Starvation wage or living wage? A look at teachers’ salaries in Germany and the world

Teachers the world over have something in common: they share a great responsibility for the future of young people. But what about fair and just remuneration? The vast differences in teachers’ salaries are a great source of worry, particularly for poorer countries.

The teaching profession is a particularly demanding one. The teacher must impart skills and knowledge, help in character development, manage the school routine, and counsel parents and children. A teacher is important as somebody a child can relate to and is often a role model. Yet as regards fair pay, in some countries the situation looks bleak.

Studies show that teachers’ salaries in Germany are in the upper third of salaries in Europe

Teachers in Germany earn more than many of their colleagues in Europe. However, they have to put in more teaching time and their classes are often larger than those of teachers in other countries. According to a comparative study conducted in 2011 by the EU Commission, a primary school teacher in Germany earns between EUR 38,200 and EUR 51,400 a year. But salaries depend on the level of seniority. A middle school teacher earns between EUR 42,200 and EUR 57,900, while salaries at the high-school level range from EUR 45,400 to EUR 64,000. Salaries are higher in Luxembourg where teachers can earn up to EUR 101,500 a year. Bulgaria brings up the rear with salaries averaging just EUR 4,300 a year – a starvation wage.

A look at the OECD’s annual overview of worldwide developments in 34 major industrial nations reveals that German teachers are in the upper third in terms of remuneration. The starting salary for a primary school teacher is USD 46,456 per annum, while the OECD average is only USD 28,523. Based on the OECD country overview , the highest salary that a primary school teacher in Germany can earn is USD 61,209 per annum, while the OECD average is USD 45,100.

In the US, the question of whether a teacher earns enough depends on the teacher’s degree. With a bachelor’s degree one can barely live off one’s wages – teachers start with an annual salary of USD 35,000 and have no option but to seek ways to increase their salaries. This is convincingly described by Evelyn Rogers in her article ‘The Post Grad “Master’s Bump” for Teachers’.

Language teachers who freelance are particularly poorly paid

The possibilities of earning a good income for educators in Germany who are permanently employed or who are civil servants do not, however, extend to teachers who freelance. This applies in particular to teachers of German as a foreign language, for example, who teach the integration courses at further education institutes. They earn EUR 15 per hour, gross. And this despite the fact that they are required to have a university degree as well as additional qualifications.

Androulla Vassiliou, EU Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, calls for ‘teachers’ remuneration and working conditions’ to be ‘a top priority in order to attract and retain the best in the profession. But attracting the best teachers is not just about pay: it is imperative that classrooms are well-equipped and that teachers have a proper say on modernising curricula and education reforms.’

A problem for the younger generation in Europe is the relatively low entry-level salary: after all, it takes an average of 15 to 25 years for teachers to earn the maximum salary. Teaching organisations are therefore afraid that many young people may not be interested in teaching as a profession. While entry-level salaries for teachers tend to be low, most teachers in European countries manage to earn an income that is close to the maximum pay level in their respective countries with the help of allowances for overtime or for special assignments. These countries include Denmark, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Finland, England and Wales.

Teachers’ salaries: little money, little recognition in developing countries

‘I would like to pass knowledge on to the next generation in order to promote development in my country,’ writes Ouk Chhayavy, a teacher from Cambodia, in a publication brought out by the German Federal Ministry for Development and Cooperation (BMZ) on the Global Campaign for Education. Yet a look at a teacher’s salary is a sobering experience: In Niger, for example, educators earn just under EUR 100 per month and that too on an irregular basis, as the payment centre where the teachers collect their money is difficult to reach.

When salaries are so low, it is no wonder that teachers are in short supply. By 2015, the world will be short of 1.7 million teachers. Rural areas in poor countries are the worst off. In Africa alone, there is a shortage of a million teachers. This is borne out by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Teachers are also required to replace those leaving the profession and the number will then increase by a further 5.1 million, according to the report.

August 2013

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Mrs. P
25 May 2022

Giving a salary without comparing the workload makes no sense!
Maybe teachers in Germany are better paid compared to other countries in Europe but the work load is insane.
If you compare teaching hours (26 teaching hours in Berlin compared to 17 or 21 in France depending on your degree) there is already a difference.
But in Berlin, you have all the additional responsibilities and things that have to do next to teaching.
I have taught in the US (by the way, my salary was double after tax than the one I have now in Berlin public school) and in Germany, alongside people from France. It is amazing how teachers here replace so many other school professionals that you find in France and in the US. Forget about having time to prep for lessons and grade test! Administrative things will bring you to your knees until you collapse: Protokoll schreiben, again and again, 16 emails per day, inform Jugendamt, parents, school psychologist, act as secretary, maintain students’ files, Vetretung hours when you come in in the morning, without warning… And the list goes on and on.
Oh, and I forget: how many subjects are you teaching and preparing? How many preps do you have in a row without pause? And when you have a pause, you need to supervise some place. Have many periods in a row will you teach without having a break? None of those things are regulated and work conditions are not designed for teachers to last. The reality is that teachers are constantly calling sick and those present, constantly replacing those absent, which is another duty on the list of teachers. Forget about those substitute teachers coming to cover for the day.

Adedirin A. Eniola
13 November 2019

Teachers pay in third world countries is injustice at the highest order. Although, salaries are low, it also depend on country to country. For instance what I was earning in Namibia is way better than what I earned as a secondary school teacher in Nigeria.

The reason is connected to the level of injustice being allowed to perpetuate itself in the country. I feel very sorry for my colleagues who are unable to relocate or immigrate to other countries. The situation is unbelievably bad!

Garba Adamu
29 August 2019

Teacher's supposed to pay even more that because of his versatility and commitments.

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