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Blog>Guides>Understanding the Costs and Benefits of Becoming a Teacher

Understanding the Costs and Benefits of Becoming a Teacher

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Each child dreams about the job they will have when they grow up. Some want jobs that will make them rich or famous, while others want jobs that will let them change the world. No matter the goal, one thing is certain: teachers are an indispensable resource to help kids succeed.

Teaching is a profession that changes lives. However, teachers face unique challenges, so anyone considering a career in teaching should learn about the pros and cons of becoming a teacher.

The Cost of Becoming A Teacher

The first step to becoming a teacher is going to college. You must get a bachelor’s degree to become a teacher. A bachelor’s degree is awarded after four years of study at an accredited college or university.

Bachelor’s degrees can be expensive. The Education Data Initiative found that the average cost for one year of college in 2023 was $36,436, which includes money needed for books, supplies, and daily living expenses. However, the price can vary. Researchers from the Education Data Initiative also found that while the average private university student spends roughly $56,000 per year, the average state college student spends about $26,000. In either case, the average cost of college has more than doubled in the 21st century.

Luckily, there are ways to reduce the cost of a teaching degree. State colleges usually offer discounts for state residents, and students can cut costs by living at home instead of on campus. Moreover, there are a variety of grants and scholarships awarded to students who are pursuing careers in education.

A student at graduation.

Getting a bachelor’s degree in education is just the first step toward becoming a teacher. All 50 states require graduates to become certified before going into the classroom. The certification process involves testing, background checks, and money. A basic Praxis test costs $90, while additional subjects cost more. The cost to complete a background check and apply for licensure varies from state to state but is usually less than $300. Teachers must also renew their licenses each year. Again, the renewal cost is decided by each state.

After becoming certified by the state, many teachers continue their studies. The U.S. Department of Education (DOE) reports that 51% of teachers have advanced degrees, with an average cost of just under $60,000. Teachers pursue these master's or doctorate degrees for many reasons. Some states give additional pay to teachers with higher degrees, and some teachers want to become certified in a specialized area, such as special education. Know that loan forgiveness options do exist for graduates who go into fields where there is a lack of teachers.

The Cost of Working as a Teacher

Though there are many advantages to becoming a teacher, there are some financial drawbacks. When weighing the pros and cons of becoming a teacher, one of the biggest concerns for most people is the low pay.

As stated, all teachers must complete four years of college. However, teachers earn far less than other college graduates. That's according to the most recent analysis by the Economic Policy Institute. The institute has been tracking the “teacher pay penalty” for over 18 years, and in 2021, EducationWeek reported it reached a new high: 23.5 percent less than comparable college graduates, or 76.5 cents on the dollar. This means teachers earn substantially less than other professions, with the worst states (Colorado, Oklahoma, Virginia, Arizona, and Alabama) well over 30%.


To make matters worse, teachers often use their limited pay to buy things for their students. A 2018 DOE survey found that 94% of teachers had used their own money to buy classroom supplies and other items for their students. These were not small expenses; the survey found that the average teacher spent $479 each year.

Geography also affects teacher pay. Teacher pay rises and falls along with a state’s cost of living. For example, while New York ranks first in teacher pay nationally, it falls to 17th when the state’s high cost of living is considered. Similarly, teacher pay in Michigan, which ranks 11th in the nation, rises to the first position due to the state’s lower living costs. So, those considering a career in teaching should give considerable thought to where they plan to live. Choosing the right location can stretch teachers’ pay considerably.

The Financial Benefits of Becoming a Teacher

While teachers receive low pay, they receive several financial benefits that can help balance the scales.

Although teachers earn less than other college graduates, they often qualify for special financial programs. One of the best programs is loan forgiveness. For instance, one federal loan forgiveness program erases up to $17,500 of student debt for highly qualified teachers. There are other state and federal programs that ease the debt burden for teachers.

Benefits contract.

The EPI study also found that teachers receive better benefits than those in other professions. Most school districts give teachers excellent benefit packages including health, dental, and vision coverage. While the superior benefits did not close the pay gap between teachers and other professions, they did help reduce it. Teachers also receive generous pension packages to support them during retirement.

Finally, while teachers often spend their own money to help students, several programs help reduce these costs. First, the IRS lets teachers deduct classroom expenses. Also, many businesses give teachers special discounts, and many office supply stores and bookstores have discount programs for teachers. Even better, teachers also get discounts at museums, theme parks, clothing stores — even hotels. These discounts help teachers stretch their dollars further.

The Non-Financial Costs of Becoming a Teacher

When considering the pros and cons of becoming a teacher, not all of them are financial. Many factors affect how a person feels about their daily work. Here are a few things beyond money that make teaching challenging:

  • Long Hours: Teachers do not clock out when the last bell rings. They often work into the night, grading papers or creating lesson plans for the next day.
  • Stress: Every day, teachers deal with difficult students and angry parents. They work long hours and do so with little pay. As a result, teaching can be a stressful job.
  • Illness: Because schools put large groups of people in close quarters, they are filled with germs. Since children tend to have poor hygiene, colds, the flu, and other illnesses jump from student to student — and eventually, to their teachers. Frequent illnesses are another downside to teaching.
  • Summer Vacation: Though many think teachers get summers off, most teachers spend their summers working, preparing for the next year, or taking classes.
  • Bureaucracy: State legislatures and school boards set testing, discipline, and curriculum rules beyond the teacher’s control. It can be hard for teachers to comply when they know or believe the rules need to be changed.

The Non-Financial Benefits of Becoming a Teacher

While money is certainly a major factor in any career decision, many perks to a teaching career have nothing to do with money. Here are a few things that teachers tend to like about their work:

  • Job Satisfaction: One might think that people in a stressful job with long hours would hate every minute. Not only is this not the case for teachers, but the opposite is true. Despite the downsides, 92% of teachers say they enjoy their jobs. Few careers provide that level of job satisfaction.
  • Schedule: As stated, teachers do not get summers “off.” However, many teachers — especially those with families of their own — appreciate that they can share a schedule with their children. Keeping the family on the same schedule also reduces childcare costs.
  • Job Security: Most public school districts grant teachers tenure after a certain period of time. Tenure means that the teacher can only be fired for good cause. Because good cause is a high standard to meet, teaching provides great job security.
  • Union Support: The most recent DOE report found that 70% of teachers belong to unions. Unions fight for higher pay and better conditions for teachers. Teachers who belong to unions are generally more satisfied with their pay.
  • The Opportunity to Be a Hero: Next to family members, teachers are the adults with the greatest opportunity to shape a student’s life. A kind word from a teacher can motivate a student. Teachers often help students who have problems at home. The list of ways that teachers can change their students’ lives for the better is endless.

Do You Want to Be a Teacher?

If you think you handle the pros and cons of becoming a teacher, here is more good news: the teaching profession needs you. A 2018 EPI report found that just a few years ago, there were more teaching candidates than teaching jobs. Then, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the teacher attrition rate has only gotten worse. And rural communities are feeling a significant lack of teachers the hardest. Because the demand for teachers is so high, now is a great time to become a teacher.

A teacher's desk.

It’s been said that “teaching is the profession on which all other professions depend.” If you want a job where you can truly make a difference in a young person’s life, teaching might be the perfect job for you.

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