How Much Do Private School Teachers Make?

A look at the salary and benefits for private school teachers

Teacher Helping Students with a Science Experiment
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Everyone is curious about salaries, and in academia, there is an endless debate over who makes more: private school teachers or public school teachers. The answer is not so easy to discern. Here's why. 

Historically, private school teachers salaries have paid been less than those in the public school sector. Years ago teachers would accept a position in a private school for less money simply because they felt that the teaching environment was friendlier and more preferential.

Many also came to the private sector because they considered it a mission or calling. Regardless, private schools have had to compete for a smaller pool of well-qualified teachers. Public school teachers' pay has risen markedly, and their benefits continue to be excellent, including strong pension packages. The same is true of some private teachers' pay, but not all. While some elite private schools now pay very close to what public schools pay, or even more, not all are able to compete at that level. 

Average Salaries  

According to Payscale.com's latest update in April 2017, the average elementary school teacher makes $43,619 (results coming from 5,413 salaries) and the average high school teacher makes $47,795 (results coming from 4,807 salaries). Special Education Teachers in secondary schools come out on top here, with an average of $49,958 (results coming from 868 salaries).

However, the numbers are significantly different when you separate private school teacher salaries from public school teacher salaries.

As of November 2016, private school teachers made an average of $39,996 a year, with a range that spans from $24,688 to $73,238. NAIS offers similar statistics, noting that in the 2015-2016 school year, the median of the highest salaries for teachers was $75,800. However, NAIS reports a higher median starting/lowest salary level than Payscale.com, with that level coming in at $37,000.

 

The Private School Pay Environment

As you might expect, there are disparities in private school teacher salaries. On the low end of the compensation spectrum are typically parochial schools and boarding schools. At the other end of the scale are some of the nation's top independent schools. Why is this? Parochial schools often have teachers who are following a calling, more than they are following money. Boarding schools offer significant benefits, such as housing (read on for more details), thus teachers tend to make significantly less on paper. Then, top private schools in the country have often been in business for many decades, or even centuries, and many have enormous endowments and a loyal alumni base on which to draw for support. When you peruse these wealthy schools' Forms 990, you begin to understand why they can and do attract the brightest and best in the teaching profession. But, that isn't the case with all private schools.

Something many folks don't know is that at most private schools, the cost of tuition does not cover the full cost of educating a student; schools rely on charitable giving to make up the difference. Those schools with the most active alumni and parent base will typically have higher salaries for teachers, while those schools with lower endowments and annual funds, may have lower salaries.

The common misconception is that ALL private schools carry high tuitions and have multi-million dollar endowments, therefore must offer immense salaries. However, if you consider the overhead that these private schools carry, including sprawling campuses that span hundreds of acres with multiple buildings, state of the art athletics and arts facilities, dormitories, dining commons that offer three meals a day, and more, it's easy to see that the costs are warranted. The difference from school to school can be great. 

Boarding School Salaries

An interesting trend is happening when it comes to boarding school salaries, which have typically been lower than their day school counterparts. Why? Boarding schools typically require faculty to live on campus in school-provided housing. Since housing is generally about 25 to 30% of an individual's living expenses, this often is a substantial perk since most schools provide housing for free.

This benefit is especially valuable with the high cost of housing in parts of the country, such as the northeast or southwest. However, this perk also comes with additional responsibilities, as most boarding school teachers are usually asked to work more hours, taking on dorm parent roles, coaching roles, and even evening and weekend supervisory roles. 

However, NAIS offers its latest statistics showing that boarding school teachers and administrators are now receiving higher pay than day school teachers and administrators. What isn't clear is if this is a result of fewer teachers and administrators living on campus and taking advantage of housing benefits, or if boarding schools are just increasing their salaries. 

 

Article edited by Stacy Jagodowski