At the last "Save Our Schools" rally, Matt Damon said:

So you think job insecurity is what makes me work hard? I want to be an actor. That’s not an incentive. That’s the thing: See, you take this MBA-style thinking, right? It’s the problem with ed policy right now, this intrinsically paternalistic view of problems that are much more complex than that. It’s like saying a teacher is going to get lazy when they have tenure. A teacher wants to teach. I mean, why else would you take a shitty salary and really long hours and do that job unless you really love to do it?

Are teachers paid poorly in the United States compared to other professions?

  • Can you narrow the focus of this question a bit, as it stands now there are a lot of factors involved with pay and compensation which make this question a bit too broad.
    – rjzii
    Commented Sep 6, 2012 at 14:02
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    @RobZ I think this question can work as it is now, the claim is pretty broad, but it is stated that way by Matt Damon and others. It is the responsibility of the answerers here to explain the various factors at play here and provide some context. I'll make it explicitly about the US though, as the tag is easy to overlook.
    – Mad Scientist
    Commented Sep 6, 2012 at 16:39
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    Are teachers paid poorly in comparison to what? Other professions in the U.S.? Teachers in other countries?
    – Flimzy
    Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 1:44
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    Compared to Movie stars of big budget action thrillers.
    – Chad
    Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 17:33
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    I'm not sure this can be answered without a solid metric to compare against. Paid poorly in relation to people of similar education? Impact on society? How much ^$%@ they have to deal with from parents and government mandates? The average American? The idea of being paid well or poorly is very relative. Commented Sep 16, 2012 at 5:09

2 Answers 2


PayScale has nice infographic

enter image description here

Also on PayScale you can see, that the salary range for people with Bachelor degree is $33,421 - $102,559, thus primary and secondary school teachers are at the low end.

Bachelor is minimum degree required of teacher.

Also if you look at answer to question about college ROI, you can see that teachers' salary is inline with graduate of the worst of the worst colleges.

Another interesting ranking on PayScale is "Best Undergrad College Degrees By Salary", full list consists of 120 degrees sorted by median mid-career salary, Education is in the 98th place of 120, Elementary Education 119th of 120.

  • 1 Petroleum Engineering — $155,000
  • 2 Chemical Engineering — $109,000
  • 3 Electrical Engineering (EE) — $103,000


  • 98 Education — $54,700


  • 119 Elementary Education — $44,000
  • 120 Child and Family Studies — $40,500
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    I'm not sure this is accurate representation. Teachers are 'unemployed' for 1/4 of the year during summer. If this is their salary without summer you would have to factor in their salary they make with part time jobs during summer hours. Even assuming the average salary of a high school grad (33,000) for a teacher working 1/4 of the year at part time summer jobs we can assume anothrer 5-8 thousand in additional income (I'm underestimating because part time summer employees probably make less then full time)
    – dsollen
    Commented Sep 6, 2012 at 17:09
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    @ardentsonata, Luckily the ATUS survey has a very large sample size, is confidential (bls.gov/tus/tuquestionnaire.pdf) and shows that the vast majority of teachers work from 8am-4pm, with less than 30 percent performing any work at all in off hours or on weekends (page 56 chart, link above labeled "fewer hours per day")
    – user1873
    Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 21:28
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    There are other ways to look at it; do you look at the hours a teacher puts in? The workday doesn't end for teachers when the bell rings. Depending on the subject matter there can be workdays that extend well into the night. If you take the salary and divide by work hours, it's ridiculously low. If you take the salary and say they get that for 9 months of work at average workdays, it looks like they're overpaid. Commented Sep 14, 2012 at 13:59
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    @user1873 But this doesn't match with the survey from Scholastic/Bill & Melinda Gates foundation finding a 53 hour workday, linked off of washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/… Commented Sep 16, 2012 at 5:16
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    @dsollen - except they are often using that "vacation" time to keep current on required training and certifications, preparing their classrooms and lesson plans for the upcoming year, and if you take that into account, you should also take into account hours put in before and after the school day both on site, and at home (reviewing/grading homework, etc). Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 17:30

No, not according to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures.

the national annual median wage, which was $33,840 in May 2010

Table 2.

