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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?

Article comments


I went to a private school and for me the important thing was all the facilities. They had badminton, tennis, squash courts, Olympic size swimming pool, massive sports hall, football pitches, full running track and athletics equipment, a huge library, good grades, and about 50 possible extra curricular activities ranging from chess, debating to role play club. If a Public school can try to emulate (as best it can within a budget) some of these things and create an ethos of hard work and hard play then it could do very well.

Teacher Man says:

I think there are definitely public schools out there that can offer those facilities MMR. The problem is the quality of personnel that will commonly use them.

I agree that teachers in MB make a really good living, and you have a very strong union (daughter of a retired MB teacher speaking). Do you make too much? Maybe. As for government employees – I’m an employee of a Crown Corp, and while I have a Masters degree (and am earning less than I could be earning in the private sector), most of my peers are stuck in jobs earning more than they could anywhere else with terrific pension plans. It actually does not make for a healthy work environment.

Private vs. public? I’m a cynic – go for private, you’ll never succeed in changing the public system!

Teacher Man says:

Hmm, interesting perspective Kris. Thanks for sharing! I agree 100% that it doesn’t make a healthy work environment because you have such a huge percentage of people who are doing the bare minimum (which is much more bare than most people would ever believe) just to keep those benefits. When you combine some of the highest job security in the world with very high compensation packages, you get an “interesting” group of workers. If we don’t change the system do we just resign ourselves to becoming Greece?

kc says:

I am sorry but I stopped reading with this part… “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

Teacher Man says:

It’s too bad you didn’t keep reading KC because you would have found out that I actually agree with you! The really funny part is that you think 87K shows bloated admin. That’s just for us lowly teachers. Principals are all close to 100K if not over it, and upper admin routinely runs anywhere from 120-180K. Now I’ll wait while you go throw up. I agree completely with everything you say except for a recession setting this straight. Our union is so strong I don’t know that it will ever come “back down to Earth.”

I actually don’t think it’s too much. I think teachers are some of the most underpaid professionals in our society. At least American society. HOLY CRAP is that common/typical for all Canadian teachers? I’d find a way to change the system from within.

Teacher Man says:

I have several friends that teach in the USA, and they commonly earn half of what we do. Some of the highest paid teachers in the northern states I am most familiar with might max out at 50K or so, and many much lower than that. That salary is very typical amongst Canadian teachers. No one one would be more than 5% below that I’m pretty sure. You can actually make substantially more if you’re willing to go to isolated sorts up north for a few months at a time.

laura says:

I cringe at the idea that teacher-haters in the US are going to read this blog entry and come to the wrong conclusions. In my state, teachers are required to have a master’s degree, full-stop, and their salary will max out at maybe $60 grand after 20 years.

If you mention “summer vacation” in a room of “hard-workin” dudes, they will totally flip. They can’t understand why someone with two college degrees makes more money than they do, and they hardly ever have to go to work, either! It isn’t FAIR!

Teacher Man says:

What?! Really, a full Masters degree is needed eh? I’d only heard that about Finland. Interesting that the pay scale is significantly lower though.

I love that there’s actually a teacher out there who doesn’t whine about how tough it is to be a teacher.

Teacher Man says:

Oooops, sorry, I mean to say that I don’t get paid nearly enough for the 70 hour work weeks I put in and that you can’t put a price on what it takes to mold the minds of the next generation (even though that’s what my union does). You know how much I make Nelson? I make a difference. (That is honestly on several teachers coffee cups… we don’t live in reality).

Moving on, I just want everyone to mark on their calendars that Nelson Smith just gave me a compliment and I am not a female (maybe he got mixed up with the past owner) he may not be the anti-Christ that everyone says he is…

SavingMentor says:

This is a rare moment indeed!

Trust me, you should be happy having a job as a teacher, my peers in BC and Ontario are having difficulties (over supply).

Teachers are paid well but they have to work hard for it.

Teacher Man says:

Yes and no Steve. I am very happy I have a job as a teacher. I do realize that I am fortunate. I am extremely familiar with the over supply problem. On the other hand I know for a FACT that there are plenty of jobs out there, but they are in small rural communities. If you want your peers to get a job tell them to contact me and I could find a job for them in Northern Manitoba in a heartbeat. They would even get northern living allowance!

Whether or not you should start a private school or try to reform the public sector is a highly personal decision. You could argue that going for public sector reform could impact more people but it could also take a lot more time, make you deal with a lot more red tape, and potentially yield less results. Whereas if you start your own school then you could have more control over how it’s run, but a select few people will benefit. (Unless of course, others see and are inspired by your school and start to operate in a similar manner.) The real question is, what do you want? How do you feel you could use your skills to have the greatest impact?

Teacher Man says:

Very solid points Shannon. I think there is little doubt I want the private school more. It would also be extremely difficult to do both from an energy perspective and a financial perspective. A private school is essentially like running a multi-million dollar company. I may need a little administrative experience before I tackle that challenge…

krantcents says:

Government jobs like many jobs has a top to it. It may be higher than some jobs, but there is a limit to how much you can earn. Private sector jobs usually have a higher top and entrepreneurship has no limits. Teaching has a lot of perks such as latitude in the job, pension and vacation. Along with those perks is lower salaries.

Teacher Man says:

That’s how it should be KC, but the thing is that where I’m from teachers are earning the equivalent salaries of at least middle management in most industries (if not upper management in some). I don’t think it should be this lucrative.

SavingMentor says:

I agree, there may be a higher top end in the private sector but I think having more money and ample time off in your younger years is something truly remarkable because that is what you are most well-equipped and fully able to travel the world and enjoy yourself.

There’s no guarantee of tomorrow and no guarantee you’ll ever reach the upper echelons of the private sector! Getting that 50K starting salary is such a boost for your entire life especially if you manage it well. Personally, I started at 30K and it’s probably going to be a long while before I hit 80K+. I’ll be 32 next year.

Teacher Man says:

I hear you SM. I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with your sentiments. I know I am extremely fortunate to have the starting salary and built-in wage increases that I do. Thanks for keeping it real.