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Teacher Job Outlook: It’s More Complicated Than You Think

Every year, teachers in the U.S. can be found standing on street corners with red signs asking for a raise. This isn’t something that’s included in the teacher job outlook statistics. Stagnant teacher wages and teacher requirements are just a few of the things to compare in the teacher occupation outlook. The demand for teachers and the affordability of being one can align — or be far from reality, depending on where you’re working.

Photo provided by Bethany McCamish

Teacher job outlook

Teaching as a profession has a lot of variants. The overall job outlook for teachers over the next 10 years depends on what field you want to go into. You need to reflect on the:

  • Level you want to teach at
  • Subject you choose to teach
  • State where you want to teach

These considerations should be weighed by the affordability of the occupation. You’ll want to consider the cost behind each of the following:

  • The education requirements for the level, subject and location you want
  • The expected teacher salary in your desired location
  • The cost of living in the area

If you’re open to multiple states, this could be of benefit to you, as you’d still be able to live the life you want as a teacher.

To help you get started with this comparison, it’s best to look at the overall projected growth rate of teachers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Elementary school teacher job outlook

Elementary school teachers work with some of our tiniest humans. You’ll need at least a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education to get started in this field. The average salary for an elementary school teacher (except special education) is $58,230, according to the BLS.

The BLS predicts a 3% growth in employment from 2018 to 2028. This is less than the average growth rate for all occupations. If you want to teach kindergarten or special education, the growth increases to 4%.

The main locations for teachers are within local public schools. The second most popular area is within religious institutions, which are typically private schools.

Middle school teacher job outlook

Middle school teachers work with the “in-between” ages and teach sixth to eighth grade. Middle school teachers must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, but many states require subject-specific certifications. The average salary for a middle school teacher as reported by the BLS is $58,600.

The BLS reports the same expected growth of 3% for middle school teachers as it did for elementary school teachers. The main job for middle school teachers is to prepare students for high school and beyond. If the number of students is low, then high school teachers will be in a similar boat.

High school teacher job outlook

High school teachers are ranked No. 1 in “Best Education Jobs” by U.S. News & World Report. This could be because their salaries are typically higher — averaging $60,320, according to the BLS 2018 report. It may also be that high school teachers are able to teach with a focus on a specific subject and passion area.

The BLS reports a 4% growth for high school teachers between 2018 and 2028. The 1% difference could reflect the need for teachers in subject shortage areas like math, science and English as a second language.

The teacher job outlook overall isn’t showing a high demand and reflects salaries on the lower end. But that’s only the big picture. The fact is, the range of salaries for teachers is vast. The funding for schools — and therefore teacher jobs — is state-specific. To really decide if teaching is right for you, you’ll need to zoom into your specific area.

State and federal budgets determine teacher occupational outlook

People didn’t suddenly stop having children and thus reduce the demand for teachers. Nor did they all decide to start homeschooling. The number of teachers employed in an area reflects two components, and only one of those is population.

The other factor is how much state and government funding is available for schools. When budgets get cut, so do teachers. If the money isn’t there the government simply increases class sizes, even if the population is growing in the area.

The same can be said for the opposite scenario. If there’s a surplus of funding or a budget act, teacher jobs increase.

Top 5 states where the job outlook is bright

Demand for teachers doesn’t always mean you can afford to live in an area on a teacher salary.

Teachers can make as little as $30,000 a year in some states. The average for a grad with a bachelor’s degree is $61,000, according to PayScale. To find the top five states with a bright teacher job outlook, the following three components were compared:

  • Salary
  • Employment numbers
  • Cost of living (COL)

For example, California and New York both have high teacher salaries and high employment levels. They make the list on the BLS. However, the cost of living in these places is equally high.

An easy way to look at COL is to research how much $100 is worth in each state compared to the national average. In California, $100 is worth $87.11, and in New York, it's worth $86.36. Your high teacher salary then isn’t really that high anymore. In Mississippi, $100 is worth the most at $116.69, but this state also has the lowest teacher salaries.

Below are the top five states where the average teacher salary is above $50,000; the COL breaks even or over; and the teacher employment is higher.

