# Could one make a decent living being a high school teacher?

by Mépris
Tags: decent, living, school, teacher
 P: 1,781 Teachers make far more than engineers on an adjusted lifetime basis. Engineers don't have meaningful pensions. Teachers retire at a large fraction of their salary until they die. Engineers have to pay social security taxes. Teachers dont. Considering that today you retire at 65 and live to 85, teachers make far more than engineers.
P: 686
Could one make a decent living being a high school teacher?

This seems highly unlikely. Why don't you run the numbers for us?

 Engineers have to pay social security taxes. Teachers dont.
The teachers who don't pay social security taxes also don't get social security benefits.
Engineering
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P: 7,293
 Quote by ParticleGrl The teachers who don't pay social security taxes also don't get social security benefits.
This is country-dependent. And remember that for all public-sector employees (including teachers) "paying taxes" is just an accounting trick. It's simpler for the state to give you some money and make you to give some back as "tax", than to treat you as a special case and pay you a smaller tax-free amount.

Sorry, but it's the tax on my private-sector pension that will be helping to pay for the public-sector parasites in a few years from now.
Mentor
P: 11,875
 Quote by Antiphon Teachers retire at a large fraction of their salary until they die. Engineers have to pay social security taxes. Teachers dont.
I assume you're referring to the situation in the US. There's been a lot of ruckus lately about defined-benefit pensions for public-sector employees (e.g. teachers, police, firefighters) causing serious problems for state and local government budgets. I'd expect many of those pension plans to be scaled back in the near future, or converted to 401k-type defined-contribution retirement plans.
 Sci Advisor P: 2,746 To answer the title question, teachers don't make a "lot" of money, but (depending on location) it tends to be a unionized job that's relatively stable. Both of my in-laws are retired teachers. They have thus far lived well within their means and have retired well, having saved wisely. Teaching is a demanding profession. It's not the kind of job that ends when five o'clock comes - you probably know this being the child of teachers. There are long hours of marking, lesson planning, and you are expected to put in volunteer hours coaching or supevising extra-curricular activities. The other major stress can be dealing with parents - parents who refuse to believe that their childern are anything less than perfect, or parents who don't give a rat's behind about their own kids. One big advantage is having the summers off. I've known some teachers who get other jobs for two months, travel, or use the time for other pursuits like writing. So that would likely fit with the lifestyle you're thinking about. Keep in mind though, that many teachers also use this time to prepare lesson plans and fill out report cards, so just like the day not ending at five, they year doens't necessarily end in june.
 P: 832 Thank you all for the insight. I really appreciate this. :-) I still have a couple of years left to mess around a little before anything's set in stone, so we'll see. As of right now, I'm in talks with an old teacher of mine and our little "math group" and within the coming weeks, we should be able to do some "math talks", where every participant will be able to come up and teach something. :D
 P: 1,746 While I think Antiphon is wrong and would love to see his calculations, I would say that both teachers and the public often underestimate the compensation teachers receive. In my State to calculate what a teacher's compensation is one would have to know: Expected age of retirement Their annual salary until retirement Amount of healthcare premium subsidized by gov't (it's HUGE here, and no teacher I've talked to can even tell me what the number is; I have some good but slightly incomplete data on it) Annulized value of their early retiree medical insurance Annulized value of their supplemental medical insurance Annulized value of their pension Cash value of tenure - tough to calculate. You can go a couple of ways; one is to simply see what teachers would require in compensation to give it up. There are other better ones, that no one does. The data to calculate a teacher's compensation exactly doesn't exist, but you can get some pretty rough numbers if you know what you're doing. The end result is that teachers make more than most people realize, and I believe are reasonably well compensated for their level of education. One important note is that, in my State, a teacher that starts earlier will ultimately make much more than one that starts later. I dislike this type of incentive, but it exists in lots of government compensation plans, including the military.
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 Quote by AlephZero This is country-dependent.

I tried to scan the OP's wall of text but didn't see a location. Can someone clarify?
P: 1,084
 Quote by Locrian Amount of healthcare premium subsidized by gov't (it's HUGE here, and no teacher I've talked to can even tell me what the number is; I have some good but slightly incomplete data on it)
I can tell you what it was in the district my wife worked for... zero.

(Trading the healthcare subsidy for a one-time salary bump was *not* one of the union's swiftest moves in this district...)

But no worries, she took a computer industry job for twice the pay *and* health insurance, so all is right with the world.
 P: 1,746 An unsubsidized healthcare premium for that employee group is roughly $200/month for single and$750/month for a family contract. And that's with weaker benefits than public employees usually get. They were seriously sending bills that size to teachers? I mean, as long as the salary bump covered it, then in theory it works out, but I doubt it did over any number of years.
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 The end result is that teachers make more than most people realize, and I believe are reasonably well compensated for their level of education.
I've seen some numbers that try to include several benefits (though I've not seen a calculation including tenure), and teaching still comes out to be fairly low for the level of education required (comparing salary+benefits to other jobs salary+benefits). I'd be curious to see some of your numbers.

