How Much Does A Teacher Really Make?

Here is some math on teachers salaries. It’s a good way to look at the problems that face us regarding how much a government worker receives, along with their pension. Teachers are valuable government employees. We entrust them to build the human capital of the nation. Looking at their salaries should make you think about ALL government employee salaries and pensions.

It is very difficult to compare a teaching salary to a private sector employee for a number of reasons. Teachers have virtually no risk of getting laid off. If they perform poorly or spectacularly, they receive the same pay. They don’t work nearly as many hours as private sector employees, nor as many days. They are guaranteed a defined benefit pension when they retire.

In Illinois, the average teacher makes $61,402.  By the way, the average administrator makes $106,217.00! Illinois teachers work around 176 days, 300 minutes, or 5 hours, per day.  On average, they make $348.88 per day, $1.16 per minute, or $69.60 per hour guaranteed.

Is that what they really make? Because they have a defined benefit pension package, they actually make significantly more.  The average pension per year for an Illinois teacher is $43,164.  Most Illinois teachers work for 12 years. That 43k is a 2010 figure. Every year after, there is a 3% cost of living raise, compounded annually, included in the defined benefit.   If you take the net present value the cash flows of that over the average lifespan, and then amortize and add it into the average salary, you will get a better picture of how much teachers are really working for per year.

In order to do this fairly and accurately, there are some assumptions.  Assume an average lifespan to age 78, and also assume that they don’t collect the pension until they are age 55.  That’s 23 years of a defined benefit pension that increases at 3% compounded annually.  Assume also that they have to wait from the age of 34 to get the payments, or 21 years.  We discount back to find out the value of the stream of cash.  Using a conservative discount factor of 5%, the total stream of payments is worth $290,756.  Amortizing them over the 12 years an average teacher works, you get an extra $24,229.67 per year.  So, in actuality their salary really is $85,631.67.  This number ignores health benefits, which are also paid for.  If you wanted to figure in health benefits, a low deductible gold plated plan costs around $20,000 per year for a family of four.  That brings their salary up to $105,631.67, or $120 bucks an hour.

You can see, you won’t get fabulously wealthy being an educator, but you certainly can be comfortable. I don’t want to be seen as beating up on teachers. Society needs good teachers. However, our society needs to rethink how we pay them. Unionization hasn’t been good to good teachers, and it hasn’t been beneficial for society. Unions only help the poor teachers.

To compare, the average private sector employee makes $59,909, but that includes all private employees, even ones making hourly wages at fast food establishments.  It’s pretty tough to nail down what a person with comparable responsibilities and education to a teacher makes.  A very rough range of estimates is somewhere between $60,000 to $100,000 per year.  Of course, the hours worked are a lot more than 5 per day!  There is also the risk of job loss.

I don’t think teachers are overpaid-however they are over pensioned.  It would be better for society to toss out the teachers unions, figure out a better job design for them.  It would also be better for everyone to front load the money teachers receive, and give them a defined contribution pension package.  They will be incentivized to turn out a better product, educated kids.

Tip of the hat to my friend who knows Excel better than I!

Here is the math.

