So I Decided To Take A Closer Look At Teacher Pay

closer-look-teacher-pay-fiSo I Decided To Take A Closer Look At Teacher Pay

by Paul Mossedmerger

Note: This post was written localized to a UK audience (e.g., currency and relative phrasing), but the theme is likely well-received globally so we published it as-is. As of 8/1/2014, 1 British Pound Sterling = 1/68 US Dollars.

It seems almost arrogant to be complaining about pay rates for teachers as we enter a 6 week paid vacation.

Indeed, the cries from the general populace are palpable. Of course the argument is always blurred by the general population’s bias, entrenched from their own miserable schooling experiences. However, I challenge any one to tell me who is paid worse out of all professions than teachers. And before a collective negativity permeates the airwaves as this is read, I implore you to consider the context of the teacher’s role compared with other professions.

Teaching is one of the few jobs whose job description belittles the actual amount of energy and dedication necessary and in fact demanded to be successful. Let’s go through the numbers.

Any teacher worth their salt delivers a 10 hour day, and often that is on a good day. This includes actual teaching time, tutor groups, professional development, and other hidden non-compulsory (#compulsory) school activities, parental correspondence and parent interviews, and preparation.

The majority of the public has no notion of what it actually takes to deliver 4 or 5 or 6 lessons a day to an incredibly differentiated bunch of young people. It takes great skill and significant planning to deliver quality and engaging lessons, all varied in approach necessary to cater to diverse ability ranges and learning styles.

Add to that at least 4 or 5 hours on the weekends, and then add any marking that must be completed for each class every fortnight. In other words, add 2 to 3 hours per class per fortnight. So that’s another 10 to 15 hours a fortnight.

So far we are up to a minimum of 118 hours per fortnight, or a 59 hour working week. Of course, this is mitigated by the holidays that teachers receive, but let’s look at these too. The 6 week break in summer is only 2 weeks more than any other worker who would receive their 4 week annual leave. But teachers also have 2 weeks in-between terms (4 weeks) and 1 week for half term breaks (3 weeks), totaling 9 more weeks than regular professions.

Sounds like a promised land, however, in each half term break, teachers would spend at least 3 days preparing for the next session and catching up with assessment marking etc., and in the 2 week in-between terms teachers would spend at least 4 days preparing and catching up on assessment and book marking. This takes off 3 weeks.

The extra 6 weeks seem a wonderful bonus, but the purpose of this essay is to consider the inequity of wage for teachers compared with other professions, and if we take the 59 hour week and inoculate it with the 30 days of free time, it effectively reduces the 59 hour working week to a meager 54 hours a week (excuse the sarcasm).

The average teacher in the UK earns approximately between £21,000 and £31,000 on the main pay scale, and can earn up to £36,000 on the upper pay scale, but with significantly more responsibility (which equates to a significant greater time commitment). Teachers in London earn on average £3,000 more than other teachers, but of course pay more to live there. This equates to a newly qualified teacher earning @ £7.50 per hour, a teacher on the highest main scale receiving @ £11 p/hr, and an upper scale teacher receiving @ £12 p/hr (not taking into account the extra time commitment necessary for these roles).

In this time I won’t include mental energy dedicated to the job, with countless hours lying in bed considering the welfare of students and how the learning environment could be improved, as I believe that this would be the same for any professional intent on raising the outcomes and progress of their product. But what other job that requires at least a 4 year degree pays its workers £7 to £12 per hour? What other job that has such incredible importance to the lives of young people, and to the future of a country’s economy and well-being pays its workers so poorly?

If I get in a plumber, it costs me at least £45 an hour. If I get in an electrician it costs me at least £45 an hour.  If I get a haircut, it costs me at least £45 a cut. If I get a tattoo it cost me £100 an hour. If I get an architect to design a house for me, it could cost up to £200 an hour.  If I get a graphic designer to design a logo or a website, it could cost me up to £300 an hour. Lawyers, doctors, counselors, mechanics, surveyors, you name it, any profession out there is paid astronomically better than teachers.

