Maximize Your Teacher’s Salary Potential with a Master’s Degree

Think you've reached the top of your earning potential? Loosing initative? Feeling overworked and under appreciated? Teaching isn’t a dead-end job. It’s one of the most rewarding professions that you can pursue, and there is room for increased salary and professional growth for those who decide to further their education. If you are thinking about continuing your education, here are some key salary and professional benefits that come from teaching with a master’s degree.

Teaching with a master’s degree

The baseline requirements to teach at a public elementary, middle, or high school in the United States do not include obtaining your master’s degree. While some teachers are able to enter teaching with their master’s degree in hand, most set out with their bachelor’s degree and a teaching credential.

At some point in their career, most teachers who begin teaching with their bachelor’s degree consider the prospect of achieving a master’s degree. Many schools or districts offer bonuses or considerable pay raises for completing a degree program, while others offer a new tier of salary earning potential. In addition to seeing an increase in salary, a master’s program can equip you with skills and resources that can make you more adept in education, comfortable in your classroom, and beneficial to your students.

Teachers unions, whose primary focus is ensuring fair pay and improving workplaces for teachers, are in part responsible for the salary increase that teachers see when they attain their master’s degree. Through collective bargaining agreements, the unions negotiate higher pay for teachers with school districts across the nation. Unions bargain for teacher’s salaries across the board, from a starting teacher’s salary to a teacher’s salary with a master’s degree, which is typically the maximum.

Exactly how much more you will make each year varies depending on the state you teach in, the school district, and the school’s budget for teachers. All school districts present their teachers with a teacher’s salary schedule, which is a tier and step-based earning system. The salary earnings, steps, and tiers of pay are based on experience and the length of time that a person has been teaching.

In most cases, getting your master’s degree before gaining teaching experience will not make you the highest paid teacher at the school right away. Due to the consistent increase in pay guaranteed by a teacher salary schedule, there is a point at which most teachers who have been teaching over a longer period of time will be paid the same amount as a teacher starting out with a master’s degree. The key benefit to getting a master’s degree sooner rather than later lies there, in access to a higher earning tier over any given number of years of service.

As you increase in years of service, your lifetime earnings and annual salary will increase beyond what you could earn with many years of service with only a bachelor’s degree.

Based on the number of years that you have been teaching, you could experience a considerable increase in your teacher’s salary simply for completing a master’s program.

The advantages of obtaining your master’s degree are hardly restricted to salary increases. Deciding to advance your career through continuing your education is a reward unto itself. With the skills, insights, and research opportunities that you will have access to during your master’s program, your teaching could become drastically more efficient and effective.

Looking ahead to a higher teaching salary

Depending on both the grade level that you teach and, to a certain extent, the subject that you teach, your starting salary may be slightly above or slightly below the national average. Salary tends to increase slightly the more advanced the grade level that you teach, with elementary schools being paid less in lifetime earnings, and high school teachers being paid more.

On average, teachers who possess a master’s degree make between 10 and 20 percent more each year than their peers of equal experience and a bachelor’s degree. Here is a closer look at the salary benefits of obtaining your master’s according to your grade level and experience.

Elementary school teacher salary with a masters

A teacher just starting out in elementary school education with a bachelor’s degree can expect to earn about or just below $40,000 on salary. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national average for elementary school teachers was $59,020 in 2016, with the bottom 10% of elementary school teacher salaries amounting to $36,500 per year, and the top 10% of elementary school teachers earning $88,590 per year or more.

With a master’s degree, an elementary school teacher’s starting salary is approximately 10% more than that of a peer who is just starting out with a bachelor’s degree. Over the course of a lifetime, this salary increase remains fairly consistent, growing to approximately 15% by the end of a person’s career. Over a lifetime of earnings, having a master’s degree can translate to over $400,000 earned by retirement over a career of teaching with only a bachelor’s degree.

Elementary school teachers are arguably the most able to directly benefit from undergoing a master’s program. Classroom management and child development are heavily applied topics throughout elementary school and pursuing a master’s degree requires extensive knowledge and research in these two fields. Additionally, elementary school teachers may directly benefit from taking classes on motivating students to learn, employing multiple teaching techniques for students with diverse learning methods, and early intervention individualized education programs.

Middle school teacher salaries with a masters

Teachers setting out with a bachelor’s degree at the middle school level can expect a starting salary of slightly above $40,000. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the estimated average salary for middle teachers was $57,600. Compared to elementary school teachers, lifetime earnings were only slightly higher in 2016. The lowest 10% earned just under $38,000, while the highest earnings were estimated to be over $89,000.

