If you have a passion for gaining and sharing knowledge, consider one of the many possible career paths in the field of education. Educators work with learners of all ages, in public and private schools, colleges and universities and libraries. Most professionals in education work directly with students in the classroom, but others manage the operations of a school, keep books and educational materials organized or devote their work lives to developing educational content and curricula. Even though education isn’t typically thought of as a lucrative career, it can be very rewarding – and as these jobs prove, the earning potential can be a great deal higher than the median annual wage across all occupations. Read on to learn more about the top 10 highest paying education careers.
1. School Principal
If you enjoy teaching but also have great management skills outside the classroom, school principle – the highest paying education career – might be an excellent career for you. Principals work in schools large and small at the elementary, middle and high school levels. School principals at any level can have numerous responsibilities. They must make sure the school meets academic, performance, budgetary, security and technology goals as well as government requirements.
They set class and school maintenance schedules, supervise and assess teacher performance, help create curricula, make sure the school stays under budget, attain supplies and comply with district, state or federal regulations. Principals still meet directly with students, but they often do so for the purpose of addressing problem behavior. They may also work with teachers, support staff members and parents to address students’ behavioral problems.
Additionally, school principals have some important responsibilities beyond the day-to-day school operations. They serve as the point of contact between the school and the public. With school safety a major concern across the nation, these education professionals are responsible for creating and coordinating safety procedures. They may play a role in the hiring process and set up professional development experiences for teachers and staff members. School principals receive student achievement data, like standardized test scores, to evaluate and use as the basis of school performance reports. They also manage counseling, special education and childcare programs, if the school offers these programs. Some principals have help from assistant principals, instructional coordinators and other support staff, while other school principals take on all of these responsibilities on their own.
Principals start out their careers in the classroom. They usually have at least five years – and often, a lot more – of teaching experience. To become a principal, candidates must also earn a master’s degree in either education administration or education leadership. One such program will prepare candidates for responsibilities like managing school staff members, setting and following budgets, planning to achieve goals and interfacing with parents and community members.
Median Salary: $87,760
Education: Master’s Degree in Education Leadership or Education Administration
2. Postsecondary Teachers
Not every teacher works with children. If your passion lies in educating adults, a career in postsecondary education could be a great choice for you. These educators, often called professors or instructors, work at two-year and four-year colleges, universities, business schools, technical and trade schools, hospitals and other career training institutions. While postsecondary teachers do teach in the classroom, laboratory or lecture hall, they also often conduct their own research in their subject area.
Subject area is important for postsecondary teachers – much more so than for elementary school teachers, for example. These educators develop expertise in their field through many years of schooling not just at the undergraduate level, but at the master’s or Ph.D. level. They learn and contribute to the field through their own research work, thesis or dissertation. Postsecondary teachers, particularly those who work full-time at major universities, continue their research work and publish their findings scholarly journal articles and books even as they teach classes in their subject area. As teachers, of course, they juggle the responsibilities of devising lesson plans, syllabi, assignments and exams and grading student work. Professors may advise students in their programs on topics like courses to take and academic and career paths to pursue. Some postsecondary teachers supervise students in graduate programs as they complete work for their thesis or dissertation.
Earning an advanced degree is only one part of the process of becoming a college professor. Full-time professors often attain a good deal of experience in their subject area, either conducting research, working in the field, teaching at the college level or through some combination of these experiences. Many postsecondary teachers begin a career in academics as adjunct professors, which means they teach part-time. It’s not uncommon for adjunct professors to teach part-time at multiple schools or while working in another role while they cultivate the experience necessary to attain a full-time position.
Median Salary: $68,970
Education: Master’s degree or Ph.D. in their subject area
3. Instructional Coordinators
If you’re as interested in what and how students are learning as you are in the act of teaching, then a role as an instructional coordinator might be your ultimate career goal. These education professionals, who typically have years of experience as teachers themselves, focus primarily on developing and coordinating curricula, instructional materials and teaching standards. They choose textbooks and other course materials that align with educational goals and curricula. Instructional coordinators also suggest what technologies and teaching methods teachers should use in the classroom.
A big part of what instructional coordinators do is working with the instructors. These professionals set up and oversee teacher training, including workshops and conferences. Instructional coordinators create the curriculum and the processes teachers use to implement it. They evaluate teachers and serve as mentors in helping them attain new skills and improve existing ones. To determine the effectiveness of curricula, procedures, materials, technology and teaching methods, instructional coordinators evaluate students’ performance on tests.
Instructional coordinators go by many names, including instructional coaches, assistant superintendents of instruction and curriculum specialists. Some may work exclusively on developing, implementing and assessing curricula for particular grades or subject areas.
