When looking at private school vs public school teacher's pay, there are many things to consider. Shaping the fertile minds of the next generation of young Americans is nothing to be taken lightly. Today's educators face what is arguably the widest array of challenges in history when it comes to instilling knowledge and virtues in today's students. One significant challenge isn’t directly student facing but is one of the most poignant decisions educators must make as they pursue their passions and careers in education; compensation and how it relates to job satisfaction.
According to a study from the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) for 2015-16 focused on elementary and secondary education, the average base salary for a public-school teacher was $55,120. The average base salary for a Private School Teacher was $40,200. Variants on these averages included sex, race, age and education level achieved, but regardless of these variants, no private school educator of any specific classification averaged a base pay higher than the overall base pay of the average public school educator based on the findings of the study.
Much of the reasoning behind the nearly 15k base pay disparity between public and private educational careers is well known and predominantly centers around quality of life in the classroom. These differentiators are the defining elements of an educator’s day-to-day experience in their roles and will make all the difference in finding life as an educator to be fulfilling, rewarding and inspiring. The heavy hitters in work/life balance and job satisfaction for any educator are the three C’s:
Private School vs Public School Teacher Class Size Differences:
Public school class size across the country can be as high as 30 students per class, climbing even higher in some cases. It’s probably safe to say that any collection of thirty or so individuals of different skills, strengths, and struggles all seeking the attention and support of one resource in a learning environment it going to be challenging at best.
Comparatively, the average private school class size is 10-15 students per class, providing private school teachers with more oversight, more time for assignments and projects of higher complexity, and less time spent grading student work.
Curriculum in Private School vs Public School:
Public school curriculum can be limited by many factors including budgets, state requirements and more. Curriculum is also focused predominantly on what makes the school as a whole appear successful on paper; such as test scores, graduation rates and average grades in key subjects. Being governmentally funded, public school curriculum is designed to encourage learning in the areas that keep the funding flowing, which can cause programs and classes which are deemed non-essential to suffer.
Private schools are privately funded, and therefor have greater flexibility in curriculum to focus on individual students needs and interests. Teachers are often able to take the creative approach in the tools and teaching styles they utilize, tailoring their classes to best suit the needs and abilities of the student body. Often private school curriculum also include education in life skills which support development outside of strictly academic growth, providing an incredibly rewarding experience for both teachers and students.
Cash Flow in Private Schools vs Public Schools:
When it comes to private school vs public school teachers pay, cash flow is a major factor. Public schools are funded by state governments through income generated by income taxes, property taxes and state lotteries. Depending on many factors, public schools can have limited resources depending on location, population and performance, and budgets vary from state to state. Public school teachers often contribute their own resources to ensure materials and necessities are available to their students. Another study from the NCES in 2018 showed that over 94% of public-school teachers invested their own money to cover classroom essentials such as paper, notebooks, pens and more. The study showed that the average annual personal expenditure for classroom necessities by teachers was nearly $480 in 2014-15; nearly twice the amount of the $250 tax deduction provided to teachers by the federal government.
Private schools are funded by combinations of tuition, donations, and endowments. This provides greater flexibility in how these funds can be distributed. With financial support constantly flowing from individuals who directly benefit from the utilization of it, private schools have more opportunity to evaluate their needs and increase their offerings as needed. Classroom materials, technology, educational programs and extracurriculars are some of the many aspects of private school education that are funded at a higher level than public schools, which in turn provide teachers with more resources as they follow their calling to inspire young minds.
The Culture Within a School
Finally, another major differentiator is the environment and culture of the school as a whole. Private schools usually have a selective admissions process and are more likely to enroll a higher amount of students who are seeking to learn and meaningfully pursue a quality education, which combined with more resources and smaller class sizes, creates a healthier and more motivated learning environment for both students and educators. Overall, though private school teacher pay is often less than public school pay, the work/life balance and learning environment of private schools are often preferred by those who are following their passion rather than just a paycheck.
Following one’s passion over profit is demonstrated again if we narrow down further and look at secular vs religiously affiliated private schools. Take for example the Catholic School System, which is the largest non-governmental school system in the world. The average salary of a Catholic school teacher ranged between as low at $16,800 to $38,976 in 2010 according to a survey conducted by the National Association of Catholic School Teachers (ACST). Glassdoor.com indicates that the average Catholic teacher’s salary in 2017 was $37,051, lower than the average private school salary from the aforementioned study in 2015-16.
Teachers, students, and leaders in the catholic school system participate in religious aspects of the faith and incorporate them into the curriculum. Being able to follow your faith as an educator seems to be more important than salary for Catholic educators. In a study presented in 2010 to the American Educational Research Association, Catholic school teachers repeatedly showed higher levels of job satisfaction and motivation than the non-Catholic teachers included in the study.
Why Teachers Work for So Little
There are a lot of reasons teachers choose the benefits of teaching in a private school over public, and still more why they chose to pursue opportunities to follow their calling and educate in a private religious institution. One thing seems certain; it’s more about doing what you love. Following your convictions rather than just cashing checks or working in a posh private academy so you can achieve greater job satisfaction. Perhaps one of the valuable lessons we can learn from educators today doesn’t come from a strictly academic source. Teachers show that following their passion is more important than just a paycheck!