 They were seriously sending bills that size to teachers? I mean, as long as the salary bump covered it, then in theory it works out, but I doubt it did over any number of years.
Given the growing cost of healthcare vs. the rate of inflation, it certainly didn't work out well.
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 Quote by ParticleGrl (though I've not seen a calculation including tenure)
I don't think it's easy to do. But, just for fun, next time you're talking to a teacher, ask them how much of a raise they'd need to give it up. If they're older it may not be as much, but if they were just tenured the number may be surprising.
P: 686
 But, just for fun, next time you're talking to a teacher, ask them how much of a raise they'd need to give it up. If they're older it may not be as much, but if they were just tenured the number may be surprising.
Its one thing for someone to say "it would take a million dollars for me to give up tenure" as a hypothetical, and quite another turn down a serious offer of a million dollars.

But, I did ask around after I read your initial post on this. A quick survey of the five highschool teachers I know (all between the ages of 30-35):
1. would give up 5% of my salary annually for a chance to be tenured (his charter school does not tenure)
2. 1 million dollars to give up tenure
3. would give up tenure for $300,000 and a vera wang wedding dress 4. would give up tenure if the school would guarantee they would cover out-of-pocket expenses for chem and physics labs 5. would give up tenure for a 20% salary increase + covered expenses for required educational conferences/continuing education programs And a response from a former teacher who left before being tenured: 6. "Most of the people who graduated with me quit teaching within three years. To keep me teaching, you would have had to pay me 2x as much as I was making when I quit. I left for a job that pays sixty percent better than what I made teaching, and it is much easier. Districts should give up tenure and offer much higher salaries." The last response is answering a much different question, so I didn't include it with the first 5. But as you can see, the responses are all over the map as I imagine they would be in a more comprehensive survey. I think a more systematic way would be to compare teacher pay at private and charter schools that have weaker or no tenure to standard public school districts. Unfortunately, if you do that, you get a negative value for tenure (private and charter teachers make less!). This is probably due to a combination of weaker union position and other unique properties of the private/charter schools. i.e. people will give up a fair amount of salary to teach motivated students. I don't know how to control for this, or if its even possible.  PF Gold P: 7,363 In our last place of residence, our next-door neighbors were both Elementary-School teachers. They made considerably more money than the average people whose taxes paid their salaries. (In 2000, I estimate that as ~%35K each vs ~$20K for the average taxpayer.) They traded vehicles every 3-4 years, and kept upgrading their pickup truck as they bought larger and larger camping trailers. They put all 3 of their children through college and managed to pull off little trips to DC and other places. Still they were able to make home improvements, add a second garage, put new siding on the house, etc. I haven't spoken to them recently, but they are on the verge of retirement and will have their pensions to live on, with taxpayer-paid health care. Bear in mind that this relative "wealth" is due in part to economic disparity. Teachers in central Maine are paid on about the same scale as teachers all across the state, even though this is a relatively poor region. Comparatively, they were living quite well, and they got to spend all summer with their kids camping out in their camper, moving from campground to campground when they wanted a change of scenery. My wife and I used to pick up their newspapers and mail when they were gone (which was often) so the place would look "lived in".
P: 1,746
 Quote by ParticleGrl But, I did ask around after I read your initial post on this. A quick survey of the five highschool teachers I know (all between the ages of 30-35):
A vera wang dress, funny stuff. I've always eased them in with dollar amounts. $500,$1000, \$5000, etc and then take note of when it gets hard for them to decide.

I’ve always thought job security is an important trait that is often ignored when comparing job salaries; a lot of jobs that appear grossly overpriced also have very low long term job security. Sports, sales and some financial jobs come to mind. On the other hand, people with near certain job security, such as tenured teachers, complain about their low pay. But as you point out there’s a lot of other things going on, too.

I guess that’s my real complaint about the teacher/federal/state worker debate that has gone on recently. Their compensation is so opaque it’s hard to know if they’re paid well or not. I’m constantly beset (this is a big conversation here) by people on one side or the other who don’t know anything, but are certain they’re right. It seems to me teacher pay has all the downsides you get with low pay – difficulty recruiting and retaining, poor morale, etc. But it also has all the downsides from paying someone quite a lot – when you include their healthcare, early retiree medical and pensions, teachers are surprisingly expensive. I personally wish we could do away with most of their benefits and then raise their pay until we fill positions with good applicants. Of course that plan just makes everyone mad.

That reminds me of another tricky thing about comparing professions like Teacher and Engineer. Engineers have more take home that they can save for retirement, but teacher pensions are also saving. Who does a better job? It’s well known among financial types that engineers, lawyers and similar professionals can be real disasters when it comes to investing; they’re smart and they know it, but they tend to overestimate their own skills and play the market very poorly. On the other hand, pensions are slow moving monsters that can’t take advantage of lots of opportunities smaller investors can.

You also have to decide on discount rates, which vary by individual, financial status and demographics.

I used to create excel spreadsheets that tried to calculate the NPV of different professions. Questions like these really gummed it up.
 P: 1,746 So I finally have decided on my definitive answer to the OP: Maybe, but it depends.