Teachers in the US vs. Other Countries: Underpaid & No Respect

american education vs world cover image

The education system in the US has been a hot topic of conversation for seemingly forever. How we stack up against other nations has been a source of pride or shame depending on what statistics you look at and when you look at them. These days, the internet is flooded with stories decrying the state of our schools, but how does our school system actually compare with schools around the world?

How teachers are treated

If you ask the average American what they think of teachers, you’ll likely hear words like “underpaid”, and “no respect” quite a bit. In fact, the majority of Americans agree that teachers should be treated better and paid more money, unfortunately, that doesn’t translate to American teachers actually being treated any better. In 2018, the Varkey Foundation released its Global Teacher Status Index which measures how teachers are treated in 35 developed countries around the world. The US came in at 16th on that list, behind mostly Asian countries like China, Singapore, Taiwan, Korea, and Malaysia.

https://www.varkeyfoundation.org/media/4851/gtsi-usa-chart-findings.pdfSource: Varkey Foundation

Source: Varkey Foundation

These rankings take into account factors like hours worked per week, the amount of respect shown by the public, and how “teacher” is viewed as a profession when compared to others. While America isn’t at the bottom of the list, we certainly have room for improvement.


It may not come as a huge surprise, especially if you’re a teacher, but American teachers are paid significantly less than their counterparts around the world. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the United States ranks 27th out of 32 developed countries when it came to teacher salaries. The average salary in the United States isn’t even on par with the average worldwide teacher salary.

Again, the United States isn’t at the absolute bottom of this list, but the news doesn’t get any better when you see how far behind our salaries are here compared to other nations. American teachers aren’t just a little bit behind, in some cases we are substantially behind. For teachers to get paid as they do in Luxembourg, for instance, we would all need close to an 80% raise!

via Brookings.edu

Typical School Days

When it comes to how school days are structured, nations are as different as their cuisine. In Singapore for instance, teachers are required to assign an average of over 9 hours of homework per week, and their schools have some of the highest test scores in the world. Teachers in Finland meanwhile assign less than 3 hours of homework per week and still manage to achieve high test scores.

When it comes to how many hours teachers spend in the classroom, that number can vary wildly too. Russian teachers for instance are only meeting with their students roughly 470 hours a year on average. That’s half the number of hours American teachers are teaching, and that doesn’t count the extra hours put in before and after school. On a daily basis, students in Switzerland win the prize for having the shortest school day at under 5 hours, while in China the average school day is 9 hours long. 

Student Performance 

It would seem on the surface that the easiest way to compare educational systems around the world is to just compare their test scores. While that’s been a popular method for comparison over the years, it’s a very dicey proposition. For instance, in America, all children are required to attend school until their teen years, but in other countries, only the best and brightest are allowed in. That immediately puts America at a scoring disadvantage. Even still, America finished in the top third of all nations that took part in the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) in 2015.

In the end America has a lot to be proud of. Considering the sheer number of students we attempt to educate every year, our system is certainly better than most. Of course there will always be areas the US can improve in, if it wants to have one of the most successful systems in the world. 

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David Rode

Dave is a middle school math teacher. He's also a musician, a community theater, dad to two amazing children, and he doesn't get a lot of sleep.

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