Teachers in the U.S. are faced with underfunded classrooms and stagnant pay. In fact, the average teacher salary has actually decreased 4.5% over the last 10 years. However, the average teacher salary can vary greatly depending on your level of experience, location and cost of living, and grade level or subject you teach.
Average Teacher Salary by State
The national average salary for a first-year teacher in the 2017-18 school year was $39,249, according to the most recent data available from the National Education Association . This comes in far below the overall average starting salary of $50,944 for graduates with a bachelor’s degree employed across all fields of work.
But where a teacher decides to live and work has a huge impact on a starting salary. For instance, the state with the lowest average for new teachers is Montana, at only $31,418—almost $10,000 less than the national average. And in Washington state, first-year teachers averaged $42,240, the highest across the country.
For experienced teachers, the average salary is higher. According to the NEA , the average public school teacher salary in the U.S. was $60,477 in the 2017-18 school year.
As with first-year teacher salaries, there is still a wide range when it comes to state averages , with New York, California, and Massachusetts on the high end—all over $80,000—and Mississippi, West Virginia, and Oklahoma at the lower end—all between $44,000-$47,000.
Also, high school teachers tend to make, on average, more money than their colleagues in elementary or middle school. The national average high school teacher salary was $62,860 in 2017, according to U.S. News Best Jobs Rankings . Middle school teachers averaged $61,040, and elementary school teachers $60,830.
However, it’s important to note that most salary reports and rankings do not account for cost-of-living differences. NPR ran an analysis in 2018 , with the help of EdBuild, to adjust the 2016 rankings of teacher salaries by states for cost of living.
When discussing average salaries, usually those numbers have not been adjusted for regional differences on things like rents and mortgages or day-to-day spending like food and day care.
Those costs can vary widely depending on where you live. The adjustments NPR made to the 2016 NEA data meant that, for instance, while New York ranked first in average salary at $77,957, it dropped to 17th place after the adjustment.
Another interesting example is that while Indiana and California appear to be vastly different in average teacher salary, at $50,715 and $72,842 respectively, the cost-of-living adjustment brings them within $100 of each other.
In the past year, teachers across the country have been going on strike to protest everything from low education budgets to flat wages.
In South Carolina, where the average teaching salary in 2017-18 was only $50,182 (about $10,000 lower than the national average), NBC News reports many teachers are working extra jobs just to make ends meet.
The state has pushed back on several efforts to give teachers substantial raises, according to the report. Teachers are working on factory assembly lines, checking tickets at event venues, or in retail jobs in order to make up for not having a living wage from their day jobs as teachers.
So, when you are looking for the average teacher salary in your state, make sure you also take into account your years of teaching experience, type of school, location, and cost of living.
Paying Off Your Student Loans as a Teacher
The National Center for Education Statistics reported in April 2018 that for the 2015-16 school year, there were 3.8 million full- and part-time public school teachers in the U.S., split evenly between elementary and secondary school teachers.
The class of 2016 graduated with an average debt of about $28,500, according to the College Board . On a standard 10-year repayment plan with a 6% interest rate, the monthly payment for that average debt amount would be about $316 per month.
For the new public school teacher only making an average of $39,249, that’s almost 10% of their annual income just spent on student loan payments.
Teachers in many states are also required to maintain certification by continuing their education, and may even decide to pursue a graduate degree or further education to help advance in their careers, which could result in compounded debt.
For teachers who are hoping to pursue student loan forgiveness, there are a few possibilities when it comes to federal loans:
Teacher Loan Forgiveness
This program currently can forgive up to $5,000 or up to $17,500 in federal loans, depending on the subject you teach. In order to qualify, you must be a full-time teacher and complete five years in a row teaching at a qualifying school or educational service agency. The eligible loans are federal Direct Loans and Stafford Loans.
Highly qualified math or science teachers or special education teachers may be able to receive the maximum amount of up to $17,500 of their student loans forgiven. Teachers of other subjects may be able to get up to $5,000 of their loans forgiven. There are additional requirements for teachers who are new to the profession as well.
Teachers may be able to get loan forgiveness under both the Teacher Loan Forgiveness and Public Service Loan Forgiveness programs, just not for the same period of teaching service.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)
Under this program, qualifying public service employees, which can include teachers, may be eligible to have their loan balance forgiven on federal Direct Loans after making 120 on-time payments under a qualifying repayment plan.
Unlike the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program, teachers do not need to teach at a low-income school or in a certain subject when applying for the PSLF Program. The requirements include that you are employed by the government on a local, state or federal level or work for certain non-profit organizations.
The payments only count if you are a teacher employed full-time by a qualified public service employer. Private loans and non-Direct federal loans are not eligible for this program, but may be able to be consolidated into a Direct Consolidation Loan. However, keep in mind that consolidation will probably restart the repayment clock and previous payments might not count.
That’s why it’s important to be on the right repayment plan from the start. The Department of Education recommends an income-driven repayment plan, instead of the 10-Year Standard Repayment Plan, to get the best value from the program.
This will cap your payments based on your income, and if you’re on the lower end of the teacher pay scale that will likely mean that, after 120 payments, there will probably still be some amount of debt to be forgiven.
If you didn’t choose an income-driven repayment plan before choosing the PSLF program, you may have been placed on the standard 10-year repayment plan and, possibly, there would be nothing left to forgive.
Teachers with Perkins Loans may be able to have their loans entirely forgiven by serving full-time in a public or nonprofit elementary or secondary school as a:
• Teacher in a school serving low-income students.
• Special education teacher.
• Math, science, foreign languages, or bilingual education teacher, or teacher in any field determined by a state education agency as having a shortage of qualified teachers in that area.
To qualify , you must teach for at least one year, and then the loan amount is cancelled in yearly increments until 100% is cancelled after five years. The federal Perkins Loan program ended in September 2017, but loans distributed through the program may still qualify.
Refinancing Student Loans
If you have other loans, such as private loans, that do not qualify for these federal loan forgiveness programs it might be worth considering refinancing your student loan debt. This may help make your loan payments more affordable and possibly offer you a lower interest rate.
If you qualify to refinance with a private lender, such as SoFi, you may also be able to change your student loan’s term length to help lower your monthly payments.
While private lenders like SoFi can refinance both your federal and private student loans, you should know that in doing so, you lose benefits that federal student loans provide like income-driven repayment programs and Teacher Loan Forgiveness programs.
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