Future Value     Years    Present Value

$ 43,164                 21             $ 15,493

$ 44,459                 22            $ 15,198

$ 45,793                 23            $ 14,909

$ 47,166                 24             $ 14,625

$ 48,581                 25             $ 14,346

$ 50,039                 26             $ 14,073

$ 51,540                  27             $ 13,805

$ 53,086                 28             $ 13,542

$ 54,679                  29             $ 13,284

$ 56,319                  30             $ 13,031

$ 58,009                 31             $ 12,783

$ 59,749                 32             $ 12,539

$ 61,542                  33            $ 12,300

$ 63,388                 34             $ 12,066

$ 65,289                 35             $ 11,836

$ 67,248                 36             $ 11,611

$ 69,266                  37             $ 11,390

$ 71,344                  38             $ 11,173

$ 73,484                 39              $ 10,960

$ 75,688                 40             $ 10,751

$ 77,959                  41             $ 10,546

$ 80,298                 42             $ 10,346

$ 82,707                  43            $ 10,148

Present Value (Total): $ 290,756


No surprise that I am getting pushback on this post. My assumptions are clearly laid out, and the numbers are above. Generally, the complaints are that teachers work longer than 300 minutes a day. But, by Illinois law, they only have to work 300 minutes a day. No doubt, teachers arrive at work earlier than their first class. No doubt, many stay later. No doubt, teachers grade papers at night, working at home. But, how do you account for that randomness?

There is no statewide average of how much work Illinois teachers do out of the classroom. If I assumed a number, lets say 2 hours; there would be pushback on that number. Since there is a lot of randomness, it is pretty hard to get an exact average unless we went and surveyed a random sample of teachers. My guess is if they knew they were being surveyed, they would say they worked longer hours than they actually did-it’s human nature.

There are also differences in hours district to district. I chose the state law. It is the least common denominator. If teachers in your school district work more hours, the hourly wage goes down. But the pension figures remain the same.

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  • mg

    Teachers also get tenure – become nearly impossible to fire – after merely a few years of employment. Furthermore, they don’t work in summers, which makes that pay even higher per hour.

  • lisa

    $105,000/yr for essentially a part time job. The 17 weeks off is an opportunity to make additional money that the full time, private sector employee does not have. Take your $120/hr (with benefits) x 40 hours a week x 50 weeks/yr = $240,000/yr. Just using salary alone the full time pay equals $139,200.

    • ClassicalTeacher

      It’s not just a part-time job, it is a job with failing results! What other employer would tolerate a high-paid employee slacking off the job, AND with dismal or failing job performance??? None that I know of! But the teachers’ unions have fixed all that. And who populates the teachers’ unions? Marxist-commie radical-lefties who don’t want to teach children the basics. They want to indoctrinate children with their malignant socialist/communistic ideas. And, they’re succeeding.

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  • Rsweldin59


    As a teacher who used to be a management consultant I can tell you that your notion that teachers only work 300 minutes a day is nuts. Teachers usually have students in front of them for about 300 minutes a day. You then spend another 300 minutes a day in meetings, grading papers, taking care of administrative issues and planning your classes: creating lesson plans, assignments, quizzes and tests. And THEN there are parent meetings, mandatory professional development (summers off, ha!), “voluntary” committee work, etc. Oh and during that 300 minutes with students, good luck getting a bathroom break (teachers have a much higher rate of urinary tract infections). Want to go out lunch? – No can do. You must bring your own or elbow your way past the kids to eat the swill they dish out to them – far worse then I remember from my school days. Need to go to the dentist? Can’t get appointment after 3:30? Take a sick day!

    Now I really do love teaching, but the notion that this is some type of country club existence is ridiculous.


    • Jeff Carter

      How do you quantify that? Legally, the state of Illinois says it’s 300 minutes a day. There is randomness between what teachers spend grading papers etc. No way to account for that.

      If you have better numbers that can be proven, put them here. The amortization table won’t change. If a teacher retires at age 34, they wait until 55 to get a pension. They get a 3% raise compounded each year. People live to age 78 on average. I discounted back by 5%. I assumed 20k of health insurance, which is a gold plated policy. If anything it understates the cost of insurance that teachers get for a pittance, or sometimes for free.

      The numbers are the numbers.

