Eight Factors That Affect Your California Teacher Salary

By Brian Soika

An instructor earns her California teacher salary while helping students with a lesson plan.

Predicting your California teacher salary can be challenging. There are a surprising number of factors that determine your compensation—factors you should consider to maximize your earnings potential. 

Learn how a Master of Arts in Teaching can kickstart your career.

How Much Do Teachers Make in California?

The average California teacher salary was $82,746 for the 2019-2020 school year. This is over $20,000 higher than the national average. The state ranks second in the nation for compensation, trailing only New York. 

Spending per student, however, is lower than every other state in the top 10. That means you may be on the hook to provide more materials for your students, depending on your school’s resources.

Factors That Affect Your California Teacher Salary

1. Your Education Level

At minimum, California teachers must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university, and complete a teacher education program approved by the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC). 

However, teachers with a Master of Arts in Teaching degree typically earn more money. First-year instructors earn an additional $2,760 compared to those with a bachelor’s degree. The salary advantage grows over time, expanding to an average of $7,358 per year when you reach the limit of the pay scale.  

Keep in mind that earning your master’s degree is an investment that you’ll need to pay off. Fortunately, there are several ways to pay for grad school, including scholarships and loans. Loan forgiveness may also be available. 

2. Years of Experience

Typically, California school districts use a “step and lane” schedule when it comes to determining teachers’ salaries. 

Steps refer to the incremental raises you get year over year. For example, after one year of teaching, you complete step one. Step two is complete after two years of teaching, and so on. Your raise increases with every step. 

Teachers eventually reach a maximum number of steps, and usually stop receiving raises after many years on the job.

The lane salary schedule is used for teachers who earn additional educational credits or a master’s degree. The impact on your pay depends on your district and point in your career at which you earn your credits.   

3. Location of Your School

Your California teacher salary is largely determined by where you teach. The compensation for instructors with similar credentials and experience can vary widely depending on their region and school district. 

However, remember that cost of living plays an important role. Expensive communities may offer a much higher salary than low-income or rural areas, but your compensation is offset by the costs of homeownership or rent, goods and services, and more.   

The table below represents the ten biggest school districts in the state, and compares the average teacher salary to the median home price. 

(For scale, the smallest school districts in California have one teacher with salaries starting around $40,000 / year.)

California Teacher Salary vs. Home Values

District Teachers Average Salary Median Home Price
Los Angeles Unified 23,670 $78,962 $696,051
San Diego City Unified 5,506 $83,542 $650,000
Fresno Unified 3,883 $79,907 $291,990
San Francisco Unified 3,660 $75,872 $1.3 million
Long Beach Unified 3,302 $94,044 $599,000
Elk Grove Unified (Sacramento) 3,202 $81,565 $474,900
San Bernardino City Unified 2,616 $86,401 $310,000
Corona-Norco Unified (Riverside) 2,485 $101,255 $615,500
Santa Ana Unified (Orange) 2,348 $94,411 $536,500
Sacramento City Unified  2,315 $75,296 $330,000


Home prices via Zillow.

4. Elementary vs. Middle vs. High School

High school teachers in California tend to make more than elementary and middle school teachers. 

The table below compares average salaries for elementary school and high school teachers. 

(The US Bureau of Labor and Statistics estimates that the annual mean wage for California middle school teachers is $75,660.)

Average California Teacher Salary: Elementary School vs. High School

District Type Starting Salary Range  Highest Salary Range
Elementary School $45,252 – $45,741 $84,472 – $102,065
High School  $48,044 – $52,466 $89,023 – $109,803
Unified $43,574 – $48,612 $86,896 – $99,791


(Data via the California Department of Education.)

It’s important to note that the highest-paid teachers have the most experience and/or additional education. The takeaway? Teachers can experience a significant salary trajectory in their careers. 

For tips on starting a career in secondary school, check out our blog post on how to become a high school teacher.

5. Public vs. Private vs. Charter School

There are three major types of K-12 schools in California:

  • Public schools are open to any child in a given district and free to attend. 
  • Charter schools are open to the public, but managed by nonprofits or private organizations. 
  • Private schools charge tuition for students, and have more freedom over curriculums.

Typically, charter and private schools pay teachers less than public schools. However, you may earn more at a private school that charges high tuition.

Public schools in California offer another unique financial advantage for teachers: pensions. CalSTRS is the state-sponsored pension program, and it’s considered to be superior to a traditional 401(k)-style retirement plan

6. Teaching Students With Disabilities

Teachers who are qualified to teach students with disabilities (sometimes known as special education teachers) enjoy a salary advantage over general education instructors. On average, they earn around $2,000 more per year, according to national data.

To teach students with mild to moderate disabilities in California, you must earn your Education Specialist credential.

Pro tip: USC Rossier’s Master of Arts in Teaching program lets you earn your required single- or multi-subject credential as well as your Education Specialist credential with no additional required units.

7. Becoming a Coach

One way to boost your California teacher pay is by becoming a coach at your school. Typically, schools pay coaches a fixed amount of money in addition to your normal salary. 

As a coach, you’ll need to work a full day, as well as attend practices and games after school. You also have to meet requirements set by the California Interscholastic Federation.   

If you’re looking to supplement your teacher income, coaching may be a smart move.

8. Teachers’ Unions

Research shows that teachers who work in public, unionized school districts earn more money, especially veteran teachers. Teachers’ unions also provide bargaining leverage with your school board and may include other benefits such as discounts. However, you are required to pay dues. California teachers pay $1,072 in dues on average every year to their union. 

 
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