Challenges to the Teaching Profession

Teaching has rich history of providing a career pathway for women.

Education is one of the most female-dominated professions. Around 75% of K–12 teachers and 90% of elementary school teachers are women. Teaching has a legacy as a profession that has been viewed as a career pathway for women.

Teaching is also one of the lowest paid professions relative to the amount of education and training required for the position.

Teacher in front of grade school students

Currently, there is a major shortage of K-12 teachers in the United States (estimated shortage of 110,000 teachers). Low pay is one of the major reasons why individuals are avoiding or leaving teaching, along with insufficient funding for education overall and lack of continued professional development.

  • The teacher shortage has emerged in just the past five years. There was a marked shift in teaching during the 2008 recession, when many states cut the numbers of teachers, teacher salaries and/or education funding. Numerous analyses have shown that funding to support teaching and education has not been restored since the recession and also has been tied to generating support for tax cuts or other spending in states.

Having sufficient numbers of well-trained teachers is essential for educating students and for having a well-prepared workforce for the future.

  • The average teacher starting salary was $39,249 in 2017–18. In 300 districts, the starting salary was below $30,000, and in 1,025 districts, even the highest paid teachers earned below $50,000.
  • The Economic Policy Institute calculated the teacher “wage penalty.” They found that public school teachers are paid 4% less in wages and compensation than other college-educated workers. Average weekly wages of public school teachers decreased $21 from 1996 to 2018 (adjusting for inflation).
    • Teachers in high-poverty schools make about 10% less than teachers in low-poverty schools.
    • More than half of teachers report taking on additional work to supplement their income — with average earnings between $4,000 and $4,300. That reduces family and personal time.
    • In 2018 and 2019, teachers have gone on strike for higher pay and additional funding for education, including in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, North Carolina, Kentucky, Los Angeles, Oakland, Denver and other areas.
  • In 2016, 24 states still had total state/local per-student funding below pre-recession (2008) levels.
  • There has been a drop of more than 15% in education degrees awarded and a 27.4% drop in teacher preparation program completions between 2008–09 and 2015–19. Around 13% of teachers also leave the profession annually.
  • A number of teachers report lack of support or training, particularly those teaching in high-poverty schools as a reason for leaving the profession.
  • A quarter of female teachers have reported experiencing sexual harassment on the job.