TEACHER SALARIES REDUX

Apropos of a rather long dialogue in response to this post Thursday, reader Paul e-mails this CNN story, which notes that the national average salary for schoolteachers hit $44,400 last year, with brand new teachers averaging $30,719.

Paul writes

OK, find for me a job where you make $45,000 a year, get 3 months paid vacation and get off at 3 in the afternoon.

It is a myth that teachers are underpaid.

That comes out to over $32/hr with full benefits and retirement.

While granting that a lot of teachers take work home with them, have extracurricular duties, and don’t always get a full three months off in the summer, that’s still not a bad deal.

The American Federation of Teachers begs to differ:

The AFT contends teacher salaries would still be lower than those of white-collar peers — such as midlevel accountants and engineers — even if teachers worked a 12-month year. Factoring in an extra 35 days of work would push the average teacher salary to $52,541, the survey said.

It’s hardly surprising that teachers make less than engineers, or even “mid-level” accountants (presumably CPAs), given the economies involved.

And the “days worked” math is rather dubious, since it works wildly in the favor of the teachers, who get long breaks and numerous holidays throughout the academic year. If we convert 9 months to 12 months, we get $59,200.

I’m not sure what the “fair” way to make this calculation is, given that it’s rather unreasonable to expect teachers to find jobs for the nine months off. And I’m not sure what the pay is like in places that have gone to year-round schooling. Do the teachers get paid substantially more? Or do they just get their vacation time spread into chunks?

Update: (2024) Paul thinks it’s actually more like $64,000, because he converts it to an hourly rate ($32/hr), figures 40 hours a week times 52 weeks is 2080 hours; 2000 figuring two weeks vacation. 2000×32=$64,000.

The point holds either way but I tried to make it as much like a real job as possible.

Ouch.

FILED UNDER: Education
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Paul says:

    Accountants and engineers can be sued or even jailed for poor performance.

    Teachers?

    Accountants and engineers get paid more simply because they are more qualified. DUH!

    Paul

  2. Doug says:

    And accountants and engineers are paid based on performance.

    God help us if teachers actually had to perform their tasks.

  3. jen says:

    given that it’s rather unreasonable to expect teachers to find jobs for the nine months off

    Not to nitpick, but isn’t that three months off?

    As you’ve pointed out, teachers earn a pretty good wage and they have a powerful union to keep things good for them. I would love to have three months off each year.

  4. Paul says:

    I dunno Jen– I’ve HAD teachers who took 9 months off. 😉

    P

  5. Paul says:

    The AFT contends teacher salaries would still be lower than those of white-collar peers — such as midlevel accountants and engineers — even if teachers worked a 12-month year. Factoring in an extra 35 days of work would push the average teacher salary to $52,541, the survey said.

    Wanna have fun???? Get a calculator (and a calendar) and see how well the teachers do math. hehehehe

    I’d Fisk the hell out of this but I have said enough. You do the math. The American Federation of TEACHERS won’t look too good.

    P

  6. Wow..this is ironic. I’m an engineer who’s seriously thinking about becoming a teacher (allegedly, they’re always looking for math/science types). Do you think they’ll let a hardcore conservative into their ranks?

  7. James Joyner says:

    P: The math works out pretty close if you figure $44,400 for 180 days = $246.67 a day. Another 35 days = $8633.33 + $44,400 = $53,033.33. I’m not sure where he got $52,541. Maybe he did some rounding along the way or used a figure other than 180 days.

  8. Rodney Dill says:

    I don’t believe that accountants and engineers are paid more based on just performance. This is a capitalistic free market society (largely). Higher demand for services and skills leads to higher compensation when the people that supply those skills are in shorter supply.

    More recently a lot of IT people, engineers etc.. have had to take less skilled positions due to layoffs and downsizing. Unions, like the teachers unions tend to throw this model out of kilter.

  9. Ron says:

    In Oregon it is hard to pin down a precise number for the value of the retirement component of pay. It is clouded by the guarantee on pensions. It cannot go down, but the cost to the public (and thus the benefit to the teacher can go up) a theoretically infinite amount. Do you have to go back and recalculate what “had” been the pay for prior work periods? When would would you stop the recalculations and subsequent ratcheting up of the original pay measures? Its’ an expensive mess and is at the heart of the current so-called crisis in Oregon, where the current pay for young teachers and the days of education for current students are big losers.

