Teacher upgrades no free ride.

Well, it seems the sky is falling in Nova Scotia education.


Over the past 4 months, anti-teacher sentiment has reached a feverish pitch in Nova Scotia, this time fueled by the awarding of teaching upgrades to approximately 500 teachers who signed on to take a distance course from Drake University in the US.  The concerns raised about the Drake program have run the gamut of everything from it being full of “bird” courses,  to concerns that some teachers were taking the program even though it was outside their teaching assignment, to criticism that the course was offered via CD.

Now, I could argue a number of points around this issue. I could point out that the Physed teachers I have spoken with have found the content of the program tremendously useful in the day-to-day operation of their classes.  I could also argue that in today’s job market, taking a degree outside of your teaching area is sometimes a matter of employability rather than enrichment.  And I could argue that in these days of massive open online courses and e-learning, criticizing a course for such things as having “little to no interaction with faculty” seems a bit, well, twentieth century.

However, for all the hoop and holler about teaching quality, a bigger concern in all this seemed to be the money this program was costing taxpayers. Drake seemed to raise the issue of teacher license upgrades in general, and focused more on finance than on function.  Much of the commentary centered around what many seem to think are the “massive pay increases” teachers receive upon upgrading their licenses.

The”Drake issue” was brought to the forefront again recently when Education Minister Karen Casey announced that teachers who were pre-approved for the program would be allowed to finish and achieve an upgrade in their licenses, even though the Drake program had been pulled from the list of those accredited to do so. Criticism was swift and harsh. On April 30, Marilla Stephenson chastised the minister in The Chronicle Herald for not recognizing that the province is broke, and bemoaned higher teacher salaries resulting from the upgrades. An editorial on May 2nd called into question the “fairness” of using taxpayers money to pay for salary increases for courses that are not directly related to what teachers are teaching in the classroom. Finally, Bill Black (former CEO of Maritime Life) raised all sorts of alarm bells about how the upgrades could cost upwards of 60 million dollars and spoke of how “The big cost…is not tuition, but rather the resulting pay increases.”

Now, I’m no math teacher, but I decided I would play a bit, and look at this notion of large teacher pay increases.  I started with the number $8964. That is the cost of a typical Master’s of Education program taken in Nova Scotia and used by many teachers to achieve the “…roughly $5000 to $8000” pay increase via upgrading. Next, I took the $8000 and divided it by 1.26 to figure how much would be left of that raise after paying federal taxes. I took the result of that equation, ($6350) and divided it by 195, the number of teaching days in the year. ($32.56) Finally, I divided $32.56 by 8, the hours in an average worker’s day. Not an average teacher’s day,  mind you, but a common enough number.

What exorbitant pay increase did I arrive at?

$4.07 an hour.

This is an oversimplification, I realize. There are programs that do not cost $8964.  I did not figure in all taxes, (which would have lowered the hourly wage) nor did I include the money teachers can get back for such courses (which would have lowered the final costs for teachers, but which is, itself, taxed). I also did not allow for interest paid on the $8964, nor the cost of books and such.

But if we allow that all these variables taken together may cross each other out, this seems like an awful lot of fuss over four bucks an hour.

Now, there are many in this province for whom a 4 dollar an hour raise seems like a hefty sum, but it is hardly the “fat pay raise” that many seem to assume accompanies teacher upgrades. Nor does it seem to justify, in and of itself, the standard requirement of a full two years of university, usually completed by teachers on evenings and weekends. Indeed, if a teacher were to take that $4.07 raise and put it towards repaying the original expense of $8964, it would take 1.41 years to pay back the initial investment.  Including the two years it takes to actually complete most programs, it will be almost 3 and a half years before a net gain is realized.

I would like professional Nova Scotians to think about their own work place for a moment. Your boss walks into your job space and announces a new program for increasing pay. He explains that if you give him $9000 and work evenings and weekends for two years, you, too, could have a pay raise which will net you an extra 4 bucks an hour in about 3 and a half years.

Imagine the rush to sign up.

Teachers have been getting a pretty rough ride lately in the press because of these “revelations”. And I can understand it, to some extent. Teachers have always been expected to follow a higher moral code than the average citizen, and such a backlash against even perceived shortcuts is to be expected. This is especially true when it comes to improving teaching practice, even when the shortcuts may be pragmatic, practical, and of some use.

But if you were to listen to some of criticism that has been bandied about lately,  it seems that teachers are to blame for every single financial woe and want this province is currently facing.

Teacher pay is always an easy target for critics. We do, after all, receive automatic increments of pay every year once we get permanent status, and after 11 years can be making approximately $72000, using the current pay scales.

But stay with me for a second.

Assuming a teacher gets a job right after graduation from university (which never happens) , they will reach that salary  16 years after leaving high school.  At a graduation age of 18, that means they are making $72,000 at the age of 34, based on current pay scales, or about $39 an hour on an 8 hour day after federal taxes and before any other deductions. That is about 4 times minimum wage, and considered respectable by many.

