Individuals who enter the education profession may choose the level at which they want to teach. In fact, it is imperative they do, as their teaching level impacts their licensure requirements and certification options. Two of the options are teaching at the elementary or secondary levels. The difference in pay between elementary and secondary teachers is very slight, but overall, secondary teachers tend to make more.
For elementary teachers, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that the average annual salary is $53,150, according to 2009 data. Pay for secondary teachers is only $2,000 more at $55,150. The BLS uses an assumption of 2080 work hours to determine annual salaries. With this figure, the hourly rate for elementary teachers works out to about $25.55. The hourly pay for secondary teachers is $26.51. Notedly, most teachers do not work the entire year. Those who do not may not work 2080 paid hours. Given that many teachers put in dozens of unpaid hours for planning, however, the true estimate of hourly rates probably still is accurate.
Due to differences in experience, location and sector, there is a wide range of pay for both elementary and secondary teachers. Elementary teachers in the lowest 10th percentile earn $33,830 per year based on 2009 information from the BLS. Those in the 90th percentile earn $78,720. Secondary teachers in the 10th percentile make $34,600. Those in the 90th percentile make $82,000. This data shows that although the range for both levels has a differential of over $44,000, the range for secondary teachers is wider, with secondary teachers having a greater earnings potential.
Teachers are not confined to working in traditional elementary and secondary schools, although many do. The top-paying sectors are different for elementary and secondary teachers. Elementary teachers earn top compensation in general medical and surgical hospitals, where pay is $53,130 according to 2009 BLS data. Next is the traditional elementary and secondary school sector, which provides $53,190 a year on average. Psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals follow with $55,650, and colleges, universities and professional schools give $55,730. The best pay for this level is in the individual family services sector, which pays $56,460.
Secondary teachers earn $48,220 in residential retardation, mental health and substance abuse facilities. Religious organizations pay secondary teachers an average annual salary of $48,770. At technical and trade schools, secondary teachers make $50,130. Colleges, universities and professional schools follow with $50,400. Secondary teachers earn the most in traditional elementary and secondary schools, where pay is $55,210.
Just as pay varies by sector, it also varies by location. As of 2009, elementary teachers do best in the states of Rhode Island, Alaska, Connecticut, New York and the District of Columbia, says the bureau. These areas have average salaries between $64,200 and $68,410 per year. For secondary teachers, the best salaries are in New York, Illinois, Alaska, Connecticut and New Jersey, where average pay is $65,420 to $68,010.