Elementary School Teachers, Except Special Education - $51,660

Or from their occupational handbook, which has this nice graph.

2010 Median Pay - $51,380 per year

The National Center for Educational Statistics shows Base Salary by state based on years of experience. You can compare those numbers with BLS numbers and you will discover that even starting pay for teachers is higher than the national median salary, or do comparisons by state.

Even when you compare teachers with other occupations that require a bachelor's degree, the data doesn't look bad for teachers (BLS querry, search by education, bachelor's degree, (sort by) 2010 median annual wage. You will find that teachers rank 96-117th out of 154.) They are less than a standard deviation from the mean, only 16% difference from the median salary Accountants and Auditors.

$65,060 - Average salary all 154 occupations listed for which the typical entry-level education is Bachelor's degree, sorted by 2010 median annual wage.

$61,690 - (76th) Median Occupation, Accountants and Auditors

$20,815 - Standard Deviation

$53,230 - (105th) Secondary School Teachers, Except Special and Career/Technical Education

$51,960 - (109th) Middle School Teachers, Except Special and Career/Technical Education

$51,660 - (110th) Elementary School Teachers, Except Special Education

$48,800 - (117th) Kindergarten Teachers, Except Special Education

Additionally, this only compares annual salary of teachers versus other professions. Teachers work fewer hours per day (including weekends), and teachers work fewer (185 days/year) on average versus 230 days/year. I used an 8 hour work day, even though teachers typically work less hours than most other occupations (see chart below).

Median Salary (all 154 occupations) $61,690 / (230 * 8) = $33.53/hour

Median Teacher's Salary $51,380 / (185 * 8) = $34.72

enter image description here

If we further correct this data by adjusting for sex, 0.9 wage gap for women teachers (page 80), in this predominantly female field (84%). This also doesn't correct for CEO pay and Engineering pay that are highly dominated by males. This is all before you even look at benefits.

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    @Kibbee, is that necessary at this point. When compared to all occupations requiring a bachelor's degree, and when adjusting for hours worked per year, they are paid more than the median occupation. It is true that engineering degrees pay more, but even when judged against them teachers don't do "poorly." I suppose if I wanted to show that teachers are "richly compensated" that I might need to go that far, but as it stands Matt Damon is wrong.
    – user1873
    Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 14:13
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    It's interesting to see that little amount of time reported by teachers; growing up I remember my mother (elementary teacher) working at the school until four thirty or five on a typical weekday, and my wife wrapped up working on grading papers (high school) after a couple hours tonight. I'm wondering how much work her coworkers are taking home after designated hours now (or maybe they're statistical outliers?)... Commented Sep 16, 2012 at 4:41
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    ...so this is also a consideration, in my opinion; when asking if you're paid well, if I'm getting a $60K salary but I'm paying for mandated education, paying for supplies for my room, paying towards my health care plan, pay mandated Union fees, when all is subtracted is that my "real" salary to base the comparison on or do you still base it on the net income? These things would add a significant gap... Commented Sep 16, 2012 at 4:57
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    That seems extremely fishy. I know for a fact that the vast majority of teachers I've had did at least some of their grading and lesson planning at home. The amounts given here match up pretty well with how long teachers spend physically at school in my experience, suggesting that the work they do at home isn't counted (presumably because it isn't self-reported as part of their work hours).
    – Stuntddude
    Commented Nov 15, 2015 at 1:58
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    Disagree with the characterization that teachers work less hours per day. The school may be open less than 8 hours a day, or the teachers' "on" time during the school day may be less than 8 hours, but teachers put in a ton of hours outside of the time between the bells that start and end the school day. If they only worked those hours, no one would ever get their homework assignments graded. Commented Jun 22, 2017 at 17:33

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