    • ClassicalTeacher

      Bob: I have been a teacher for over 25 years and a principal for 7. What you describe is nothing less than any good teacher would accept in her/his profession. You talk about teaching as though it were torturous. Thankless, yes…torturous no. I love teaching. The problem is that public school teachers want all the benefits but none of the responsibility. Believe me, I’ve seen it over, under, and sideways. No one is saying that being a teacher is a country club existence. Teaching is hard. It is draining, and it is discouraging at times. I have decided three times to retire and each time I simply could not endure never going into a classroom again. And, where did you get the data regarding urinary tract infections??? If a teacher feels that teaching is an exercise in drudgery or unhappiness, then that “teacher” needs to find other work. He is not doing himself nor his students any good. Go work for a more rewarding experience elsewhere. Schools don’t need “teachers?” who measure their happiness or job satisfaction by having to bring their own lunch, elbow your way past children eating the “swill” that is served, or complaining of every little sacrifice that they must make to these ungrateful brats for which you seem to have such an aversion. A DEGREE A TEACHER DOES NOT MAKE.

  • Dana

    I have to agree with the commenter below. Your article is shoddy work. You are using incompatible and misleading statistics and weasel words to present a distorted picture. As the husband of a teacher, and someone who works with schools (but not in them), it is clear that your math is way off in terms of hours teachers work and what a teacher who worked for 12 years in IL would actually make in pension.

    First, as to the hours worked, my children attend school in Illinois, and a typical bell schedule for my son’s high school is from 8:06 to 2:37, or 6.5 hours. Teachers are usually on campus 15-30 minutes before school begins and usually required to stay for 30 minutes to an hour after students are dismissed, meaning the average teacher day on campus is 7.5 hours or so. This does not count time to grade papers, create quizzes and tests, do lesson planning, parent-teacher conferences, trainings, etc. While some teachers get a planning period, others do not. All told, the average teacher day greatly exceeds 300 minutes, making your statistics misleading.

    As to the pension benefits, the law you cite contradicts your article in many respects and you play fast and loose with the facts. Firstly, a teacher who worked 12 years could not retire at 55. Retiring at 55 requires at least 20 years of creditable teaching service in IL per your citation. If someone worked 12 years and retired at 60, they would earn a percentage of their benefits, or if they retired at 62, full benefits. However, the “average number of teacher years worked” is not the same thing as the “average pension collected per year.” This would not get you even a passing grade in college level statistics or finance courses.

    Also, you say in one place that “most” teachers work 12 years in Illinois, then say that the “average” teacher works 12 years. Anyone with a high school education should know the difference between “average” and “most.”

    While our education system is not perfect, and is in great need of reform, and many agree that teachers’ unions are part of the problem, this poor analysis sheds little light on the problem.

    • pointsnfigures

      Sorry Dana if you feel it’s shoddy. But the numbers are correct. I took the state of Illinois mandated numbers. If a teacher spends time at home grading papers, or arrives early for school, how do you account for that? There is no published average that anyone can point to.

      I don’t play fast and loose. The average teacher teaches 12 years. If they begin teaching at 22, they will quit when they are 34 (34-22=12). Teachers can draw their pension at age 55. (55-34=21)

      If a teacher works longer or less, it changes the numbers-but the averages are the averages. If you want to quibble over language, fine. Would you like me to say “mean”? Average is also most. Most hitters in the major leagues hit .260. That’s the average of their batting averages.

      There is not enough data out there to calculate a variance and standard deviation on average number of years a teacher works. But logically, 12 years makes sense. Many teachers are women that drop out of the profession to raise families. Most (or should I say “the average”) women have kids between age 22-40.

      You may not agree with the analysis, but the numbers are correct. If you have better assumptions to place the numbers over, please do it and post them here. But make sure they apply across the entire state and not just your school district.

  • Teachwpizazz

    …and just where can you get more “bang for your buck?” Teachers work very hard, pay to further their own education at Graduate level costs, and encourage the young people of today to continue their education. They encourage their students to reach their greatest potential, and steer them to live a life of good character. They did not go into this job thinking that they would get rich, but CONGRATS to them if they collect a moderate and comfortable pension, to help them enjoy their retirement years. There is no gold watch at the end, but there is the satisfaction that comes with making a difference in a lot of kids’ lives. I can’t think of any better investment.