The position of instructional coordinator is no entry-level job. First, candidates must attain plenty of experience teaching, which requires earning an undergraduate degree in education (and possibly a subject area) and a teaching license. After they have the experience to advance into an instructional coordinator role, candidates must earn a graduate degree in education or curriculum and instruction. In these master’s programs, aspiring instructional coordinators will study teaching theory, curriculum design and how to analyze student performance data. Some programs allow students to delve into an area of focus, like a specific level of education.
Median Salary: $60,050
Education: Master’s Degree in Education or Curriculum and Instruction
Education doesn’t always take place in the classroom. If you want to help people of all ages and education levels learn and do research for school, work and personal purposes, consider a role as a librarian. More than half of all librarians work in schools of some type, from the elementary to college level at both public and private institutions. More than one-quarter find employment in public libraries. Others work in specialized settings, like corporate libraries, government libraries, medical libraries and law libraries. Some librarians, particularly those who work in very large libraries, specialize in one main responsibility, like helping patrons or doing administrative work.
Work as a librarian is all about helping people locate the information they’re looking for. This means interacting with library patrons – such as students, professionals and community members – to answer questions and guide research efforts. Librarians organize materials and carefully maintain collections and the databases that provide information about those materials. They acquire new books, materials, equipment and technology. To stay under budget, they have to choose materials carefully, researching books and considering information like reviews and catalog blurbs.
Librarians may also be responsible for teaching informal classes on research and locating resources and for planning events and educational programs for library visitors. Some librarians in leadership roles train and oversee library employees, including assistants and technicians.
An advanced education is essential for a career as a librarian. While there’s no one undergraduate program that’s the right choice to prepare candidates for the career, the Master of Library Science, or MLS, degree is a standard qualification employers seek in candidates for librarian positions. Earning this degree typically takes one to two years of additional study beyond the undergraduate level and covers subjects like online and offline research methods, library materials selection, information organization and how to use online reference systems. Candidates for librarian roles in specialized libraries may need a degree in the field in which they specialize – like law, medicine or business – as well as library science. Librarians may need to attain certification to work in schools or to work at all in some states.
Median Salary: $55,370
Education: Master of Library Science, Master of Information Studies or Master of Library and Information Studies
5. Special Education Teachers
Some students need extra help. Special education teachers are the educators who instruct students who have mental, physical, emotional and learning disabilities that make it difficult for them to learn and succeed in a more traditional learning environment. Some students need help learning basic life skills, while others require general study help, and still others need assistance in particular subject areas where they may struggle.
Special education teachers often work one-on-one with students, creating Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) tailored to each student that outline goals and the services available to help the student meet those goals. For students with mild to moderate disabilities, these plans might include how to adapt standard course materials and lessons to help the student more successfully grasp the material. The curriculum itself might be similar to that of general education classes in the same grade, but the use of different teaching techniques and requirements helps students with disabilities absorb and process the information. Special education teachers also teach basic skills in literacy and communication to students who suffer from severe disabilities. Throughout the school year, special education teachers are responsible for updating IEPs to report progress and performance toward these goals.
Special education teachers also work with small groups of students, as well as overseeing the class as a whole. Sometimes they have help from classroom teacher assistants, while some special education students also have their own aides. Special education teachers often work closely with school counselors, general education teachers, their students’ parents and even school superintendents to help students succeed to the best of their abilities. Special education teachers find work in all grade levels, from elementary to high school. Some work in inclusive classrooms that mix general education and special education students, teaching in conjunction with general education teachers. Others work in resource rooms or in classrooms exclusively for special education students who need individual attention. Special education teachers may work with students who have a specific type of disability, like blindness or deafness, or they may work with students who have a variety of different disabilities that may affect their education in different ways.
A bachelor’s degree in education is essential for a career as a special education teacher. Probably the best preparation for this career is an undergraduate program in special education specifically. These programs delve in-depth into subjects valuable for success, like the various kinds of disabilities special education teachers may encounter and how to teach material in ways that students with these disabilities can understand. However, some special education teachers start the career with a background in elementary education, with or without studying a content area. In some states, special education teachers must attain a master’s degree in special education. Any education program should require college students to gain work experience in the form of supervised student teaching. After graduating, aspiring special education teachers must attain a license or certification from the state in which they intend to teach.
Median Salary: $55,060
Education: Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education, Elementary Education or Content Area
6. High School Teacher
By high school, students should know the basics of subjects like reading, writing, mathematics and social studies. High school teachers impart more advanced knowledge and lessons to students. They prepare students in the ninth through 12th grades for life after graduation, whether that means college, technical school or a transition right into the workforce. High school teachers typically concentrate on a single general subject area, like science, math, history or English, but they may teach a variety of classes within the subject during the day. They teach courses at different grade levels and difficulty levels, including advanced and college preparatory classes.
