relative to comparably qualified professionals from their 9.3 percent benefits advantage).
Public school teachers almost always earn more than private school teachers, and it isn’t close. ZipRecruiter says the average annual salary for private school teachers nationwide is $48,500, with the top one percent (a very small number) earning just over $100,000. Your benefits package is also determined by the school. Private school teachers are rarely unionized, meaning their benefits packages also lag behind public school teachers’.
Most benefits of taking a private school teaching job don’t have to do with money at all. Private school teachers typically have smaller classes and more engaged students (private school students who aren’t engaged can be, and are, expelled). Some teachers prefer private school teaching conditions to public schools, where teachers are often overwhelmed by bureaucracy and too many responsibilities.
That’s hardly universally true, however. Many teachers prefer the greater heterogeneity of public school classes. Others see serving public school students as part of their mission. And others still simply prefer to earn a bigger paycheck at the end of the week. No matter your motives and no matter your choice, in the end, you’ll be teaching composition, grammar, communication skills, and literature to a class full of (hopefully) engaged students. And on your last day of classes, you’ll get to say: “And when I am forgotten, as I shall be, and asleep in the dull cold marble, where no mention of me must be heard of, say, I taught thee.” Pause a beat, then say: “Henry VIII, Shakespeare.”
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