Elementary school teachers top 5 states

Top 5 statesCost of livingAverage salaryNumber of employment positions
(BLS statistics)
1. Texas103.09$56,520136,780
2. Florida100.1$50,07075,750
3. Illinois101.52$62,14065,630
4. Pennsylvania102.15$66,86055,200
5. Ohio112.49$62,43051,880

Middle school teachers top 5 states

Top 5 statesCost of livingAverage salaryNumber of employment positions
(BLS statistics)
1. Texas103.09$56,58066,470
2. Ohio112.49$62,13032,080
3. Florida100.1$53,14030,110
4. Georgia108.11$58,19024,530
5. Illinois101.52$63,86022,320

High school teachers top 5 states

Top 5 statesCost of livingAverage salaryNumber of employment positions
(BLS statistics)
1. Texas103.09$58,190110,420
2. Ohio112.49$62,93052,240
3. Pennsylvania102.15$64,83050,460
4. Florida101.1$54,12047,960
5. Illinois101.52$72,37043,720

5 states where the teacher job outlook won’t support a life

Consider these states like Mars. There’s minimal substantiated teacher life. The number of jobs is low, and the COL doesn’t break even, making the pay less than it seems.

Elementary school teachers

StateCost of livingAverage salaryNumber of employment positions
(BLS statistics)
1. District of Columbia85.54$79,4803,260
2. Delaware99.9$63,0403,780
3. Alaska95.79$74,0703,870
4. Vermont97.56$62,4303,870
5. Hawaii84.39$61,2406,040

Middle school teachers

StateCost of livingAverage salaryNumber of employment positions
(BLS statistics)
1. District of Columbia85.54$74,410710
2. Vermont97.56$59,1701,120
3. Alaska95.79$75,7701,370
4. Hawaii84.39$60,9001,960
5. Delaware99.9$63,3802,650

High school teachers

StateCost of livingAverage salaryNumber of employment positions
(BLS statistics)
1. Vermont97.56$65,8502,130
2. Alaska95.79$77,9202,380
3. Delaware99.9$65,0402,650
4. District of Columbia85.54$65,1803,850
5. Hawaii84.39$60,8104,310

Note that even if the number of jobs is low, that doesn’t mean the area won’t be hiring. Alaska is always hiring, but this has more to do with individuals not wanting to teach in the rural locations that have jobs open. In all five of these states, the teacher job outlook is so dim that you should consider a move to pursue both a life you want and your profession.

Being flexible in where you work can increase your chances of finding a job. If you’re strategic, you can game it to find work in a low cost-of-living area that still provides a decent teacher salary. This can mean working in non-metropolitan areas in some of the top-ranking states.

Don’t forget about the cost of teacher requirements

States have different teaching requirements. These could be certifications or even preference for a master’s degree. Sometimes this even goes down to a district level for what’s needed to teach. Since you’ll be paying for this education, make sure to consider the teacher requirements when researching teacher job outlook.

You don’t have to go into major student loan debt and get a master’s degree before you start teaching. Instead, consider finding a teaching position first. Then use available professional development funds to pursue a degree or certification. This method may take longer, but it will let you use your teacher salary in a more effective way. Once you receive the certification, you can increase your salary and even switch positions within the district.

Some districts offer positions for working professionals under “Career and Technical Education.” This means you can enter the teaching profession using your current industry knowledge and pursue your teaching certificate while working. As you can see, there are options to enter teaching without going into heavy student loan debt.

The teacher job outlook is always fluctuating

As a teacher, you could be on strike demanding a cost of living increase. But even if holding a sign to ask for what you deserve is in the teacher job outlook, there are many more benefits. Health plans and a pension are just a few perks — not to mention helping students find their voices.

Teaching is essential no matter where you live. Just keep in mind that moving for the job may be a necessary step. The teacher job outlook over the next 10 years isn’t rising at a rapid pace. The stability of positions is at the state level, based on funding first and population second. If you’re considering going to school to be a teacher, look into location and requirements to make sure it’s doable.

Photo provided by Bethany McCamish

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