Gather round, kids! Your teacher’s going to tell you a story about the historical fluctuations in his compensation package!

If we just adjust for inflation, teacher salaries look pretty flat. They climbed throughout the ’60s, dipped in the ’70s (not keeping pace with rapid inflation), rebounded in the ’80s, and haven’t changed much since.

Teacher salaries over time - adjusted for inflation

But “flat adjusted for inflation” doesn’t necessarily mean “flat.” Maybe other salaries have gone up, even after adjusting for inflation, while teacher pay has stayed the same. In that case, teacher pay is falling behind.

As a matter of fact, that’s what seems to be happening:

Teacher salaries over time - as ratio of salary for all full-time workersThe average teacher makes more than the average full-time worker. (That’s partly because almost all teachers have college degrees; not all workers do.) How much more? Well, the teaching bonus has fluctuated from 5% in 1959 all the way up to a peak of 23% in 1990. Teaching was a pretty well-paid gig back then.

It’s stumbled since. The 1990’s and 2000’s were comparatively unkind to teachers, who now make just 3% more than the average worker.

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Caveats: From 1959 to 1969, the NCES only has data for alternating years. I filled in the gap by averaging the two adjacent years. (For example, the ’64 numbers are just an average of the ’63 and ’65 numbers.)