Educators occupy arguably one of the most vital roles in a society: preparing the next generation for life. Yet K-12 educators in much of the country are some of the lowest paid professionals. While teachers are paid better than many other occupations, teaching is one of the lowest-paying jobs for college graduates.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed the average salaries of elementary, middle, and secondary public and private school teachers adjusted for regional cost of living differences in U.S. metropolitan areas. While the average annual salary of teachers nationwide is $52,000, in some major metropolitan areas the average teacher salary is close to $10,000 less, even after adjusting for regional cost of living differences.
A number of challenges and conditions in the classroom can drive teachers away from school districts. This can include conflicts with the administration, overcrowded classrooms, and inadequate or outdated materials. But numerous studies have demonstrated that to retain quality teachers it is important to pay them adequate salaries.
One study found that almost 20% of teachers leave their jobs because of inadequate salary. States with relatively low per-pupil funding tend to pay teachers lower salaries and frequently rank among the states with the worst schools. Many who are familiar with the issue of teacher pay have heard stories about educators who are forced to rent out their apartments to strangers and sleep in their cars or donate blood plasma to help pay the bills.
The recent and ongoing wave of teacher strikes that swept the nation last year and since in states like West Virginia, Arizona, and Oklahoma (each among the lowest paying states for teachers) demonstrates that in some states compensation structures and working conditions for teachers are a serious issue. West Virginia and Oklahoma in particular are home to some of the lowest paying metropolitan areas for teachers.
To identify the places with the most underpaid teachers, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed teachers pay adjusted for cost of living in each U.S. metro area. Those metro areas without available teacher count and average salary data for elementary, middle school, and high school teachers was excluded. We weighted the average salary of elementary, middle, and secondary school teachers by the percentage of total teacher employment and adjusted to the 2016 regional price parity in each metropolitan statistical area.