Middle school teachers with a master’s degree generally experience the same 10% starting salary increase over that of a peer just starting out with a bachelor’s degree. Middle school teacher salary schedules tend to maintain this 10% wage increase throughout the career of the teacher, although in many states there are additional bonuses for pursuing continued education or gaining new skills. Like elementary school teachers, over a lifetime of earnings, the overall salary increase of those with a master’s degree is estimated to amount to $400,000.

Skills like team development and group theory are directly applicable to middle school teachers, who work with students at the age where they are becoming more socially and emotionally aware of themselves. Child development courses have direct applications, as well, and middle school teachers can benefit both themselves and their students with working towards a greater understanding of leadership and authority dynamics in a classroom.

High school teacher salaries with a masters

Since teaching at the high school level tends to favor specialization and single-subject teachers, high school teachers on average have higher salaries than elementary and middle school teachers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a starting salary for a high school teacher with a bachelor’s degree may be as high as $48,000, with the highest percentile of earnings reaching upwards of $92,000.

The maximum salary for a high school teacher can only be achieved with a master’s degree. According to PayScale, the median salary for high school teachers with a master’s degree is $9,000 higher than a teacher with only a bachelor’s degree. Over a lifetime of earnings, this translates to an increased salary earning of over $500,000.

High school teachers who are seeking to teach at the higher AP or IB levels are generally required to have a master’s degree, or at least some continued education in their single-subject field. All skills taught through master’s degree program are relevant at the high school level, particularly student stress management and teamwork and leadership skills.

Special education teacher salaries with a masters

The growing need for special education teachers, combined with steep requirements to become qualified to teach special needs students, has led to increase in salary for special education teachers over the past decade. The national average salary for special education teachers is approximately $60,000, with the highest 10% of earners making more than $93,000 a year.

Having a master’s degree is required in many states and across many school districts before you can be licensed as a special education teacher. That being said, because it is not a state or federal requirement for special education teachers to possess a master’s degree, the average salary increase for possessing a master’s degree is between $2,000 and $3,000 annually, sometimes issued as a bonus.

Special education teachers need to be able to identify potential learning disabilities at an early age and take a number of child development and child psychology classes to ensure that they are able to identify childrens with special needs before they lose time struggling in a mainstream classroom. Many special education teachers attain their master’s before going into the field, simply to be prepared for the multitude of learning disabilities and developmental disorders that they will face.

Physical education teacher salaries with a masters

Teaching physical education requires a slightly different set of credentials, typically requiring a bachelor’s degree in a health-related field such as kinesiology, physiology, nutrition and health, or physical therapy. According to the National Education Association, the national average starting salary for physical education teachers was $36,141 by the end of 2013. The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not differentiate physical education teachers from teachers in general, but Glassdoor lists the average base pay of physical education teachers at $48,013.

There is a considerable spike in physical education teacher salary with a master’s degree. While some schools require a master’s degree in order to teach physical education, physical education teachers see on average an increase of $4,000 to $5,000 per year with a master’s degree.

Those pursuing a master’s degree in a field related to physical education can directly benefit from more in-depth study of brain and hormone changes throughout childhood development, as well as educational leadership and child physiology. Since those teaching physical education encounter such a diverse number of physical and emotional abilities, many benefit from classes dedicated to understanding students with physical, developmental, and cognitive disabilities.

Teaching and the importance of salary

Most teachers agree that while pay is not everything, it certainly means a lot in the long run. Though private school teachers accept pay cuts in order to have more freedoms and better working conditions, many teachers eventually leave the education field in order to pursue a career that will be more sustaining in the long term.

As you decide whether or not to pursue your master’s degree, and as you weigh the cost of obtaining a master’s degree against future career prospects, remember that there are benefits and incentives beyond just the pay. With time, experience, and a lifelong pursuit of knowledge and bettering oneself, financial and educational success are easily attainable.

Works Cited:

Physical Education Teacher Salaries, retrieved February 18, 2018.

Private School Teacher Pay, retrieved February 18, 2018.

High School Teacher Salaries, retrieved February 20, 2018.

Special Education Teacher Pay, retrieved February 18, 2018.

Nedda Gilbert

Ms. Gilbert is a certified social worker and 30 year educational consultant with an interest in helping college-bound and graduate school students manage the process and stress of admissions effectively. She is one of the senior founding managers of the Princeton Review Test Preparation Company, and the author of The Princeton Review Guide to the Best Business Schools and another book, Business School Essays that Made a Difference (Random House). She is a guest contributor to Forbes Magazine on college and college life. Ms. Gilbert is also certified as a collaborative family law professional in New Jersey. She received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and MS from Columbia University.