Unexpectedly Intriguing!
19 April 2006

Are teachers underpaid? Compared to the average worker, the most recent data released by the American Federation of Teachers (available as a 480KB PDF document) suggests that the answer is no.

For the 2003-2004 school year, the average teacher's salary in the U.S. was \$46,597. By comparison, the AFT's report indicates that the average earnings of a worker in the private sector in the U.S. was \$37,765, meaning that the average teacher in the U.S. makes 23% more money than the average U.S. worker.

The problem with this measure is that it represents the average of all U.S. workers, not just those who have to go through similar levels of education and training to become a teacher. Teachers argue that compared to other professional occupations, which require a similar number of years of post-secondary education, they are underpaid. But is this true?

Part of the problem with answering this question is that compared to other professions, educators work on a totally different calendar. While the typical professional employee will work an average of 8 hours a day, 260 days per year, the average teacher only spends 6 hours of a day in the classroom for 180 days out of the year.

To be fair, teachers must also spend a not-insignificant amount of time outside the classroom involved in administrative activities (such as class preparation and grading), so any real comparison of teachers pay vs. the pay of other workers must take this factor into consideration.

So that's what we do! Political Calculations(TM) latest tool finds what the equivalent pay of a teacher would be if they worked the same number of hours annually as other workers. Just enter the indicated data and the tool will take care of the rest:

Labor Data for Teachers
Input Data Values
Annual Pay (\$USD)
Number of School Days per Year
Classroom Hours per School Day
Labor Data for Other Occupations
Number of Work Days per Year
Hours Worked per Day

Work Hour and Equivalent Pay Comparison
Calculated Results Values
Average Daily Hours for Teacher
Annual Hours Worked for Teacher
Annual Hours Worked for Other Worker
Equivalent Annual Salary for Teacher

Just running some back of the envelope numbers, a teacher would have to put in a little over 5.5 hours per school day, above and beyond their classroom time, to have their number of hours worked equal the total for a typical full-time worker.

The results above may be compared with the average annual pay of other professions (one of the best resources is the earnings data maintained in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook) to see just how well teachers are truly faring in the U.S. today!

Note: An added constraint must be added for comparing the pay of teachers to other similarly educated professions. Teachers must pass through a large number of vocational courses, which is driven in large part by the requirements of the accrediting bodies that oversee the profession. As a result, those who graduate with degrees in education lack the same level of rigorous academic development found in other disciplines, such as business, science, engineering, law, medicine, etc. The most comparable professions therefore are those professions that require a similar level of vocational undergraduate courses, such as journalism, nursing or fine arts.

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