Do You Really Want to Pay Teachers Like Babysitters?

One issue that really grinds my gears, as Peter Griffin might say, is teachers pay. If you ask teachers, they are grossly underpaid for their services. And they do a pretty good job of convincing people that the more you pay teachers the better job they’ll do.

In the past few weeks, I’ve seen this tongue-in-cheek piece from Daily Kos appear on my Facebook feed multiples times from different people. This piece opens up with the sarcastically written line, “Teachers’ hefty salaries are driving up taxes, and they only work nine or ten months a year! It’s time we put things in perspective and pay them for what they do — babysit! We can get that for less than minimum wage.” The author ultimately “proves” that teachers are grossly underpaid by starting with the assumption that if public school teachers were paid like babysitters they’d earn less money, and ultimately finds the opposite is true:

That’s right. Let’s give them $3.00 an hour and only the hours they worked; not any of that silly planning time, or any time they spend before or after school. That would be $19.50 a day (7:45 to 3:00 PM with 45 min. off for lunch and planning — that equals 6-1/2 hours).
So each parent should pay $19.50 a day for these teachers to baby-sit their children. Now how many students do they teach in a day…maybe 30? So that’s $19.50 x 30 = $585 a day.
However, remember they only work 180 days a year!!! I am not going to pay them for any vacations.
That’s $585 X 180= $105,300 per year. (Hold on! My calculator needs new batteries).
What about those special education teachers and the ones with Master’s degrees? Well, we could pay them minimum wage ($7.75), and just to be fair, round it off to $8.00 an hour. That would be $8 X 6-1/2 hours X 30 children X 180 days = $280,800 per year.
Wait a minute — there’s something wrong here! There sure is!
The average teacher’s salary (nationwide) is $50,000.
$50,000/180 days = $277.77 per day / 30 students = $9.25 / 6.5 hours = $1.42 per hour per student — a very inexpensive baby-sitter and they even EDUCATE your kids!)
Make a teacher smile; repost this to show appreciation for all educators.

Dumb? Absolutely. But, I’ve seen it pop up enough times that it’s clear enough people take this argument seriously. The argument being that if teachers were paid like babysitters, they’d actually make more than double the national average for a teacher’s salary, or nearly six times if minimum wage was the going rate. So, let’s pay them like babysitters!

Sadly, it seems necessary to prove the author’s assumptions, calculations and conclusion wrong… otherwise even more people will re-post the article, and potentially spread the falsehood that teachers are shortchanged compared to babysitters.

To start, we need correct some poor assumptions by the author. To do this all we need to do is look at how things work in the real world. Does a babysitter caring for three children make three times as much as a babysitter caring for one? No. Similarly, a taxi driver doesn’t earn double the fare for taking two passengers instead of one, or quadruple the fare for four passengers. No, because in either case the amount of work doesn’t increase by 100% for each child or passenger. If the multiplier was 100% per child, parents would hire one babysitter for each child, in order to get more attention and care for their dollar.

With this in mind, I made an attempt to find out what the multiplier for each additional child being cared for by the same person actually is. Using the Babysitting Rates Calculator on, I came up with some interesting numbers for my area:

Hourly Rate (Buffalo, NY):

$9.50 (1 child)
$10.00 (2 children)
$11.00 (3 children)
$12.00 (4+ children)

So, the base pay is $9.50/hour which is not only higher than the $3.00/hr referenced above, but it’s also higher than minimum wage. So, obviously this means babysitters must get an even better deal than teachers, right? Nope. Still wrong.

According to this scale, a babysitter only gets 50 cents more for the first additional child, and dollar more each child after that up to four children. Whether four children is an accepted ceiling of pay, I am not sure, but for the sake of this exercise, we’ll assume that if a teacher gets paid like a babysitter, then they’ll get $9.50/hour base pay for one child per hour, and $1/hour for each child after that.

Now, how many students are teachers typically teaching each hour of the school day? The author guessed thirty. But, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average class size during the 2007-08 school year was “20.0 pupils for public elementary schools and 23.4 pupils for public secondary schools.” So, if we were to generously assume that teachers teach, on average 25 students each class throughout the school day we get the following:

(9.50 / hour ) + (24 x $1) = $33.5/hour
$33.5/hour x 6.5 hours day x 180 days year (1,170 hours) = $39,195

(The highest base rate for a zip code that I found was $12/hour, which would result in a yearly pay of $42,120 using the above calculation)

So, if teachers were paid like babysitters they’d actually earn quite a bit less than the national median household annual income of $51,017 in 2012, which is also less than the $55,050 median salary for a high school teacher in 2012.

So without a doubt, teachers are paid more than babysitters… public school teachers, anyways.

…and that’s before you even consider the benefits public school teachers typically get.

So, what is the value of these benefits? There’s no way to get a true average of the value of these benefits, as they vary not only state to state but also district to district in some cases… but they are still extremely generous compared to the private sector. Many public school teachers have their health insurance fully covered. True, in recent years, as a result of the Great Recession, some teachers are being asked to contribute modest amounts for their health insurance (based on a percentage or a fixed dollar amount), but either way, they still get a really good deal.

What also cannot be ignored is that teachers make greater than the household median income for just a 9-month school year, as opposed to the typical full-year those of us in the private sector work. The full-year equivalent to their 9-month salary (assuming two weeks unpaid vacation time or 2000 hours) would be a $94,103. So, if teachers did their job all year, like the rest of the us, they’d be earning more than construction managers, physical therapists, nuclear power reactor operators, various types of engineers, registered nurses, even architects like myself.

So, does the author of the above piece (and anyone who has shared it) really want teachers to be paid like babysitters? Do you really think teachers are underpaid when they only work 9 months to earn more than the median household income that most Americans have to work 12 months to earn, all while getting a generous benefits package and a pension that most of us don’t get?