How Much is Experience Worth?

After missing their budget deadline by nearly three full months, the North Carolina Legislature just released new salary schedules for the 2015-2016 school year.  I’ve been poking through them today — you can find them posted online here — and tinkering with the numbers.

Here are some general observations:

A first year teacher with a Bachelor’s Degree will be paid $35,000 by the State of North Carolina this year*.  A teacher with a Bachelor’s Degree and 25 years of experience will be paid $50,000 by the State of North Carolina this year.

Back-of-the-napkin math, then, makes one year of experience worth $600.

North Carolina provides a 10% stipend for earning a Master’s Degree and a 12% stipend for earning National Board Certification.  Both programs reward teachers for investing extra time into honing their craft and developing skills that can help them to become more effective instructors.  They are real opportunities for teachers to raise their own salaries.

North Carolina will pay teachers with 25 years of experience, a Master’s Degree and National Board Certification $61,000 this year.

Those numbers and a bit of back-of-the-napkin math makes one year of experience, a Master’s Degree and National Board Certification worth $1,040.

(*Note: The numbers cited here include only the portion of teacher salaries paid by the State of North Carolina.  Local municipalities can — and often do — add supplements on top of that base salary.  Those supplements vary greatly, however, from county to county.)


So what does this all mean?  I have no real idea.  Do other professionals see similar rates of salary growth over time?  Is making $15,000 more per year after spending 25 years in a field reasonable — or are people with significant experience in comparable professions (nurses, managers, police officers, firefighters) making significantly more at the end of their careers than they do on day one?

One of the things that I do know is that I’ve spent my entire career in North Carolina’s classrooms — and I’ve had my Master’s Degree and National Board Certification for 20 of my 23 years.  That has made it possible for me to say in the classroom — but I can’t say that I’m financially comfortable by any means.

In fact, I often wonder if I made the right choice when I decided to stay in the classroom.  I see the homes that the friends that I grew up with are living in, the salaries that they are making, and the cars that they are driving and I feel cheated because their families have opportunities that I cannot provide for my own.  I am — without exception — earning thousands of dollars less per year than everyone that I grew up with.  I’m also the only guy still working part-time jobs to make ends meet.


But here’s the thing:  None of those friends are filling the exact same role that they were filling on the first day of their careers.  They started as Sales Representatives and then began climbing the corporate ladder — moving steadily into Sales Manager, Regional Manager, and Corporate Trainer roles.  Or they moved from Associate to Partner positions.  Or they started as beat cops before becoming Sergeants and Detectives and Chiefs.

There is no corporate ladder for teachers, and while my experience is undeniably valuable — providing me with pedagogical expertise that makes it possible to effectively respond to the thousands of different circumstances that influence learning every day — my work is fundamentally no different than it was on the first day of my career.

My friends aren’t luckier than I am — and they sure as hell don’t work harder than I do.  They just pursued opportunities to advance in their professions — and each advancement came with a salary bump.  There ARE NO opportunities to advance available for classroom teachers.  You either teach and accept the stagnant salary growth that comes with that decision or you leave teaching.


So maybe my beef isn’t with the salary that I’m paid or the value placed on a year’s worth of experience in my state after all.  Maybe my beef is with the fact that education provides no real opportunities to remain a teacher while simultaneously accepting new professional responsibilities.

It’s education’s glass ceiling all over again — and it hasn’t changed in a hundred years.



Related Radical Reads:

Still Tired of Education’s Glass Ceiling

A Hapless Search for Organizational Juice

I Made $54,000 Last Year

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  • Matt Townsley

    state control of teacher salary
    I don’t have much to add to this conversation, Bill, other than noting North Carolina dictating so much of the teacher compensation equation. Here in Iowa, the state has established minimum salaries, but other than that, it’s up to the local school district and teachers’ union to bargain the rest. In other words, School District A might pay an MA with 25 years of experience $65,000 while School District B might pay the same education and experience $55,000. The state (and local municipalities) fund the schools and the bargaining process takes care of the rest.

