At a young age most of us learn the handful of questions that are very impolite to ask people, especially strangers, whether or not you are actually at the dinner table.

Questions like:
How old are you?
How much do you weigh?
Who did you vote for?
Are you pregnant?
How much do you make a year?

How much do you make in a year? Seriously. I want to know. How much do you make in a year? Pretty rude of me to ask you to divulge your income here for all to see, isn't it? It might make it easier for you to divulge your income if I were to share mine first, so here it is: I made $51,503 last year at my job as a high school science teacher. If you are thinking to yourself that I am brave or stupid for sharing that with you, my dear readers, and all the dark recesses of the internet, then you would be wrong. In case you didn't know, the pay of public employees is already public and conveniently located in an easily searchable database on the Ohio Treasurer's website. If you click the link and just type "Benjamin Eckstein" into the appropriate boxes, then you can easily find my income information.

If you haven't lost interest yet, then I'm sure you are thinking to yourself "Who cares if your salary is posted on line for all to see?" Well, I for one don't. If I did, then I wouldn't have given it more presence online by reporting it here for all of you to see without at least doing a minimal online search. So why even bring any of this up in the first place?

Recently, an article was published in the Springfield News-Sun, the newspaper that serves my local area, that detailed the pay of the highest paid staff employed by my school district. The Dayton, Ohio area news outlets of Cox Media Group have been doing this regularly for all of the area schools lately. You can read the story concerning my school district here. The story is pretty much copied and pasted from previous stories on other schools, but with the information relevant to my school. The story caused a little bit of a stir within my schools community as people began sharing on social media the story of the bowling coach that is bringing in $84K a year. The part of the story that just didn't really sit right with me was the last three sentences of the article that said:

"Local governments make payroll with your money. That’s why the I-Team is using Ohio public records laws to assemble and analyze payroll data for governments across our region. Go here for a growing database of government employees who made more than $50,000 in gross compensation last year and in 2014."

I applaud the local media for trying to be a watchdog on how taxpayer money is being spent, but $50,000? Why $50,000? I followed their link and searched for myself on their database, and sure enough, I was listed as making over $50K. It struck me that the journalists writing the stories were setting a bar in their readers' minds that a $50,000 yearly salary qualifies as wasteful use of taxpayer money. I stopped to ask myself if my income of $51,503 was wasteful use of taxes? This process usually devolves into a meme or video about how underpaid teachers are, or about how it must be nice to complain about pay when teachers have the summer off. Instead my mind goes to questions about the whether or not as a public servant and as a Christian, I can justify my wages when there are so many people out there struggling to make ends meet? Thankfully, I don't decide what the school pays me. That is determined by the union and the school board and is completely out of my hands since I am a member of neither. Instead, my purpose with this post is to take a logical, mathematical (yes, I said the "M" word) look at my profession and my wages.

The Averages

The national average salary for a secondary teacher (non-special education) is $35,370 per year. The top 10% of teachers nationally make $63,560 or more per year. Here in Ohio the average salary is $46,490 per year, with the top 10% bringing in $72,070 per year. The median, or "middle" wage is $57,200 nationally and $59,230 in Ohio.1
The national average cost of earning a 4-year undergraduate degree at an in-state public institution is $36,556 (or $9,139/year) and the average cost of earning a graduate (Masters) degree varies widely depending on program but can be anywhere from $30,000-$120,00 per year.2

The Breakdown

I find it easiest to compare wages on an hourly basis, so I tried my best to come up with a rough idea of how many hours I was contractually required to work for both my teaching and coaching assignments (Men's Soccer and Tennis Head Coach). I came up with 184 days in the school year (1334 hours), 2 hours per day of practice 5 days per week for roughly 9 weeks for each sport (180 hours), an additional 2 hours for games at approximately 16 games per sport (64 hours), and 4.5 hours per week of paid after-school tutoring for 20 weeks (90 hours). All these paid activities would have required me, conservatively, to have worked 1,668 hours giving me an effective hourly rate of $30.88 per hour worked.3

A person who works an average of 40 hours each week with 2 weeks of paid time off, will work 2000 hours in a year. So when you think about me on my summer off, then hopefully you remember that I'm being paid for 1,668 hours and so I technically have about 9 weeks of unpaid time off each year. Thankfully, most schools pay out the contracted salaries over the whole year instead of just the period of the contract. Otherwise, budgeting would be a literal nightmare.

At $30.88 per hour, I believe that I am making a fair wage considering my level of teaching experience (3 years), my education level (Bachelor's of Science in Biology and Master's of Education), and my job responsibilities (safety and educational outcomes of approximately 120 students). Do you think that $30.88 per hour sounds fair? Why, or why not? What are you comparing my pay too? Your own? Someone else's?

The Comparison

I don't expect to be able to just say that it is a fair wage and have you just accept it outright, so I looked for a comparison that might help. I spoke with someone close to me who is a nurse at an area hospital and asked them the question I shouldn't have: "How much do you make?" As a nurse, with a bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN) and about the same amount of experience as a nurse as I have as a teacher, my source was making about $24.00 per hour. Working 3 days per week on 12 hour shifts (36 hours per week), my source was working about 1900 hours and bringing in roughly $45,000 per year (not including overtime pay or shift differential). Now, I know that nursing and teaching are not the most comparable jobs out there, but to me it provided a snapshot of how much of an effect experience, education, and job responsibilities play a role in determining wages.

The Point

What was the point of this exercise of my mathematical abilities? Was it to show how underpaid teachers are? No. Was it to argue against the watchdog nature of a free press? No. I do hope that I have shown you just how little information, and how much slant, news articles can actually contain. Hopefully I have shown that a little bit of self-reflection and self-assessment is an important aspect of the ability to resist jumping on some "us against them" bandwagon. This type of public payroll information during an election year or when levies are on the ballot, is always used to gain a reaction from voters and influence them to vote one way or another. Due to humanity's, and yes even Christians', penchant for envy, it is no surprise that stories of a high school teacher and bowling coach making $84,000 a year stir up unrest among a community. I tell my students often that the point of most of their classes is not to dump information into their head that they will need for the rest of their life, but to teach them how to learn, how to be critical of information, and how to be analytical in determining how to respond to the environment around them. They will forget most, if not all, of the science that I teach them. However, I hope that by raising up critical thinkers who have the skills needed to learn, that I can raise up a generation that does not just accept the appeals of politicians and elites to the lowest common denominator of people, or to our base emotional responses.

So? How much do you make?

  1. Sourced from O*Net and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. www.onetonline.org.

  2. Sourced from College Board. www.collegeboard.org.

  3. These are estimates only and do not reflect time spent outside of contractual time requirements to complete necessary lesson activities such as planning or grading.