Nickels and Dimes and Pennies; The Real Cost of a Teacher.

So I started to think about teachers as the CAUSE OF ALL ECONOMIC PROBLEMS IN THE U.S. today ( At least this is the image that is being projected today). I considered my salary and whether I was ripping off the taxpayers in California… who pay about $9,000 per student a year for each student’s education.

(Source: I decided to examine this question through several lenses.

Lens One

Using high-end figures for my analysis, my salary and benefits would equal $100,000. For clarity and simplicity I have used rounded numbers for this discussion. To begin with I teach 200 students a day for 180 days. When I divide $100,000 by these numbers I come to a daily cost of $2.78 per student per day. Now since I have reached the top of my district’s pay scale, most of the teachers at my site earn less than I do. But let’s err on the high side and say that on average teachers at my school cost the tax payer $2.50 per class for each student’s teacher. Students at my school have 7 classes a day so the teachers’ salaries (including all benefits) would cost the taxpayer $17.50 a day or$ 87.50 a week or $350.00 a month. I am paid 10 equal payments throughout the year which means $3,500.00 is the cost of a child’s teacher at my site for an entire year.

 Question …where is the other $5,500 spent?

Is a child’s education in my class worth a parent passing up a Starbucks…or a Big Mac…or a trip on the Metro? Is the cost of a day of education for a child worth a pair of movie tickets…or two margaritas…or having someone clean half your house?

Sidebar: Considered another way… the amount of money my district receives for 11 of my 200 students would cover the cost of my salary and benefits for a year.

Now let’s return to my data. You could say I cost each parent of each student in my class $2.78 a day. I spend 45 minutes instructing that child. This does not include the time spent planning and researching and grading any assignment your student is given. It does not include the hour and a half minimum I spend every day after school working with students who need extra help or a place to work or to access the technology or supplies they need in order to complete their homework. Also be aware that I have the same educational experience as a lawyer. I have a BA, a credential, a CLAD certificate, and a MS. That is 8 years of college level work. I have 36 years of experience. I belong to professional organizations, read current literature, and attend conferences to improve my practice.

Question…Which doctor, lawyer, accountant, or therapist would  you expect to provide 45 minutes of services at a cost of $2.78?

Lens Two

Next I considered my salary through another lens. How much does each student cost the tax payer for the hours I work?

Once again I will use the $100,000 figure for my salary and benefits and the 200 figure for my number of students. (My actual student number is 197 by the way).  If I add up the actual hours I work the average would be 10 hours a day. For the purposes of this discussion I will not include my weekend hours.

Next I did the math.

100,000/10=10,000 salary divided by months

10,000 /4= 2,500 cost per week

2,500/5=500 cost per day

500/10=50 cost per hour

50/200=.25  This is the cost to the taxpayer per student per hour for me to prepare, instruct, and evaluate  a child’s learning.

Question… How many minutes at a parking meter is that or how many minutes on a dryer at a Laundromat?

By the way if I completed this process using my 7 hour contracted day the cost comes to .33 cents per student per hour.
My Conclusion

I am a bargain for the taxpayers and for the children that I teach. As we work as a nation to improve economic conditions let’s not nickel and dime the education of our children. That would be “penny wise and pound foolish” (Burton).


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4 Responses to “Nickels and Dimes and Pennies; The Real Cost of a Teacher.”

  1. Terri Gonya Says:

    Thank you for this lucid analysis. Too bad many politicians and citizens don’t see the numbers through the same lenses.
    You also can’t get ‘day care’ this cheap either.


    • strategicteaching Says:

      Thank you for the comment. I plan on bringing this information to my next roundtable meeting with a local state legislator. I will add day care to the list I am compiling. I think it is important teachers contextualize their value in a language that people relate to.


  2. james hutton Says:

    This article is typical of every state and local employee crying they are not paid enough. I wish they would include some of the other “Real” costs of a teacher…such as medical benefits and retirement. Lets take the average cost of insurance for a 50 yr old male. For the benifits a typical teacher receives, this would be around $1300/mo! Now lets add on the retirement costs for a teacher after he retires after 35 years of teaching. I will be conservative and say he/she will receive 50% of their salary. Now if a teacher started teaching at 27 ( age after 8 years of college) they would retire about 62. With the average life at about 82, this is another 20 years of $50,000 payments, plus $15,000 for medical for a total of $65,000/yr. If the teacher lives to 82 the state will pay an additional $1,300,000.00 in retirement and benefits!!! Try to find that kind of package in one of the millions of small companies that pay for this.


    • strategicteaching Says:

      James, thanks for your comments. I do feel the need to clarify a few points however. First of all I did include the cost of health benefits and the amounts both my district and I pay for retirement (about 50% from each source) in my analysis. My analysis actually almost doubled the $13,000 you mentioned as an adequate amount to be included for these benefits. Next even if I receive 50% of my salary at retirement it would be about $15,000 less per year than your estimate. I also will not receive any state paid health insurance. I will pay for this on my own. Additionally I will only receive this amount if I teach until the age of 67. Additionally because I moved from the private sector to the public one any Social Security benefits I paid into for over 20 yrs will be severely decreased. I do not think it is well publicized that many teachers do pay into their retirement as I do and many will not receive the free health insurance that is so often publicized in the media reports. On the contrary many teachers, myself included, will have to work past 65 in order to retire. Then again many teachers will not have worked the extended time frame of 35 years you indicated. I am a case in point and I am not an exception. I should also mention that it has been 3+ years since our salary was increased and indeed I am not expecting any increase in these hard economic times. I do not believe that I intimated that I was expecting any raise in this post. I strongly believe however that I work diligently to be worth every penny the public (including all teachers) pays towards my salary. It is tempting to find scapegoats in these difficult economic times. It is important that we speak to each other and move away from polarizing language like “all teachers” or “all public employees” or “all Tea Party members” as we try to understand one another’s perspective and work towards a solution so that every one who works hard can expect to retire. By the way I pay about 28% of my salary to taxes before I even cash my check.As a hard working tax payer I do value your thoughts even though they may differ from my own. This is the only way we will get the facts needed to make rational decisions. Thank you for your response.


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