According to a recent School Pulse Panel Survey, 30 percent of public schools find it “somewhat difficult” (12 percent) or “very difficult” (18 percent) to fill vacant math teacher positions. This should come as no surprise: STEM specialists face a substantial wage penalty when they choose teaching over other professions, and many understandably opt for more remunerative work. Worse yet, projections show that a significant number of current math teachers are considering retirement, potentially exacerbating the dearth of qualified teachers.
The shortage presents an opportunity, one that some institutions have embraced. States and individual organizations today strive to incentivize young adults to become math teachers to combat these shortages. Numerous scholarship and grant opportunities allow aspiring math teachers to fund their education more efficiently. Some school districts even offer differential pay programs that provide additional compensation (potentially even including a higher salary) to those who teach high-need subjects.
Math teachers who can take advantage of funding opportunities and bonuses may enjoy a more profitable career overall than their peers in other subjects.
So, how much do math teachers make? Read on to get answers to questions like:
Math teachers generally teach in secondary schools (middle and high school), where educators specialize in a single subject. In contrast, elementary school teachers teach every core subject, i.e., math, English, social studies, and science.
You’ll become a math teacher the same way you would become any type of teacher: through combined training in your subject and pedagogy. Math teachers typically complete one of two undergraduate degrees: the Bachelor of Science in Mathematics Education or the Bachelor of Science in Education with a mathematics concentration. You could also earn a bachelor’s in a mathematics discipline and supplement it with a teacher training program.
After completing a degree, all teachers must earn a teaching license or credential. Again, there are multiple paths to licensure, including for those transitioning from another career. Teachers must pass the necessary state licensure exam—either a standardized Praxis exam or one created by the state—and complete fieldwork, which is a component of most degree programs. After that, a teaching license is usually just a background check away.
Bachelor’s degree programs in mathematics education prepare graduates to become either middle or high school math teachers. While there’s no standard curriculum for these teacher education programs, they commonly offer concentrations based on the grade levels you want to teach.
For instance, Boston University offers one track for middle school math teachers and another for high school teachers. Similarly, graduates of the Pennsylvania State University – Main Campus secondary educaiton major can teach grades 7 through 12 while those who select the middle-level math major teach grades 7 through 8, and all subjects for grades 4 through 6.
Penn State’s secondary education major covers:
The University of South Florida – Main Campus Bachelor of Science in Mathematics Education prepares aspiring mathematics teachers to work with students in grades 5 through 9 (primarily middle-school-aged). The program includes a year-long student teaching residency. Subject courses include:
All students who complete teaching majors take pedagogy courses that cover curriculum design and teaching strategies.
Though these degree programs can provide a solid idea of what you’ll learn in a math teaching bachelor’s degree, you should spend time researching programs in your home state, given that most prepare graduates for specific credentialing exams.
Yes, math teachers should absolutely earn a master’s degree. Besides moving to a better-paying school district and accruing years of experience, earning a master’s is a top way to increase your annual salary—mostly because it can also help you become a better teacher, which is the ultimate goal.
The average teacher with a master’s degree outearns a bachelor’s degree-holder, though the exact number depends more on the school district you work in than anything else. A master’s degree is generally worth $2,800 more than a bachelor’s in the first year and $7,000 per year more at the top of the earning scale.
Most math teachers opt for a Master of Science in Teaching in math education. Programs usually take two years of full-time study to complete, longer for part-time students. In terms of subject matter, there is quite a bit of overlap between master’s and bachelor’s programs, though naturally, a master’s is more intensive.
Master’s students at Teachers College at Columbia University may take the following courses:
Graduate students also usually receive a more thorough pedagogical education and complete a capstone course.
Some school districts offer differential pay to educators that teach high-need subjects, such as math. Differential pay could include a higher salary or base pay, stipend, bonus, loan forgiveness, and other compensation methods. 23 states provide differential pay, and four more actively encourage it, although implementing this policy is up to individual districts.
There is no single, clean number to determine these policies’ effectiveness since they aren’t universal. However, Georgia saw teacher turnover rates drop by 35 percent after offering stimulus opportunities to math and science teachers. Florida also saw results after providing bonuses and loan forgiveness.
While differential pay can make a difference in your overall earnings, teacher salary usually depends more on where you live, your level of education, and years of experience. On aggregate, high school teacher salaries are a little higher than middle school teacher salaries. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the former earns a median annual pay of $61,820, while the latter earns $61,320. Most teachers also enjoy generous pension plans and healthcare benefits in addition to having summers off. This mixture of freedom and security can be difficult to find in other professions.
Most major school districts offer raises in two ways: “step,” which means accruing teaching experience, and “lane,” which means completing professional development. With a few exceptions, performance has nothing to do with salary.
The national average for a starting teacher salary, adjusted for cost of living, is $41,770. The upper level of the salary range is $78,947, again after accounting for living costs. Teachers earn a higher average salary in large metropolitan areas like New York City and Washington DC, but their salary goes further in states like Michigan, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. Conversely, teacher salaries in Hawaii, South Dakota, and Maine are worth the least in the nation.
Public school teachers frequently earn more than teachers who work at private and charter schools, though these professionals frequently have a higher level of job satisfaction. According to PayScale, private school teachers earn an average annual salary of $36,600.
Math teacher shortages across the country have led to a growing emphasis on science and mathematics and an impressive level of job security. Today, math is an excellent subject for aspiring educators who crave fulfilling work and stability.
Because there is such a high need for math teachers, you may have access to more scholarship opportunities than other aspiring educators. While not salary, scholarships can help you keep your earnings by cutting down or eliminating student loans. For instance, the AFCEA Educational Foundation offers $2,500 scholarships to those pursuing a teaching license, credential, or graduate education in STEM. The Taxpayer-Teacher Protection Act offers $17,500 in loan forgiveness for math, science, and special education teachers who serve at Title I schools (schools with a high number of at-risk students) for at least five years.
There are also numerous opportunities for STEM teachers to earn a master’s degree affordably. Organizations like the Mathematics Education Trust offers funding for math educators in the form of awards, grants, and scholarships. Individual colleges and universities offer scholarship opportunities to teachers as well. The University of North Texas at Dallas has two teacher scholarships, one for alumni returning to earn a Master of Arts in Teaching in math or science, and the Robert F. Noyce Scholarship, for those who commit to teaching math or science in high-need schools after graduating.
Individual states also offer scholarship opportunities. For instance, New York State pays for residents who commit to teaching math or science for five years after graduation to attend a State University of New York (SUNY) school (or the tuition equivalent). This is a potentially great deal considering that the average student loan debt for a graduate of a public university is $28,160, according to the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities, and even higher for those who attend private schools.
The world of math teaching is one of constant flux. As late as the 2000s, math teachers were saying silly things like, “You must learn to calculate percentages in your head because nobody carries a calculator in their pocket.” And yet, even though pretty much everyone today carries a calculator around (although we call it a phone), the necessity of learning math endures. If anything, it’s grown even more critical in our digital, data-driven, STEM-dominated world. And as for calculating percentages in your head? It’s still a pretty neat party trick, so you’ll have that going for you as well.
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