The ultimate irony is that all of these professions are cultivated in school. Cultivated by teachers who invariably have to not only teach the skills necessary to gain such credentials but also spend significant amounts of time motivating students to complete tasks, work to their potential, and manage their behaviour. More often than not, the 3 latter elements dominate teaching, with the majority of students entering lessons in a negative state of mind, perhaps as a result of the outside environment, or the schooling system itself with its relentless pursuit of results. To say that the latter 3 elements can be draining would be an understatement.

Consider any scalable enterprise presently, and the amounts of money made in its pursuit. The rates of pay then become grossly disproportionate to the hours worked. Yet teaching is very much a scalable endeavor, with the possible outcomes of service facilitating a growth economy of phenomenal scale, but for some reason the pay is embarrassingly non-representative of this fact.

So while I begin my 6 week vacation (4 weeks after I take out my planning for next year), take a moment to think about my reality, and how little chance I have of actually doing too much in the holidays with my kids because I simply can’t afford it.

So I Decided To Take A Closer Look At Teacher Pay


  • With all due respect, the initial assumption “Any teacher worth their salt delivers a 10 hour day” is simply wrong. As the husband of a teacher, I know that teachers do not put in 10 hours a day plus 4-5 hours on the weekend. A cursory examination of the teacher’s parking lot at your local school will show the error of that statement. I pass our local school in the morning and at 7:30 there are two automobiles in the lot (one teacher [always the same one] and the Principal) and in the afternoon as I pass there are typically less than 4 automobiles (the Vice Principal and three teachers), since I pass in a 9 hour split I can attest to there not being a lot full of teachers either early or late.

    As for marking/prep, that is limited as there is only so much marking possible for a class of elementary students and any teacher who has taught more than 2-3 years has their lesson plans prepared. Please note, I am not claiming that teachers do not work hard, I just cannot tolerate this fiction that teachers work some miraculous number of hours a week. I have worked with, lived with, and socialized with teachers for the last 20 years and while it is true that new teachers (without set lesson plans) might work longer hours the number of senior teachers I have met who work ten-hour days can be counted on one hand and those people are the same ones who would voluntarily work ten-hour days at any other workplace.

    • Hi again KingB. I think it is not fair to assume that because the parking lot is empty that teachers are not working. Planning for lessons can and often is done at home, and this combined with marking and various other commitments mentioned in the article takes the overall daily hours up to 10. The notion of teachers reusing their set lessons over again is frightening, suggesting that the teacher does not respond to the ever changing classroom dynamics: students, technology, policies, resources. The teachers you describe don’t sound to me like they are giving the kids what they deserve. In terms of marking, i see your point that a primary school teacher’s load would be reduced, as they only have a single group. But a high school teacher would have at least 4 or 5 classes to contend with, and quality feedback (prescribed by any country’s governing body) takes time.

      • Paul, not to sound too patronizing, but how long have you been teaching? The reason I ask is that while technology is ever-changing the basics don’t change. Basic numeracy, cursive writing, simple mathematics, ancient civilisations? These are all topics where students learning plans change little from year-to- year. Let’s be honest, the cursive writing training tools from 1980 are virtually identical to those today. Since elementary curriculum (with some significant exceptions) change little from year-to-year, most elementary teaching plans need very little update and refining and elementary teachers make up the majority of teachers in the system. A teacher who has taught a grade two class for 15 years needs very little effort to develop student-specific plans because, frankly they have been-there-done-that.

        • I completely disagree with the idea that things rarely change from year to year. In our district, some part of the curriculum is changed every year. I have NEVER reused my plans from previous years, as each class is unique. Not only that, I provide instruction based on the needs of the children. I have 5 or 6 different reading groups, 3 to 5 different spelling groups, math groups vary depending on the topic taught, 5 to 6 different writing groups…as you can see, I can’t use my “old” plans because those groups are unique from year to year. As far as the parking lot goes, perhaps you should stop by when the teachers are leaving and see them with their rolling carts full of materials they are taking home. I’ve been doing this job for 22 years, and it is getting more difficult every year!

