Teacher Tech blog with Alice Keeler

Paperless Is Not a Pedagogy

Alice Keeler

Teacher Pay is Stupid

Trying to compare teacher salary schedules is stupid. 30 years across 10 columns and how do you see how you compare state to state with such varied cost of living? I have created a spreadsheet to try to make these comparisons so we can really see why teacher pay is stupid.
Teacher Pay is Stupid

“Teacher pay is stupid,” starkly summarizes the inadequate compensation in the education sector. This profession demands not only a college degree but also an additional year of specialized training, an unpaid internship, and ongoing professional development. The rigorous qualifications required for the role are in stark contrast to the salary offered, underscoring a significant mismatch in value and reward.

This discrepancy was recently highlighted in Kansas, where a school’s search for a band director, accompanied by the posting of a salary schedule on Facebook, sparked a heated debate in the comments. The lively discussion that ensued showcased the varied opinions on the issue, bringing to the forefront the need for a serious reevaluation of how educators are compensated.

“My districts starting salary is almost the same as their ending salary.”

Numerous individuals contributed to the discussion by sharing their own salary schedules, illustrating either their more favorable circumstances or the more challenging ones they face. Clearly, many of these salary structures are simply not satisfactory. Yet, it’s important to recognize that these comparisons aren’t straightforward; assessing different schools involves a complex array of factors. To get a clearer picture, I compiled a spreadsheet. After analyzing this data and considering comments from teachers nationwide, the inescapable conclusion I’ve reached is this: TEACHER PAY IS STUPID.

Table of Contents

Compare Teacher Pay & Cost of Living

Cost of living matters when considering teacher salary. In this spreadsheet I looked at, for all 50 states, cost of living, average teacher salary, and average salary for a non-teacher with a college degree. 

30 Years Are You Kidding Me?

First, in theory we all get a raise every year if the school is giving at least a COLA adjustment. A raise is a raise from what you were expecting. We are brainwashed to think that steps on the pay scale is a “raise.” You are just not getting your full pay for THIRTY YEARS! This mental psychology that you might have a hope of a liveable middle class lifestyle SOME DAY for few years before you retire is just one of the ways that the teaching profession is toxic. There are many great things about teaching but I doubt you would find many people who would put “pay” as one of them.

Example of a teacher salary schedule that expands over 30 years.

A salary schedule of not paying you until the last years of your service is a trap.

Salary Schedules Are a Trap

The educational system, in my opinion, appears intentionally designed to keep teachers tethered to their districts, akin to a form of modern indentured servitude. This sense of entrapment is exacerbated by the structure of teacher salary schedules, which often extend over a period of 25 to 30 years. 

Furthermore, the prevalent, disheartening practice among districts of not recognizing a teacher’s full years of service upon transferring exacerbates this feeling of being bound to one’s current school. Such policies are particularly problematic in situations where the workplace culture has deteriorated, as leaving under these circumstances can lead to significant financial losses, impacting not only current income but also future benefits and retirement plans. It often feels like, after signing the initial teaching contract, teachers are metaphorically ensnared by the system.

What is Best for Students

Delving into what is best for students necessitates a critical look at the implications of the phrase ‘teacher pay is stupid.’ If we acknowledge that ‘teacher pay is stupid’ due to its inadequacy and inflexibility, we must also consider how this impacts student learning environments. Teachers who are dissatisfied with their work environment, compounded by feeling financially penalized for moving between districts, are possibly less likely to provide the optimal educational experience. This dissatisfaction, a direct consequence of ‘teacher pay is stupid,’ doesn’t incentivize districts to improve working conditions. The lack of mobility resulting from such a flawed pay structure leads to an educational stagnation, adversely affecting what is ultimately best for students. It becomes clear that the issue of ‘teacher pay is stupid’ extends beyond teacher welfare, directly touching upon the quality of education that students receive.

