Valerie Schmalz/CNSBen Poland, a first-grade teacher at St. Finn Barr School in San Francisco, teaches students on the playground to balance a basketball on one finger last December.

Valerie Schmalz/CNS
Ben Poland, a first-grade teacher at St. Finn Barr School in San Francisco, teaches students on the playground to balance a basketball on one finger last December.

Private school teachers, Catholic educators among them, make substantially less than their public school counterparts. In the United States, average salaries are nearly $50,000 for public and just $36,000 for private, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. In Oregon, Catholic school teachers are paid higher than the national private-school average, but undoubtedly, freshly minted Catholic teachers could fill their bank accounts faster going the public route. 

Why, then, do some teachers opt for the lower-paying path?

Because the monetary gap is filled, at least in part, by what teachers encounter when they show up to work each day.

Student-to-teacher ratios are smaller at Catholic schools, and since there is less red tape, teachers have more energy and time to focus on why they are there — to teach. Prayer is not banned but used multiple times a day to help children and staff focus their minds, hearts, spirits. As an added bonus, Catholic schools celebrate holidays big and small. From St. Joseph Tables adorned with flowers in March to shoes filled with surprises in honor of St. Nick, the marks of the liturgical year are as present as exams, backpacks and pop quizzes.

Ultimately, Catholic schools give teachers the opportunity to integrate their love of God and deep convictions with their chosen profession, which for many is a vocation.

Nevertheless, the financial piece is unmistakably there, and teachers — like many Catholic families — make a sacrifice to be part of a faith-filled academic community.

So as you congratulate a Catholic-school graduate this spring, perhaps also thank a few teachers. Their career often is based on a desire to open young minds and out of love for a carpenter, who was the greatest teacher of all time.