  • As a quick follow-up your description of the hourly rates for other professions displays a woeful misunderstanding about how professionals bill out. An electrician/plumber by working at your job, has to make themselves unavailable for other work. A one-hour house call will make them unavailable for up to three hours (depending on where you live and commuting times/distances). Accordingly, they charge a higher rate to reflect their reduced availability. A plumber might reasonably only get to 2-3 houses a day and as few as 2. They therefore charge a higher rate to address this. Thus that £40/hr does not reflect an eight-hour billing day but a three/four hour billing day.

    • Hi KingB. Thanks for your reply. I understand what you are saying about the higher fee necessary to cover the reduced availability, but even considering such amendments, the rate is still significantly higher than what a teacher receives.

      • I will admit that I am not familiar with the British system, being a Canadian,but what I do know is that in Canada teachers are relatively quite well-paid, with excellent benefits and indexed pensions. In Canada a full-time teacher earns in the 60th -70th percentile of all employees with senior teachers in the 80th percentile.

        Private sector professionals, meanwhile, live in a world where they get none of the bonus features. In Canada, the pensions alone have been calculated to represent a 15% – 20% pay boost and the benefits (including one year maternity leave) full dental and extended medical represent a further 10%-15% boost (depending on the richness of the benefits package). Simple salary comparisons do not reflect these additional features of the public sector employee’s pay packet.

  • WHERE can I teach and have a paid 6 week vacation? WOW. I teach in North Carolina and we earn 10 months worth of pay. You have an option of having the 10 months pay divided into 12 checks but it’s still the same amount. There is no paid vacation here.

  • I am very interested in all of these comments. First, I’m not complaining about pay. My goal in pay is to be able to eat, and in this country medical insurance is a nice bonus. I’m pretty zen and all that, but truth is, I came from Corporate (I’m a second-career person) the math is correct. I cut my paycheck in half to take out loans for teacher training requirements that keep changing. Also, I consult. I make far more money than I do in the classroom. Again, not complaining, just stating a fact. This is critical because teaching in the US has so many more requirements these days that good people with other options are leaving. It’s a trend we don’t want to see happen. Solutions: pay teachers more or give more psychological income. In other words, when I introduce myself as a teacher, people don’t get excited. If I say I’m a writer or business owner, they do. I feel good about myself, like I made the right choice. Change that in society, and teachers would feel good:)

    Kathy’s right, I never reuse lessons because the classes and the curricula change, but that is okay with me to some degree, because I would be bored instantly. Also, I think of teaching more as theatre–with a different audience in front of me, each performance is different. And yes, I spend weekends and nights prepping, vacations grateful for the break to catch up, and my students have pretty constant access to me thanks to tech (I teach high school… I imagine a 2nd grade teacher might not have to contend with emails and late homework).

    My solution to this is to start looking at teaching in a realistic way. It’s the highest burnout profession for a reason. I cannot do everything. I couldn’t in my corporate job. Set time limits. Say no. I just read this book, “The Power of No” that I love for teachers. We can’t do it all. Work appropriately. Yes, we can make more outside the classroom, but what other job have I had where I got to be excited to see My People and teach every day?

    Great discussion here.

  • I agree with wow! king, it is very simple to say what teachers put into their work. Just because we leave a classroom in no as means we aren’t working, in fact it’s the opposite. We get most work done outside the classroom and when the students are not there. You tell me if you’ve ever double guessed having a drink out at a restaurant in case you may run into a parent, or for the high school teachers who may enter and have one of their seniors serving to them?
    Our jobs are never ending, and I doubt that you give your wife enough credit for what she really does do.
    As far as things never changing? HA! A good teacher understands that within 30 years of teaching, how the schools want us to teach and what they want us to teach will change at least 3 times!!

    What always seems to get to me a little is the fact that everyone that has never spent a day or a week even in a classroom with students feels as though it’s so easily done. At times it can be become of our passion for it but not anyone can do it. Not only that, as we’ve all stated, the actually working with the students is barely the bulk of our work.

    As teachers, most will be accepting of your thoughts and opinions as it is also part of our job to have a much higher tolerance than others, but please reconsider all the facts.

    Thanks for your support!

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