  10. Mark Hasty says:

    I’m an ordained Lutheran pastor with a master’s degree. I work six-day weeks all year round, I am on call 24/7, work absolutely every major holiday, and have to do more annual continuing education than any schoolteacher in my state.

    Forget Paul’s $64K figure. Forget the $52K teachers would get paid if they worked a 12 month year, according to the AFT. In fact, forget the $44K the average teacher makes now. I’d like to get that $30,719 the average starting teacher makes.

    What, you thought I just helped myself to what people put in the collection plate?

  11. bryan says:

    Hey, I’d just like for my wife to make the 44K average. We’re way behind the curve.

    Of course, here I’ll trot out my standard disclaimer that these numbers are absolutely useless, as they combine numbers for teachers in Calif and NY and other high cost-of-living areas with the rest of the country. I can honestly say that a teacher in the districts my wife has worked in would have had to teach for about 20 years to reach $44K a year.

    And, oh, Paul. Accountants and engineers don’t face the prospect of being shot or assaulted by an unhappy customer very often, either. Accountants and engineers don’t usually have to make sure their customers take their medications so they don’t start screaming at them while they’re working on the design for the latest project. And accountants don’t usually show up to work with 24 people demanding to have their taxes done at the same time. Accountants and engineers don’t usually have to deal with a co-worker falling off a swing and fracturing his arm in three places, or not showing up with his receipts and expecting you to take care of it.

    “Accountants and engineers get paid more simply because they are more qualified. DUH!”

    Duh, then let’s round up some of those highly “qualified” accountants and engineers and throw them in the classroom with some elementary school kids. Or better yet, get them to take care of their own kid all day – home school ’em.

    I swear, the more I read idiotic comments like these, the more I sound like a freakin’ teacher union rep., but I don’t think you have much grounding in reality for these assumptions, especially the short work hours.

    And my offer still stands: Any of you who think teachers have it so great with the short days and three months off, be my guest. There are plenty of (mostly inner-city) classroom positions available for you out there.

    It’s hilarious that you folks don’t believe there’s a market operating in teacher hiring. In Texas, at least, wealthy school districts can pay more for teachers, and have “standard of living” perks as well (like low crime, new facilities, highly motivated administrators). These districts often attract the highest quality candidates. Inner city districts do not have hundreds of highly qualified teacher candidates beating on the doors to teach. Why do you think that is? Isn’t that a market?

  12. Scott Harris says:

    Teachers, as a group, are the dumbest professionals around. Just look at the average SAT scores of teachers versus any other professional class.

    As for Bryan, every job has its difficulties. And there are some teachers who are in it for the love of teaching. But most are just trying to collect a paycheck, just like most accountants and engineers.

    I am an engineer, married to an accountant, with very little regard for today’s crop of teachers. They send home 3-4 hours of homework for grade school students, and my wife and I do most of the teaching.

    They whine and complain, and our schools keep getting worse. They are more interested in self-esteem than learning. I go to “awards” ceremonies where my daughter cries because she got the “dumb person” award. The children know which awards have meaning, and the teachers are too stupid to realize that the kids are in on the joke.

    Some teachers become malicious because they can’t match wits with a grade schooler. Tolerance is the new watchword in our society, and tolerance is what I learn by having to put up with so many incompetent fools.

  13. Bryan says:

    Scott: “Teachers, as a group, are the dumbest professionals around.”

    You pretty much shoot yourself in the foot with your first statement.

    I’m going to stop now before I post something about the common sense ability of engineers that I will regret.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I’m more curious as to where they got the “35 days” figure. Most Americans average 10 paid holidays, with another 10 vacation days That’s 48 weeks a year, times five days a week, which comes out to 240 days a year, not 215. Add another month onto that math and you’re a lot closer to Paul’s figure than the teachers union’s.

    Which just goes to show, I think, how wildly out of touch with the average American work experience our teacher’s unions are.

    And yes, they do bring home work. But my friends whose parents are teachers say that this is true only in the first 2-5 years of teaching, when the teachers are learning their trade. After a teacher has taught Intro to Chemistry for 25 years, he can be on the golf course by 3:15. Or so I’m told.