Like teachers at other grade levels, high school teachers develop and implement lesson plans. They cover material through in-class lectures, discussions and activities and assign homework, papers and projects. High school teachers grade assignments to assess students’ performance and their understanding of the course material. While high school teachers manage entire classes of students, they also work with kids in small groups and individually to enhance their strengths and improve their weaknesses. They must prepare their students to pass standardized tests, cultivate a solid educational background in subjects that they will pursue further in college, and develop the skills to succeed in the real world. High school teachers may discuss progress and academic performance with their students’ parents. Many high school teachers choose to get involved in extracurricular activities, like school clubs and sports.
Because high school teachers instruct students in a specific subject area, it’s important for them to have an education in that subject area themselves. An aspiring science teacher might choose to major in biology, chemistry or physics. A bachelor’s degree in history would be appropriate for an aspiring high school social studies teacher, while majoring in mathematics would prepare a candidate for a high school math teacher role. Aspiring high school teachers should also study education or teacher preparation during their college career to learn about child and adolescent psychology and ways to successfully instruct students. This may mean they will have to double major in education and the content area of their choice. During their college career, they will participate in student teaching opportunities to gain work experience. After graduation, aspiring high school teachers will need to earn either a high school or secondary certification or license in the state where they intend to teach.
Median Salary: $55,050
Education: Bachelor’s Degree in Education and Content Area
7. Middle School Teacher
Bridging the gap between the basics of elementary education and the advanced concepts and preparation for adulthood of elementary school is middle school, typically considered grades six through eight. Like high school teachers, many middle school teachers focus on teaching just one or two subject areas, like math, science, English or social studies to several classes of students each day. They have the sometimes challenging job of expanding the fundamental knowledge and skills students learned in each subject during elementary school so they will be able to grasp more complex concepts and succeed in the more academically rigorous environment of high school. They must also get students ready for success on standardized tests.
Middle school teachers develop lessons, assignments and classroom activities to convey course material. They administer quizzes that test students’ knowledge and grade participation, classwork, homework, projects and exams. Sometimes middle school teachers assign group work and facilitate teamwork within small groups. At times, they may work with students individually to help them if they are struggling with the course material or to challenge them to reach their full potential. In the classroom, middle school teachers establish and implement rules for behavior. Outside the classroom, they may be responsible for supervising students in the hallways, the cafeteria, the gymnasium, the playground or even during school field trips.
During the course of their careers, middle school teachers work with many other adults to help the children they teach succeed. They hold conferences with parents to inform them of their child’s progress, performance, strengths and academic needs. They collaborate with other teachers, especially in schools where teachers of different subject areas work in teams to facilitate meeting big-picture education goals. Middle school teachers may refer students to school counselors, special education teachers or school administrators for help with various problems, from emotional challenges to learning difficulties and discipline for behavioral problems.
While aspiring middle school teachers need an undergraduate college degree in education, exactly what they choose to major in can vary. Some enroll in elementary or even early education programs, while others may find degree paths in middle school education or middle grades education. By studying education in college, aspiring middle school teachers will learn child and adolescent psychology and effective teaching methods for conveying lessons. They will develop real-world experience through student teaching. Many students also choose to major in the content area they intend to teach – in fact, some states and colleges require education majors to double major in a subject area. Upon graduation, candidates will need to attain a teaching license or certification. Exactly which certification they pursue depends on the requirements of their state, but can range from elementary school to secondary school certification.
For candidates who already have a bachelor’s degree but don’t have a teaching background, there’s also an alternate route to teaching certification. This path allows candidates to take their education courses long after they have earned a degree, sometimes even while they begin their teaching career.
Median Salary: $53,430
Education: Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary or Middle School Education
8. Elementary School Teacher
How do young children learn the basics of reading, mathematics, science, social studies and other essential subjects? With the help of good elementary school teachers. These instructors typically work with students in grades one through five – generally, ages five to 11. However, some elementary schools include students up to eighth grade.
Elementary school teachers often spend the entire day teaching the same class of students, educating them in various subject areas. They manage classroom behavior, setting and enforcing rules for appropriate conduct. As students progress and gain fundamental skills, elementary school teachers present increasingly complex concepts, such as science experiments, reading assignments and group projects. They also help students develop the academic and communication skills they will need to succeed in school and in later life. In addition, elementary school students have to take standardized tests, which their teachers must prepare them to pass.