Teacher Pay is Stupid graphic of a teacher made by AI

Challenges Can Fall Onto Teachers to Solve

I recall a circumstance at a school where I didn’t teach, teachers found themselves with only 12 minutes for lunch – just twelve minutes. This reflects a larger pattern: when schools encounter difficulties, it’s often the teachers who end up shouldering the additional burden. While administrators certainly face their own set of challenges (a topic that deserves its own space), the impact on teachers can vary greatly with each shift in administration. 

In some years, teachers benefit from strong and supportive leadership, while in others, they may feel an overwhelming desire to flee a stressful environment. However, leaving isn’t always a viable option. Many teachers find themselves feeling trapped, repeating mantras like, “I just need to stick it out for 3 more years,” to cope with their situation. This common sentiment highlights a sense of resignation and entrapment, stemming from the lack of flexibility that is unfortunately prevalent in the teaching profession.

Cost of Living

If you teach in San Francisco you might EVENTUALLY make $110,000 a year. That sounds pretty awesome if you live in the midwest.

Salary schedule for San Francisco with a top salary of 110,700

However, a dirt lot, with no house on it, will run you $100,000 and a 3 bedroom condo is over half a million dollars.

How Much is Your Mortgage or Rent Taking of Your Paycheck?

If you have to pay a lot more for your rent then your ability to buy groceries is less. Oh, and groceries are a lot more expensive in San Francisco too. So you need to take into consideration the price of housing as well as the cost of living index on other items such as gas.

You should definitely fact check these numbers. I used Google Bard to come up with cost of living indexes for each state and then individual cities. Based on personal experience I think this cost of living index of 173.3 for San Francisco is incorrect. This says it is only 73% more expensive in SF than the national average.

This source says the cost of living for San Francisco is 244. I updated my spreadsheet to reflect this higher amount after fact checking Google Bard. (Moral, ALWAYS fact check AI or any source for that matter)

Screenshot of spreadsheet showing san francisco cost of living

The Cost of Living Index

The cost of living index is how much more expensive it is to live in a place in comparison to the national average. If the number is less than 100, it is cheaper to live there. More than 100, more expensive.

Asking Google Bard

According to Google Bard: The average national income of a person with a college degree is $67,860 per year. This is significantly higher than the average national income of a person without a college degree, which is $36,600 per year.

What Google Bard Says About Teachers

According to the National Education Association, the average salary for a public school teacher in the United States was $65,090 in 2021. This is up from $63,645 in 2020. The average salary varies depending on the state, with teachers in Massachusetts earning the highest average salary at $91,644 and teachers in Mississippi earning the lowest average salary at $44,717.

This information was obtained via Google Bard in 2023.

Comparable Salaries by State

Before determining how your salary compares to other states, consider the cost of living.  

Massachusetts $91,644 148.4 $89,326.79
Mississippi $44,717 83.3 $77,301.89

I have updated my assumption of average teacher salary in my spreadsheet so you can see what you would need to earn in each state to be COMPARABLE. Not better. For example, if you’re making $101,000 in Alaska you might think you’re doing pretty good but that would be the same as making $63,645 in an “average” state.

Consider the Regional Cost of Living

On this Kansas salary schedule a starting pay of $40,000 and a maximum of $61,340 after 26 years would be comparable to $46,136 and $70,750. A Kansas school district a few hours away has a min of $45,000 and a max of $82,825. However, adjusting for cost of living that is $50,336 and $92,645.

Masters Degrees are Expensive

“Research on the impact of a teacher’s level of education on their effectiveness in the classroom has been mixed. Some studies have found that teachers with master’s degrees perform better than those with only a bachelor’s degree, while others have found little to no difference in effectiveness.”-ChatGPT 2023

Additional Education Required

Looking at this salary schedule, the district expects that, after teaching for 13 years, teachers must have a master’s degree to keep progressing on the salary schedule. Not only is obtaining a master’s degree a significant financial burden, but it also demands a considerable amount of time from teachers who are already stretched thin. My understanding is that it’s mixed as to whether this actually guarantees better teachers. Is the master’s degree the reason a great teacher is great? I doubt it.

