As a high school teacher in Manitoba, Canada I’m not going to lie, I have a pretty great gig. I started by earning 50K as a 22-year old, and at 32 I will have climbed all of my automatic pay increments and be earning the equivalent of 82K in today’s dollars. If I finish the master’s degree I am currently pursuing, it will ratchet up to 87K, with plenty of opportunities to jump into upper administration. I highly doubt inflation will hurt my earning potential as my union is ridiculously strong and seems to consistently negotiate us raises that are above inflation. On top of this, I get a great benefits package, including a sweet government match-based defined benefit pension plan, and some pretty generous holidays. Who doesn’t want all those things, plus unbelievable job security right? If I follow Andrew Hallam’s example, I should easily be a millionaire by the time I retire, plus have a great pension plan to supplement any private savings. The future looks bright indeed. So why would I ever be jealous of some of my friends who work much longer hours and receive much less compensation? On the surface it appears that I am not thankful for what I have, and that “the grass always looks greener”. Maybe there is some truth to that; however, I believe there is something else at work there as well.
The Myth of the Poor Teacher
As a teacher, compensation is not what is frustrating about my job, and contrary to popular belief, bad kids are not what is frustrating about my job the majority of the time either (seriously, people get into teaching and think that teenagers are going to listen 100% of the time?). What is frustrating is the fact that my colleagues and I get paid the same amount whether we do a terrible job or a great job. There are no incentives to really try hard (other than your own convictions of course). The result is a very large number of the people I work with doing the bare minimum (including administrators) and several consequential chain reactions that have very negative outcomes to say the least. I honestly believe there are teachers worth 200K+ out there, and I believe that a majority of teachers are worth much less than the 82K salary that most people make where I live. This often leads to me being jealous of the entrepreneurial friends I have.
Grass and Shades of Green
By some stroke of fate I ended up with several friends who are geologists. They have many different opportunities open to them, and several run their own small companies. What I am very jealous about is that when they put in a 14-hour day they get to know they are building something potentially great. That is a powerful feeling – to know that you are gradually working towards something, and that the harder you work the closer you get, or the better the final result will be. Ideologically, I love the idea that you sink or swim based on your own merits (or lack thereof) when you are an entrepreneur, unlike in my union-dominated world. I believe that to know that you truly were/are a self-made person would be extremely rewarding. Yet I am not ignorant to the extreme risks most entrepreneurs face, and the overall lack of success most of them realize. This results in a real battle within my day dreams.
Do I stick with the government job and all of the guaranteed benefits (as well as the noble idea of preparing future generations) or do I branch out on my own and have complete control over what I can and can’t do? Another reason that I feel stifled as a teacher is that I truly believe there are MANY common sense strategies that we are ordered to completely abandon in favour of flavour-of-the-month guides that are made up in order to justify some useless person’s job, as well as policies that are made simply to placate a small group of extreme individuals, yet have unintended consequences for the entire student body. As an entrepreneur I could act on my instincts and the consequences would be mine to face. For right now, as a young adult, the security and benefits of teaching are too great to ignore, but the situation will definitely change as I go forward. As a side note, I think this is a solid example of why government jobs shouldn’t be compensated so well. I have so much negative incentive to leave my job and pursue making a living on the free market. Regardless of my personal financial situation, this is not a good trend for the long term health of an economy.
Having My Cake and Eating it Too
I have thought about combining the two worlds in various ways as well. Obviously Justin and I are currently satisfying our entrepreneurial dreams by doing this whole internet thing. Since both of our jobs leave us with large blocks of free time (***Note from Justin*** – At least his job does…), the two appear to complement each other quite well. I think using a government job as a platform to launch your own side gig is a very smart move and more people should be open to it. It kind of gives you the best of both worlds in my opinion.
The other combination I have considered (only in very vague terms) is starting my own private school one day. This would combine my passion for youth and education, my complete frustration with the public school system, and my entrepreneurial streak. It would also be an absolutely massive undertaking. I know that I would definitely wake up every day with a sense or purpose, and that even if I worked 16-hour days, I would have a sense of building something worthwhile. I would also be given much more freedom to pursue education the way I know in my heart that it should be pursued instead of being handcuffed by top-heavy unions, completely disconnected academics, and disinterested politicians-cum-administrators. I’m not sure it is financially viable for the type of area I want to live in, and I would be competing against institutions that have been around for over a hundred years, but man it is fun to think about. Until I make a decision one way or the other (probably several years down the road), the battle between security and the pursuit of merit-based compensation will continue to wrestle within me!
Would readers be interested in taking an in-depth look at what an ideal private school would look like? What would be some key characteristics? Should I instead apply my energies to trying to reforming the public sector?