Elementary school teachers are responsible for developing lesson plans that present material in ways their students can understand and apply it. Successfully teaching this age group often requires hands-on activities, which teachers have to plan and implement. To determine how well students are understanding and applying the course material, elementary school teachers still have to assign and grade classwork, tests and even homework. Teachers at the elementary education level may have more regular communication with parents regarding individual students’ academic and behavioral performance than teachers at higher grade levels do. They also oversee student behavior during recess and mealtimes.
Naturally, a degree program in elementary education is the most straightforward choice for aspiring elementary school teachers. These programs include coursework in child psychology and development, teaching methods that are effective with young students and techniques for instructing students with different strengths, weaknesses and backgrounds. They also include a student teaching component designed to help future teachers gain hands-on classroom experience. Some states and schools also require aspiring elementary school teachers to major in a subject area, though they will be responsible for instructing their students in all content areas. After earning their degrees, candidates will have to earn a teaching license or certification in early childhood education or elementary education. As with other types of teachers, aspiring elementary school teachers who have a bachelor’s degree in a different field can pursue an alternate route to a teaching certification.
Median Salary: $53,400
Education: Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education
9. Career and Technical Education Teacher
Not every student is cut out for a traditional college education or its corresponding career options – and that’s a good thing, because there are plenty of important jobs for which a college academic program isn’t the best preparation. Some students excel at subjects like culinary arts, hospitality and tourism, information technology, auto repair and assistant or technician roles in the healthcare industry. Career and technical education teachers instruct students in middle schools, high schools and postsecondary schools in these technical subjects so they can develop the skills necessary to enter the workforce. They work with students in classrooms, workshops and laboratories and often help students find opportunities to gain professional experience during their education.
Like other types of instructors, career and technical education teachers plan lessons and carry out activities. Through instruction and demonstration, they help students attain academic knowledge and the technical skills to apply it to the kind of real-world situations they will encounter in their future careers. They assign written and hands-on work for students to complete in and out of class and grade those assignments to measure students’ success. In middle and high school settings, career and technical education teachers may interact with parents to notify them of students’ performance, strengths and struggles. In technical schools and junior colleges, they record students’ progress toward a certificate or an associate’s degree.
The typical entry-level education requirement for career and technical education teachers is a bachelor’s degree in their subject area of expertise, though this requirement may change from one field to another. Some career and technical education teachers have only a high school degree, but many years of practical experience in the field and the credentials to prove it. Even aspiring career and technical education teachers who have a bachelor’s degree often need years of experience in the subject to begin teaching it. Career and technical education teachers who work in public middle and high schools, in particular, need a state-issued teaching license or certification. They may need to complete student teaching experiences, as well.
Generally, career and technical education teachers earn the highest salaries – a median wage of $55,160 – working in secondary or high school settings. Middle school career and technical education teachers earn a median salary of $54,220. The lowest median salary, $47,990, is found at postsecondary schools like business schools, trade schools, technical schools and two-year colleges.
Median Salary: $51,910
Education: Bachelor’s Degree in Subject Area
10. Kindergarten Teacher
If your passion is to educate the youngest of young children, then kindergarten is the grade level for you. Kindergarten teachers work with children around age five. Some of these children have never been to school of any kind before, while others have some exposure to the classroom dynamic from enrollment in preschool or even a daycare program.
Kindergarten teachers develop and oversee classroom activities. They typically see a single class of students for the entire day and must develop hands-on projects that keep young children engaged, out of trouble and constantly learning. Kindergarten teachers may teach the entire class at one time, or they may break the class up into small groups and work with different groups at different times while still supervising the class as a whole. Though the work appropriate for kindergarteners is less complex than it would be for elementary school children or older kids, kindergarten teachers still have to explain the work, help students to complete assignments and determine how well they are progressing toward meeting age-appropriate goals. At this grade level, establishing and enforcing classroom rules is particularly important, since the youngest students may not yet know what behavior is acceptable in the classroom.
To become a kindergarten teacher, candidates must earn a college degree, attain work experience and complete the requirements to get a teaching license or certification. A bachelor’s degree in early childhood education or elementary education is typically an appropriate choice for aspiring kindergarten teachers. Besides learning how to manage a classroom and convey information to young children, these programs will also provide candidates with student teaching experience. In some colleges and states, even kindergarten teachers will have to major in a subject area as well as education. After earning a degree, aspiring kindergarten teachers will need to attain teaching certification in early childhood grades.
Median Salary: $50,120
Education: Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education
Editor’s Note: The information presented in this article comes from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a federal government agency that reports on the labor market. Wages, education requirements and other details about the education jobs listed can vary depending on location and employer. If you’re interested in a career in education, consider this list a guide you can use to begin your own research specific to your goals and location.