  15. Wendy says:

    What many of these commentors are forgetting, whether intentionally or otherwise, is that there would be no other profession if it were not for teachers. Speaking as a teacher, what is really sad for us, besides the fact that there are people who claim that “those who can’t teach”, is the fact that these people are also the ones who NEVER volunteer for anything at their childs school. Son/daughter having a problem with math or reading, teacher tries to contact a parent and schedule a conference, parent just can’t seem to make it. Regardless of what other people think, we, the teachers, have the responsibility of not only our own family and children but we also have these added responsibilities with our classroom full of children: teacher, role model, mother, councelor, friend, nurse, confidant, and most importantly someone that they trust because they are with us more than they are with their parents. Tell me that teachers make too much money, see my check and then tell me that I make too much money for what I do in one day. I am a teacher, I make a difference in the lives of children every day-WHAT DO YOU DO THAT IS THAT GRATIFYING?!?!

  16. Mari says:

    Thank you to Wendy! I have been a special ed. teacher in Texas for 18 years. I have a master’s degree and several other certifications attached to my teaching certificate. Those of us in the trenches understand how difficult it is to attempt to teach “our” children meeting federal, state, and local demands and while also maintaining our own philosophies of education. After 18 years, I have finally made it to the point where I earn more than $42K and that is only because I also serve as a department head! Fortunately, my only reward is not the paycheck, but it is the sheer joy that comes from watching a child with/without learning disabilities, emotional disabilties, or some other physical handicap achieve something that at one point was beyond his/her capabilities. I truly feel sorry for those among our population who cannot/will not ever understand that without those of us who dedicate ourselves to the children life as we know it in the US would cease to exist.
    Bravo, Bryan! You are one of the few who understand that it is not always a picnic to walk into a classroom of 21-24 young children and attempt to teach them what they should know. My one true pleasure is knowing that when I open my classroom door, each day is new and no two days are ever the same! To those who think that teachers can leave a 3:00…those are the ones who are the ineffectual. The ones who no longer SEE students, but subject matter. For those of us who truly TEACH, the day starts at 7:00 and ends when it is well and truly finished, generally midnight of after.

    “Accountants and engineers can be sued or even jailed for poor performance. Teachers?” Yes…teachers can also be sued for malpractice and in the case of special ed., noncompliance with federal,state,local regulations. Ever hear of IDEA??? PL 94-142?

    Please understand, those of us who love teaching do it for the sheer joy of the task and the love of the childre. All we ask is to be fairly compensated as the professionals that we are.

  17. Mari says:

    Thank you to Wendy! I have been a special ed. teacher in Texas for 18 years. I have a master’s degree and several other certifications attached to my teaching certificate. Those of us in the trenches understand how difficult it is to attempt to teach “our” children meeting federal, state, and local demands and while also maintaining our own philosophies of education. After 18 years, I have finally made it to the point where I earn more than $42K and that is only because I also serve as a department head! Fortunately, my only reward is not the paycheck, but it is the sheer joy that comes from watching a child with/without learning disabilities, emotional disabilties, or some other physical handicap achieve something that at one point was beyond his/her capabilities. I truly feel sorry for those among our population who cannot/will not ever understand that without those of us who dedicate ourselves to the children life as we know it in the US would cease to exist.
    Bravo, Bryan! You are one of the few who understand that it is not always a picnic to walk into a classroom of 21-24 young children and attempt to teach them what they should know. My one true pleasure is knowing that when I open my classroom door, each day is new and no two days are ever the same! To those who think that teachers can leave a 3:00…those are the ones who are the ineffectual. The ones who no longer SEE students, but subject matter. For those of us who truly TEACH, the day starts at 7:00 and ends when it is well and truly finished, generally midnight of after.

    “Accountants and engineers can be sued or even jailed for poor performance. Teachers?” Yes…teachers can also be sued for malpractice and in the case of special ed., noncompliance with federal,state,local regulations. Ever hear of IDEA??? PL 94-142?

    Please understand, those of us who love teaching do it for the sheer joy of the task and the love of the children. All we ask is to be fairly compensated as the professionals that we are.