  • Michael Mitchell

    Bill, I have felt for years

    Bill, I have felt for years this same way. We need to professionalize our profession.  Baltimore has done this in their own way and it allows teachers to move "up the ladder" as you say. I can't speak to how successful their new system is but it seems to be a step in the right direction. 



  • Bill Ivey

    On the bright side…

    … we can get married now without being fired.

    (Oh, wait. In the 31 states with LGBT job protections, that's assuming we're straight. But I digress.) 

    I'm not being entirely facetious. Teaching used to be one of the few job options generally available to women, and I think it can be fairly convincingly argued that going back far enough, creating a career path for these women to more responsibility and more pay was (to say the least) not nearly as high a priority as policing their morals, appearance, and so on. I'm certainly not saying state departments of education and local school boards are still reflecting an 1800s or early 1900s morality. But I am saying the system we built was not designed to allow for the kind of career development you're talking about here. The question becomes, what do we do about it?

  • Ali Collins

    Not JUST the money

    I really appreciate this post. I loved being in the classroom. Unfortunately, a job that was sustainable in my 20's became unsustainable as I moved into my late 30's and early 40's. I couldn't continue working as a teacher while taking on family responsibilities involved with being a wife and mom. I support my husband with his business, which pays our ridiculous SF mortgage, I have twins, and I am the only child of a parent with Alzheimers. It became more and more apparent when I tried to go back to work after having my girls that I simply couldn't sustain a full time job as a teacher AND do everything I need to do for my family AND take care of myself.

    Money is definitely an issue as well. Where I live in SF, teachers can't even afford to live in the city they teach in. For these reasons, many of the folks I started teaching with have either moved into administrative positions or shifted into the non-profit sector where they can increase their ability to earn while having more flexibility with work.

    I think it would be great if the teaching profession were reimagined so folks could pursue career advancement opportunities like writing, coaching, etc. as well as balancing family responsibilities. We waste so much expertise each year we lose experienced teachers. And good teachers, like folks in other professions, need outside experience and opportunities to keep them motivated and inspired year after year.

    So, YES… pay is DEFINITELY important. But, it's not enough.

  • akrafel

    Harder and Harder

    I have been a teacher for 40 years. I have been in the public school system for 20 of those years. My salary increase has been small, but steady. I make maybe $15, 000 more from where I started. I used to think that this profession was not really about money, but about the sacred art of teaching young minds. I love teaching. I even got to be a leader leader in starting one of the first teacher powered schools in the country. I know I changed lives, empowered youngers to go farther to be more, to do more. That has always been enough. I still hear from my students who left me 30 years ago. But it is becoming more and more difficult to have that mindset with the continuous harassment of teachers, the unrealistic goals, the mounting pressure to get test scores up. But the worst part of it is being asked to teach stuff I know is age inappropriate, or too hard, too fast for many kids. Kids are suffering more and more stress from academic pressure at younger and younger ages.  Having to face the the dual demand of doing what is best for each of my students and doing to them what the state demands is becoming more and more a tearing of my soul.  So now I get to be  underpaid, and psychologically assulted. What bright excited young person is going to want to join us in our suffering?

  • TriciaEbner

    Glass Ceilings and Goals

    Alysia raises a very good point. What young person, looking long term (and some do), wanting to help others, challenge oneself, and have the potential for professional and financial growth, will choose teaching, especially in this era? Teaching hits two of those three . . . the financial piece is missing. 

    The irony is this: many of the millenial generation aren’t as concerned about the financial piece, but they do want the opportunity to make a difference and learn and grow themselves in the process. In education we’re missing a prime opportunity to infuse our profession with some great enthusiastic, young minds, not because of salary alone, but because there aren’t the opportunities to grow and advance as they want. 

    You’re right: the glass ceiling is still there. 

  • AngelaRhode


    Bill Ferriter you already have discussed this topic in depth, and I have nothing to add more in this discussion, but that was a great time when I enrolled in life experience degree programs, and that was my great experience.