Now, teachers can max out at a nice, healthy salary of about $90K in this province. However, this requires three upgrades, each of which offers progressively smaller pay increases. So, for example, a second Master’s degree, (which still costs $8964 and still takes two years to complete) will net a teacher approximately $2.50 an hour extra after federal taxes and before deductions, and a third ($8964 and two years) will get them about $2.40.

So, if a teacher gets a job right after graduation, works 11 years, then takes a full complement of Master’s degrees, working evenings and weekends for six years to complete course work, they will have spent $26,892 above their 5 year undergrad and will be making, approximately, an extra $9.00 per hour, compared to someone who has not upgraded,  17 years into the profession and with 11 total years of university.

Put another way, after an extra 6 years in university teachers can increase their pay by an amount that is less than that paid for a minimum wage job.

Those greedy devils.

Look, I’m not complaining. 90K a year in this province is an excellent salary, and I am glad for it. But there is a certain strata of society that would love to lay the blame for Nova Scotia’s financial woes directly on the backs of all middle class professions. Teacher’s are simply the flavour of the month.  They love to talk about the amount of “bang” gotten out of the taxpayer’s “buck”, but it is not the middle class of this province that have led us into our current state of financial woe. In fact, it is through developing a strong middle class and paying good wages that economies can thrive.

The teachers in this province are doing an excellent job providing an education for the students of this province while weathering a constant barrage of criticism for not doing so well enough. But if Jane and John Q Public really believe we are the enemy, I would like them to consider this question:

What do they think it takes for, say, the CEO of Maritime Life to get a raise of $9.50 an hour?

I am no banker, but I guarantee the answer is nowhere near what it takes a teacher.



Filed under Education Policy, Public education, Quality education, Teacher autonomy, Teacher certification, Teacher upgrades

23 responses to “Teacher upgrades no free ride.

  1. bbowers

    well said.

    • Evan

      The CEO is not given a pay increase just because he took a course, in the private sector it is based on job performance.

      • That is totally, true, Evan, and there have been a few models floated that suggest the same thing for teachers. The issue becomes these performance based models run into trouble when there is an attempt to connect teachers performance with test scores. That narrows the scope of education and causes all sorts of trouble, as we have seen in the US.
        Anyhow, thanks for the comment.

  2. Notateacher

    Methinks thou doth protest too much……….

  3. Excellent, excellent work! Next, maybe you could write about how teachers are not in fact paid all summer….

  4. Slippery pete

    This is ridiculous. Any amount of money sounds small if you break it down over a small enough time increment. 100k a year is only 80 cents a minute after all (before taxes). Moreover, we all know that the pay increase stated is before taxes. That’s how most people refer to their pay. I have a PhD and don’t get paid much more than 74 K. I should have signed up for this valuable course instead of spending an extra 4 years in university beyond what teachers do. I also don’t consider the cost of my education when calculating my hourly wage unless I’m trying to knock that number down as was done with extreme bias in this article. No one is convinced this money was fairly earned. Less respect for teachers than ever before after reading this.

    • Hey Pete, thanks for commenting.
      The point was to try and offer a counterpoint to all the comments recently that have been, themselves, biased in the other direction. I find it odd, however, that folks will recognize how small something sounds when you “break it down” as you say, but not recognize how large something can be made to sound by critics when you “put them together”. (I admire you for your PhD by the way. I certainly don’t have mine.)
      Thanks again for reading.

    • John Francis

      Oh For Pete’s Sake ? …. just curious what is ” not much more than 74 K “? What is it you do that took 10 years of study? and truthfully, Pete, you sound like someone with an axe to grind…. I’d bet you didn’t have any respect for teacher’s in the first place.

  5. Teacher's Daughter

    Love the entry. My Mom is a retired teacher and while I was growing up everyone always asked me if I wanted to be a teacher. My answer is the same now as it was then, there’s not enough money in the world to make me want to be a teacher. I think we have entered a very bizarre age where no one wants to pay for anything and when we see people who are doing well for themselves and happen to receive a pay cheque from the government all they want to do is belittle and berate them.

    • Hello, Teacher’s Daughter. (Love the name btw)
      Teachers do not enter the profession for the money. Those who do, simply do not last. For the rest of us, the money makes it a little easier for us to stay.

      Thanks for commenting.

  6. eduhated

    First off, I’d like to say thank you for writing this article. As a teacher myself, I find it incredibly disheartening when people ask or demand how much I make, then shove it back in my face and demand to know why “they” are paying so much for my services. One thing that I don’t believe most people who have not taught before can understand is that teaching as a profession expects a lot from teachers, especially time.