AI generated image of teachers

If you are looking at the top pay in a district after 30 years and it assumes you have a masters degree don’t forget to factor in the money, student loan interest, and time it took to get that.

Suggestions to Improve

If we look back to the days of the one room schoolhouse the norm of paying teachers a wage that didn’t allow them to live on their own was established.

Although there have been some positive changes, it’s clear that a comprehensive reevaluation of the teacher system is urgently needed. Teachers are increasingly voicing their dissatisfaction with the low pay and demanding requirements they face. The logic is straightforward: if the financial compensation is lacking, at the very least, the work environment should be exceptional and supportive.

Flatten the Payscale

5 years on the salary schedule instead of 30.

Looking at what you might make your last year in a district is not a comparable number. You earn that much for very little of your career.

Screenshot of payscale
What a 5 year payscale might look like to earn the same lifetime earnings.

I added a sheet to the spreadsheet taking one of the salary schedules and what might be a progression a teacher makes across and down the salary schedule. This is 1.3 million dollars over 26 years of teaching. (1.46 million if you factor in cost of living.) This is an average of $50,360 a year.

According to that pay scale if you never got your masters degree you would earn 1.2 million over 26 years for an average of $47,243.

Flattening the payscale this way costs the district exactly the same amount over 26 years. However, it gives you a MUCH CLEARER view of how much money your job as a teacher actually pays you.

It LOOKS like you are making less money, but you’re making exactly the same money.

This is why teacher salary schedules are stupid. It is a psychological trick to make you think your job is paying you $60,000 to $100,000 when you are definitely not. You have to take into account all the years you made $40,000.

Getting your average money sooner allows you to INVEST that “extra” money and make it worth more. Getting it in the sunset of your life… not worth as much.

Post the Cost of Living Index

Google search “Cost of living index in ___” for your town. Now take the salary you make and DIVIDE it by the index. This gives you a COMPARABLE number. Comparing the salaries of individuals in New Jersey and Kansas is not an apples-to-apples comparison. After reviewing a bunch of salary schedules from across the country it is clear that some places effectively make LESS even though the pay difference can be as much as $60,000. At the top of each salary schedule should be a Cost of Living adjustment to show what the average salary is in comparable numbers. This will force districts to really evaluate how they compete with salaries.

More Stipends

You should receive additional compensation if you perform additional tasks. This is already kind of a thing, but so much is lumped under “other duties as assigned” so not only are you not paid for them, you might be doing work outside of school hours.

Ditch "Other Duties as Assigned"

If you work harder there should be ways to be rewarded for that. What are the basic requirements? THEN, when you make that list of tasks determine if it is reasonable to complete them consistently during work hours? 

We all know that the current list of “that is your job” is not doable during work hours. Clearly delineate what is the job of a teacher. Make sure this task list is REASONABLE to complete during contract hours. Anything that is not explicitly on this list should be optional and paid.

Normalize Working During Work Hours

The current norm is working before school, lunch break, after school, nights, weekends, and holidays. I HAVE GRADED PAPERS ON CHRISTMAS! There is a cultural badge of honor for sacrificing time with your family.

AI generated image of a teacher working at night

More Planning Time

The sudden emergence and widespread adoption of ChatGPT and various AI technologies have rapidly transformed the educational landscape. Numerous traditional assignments that teachers have relied on are now rendered obsolete, presenting a significant challenge. Overworked and exhausted educators are faced with the daunting task of rethinking and innovating their teaching methodologies. 

Adapting to this sudden shift is neither simple nor quick. We saw a similar situation during COVID, when the abrupt need to overhaul teaching methods virtually overnight led to a notable increase in teacher burnout and resignations. This highlights the urgent need for support and resources to help teachers navigate these rapid changes effectively.

