Teachers are underpaid, teachers are overpaid, what’s your perspective?

Are teachers underpaid, overpaid or is their bowl of porridge just right?  Take a position and I can find you statistics to support it. The fact is you can’t realistically find other jobs fully comparable to a classroom teacher. After all, what job in industry has to put up with a parent who thinks her C student belongs in an AP course? What other job virtually requires you to buy your own supplies?

People don’t go into teaching to get rich and people wouldn’t keep going into teaching if they were not adequately compensated; that’s total compensation, not just pay. I’d like a job with eight weeks off in the summer, snow days, and a week off here and there during the year. I wouldn’t like a job managing a few dozen kids for hours on end or reading a couple of hundred eighth grader’s attempts at prose while watching Desperate Housewives.

Is a pension better than a 401(k) plan, you betcha. Is paying little or nothing for health insurance better than paying 25-30% of the premium, again affirmative. Is individual job security through tenure better than employment at will, it kinda is. Are government backed health benefits in retirement at any age retirement is permitted better than “you are on your own” before age 65, I’m guessing it is.

Let’s run some numbers. Say you are a teacher earning $60,000 a year. You work 180 days a year or a total of 1440 hours. That means you earn $41.66 an hour (yes I know, you actually work more hours, but so do people in the private sector if they want to keep their job and advance). Now let’s look at a training manager in a large company also earning $60,000. She works 264 days a year less 10 days vacation and say 8 holidays. That’s a total of 1968 hours meaning she earns $30.48 an hour or 36.6% less than the teacher. Or to put it another way, the corporate trainer would need base pay of $81,960 to be even with the teacher plus about an additional 15-20% to be even in total compensation and benefits.

Now look at the reality of pensions. It’s true most teachers pay a significant portion of their pension. However, that is comparable to the 6% to 8% of pay private sector workers must contribute to get a full employer match on a 401(k) plan.  A teacher earning $60,000 likely will have a pension of 70% of pay at full retirement age. To equal that pension initially, the worker with a 401(k) plan needs about $585,000 (to buy an annuity) and that does not provide a survivor benefit or inflation adjustment.  The typical teacher pension provides both. Many teachers also have a 403b plan to supplement their pensions.

But you know what, none of the above matters. What matters is what is affordable to the people footing the bill. In the private sector that is the business owner or shareholders. In the public sector it is taxpayers. You can argue all you want about who is over or under paid, what job is unique or more valued than another, but what matters is the ability to pay for the expense that is created.

Public employees are clearly at a disadvantage because there are limits on public spending and taxing (or there should be) and that is the essence of the problem.  The debate and crisis we are seeing today is a result of politicians and union leaders forgetting that fact and now faced with high costs and tremendous long-term liabilities which fall squarely on the shoulders of taxpayers.

Making the argument that teachers, police officers and firefighters “deserve” more is quite irrelevant, as irrelevant as the AARP saying seniors earned their untouchable Social Security and Medicare benefits.  

The head of the NJ teachers union earns $250,000 a year, the President of the United States earns $400,000 and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics latest data, the average salary of a registered nurse in the United States is $67,720. The average teacher salary varies widely by state, but appears to be around $55,000. In some higher income states it is $60,000 or more.

So, are teachers overpaid?  Pick your facts.


  1. I think teachers need to be compensated a lot more considering the importance of their job. Not to mention the fact that they spend a lot of hours developing lesson plans and grading papers etc. It will be hard to retain quality teachers with lower salaries.


    1. Ok, are you willing to pay more taxes to do this? Have you considered their work year is about 180 days compared to a normal work year of 266 days (less vacation)? Have you factored in that while many teachers do spend time off hours on papers, etc their work day is still not any longer than most other people plus in many area they get weeks off during the year in addition to parts of June and all of July and most of August?


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