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Today's Teacher - A Profile of U.S. Public, Private & Catholic School Teachers

Although the days of the bookish schoolmarm are long gone, a study released in August, by the U.S. Department of Education, reveals that although schools and teachers change, some things remain the same. Produced by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the National Teacher and Principal Survey provides an in-depth look at educators across the U.S. NCES compiles statistics on public and charter schools for the U.S. Department of Education, and also studies the demographics of private and Catholic schools. While the proliferation of charter schools is making an impact on schools and teachers, the current U.S. teacher is still predominately a white woman, with an average age of 42.

Here’s some facts about today’s teachers:

Public school teachers:

- Age 42

- White (80%, 9% Hispanic, 7% Black, 2% Asian, other not reported)

- Female (77%, 90% in Elementary schools, 66% in High Schools)

- Paid $55,100.

- 48% hold a master’s degree or higher

- Pupil/teacher ratio 16:1

Charter school teachers have less experience, 10 years, and are 14% Hispanic, and 38% hold a Master’s degree or higher.

Private school teachers:

- Age and ethnicity information unavailable

- Female – 76%

- Paid $39,000.

- 43% hold a master’s degree or higher

- Pupil/teacher ratio 12:1

Public schools in the U.S. number over 90,400. Eight percent of these are charter schools and the number of these has risen dramatically in recent years. All public schools educate 49.2 million students, and employ over 3.1 million teachers. Private schools make up more than 27% of the schools in the country and educate more than 10% of the nation’s students. There are more than 33,600 private schools educating 5.4 million students in the U.S. and employing 441,000 teachers. A large percentage of private schools, 79%, are religious affiliated schools and about 20% are Catholic schools (the largest segment of non-public schools in the nation). Catholic schools in the U.S. currently number 6,429, educate 1.9 million students, and employ 153,000 teachers.

Catholic school teachers:

- Female 77%

- Current average salary data not available but in prior years was always below the private school average, usually by about 7%

- 41% hold a master’s degree or higher

- 97.4% are lay employees and 2.6% are Religious/Clergy

- Pupil/teacher ratio 12:1

What do all these numbers mean? Teachers are reportedly still earning about 30% less than other college graduates. That is a very large gap considering the average number of hours worked by a teacher is 53 hours per week. Gone are the days of three month summers too. Most teachers may have a little more than a month off in the summer, time that is often filled with professional development and other school trainings, as well as prep for the coming year.

Considering the average pay inequity between teachers and other college grads, why do teachers choose to teach in private and Catholic schools where the pay is even less? Many private school teachers report several key reasons why they have chosen to teach in private settings:

- Discipline

- More independent choice and control over teaching methods and curriculum

- Administrative support, respect

Many private school teachers leave in early years (1-4) of teaching. Of those who leave, 2/3 cite poor pay as their primary reason to leave. Those who do remain often remain in teaching much longer than their public school peers, with an average of more than 20 years of experience.

As a school administrator, teacher longevity was of great interest to me. My research on Catholic school teachers yielded similar findings to that of private school teachers in general. In the qualitative research, Catholic school teachers in my area (both Catholic and non-Catholic teachers, male and female) cited low pay as a reason that many new teachers left. In interviewing teachers with 5 or more years of experience, they reported the following as reasons why they remain, despite lower pay:

- Culture and Climate

- Community and Collegiality

* Collaboration with peers and administration.

* Support from administration

- Faith

* Sharing a commitment to Catholic school, vocation, church and personal belief system.

* Principal as spiritual as well as academic leader.

The implications for administrators of both public and private schools are evident. A collaborative and collegial environment, in which teachers are supported by administrators and faithful to the common mission of the school, assists with teacher retention and longevity. Pay inequity, which has long plagued educators, continues to be an important problem to address. With the ever greater emphasis on high stakes testing and student performance, it becomes even more important to hire and retain qualified teachers, pay them fair salaries, and create a collaborative and collegial atmosphere where teachers and administrators foster an environment of educational excellence for themselves and the students whom they teach.


Catholic School Data. (2017).

Characteristics of Public Elementary and Secondary School Teachers in the United States: Results From the 2015–16 National Teacher and Principal Survey. (2017, August 15).

Orlin, B. (2014, October 24). Why Are Private-School Teachers Paid Less Than Public-School Teachers? The Atlantic.


Photo: MK Photography

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