    • Jeff Carter

      Not quibbling with your sentiments. Merely showing the numbers. Certainly teachers provide a valuable service and I stated that in the piece. It doesn’t mean we can’t do it better, or more efficiently.

      I think the pension system in Illinois should change from defined benefit to defined contribution, retirement age raised to 62, I also think the current system of tenure stinks. I’d be willing to pay teachers a lot more if they were willing to give up tenure, and have evaluations, just like corporate employees.

      We need better job design-maybe the labor economists at the University of Chicago can come up with some. Take a peek at Lincoln Electric in Ohio.

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  • Jay

    My Mom is a public school teacher in Tennessee.

    She doesn’t remotely come close to the apparent average for Illinois: $61,402 teachers.

    After 12+ years on the job she’s making roughly $41,000 yearly. She’s always – I MEAN ALWAYS – staying way later than 3:30pm. If she literally runs out of the school she might be able to leave by 4pm. Normally (95% of the time) she’s up at school past 5pm-6pm. Not socializing, she’s up there planning work, organizing the class room or attending meetings. Not to mention all the work of grading papers, creating new assignments and so on. Which often occurs outside of the “office”. The grading papers and making new assignments is a daily/weekly thing that takes hours upon hours. You cannot simply dismiss that and say, weeeeeeeell I know it’s there but I don’t see any statistic on it. Not going to account for it. – What you need to do is put Hours Worked in bold and say “Does not accurately depict hours worked. Does not account for the following:” then list off all the things Teachers do all the time which you left out.

    As far as not working during the summer is completely wrong. My mom and all the other teachers are often having to go to mandatory “training” seminars & classes. For very little pay or none at all for summer classes. Plus having to pay out of pocket for school supplies often times. I believe the school system gives her about 100 dollars for all her supplies for the year. Which is gone after a few round of buying dry erase markers, pencils, paper, so on.

    Her class size is at 20 kids (average says it’s like 15 – I don’t buy it, I’ve gone through TN public school and private. Nearly all of my classes were 20+), the 20 my mom teaches is actually down from 25 kids last year. Anyone with kids knows trying to teach one kid anything can be hard. These teachers are often times given special needs kids as well. So, now try to teach 20 kids all of whom learn at different rates and to different tactics. Each needing different levels of attention. Then the administration gives you a special needs child. Who literally demand endless attention, sometimes the special needs kids will have “helpers” often times not. Twice she’s had multiple special needs children. As did many of the other teachers. A sad story my mom told me was about this newly hired teacher for the school’s second grade. The new hire was a young girl, fresh out of college, was given more kids than anyone else in the school. About 35 kids, with some of the kids considered, “occasionally violent”. Keep in mind, my mom teaches in a very wealthy part of TN. The reason the schools around our area have so many kids. Is because the inner-city schools suffer from massive budget cuts due to their poor performances. Higher preforming schools in the State, like my Mom’s school (which I believe rated at #3) get tons of kids bussed in from all over the place.

    Children are societies greatest resource. Many teachers work because they love children and want to help them. Not many – if any – do it for the tiny salary. We as a society should not take advantage of those who work for passion and love of helping. Especially when you consider how much we care for children. We should want them to have the absolute best people in the world teaching them. We should make sure the people who are with our children nearly daily are treated well and with respect. That means, earning a good salary, especially considering teachers are required to have a 4 year degree. With endless training classes they must take throughout their career.

    It’s beyond sad to know that upwards of half of my high school teachers
    worked 2nd jobs. Yet didn’t touch 60k yearly. Maybe I’m a little jaded because Tennessee teachers literally make less than a part-time assistant manager at McDonalds. I don’t know, I just wish we didn’t have a system that thinks a teacher earning enough to live *somewhat* comfortably is extremely bad. While bankers, bought-politicians and the like steal billions upon billions. Yet the same people bashing the Teachers, praise the Bankers because they work so hard. If as a society we really want to pay people for their WORTH to society, teachers would be getting paid millions.

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