The evolving landscape of education, marked by rapid technological advancements, shifts in standards, and new research on grading practices, necessitates more than just three professional development (PD) days a year for teachers. To effectively integrate these changes and explore best practices, PD should be an ongoing process, intertwined with adequate planning time. This approach will enable teachers not only to stay current with educational trends but also to have the necessary time to thoughtfully plan and adapt their teaching strategies, ensuring they can deliver the most effective and up-to-date education to their students.

Change the School Schedule

It may be an unpopular opinion, but the traditional 185-day school year seems inadequate. The current schedule, originally designed around agricultural needs, no longer aligns with the modern demands of teaching. Given the extensive planning, collaboration, grading, and professional development required, teachers cannot effectively manage these responsibilities within this outdated timeframe. Times have changed, and clinging to this schedule as a sacred cow is unreasonable. Teachers genuinely need a three-month break to recuperate from the excessive workload and the personal time they sacrifice during the school year.

Most teachers, in reality, pack a full year’s worth of work hours into their 10-month contract. Hence, any argument that brings up “summer vacation” in discussions of teacher pay is woefully misinformed about the realities of the school system. This misperception overlooks the intensive nature of teaching and the extended hours educators invest outside the standard school day.

No Second Jobs

Undoubtedly, the assertion that teachers should not need a second job to make ends meet is far from controversial. Clearly, educators, as professionals with significant academic training, including a college degree, additional schooling, and often an unpaid internship, deserve financial stability.

Reflecting on their qualifications, it’s unreasonable for teachers to find themselves living in less than ideal conditions, such as in a parent’s basement or depending on a spouse’s income. This situation highlights a glaring disparity in how we value their advanced education and the reality of their living conditions.

Evidently, a key component of educational reform must be to straightforwardly increase teachers’ salaries. This responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of state legislatures. The ongoing “teacher shortage” serves as a stark reminder that without substantial improvements in pay and working conditions, this crisis will persist. Lawmakers, therefore, must undertake the fundamental task of drafting a budget that ensures teachers are compensated well enough to live comfortably, if not luxuriously.

Lawmakers Get a Raise

I saw that the Kansas legislature gave themselves a raise. Must be nice. (My next proposal is that all pay raises for politicians should be voter approved.)

“Lawmakers have told stories of working a range of part-time jobs to make ends meet, while others who have left the body said they did so because it couldn’t pay enough to make for a sustainable lifestyle.”

THUS, in response to some lawmakers needing to get a 2nd job THEY GAVE THEMSELVES MORE MONEY!! Same logic should apply to teachers. If your teachers need to get a 2nd job, shame on you state legislature. Increase funding for teacher pay.

Switch to a 401K

The unique nature of the retirement system in education acts as another factor that inadvertently traps individuals in the field. This structure can deter those considering a transition into education later in their careers, as it complicates retirement planning. Additionally, the sense of having fewer options can lead to increased job dissatisfaction among educators. Improved employment conditions are more likely when teachers feel they have a range of choices and aren’t confined to a single path. To attract new talent into the education sector, it’s counterproductive to create an environment where potential educators feel that choosing this profession means being trapped. A more flexible system could encourage a diverse range of candidates to consider and commit to a career in education.

Masters Degree is a Stipend

I have a masters degree. I got a lot out of it. However, teachers should not be bottomed out after a decade because they didn’t get one. If we value masters degrees as a profession, which we seem to do, then provide an annual stipend that makes it worth the time and money. These 10 columns on a salary schedule is stupid. What other professions have these weird salary schedules of a massive chart?
Note, I am suggesting making the salary schedule much less convoluted and easier to compare district to district. I am not disparaging education.

What ChatGPT Said

For this post I asked ChatGPT and Google Bard for supporting information. Here is some of the expanded information on how teacher pay is stupid. Of course, any response from ChatGPT AI bots is influenced by the other elements in the conversation. 

Teaching Quality with a Masters Degree

Research on the impact of a teacher’s level of education on their effectiveness in the classroom has been mixed. Some studies have found that teachers with master’s degrees perform better than those with only a bachelor’s degree, while others have found little to no difference in effectiveness.

