Teachers aren’t in it for the money: doing the maths

From time to time various Australian States claim to have “The best paid teachers in Australia”.  I think they would be more honest to claim “The least worst paid teachers”:

Take a four-year trained Primary teacher in Western Australia on a starting salary of $56 122, rising to $61 567 after a year of service (the latter is the starting salary for a five-year trained teacher).

I will compare ves effective hourly payment with that of a starting-level Education Assistant/Teachers Aid on a starting salary of $33 484 / 19.75 per hour  (2010 WAIRC 00742)

They have the same school hours, but the teacher is expected to be present before and after school to open and close the class, meet parents and students, do required bureaucratic work, deal with emails, write up the daily workpad,  and so forth.  In addition, a teacher has to work out of school hours to complete important duties such as: prepare and change programs and lessons to meet the students’ needs; attend professional development; represent the school in out-of-hours activities; do professional reading;  explore, collect, and document useful materials for  activities;, contact parents; mark assessments; and write student reports.

I have heard teachers say that they regularly do over twenty hours per week out of school – that is, beyond the minimum of five hours at school before and after class, and the DOT time in school.  This does not include preparatory work done over school “vacations”.  First-year teachers are told to expect much longer hours, often eighty hours a week.  To be conservative, let us assume the new teacher is a genius and can get away with a term-time weekly average of the five hours at school and twenty-five out of school, and donates vacation time.

If teachers were paid the extra school hours at single time and the away-from-school  hours at time-and-a half,  and paid this  at the EA hourly rate of $19.75 per hour; if this were paid for 39 weeks a year; and if a first-year teacher received the EA base annual of $33 484 for the school year hours the EA attends,

 Then  the new teacher would get

$33 484 + (39 * (5 + 25 * 1.5) * $19.75)

= $33 484 + $32 735

=$ 66 219

So, for the first two years (ending on $61 567), the new genius teacher can expect an effective hourly rate below that of a new Education Assistant.  Less organised and gifted teachers would receive much less.

Note that I have made conservative assumptions on hours worked;  have had the teacher donate some holiday time;  have not made deductions for the purchse of professional reading, professional training,  and class materials;  and have not included double time for work on Sundays, although many conferences are scheduled for weekends and most teachers do some work on Sundays throughout term.

Teachers aren’t in it for the money.

It reminds me of the story of a Martial Arts master who received many gifts from those he taught, gifts according to their income.  A very rich man said: “Come and teach me, I’ll pay you well.”  Sensai was offended and said “You can’t afford to pay for my teaching!”

As I noted previously, Australian teachers’ pay relative to Average Weekly Earnings (and relative to backbenchers’ pay) has dropped massively over the past thirty years.  If the schools can’t afford to pay teachers more per work hour than unskilled workers, then Teachers’ Unions must demand that society as a whole regulates for extreme courtesy¹ towards teachers:  students, parents, and bureaucrats must recognise teachers’ years of training, specialist knowledge behind decisions, advanced diagnostic skills, and out-of-school workload,  and the complex challenges teachers face, and reflect this in their approach to individual teachers on individual issues.  

You can’t afford to pay the teachers what they are worth.  Recognise the imbalance in  social obligation:  you owe them, big time.


¹: Courtesy is the behaviour, respect is an internal state.  It is impossible to coerce people to have respect – one can only coerce them to produce the socially defined behaviours indicative of respect.  I believe that it is time for some coercion.


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