Teaching and Real Wages

Here in South Dakota, we are regularly reminded that we are unkind to our teachers (in comparison with the treatment that teachers in other states receive).

Based on the 2007 – 2008 numbers from the NEA, South Dakota paid an average of $36,674 to its teachers, placing it dead last in the nation (and $4,000 behind North Dakota).

Let’s do a bit of calculating here. If a teacher spends about 180 days in school during the school year with 8 hours per day, that would give us a total of 1440 hours. To make this easy on us, let’s round it up to 1560 hours to cover some long days, in-service days, etc. Now we have a number which is precisely three quarters of the standard number of work hours in a year (2080).

Working from that, let us divide $36,674 by .75 to get a calendar-adjusted salary for these teachers. We end up with $48, 899.

If we compare this with the median income of a single-earner South Dakota household in 2007 (which was $31,605) it would appear that teachers may not be doing so poorly here after all.

A few things to remember with all of this.

  1. The number of hours an individual teacher works in a year may vary greatly from the number above, but the number seems reasonable for a working average.
  2. Teachers are not the only ones who have to get certifications orĀ  work on additional degrees while holding down their jobs. This is very common for many (if not most) full-time jobs. Some costs are carried by employers and some by the employee (this is true across industries).
  3. Teachers are also not alone when it comes to taking work home to complete on the evenings and weekends.
  4. Not all teachers get part-time jobs during the summer, but the opportunity is definitely there. For those who choose not to work during the summers, they have made that decision to not receive additional income.
  5. Salaries do (and should) vary based on the cost of living within particular regions. For it to be otherwise is to ignore the realities of regional economic differences.
  6. I am not saying that we should necessarily pay teachers more or less based on any of this. I am saying that we should keep things in perspective.

5 thoughts on “Teaching and Real Wages

  1. But remember, teachers are not limited to the choice between low-paying SD teaching jobs and even lower-paying non-teaching jobs with arguably longer hours. They can also choose to do the same amount of work (whether it’s the over-minimized amount you figure or not) in another state for more money. (And no, South Dakota’s supposed lower cost of living doesn’t make up the difference, as shown here and more recently here.)

    [By the way, can you come to our SD Blogosphere Open House on July 25?]

  2. CAH,

    Yes, they can indeed choose to go elsewhere to make more money–the beauty of the market.

    SD does not have a “supposed lower cost of living” unless the costs associated with food, housing, etc are not real. These lower costs not make up the difference, as you put it, but the lower costs (placing us 6th or 7th in the nation) do exist.

    Regarding the Open House, I am not certain at present. I’ll need to consider my schedule and let you know.

  3. Yet with all the bemoaning the low pay of teachers and the “under funded” government school system, South Dakota ranks as #2 in the nation in public education.

    Its not broke… let’s not “fix” it.

    Washington DC has the highest per student cost for K-12 education in the US. They have an over 50% drop out rate and the some of the poorest test scores in the nation. The average high school graduate reads at the sixth grade level.

    To put it simply…. “It ain’t the money.”

  4. Money is not the answer to educational ills. In some ways it would be much simpler if it were. Teachers good, bad, or indifferent can only do so much. I would be interested to know how many of the dropouts in DC, or anywhere else for that matter, have parents who even care how their children are doing in school. Responsible caring parents are an endangered species.

  5. Rick and Noelle,

    Yes. Money is not the answer. However, the current federal administration is having none of that. To all of those people, money is the answer to the question–whatever the question might be.

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