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Starting teacher salaries vary greatly from state to state. New Jersey pays the highest average starting teacher salary in the nation at $44,872, while Montana’s average starting salary is only $24,685. In considering the variation in starting salaries, it is important to understand that one of the largest factors that influences salary is cost of living. Because the cost of living in Montana is much lower than in New Jersey, teachers’ living standards do not vary as much between the two states as this wide earning gap suggests. You can use a cost of living calculator to estimate the real difference in earnings between teachers in different states.
Top 10 States for Starting Teacher Salary
- New Jersey: $44,872
- Hawaii: $43,157
- District of Columbia: $42,370
- Maryland: $42,297
- California: $41,181
- New York: $41,079
- Wyoming: $40,658
- Connecticut: $40,086
- Alaska: $39,032
- Massachusetts: $38,570
Data taken from the National Education Association.
How to Read a Teacher Salary Schedule
In addition to knowing how much money you will start out making, it is a good idea to understand how your salary will increase over time. A salary schedule is a document that explains when teachers receive raises and how much those raises will be.
In the top left corner of the schedule you will see your starting salary, with possible raises shown along two axes. The vertical axis shows “salary steps,” or raises earned for multiple years of teaching. A good salary schedule will have few steps, meaning that you will more quickly rise to the top of the earning bracket. The horizontal axis shows “salary lanes,” or raises earned for education coursework. A good schedule has many lanes, allowing you to earn raises for each course you complete on your way to a master’s degree or doctorate.
You should be able to see and evaluate a salary schedule before accepting any job offer. While looking at the starting salary and average salary for each state will give you a rough idea of how much teachers make, salaries and schedules also vary from district to district. Make sure that you have all the information before making a binding decision.
Merit Pay for Teachers
Washington D.C. pays the third highest starting teacher salary in the nation and also allows teachers to increase their salaries faster than any state in the nation. Teacher salaries in most school districts throughout the nation are governed by collective bargaining agreements, which dictate that salaries increase slowly but steadily. The standard system rewards years of service, advanced degrees and additional certifications with significant raises. But Washington D.C., Denver, Houston and Miami have instituted merit pay systems which reward high performing teachers with unusually large raises. Under D.C.’s new system, called Impact Plus, teachers have received salary increases approaching $30,000 in a single year.
Teachers’ Unions and others have criticized merit-pay systems for singling out “star teachers” for disproportionate rewards, without adequately rewarding all teachers for their hard work. Another criticism of D.C.’s system is that it does not adequately account for the difficulty of working in hard-to-serve school districts, where teachers face greater obstacles to produce the improvements in student performance that would earn them raises. Finally, D.C.’s merit pay system requires teachers to sign away the employment protection afforded by union membership, meaning that if their performance drops in the future they will be vulnerable to layoffs.
How Much Teachers Make
Whether you begin your teaching career with a salary on the higher end of the spectrum or the low end and whether you receive generous bonuses for the value of your work or move up the ladder slowly, at the end of the day you will know that you have chosen a worthwhile profession. Nobody becomes a teacher with the goal of getting rich. The real reward for the work is passing on your own knowledge and passion to your students, and seeing the difference that you make in the lives of the next generation.