    Offhand, I do not know of any other profession whose employees come into work early, stay late, work at home and volunteer to make their workplace better with no thought of compensation whatsoever for those extra hours worked. We get paid a salary (the lucky folks who have contracts) and any work over and above those set hours aren’t being charged to the public’s coffers. On that note, it’d be interesting to see the amount of volunteer hours that are put in by the hardworking teachers across the province of Nova Scotia and then calculate how much an hour we are actually paid.

    • Well, lots of folks work hard in this province, and lots of people put in extra hours. As well, lots of folks volunteer. The issue I have is that people who work long hours at their jobs seem to want to ask “Why do teachers get paid so much money?” instead of asking “Why don’t I get paid more?”

    • Will MacNaught

      Pretty much anything in the corporate world requires employees to stay late (well past 5:00 pm, a teacher’s version of “staying late”) without pay. It’s a competitive job market out there, and employers can get away with quite a bit because people want/need jobs. Consider the real world, where deadlines could mean you lose a client, or even your job. What’s the penalty in teaching for taking a month to grade and return assignments? Nothing.

      • Hello again, Will.
        I agree with you on our definition of “staying late”, and it is a competitive job market, but employees and the public in general have to be careful with the idea that a competitive job market means employers should get away with more. There is an idea I have recently heard about called “lean production”. The idea is that you push a system, (any system) as far as you can until something within the system breaks. When speaking of the workplace, that something is the “weakest” employee. When the employee can simply do no more, they are replaced by someone who can. Then the system is pushed even farther.
        Can’t work a 10 hour day 6 days a week? Well, then, the employer will find someone who can, and will then ask everyone to work 11 hours a day.
        Thanks again.

  7. Will MacNaught

    Slippery Pete’s comment was right on the mark. You can make anything sound insignificant if you break it down far enough. Look at how car dealers do it with vehicle financing, or how banks do it with mortgages. And look where we as a society have ended up financially by doing this. Teacher’s are very well paid when you consider what they actually do. They are generally not people who passed up careers as doctors, lawyers, or professors to become teachers. These are often individuals who couldn’t make it in the real world, so they got a B Ed. All too often, teaching seems to be a backup plan for people who took irrelevant, unemployable degrees in university. To be fair, I did have a few great teachers along the way, but they were a rarity.

    Perhaps teachers should ask themselves “If I worked for a privately-owned business, would they give me a raise for taking courses from this ‘university’?” It might also be worth measuring the teaching outcomes achieved by these teachers before and after they take courses for extra pay. If outcomes don’t improve, neither should salaries. Why should Nova Scotians be paying more if teachers are still delivering the same results?

    • Hi Will,
      It’s true that when you break things down they can be made to seem insignificant, but you can also make things seem huge when you pile them all together. That was sort of the point.
      I agree with you that teachers are well compensated, although I would disagree, respectfully, with the “considering what they do” comment. Teaching is the best job I have ever known, and I like to tell people it’s so good because I get up in the morning knowing that today I am going to do something good for someone’s kid. That’s a good gig, and of considerable value.
      Finally, I must disagree with you on the measuring of outcomes. The only way to measure in this is through standardized testing, and that is whole other debate.
      Great comments, and well thought out. Thanks.

  8. 50 Weeks a Year, 48 Hours a Week is Full-time, and yes I have to take work home sometimes too.

    It’s interesting how everyone slants the numbers in their favor to make a point. For instance, you chose to deduct the Federal taxes before breaking down the pay increase to an hourly rate. It’s a small difference but an obvious one. Also, you failed to mention that teachers are able to claim these education expenses and receive income tax credits for their tuition costs. I’ll admit that I’m splitting hairs but it is part of the equation.

    After doing a quick search online I was able to view a salary schedule that indicates a TC5 certification tops out at $73804 per year while the top salary for a fully upgraded TC8 is $92286. That difference in salary every year would but a pretty big dent in the education costs incurred during the upgrade process.

    Honestly, I wouldn’t be able to do what a teacher does. Having said that I also feel teachers get paid very well for part-time work.

    • Hello 50,
      Our salaries are no secret, as you found out, and as I mentioned in my piece, I did not include all the pluses and minuses. I’m no tax expert, that’s for sure. But, I wonder about your 50 weeks and 48 hours a week? What do you do that finds you working this much?

  9. eduhated

    I appreciate anyone’s opinion even when it differs from my own but I do have several questions for you to clarify if you’d be so kind. When you said that, “Teacher’s are very well paid when you consider what they actually do.” I’d like to know, what exactly do teachers do?
    Also, I feel a little slighted personally by the comment that “[teachers] are generally not people who passed up careers as doctors, lawyers, or professors to become teachers.” True, the teaching profession only requires two bachelor degrees, however, are you insinuating that the teaching profession is something not worth aspiring to?
    And how did you come to the conclusion that “[teachers] are often individuals who couldn’t make it in the real world, so they got a B.Ed.”?
    My final question and forgive me for being so inquisitive, but what do you do?

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