That's a really difficult question to answer, as the teaching field has many different directions you might take. A bachelor's degree and demonstrated excellence will serve you in good stead if you'd like to work in many good (high-paying) k-12 schools--a master's will be a leg-up. There is a definite pay ceiling here, though.
A master's will be required if you want to become a professor at the college level. And it will probably take a doctorate. I took that path, and I wouldn't recommend it--too much debt to take on without many open jobs at the end of it. Tenure and high salaries are harder and harder to find, as most universities are looking to use a dirt-cheap graduate and adjunct job force instead. This means that they are churning out more graduate degrees than ever before, but for fewer full-time positions than ever before. Not a great idea. That being said, if you can get one of those jobs, it will come with pretty great pay and perks.
The best dollar amount you'll be able to get in the education field is actually working as an educator in the business realm. Whether this is as an Instructional Designer, Trainer, Facilitator, Learning & Development specialist, or something similar, the base pay rate and ceiling pay rate tend to be much higher than in the other teaching fields. Directors of Learning & Development at companies with 2,500 plus employees tend to earn a salary in the triple digits. What's more, you can work at some companies that are doing real good for their community, if that's important to you. There are a lot of these jobs open right now, and I imagine they'll only become more prominent in an increasingly fluid and changing job market, where employees constantly have to learn or relearn how to do their jobs effectively and efficiently. If you want to enter the business field, you'll want a bachelor's degree and preferably a master's in instructional design, education, or something similar. That being said, I know quite a few people in the field who just have a bachelor's degree and years of experience as a teacher, trainer, or educator. This field is new(ish) and growing, which means the barriers to entry are much lower than they might be ten years from now.
Jacob recommends the following next steps:
- Look for volunteer or internship opportunities to mentor, teach, or lead people. It's never too early to start. I started by helping to organize games and lessons for junior highers at my church while I was in high school. I volunteered as a radio host for an author interview program at a college radio station. I volunteered as a managing editor at three different literary journals. I have also tutored prisoners and at a women's shelter in more recent years. Finding these opportunities is hugely valuable, as they 1) help to educate you about what you'll be looking for in your career (as well as what you want to avoid), 2) help to train you for your career (probably much more than getting a degree will), and 3) they give you instant credibility and experience when it comes time to interview for jobs. One of the most powerful things I've gotten to say to an interviewer is, "I love this kind of work. I live and breathe it. And you know that's true, because I've done it for free at _____ and _____. You'll never have to worry about my dedication to improving and growing, because I'm in this for life." VolunteerMatch is a great tool for finding those opportunities. And if you need to get paid for those kinds of things (trust me, I've been there), UpWork is a solid place to start when looking for freelance, part-time, or short-term work.
- Get a bachelor's degree. Could be in education, could be in english, could be in a number of different fields. One of my colleagues became an instructional designer two years after getting her bachelor's in graphic design. There are a lot of really interesting ways to get to where you want to go.
- If you can, get a master's. The best way to do this is part-time, or while you're working somewhere else. DO NOT go to graduate school full-time. It's a waste of your time and money. Instead, look for accelerated programs, night programs, or programs that your employer will assist you in paying for. There are tons of those opportunities out there, so look for those.
- Don't be afraid to follow your passion! I have made a ton of choices in my life that were a tug of war between pay and passion, and I've never regretted making a choice for passion. I have, however, most definitely regretted following the pay before--not always, thank goodness. What's more, the fields where I volunteered and spent my own time learning and growing are exactly what has made me stand out from other candidates. And I use all that knowledge and experience all the time (yes, even my degree in poetry).