Teachers are a most valuable resource, but most are not underpaid. Here’s why‼️

We need teachers, we need dedicated, good teachers. Good teachers can have a significant positive influence on children. But teachers are paid through taxes paid by average citizens and that creates limitations on what is affordable.

There seems to be a growing movement to raise teacher salaries. That’s fine as long as we consider all the factors involved.

  • Teachers are educated professionals
  • Teachers work less than most other professionals in a given year 🎓
  • Teachers have more job security than most professionals
  • Teaching is a demanding, stressful and often frustrating job
  • Evaluating teacher performance is difficult at best
  • Teaching success is significantly affected by the student’s parental involvement; a factor beyond teacher control
  • Teachers typically receive a generous non-cash compensation package including a pension, defined contribution plan, and active and retiree health coverage, and more. This is rare outside the public sector in 2018.

Let’s look at the case for higher salaries.

Average teacher salary according to 2017 research by the NEA for 2015-2016 school year was $58,353 with a state high of $79,152 in NY to a low of $42,000 in Mississippi and North Dakota; 💵 likely reflecting cost of living and union and political power (and citizens ability to pay).

The typical classroom time in a year is 180 days or 1170 hours, but teachers work more than the classroom time so at a minimum of 8 hours per day they work 1440 hours. That’s still only during six month a year so let’s add the extra days they are required to work such as before and after the start of the school year. Assume that totals five weeks or 200 extra hours. That means a good teacher works 1640 hours a year. That’s an average hourly rate of $35.581 or the equivalent to $74,008 per full-time year in base salary.

Now compare that with the average for all salaried workers in the US. $50,024 is the average salary in the US for the highest paid group age 45 to 54 in 2017. (Other age groups are lower). Private sector workers very rarely have a pension plan or any retiree benefits and typically pay more for lower health benefits than the public sector.

It is hard to make the case that teachers are underpaid, especially relative to the average person paying for those salaries and benefits through their taxes. Anyone in public employment receives unique benefits and unique challenges and limitations. Balancing base pay, total compensation and the ability for taxpayers to afford both is one of those limitations. You simply cannot look at only one component in isolation.

Politicians who ignore the total picture are pandering for votes

🎓 Teachers and their unions make the case that a typical work day goes beyond the school day and even beyond eight hours a day. I don’t dispute that. But most professionals work beyond a forty hour week; often 50-60 hours during a fifty-two week year. Small business owners do the same often for less income than a teacher.

💵 Mississippi has the highest poverty rate and the lowest median household income in the US.


2 replies »

  1. For the most part, salaries in general (including teachers) are most affected by supply and demand. A large supply of people willing to take a job as a teacher at current salary levels in a free market will keep the price of their labor down. There are other factors,not so free market,that will push the price of their labor higher such as collective bargaining by unions and the power of the union purse over politicians especially in non “right to work” states and also state licensing requirements. I do believe the work of teachers is very important to society but salaries are set by the marketplace and not on a value judgement.


    • I was reading about the West Virginia teacher strike and the article had a link to West Virginia average wages (May 2016) from the US DOL BLS. I believe that teachers should be paid more than some professions and less than others. It is interesting to me how West Virginia values some of its labor.
      Life Guards – $19,350 (the lowest on this table at $9.30 / hr, W.V min. wage is $8.75)
      Retail floor sales – $24,530
      Crossing guards – $27,220
      Fire Fighters- $32,200
      Teachers – $45,500

      Considering that crossing guards work only part of the day in my area and only when school is in session, to me that is a lot of money. Fire Fighters to me are underpaid because they often average 54 hrs a week (required to cover 24/7 in most shift schedules and that is what I worked long ago) so they are working more hours than the crossing guard. Not knowing what the cost of living is in W.V. the teacher’s pay seem about right to me. In NJ, some engineers depending on discipline start from $50K to $70K and they work a full year or a full 75 days more than a NJ teacher.

      I did note what I would consider non-degree required jobs, that the state jobs seems to be paying more than the non-state job titles. (I did not study the fine details of the footnotes and additional charts, so I might have some of this out of context).

      I agree that teachers are promised generous non-cash compensation packages, except that in several states, like NJ, due to the unfunded pensions, I would not count on that money. But other than that, I consider them very well paid with promises to be pension, better than most others, even in W.V.


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