A few key points from the research include:

  1. Subject-specific master’s degrees: Studies have shown that teachers with a master’s degree in their specific subject area may be more effective at teaching that subject. For example, a teacher with a master’s degree in mathematics may be more effective at teaching math than a teacher with only a bachelor’s degree in the same subject.
  2. Pedagogy-focused master’s degrees: Teachers with a master’s degree focused on pedagogy or teaching methods may have a positive impact on student learning. These degrees can provide teachers with additional skills and strategies for classroom management and instruction, which can contribute to their effectiveness.
  3. Experience and professional development: Research has shown that a teacher’s experience and ongoing professional development can have a more significant impact on their effectiveness than simply holding a master’s degree. Teachers with more experience often have a better understanding of their subject matter and are better equipped to address the diverse needs of their students.
  4. School context: The relationship between a teacher’s level of education and their effectiveness can be influenced by factors such as school resources, class size, and the socio-economic background of the students. In some cases, the benefits of having a master’s degree may be more pronounced in certain school settings.

In summary, while having a master’s degree may be associated with some benefits in terms of teaching effectiveness, it is not a guarantee. Other factors, such as a teacher’s experience, ongoing professional development, and the school context, can also play a significant role in their overall effectiveness in the classroom.

Teacher Pay is Stupid

“Teacher pay is stupid” – this blunt statement echoes a widespread sentiment about the inadequacies of the current teacher compensation system. Recognizing and addressing this issue is vital for the future of education.

Raising Base Salaries

A Direct Approach

Firstly, increasing base salaries for teachers is essential. By doing so, we directly acknowledge the value of educators and align their pay with the demands of the job. This move not only elevates the profession but also makes it a more competitive option for talented individuals.

Performance-Based Incentives

Motivating Excellence

Moreover, integrating performance-based incentives is crucial. This approach rewards outstanding teaching and encourages continual professional growth, fostering a culture of excellence and dedication in the education sector.

Student Loan Forgiveness

Easing Financial Strains

Additionally, offering student loan forgiveness can significantly ease the financial burden many educators face. This strategy specifically supports those in high-need areas, making a career in teaching more accessible and less financially daunting.

Equalizing Funding

Bridging the Gap

Furthermore, equalizing funding across districts is imperative. By reducing reliance on property taxes, states can ensure more equitable pay and resources, helping to level the playing field for all schools.

Enhancing Benefits

A Holistic Approach

Besides, enhancing benefit packages, including healthcare and retirement plans, is essential for a comprehensive approach to teacher compensation. States should also invest in professional development, demonstrating a commitment to teachers’ career growth and well-being.

Adjusting for Cost of Living

Reflecting Realities

Importantly, salaries must be adjusted to reflect the cost of living in different areas. This change ensures that teachers can live comfortably where they work, respecting their financial needs.


A Call for Action

In conclusion, the phrase “teacher pay is stupid” should be a wake-up call for systemic change. It’s time to create a fair, respectful, and sustainable system that genuinely values the critical role of teachers. These steps are not just necessary; they are overdue for a profession foundational to our society’s future.

4 thoughts on “Teacher Pay is Stupid

  1. Agree. Salary schedules are a thing of the past. We need to pay yea hers based on the ability to yea h students and show their growth. Highly effective yea hers should be rewarded. Teachers in high stakes subjects (ELA and Math) should be paid more than non core areas.

    1. This is quite complex, I don’t think these solutions are fully thought out for the consequences and impacts. Paying teachers a wage that is attractive to bring people into the field and retain them is certainly a good start. Making it easier to move districts provides incentives to be competitive and provide a manageable and less toxic working environment.

    1. It’s a system that unnecessarily traps people. 30 years of pay scale is a mind trick to make you okay with not making enough money that someday, your last year of working, maybe you will make a liveable wage. And you better not move districts… you gotta start this over. Ridiculous.

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