Math at Work Monday Gets Artsy

Math at Work Monday Goes Artsy


I’ve been interviewing people about how they use math in the work for at least three years. And that means I have a really nice archive of Q&As with fascinating people. And in looking at these interviews, I see that they fall into several categories. So over the next few months, I’ll roll out archives of these interviews. First up, the arteests! 

Math at Work Monday: Bonnee the Freelance Artist

Bonnee Byrne is a freelance artist and owner of Signs by Bonnee.  She has been painting artwork and signs for the past twenty-six years.

Math at Work Monday: Sole the fashion designer

When designer Sole Salvo‘s message arrived in my inbox a while back, I was thrilled! As an avid sewer — who doesn’t like using patterns — I am fascinated with the process of fashion design. I know there is a lot of math involved. Some of it has to be a gut instinct — how will this angle work on a human body? And some of it is very calculated — what do I need to add in order to get a 5/8″ seam allowance?

Sole has been working as a designer for nine years, currently working for a large clothing company in New York. Here’s how she uses math in her job.

Math at Work Monday: Sally the photographer

Photography is one of those art forms that looks easy but is really challenging — at least challenging to get it done right!  Writer and photojournalist, Sally Wiener Grotta describes how math helps her compose the best photograph, including perfect lighting.

Math at Work Monday: Elizabeth the glass artist

I’ve known Elizabeth Perkins since she was about 16 years old, I think.  In fact, I’ve always called her Beth.

I was Beth’s geometry teacher way back when.  And I was so excited to find out that she’s now a very successful glass artist.  After graduating from Atlanta College of Art in 1997 with a degree in sculpture, she embarked upon an amazing journey as an artist and teacher.  She earned her MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2004.

Like me, Beth grew up in a rural, southern town and has a very strong connection to her family, so I’m really moved by her work, which incorporates glass, found objects and heirlooms.  But you know what I’m going to say next: The fact that Beth uses math in her art is both surprising and expected.  Read on to learn more.

Math at Work Monday: Harmony the fabric designer

You may not know this about me yet, but I’m a fabric junkie.  In fact, when I finished my book last winter, my reward was a day-trip to New York City to shop at Mood Designer Fabrics.  I need rehab.

So when Harmony Susalla contacted me to ask if I’d do a guest post on her blog, I jumped at the chance — and I asked her to do an interview with me.  Harmony is a wonderful textile designer, who works in organic cotton.

Math at Work Monday: Ann the art museum curator

Turns out math is not only useful in creating art but caring for it as well. Ann Shafer, associate curator of the prints, drawings and photographs collection at Baltimore Museum of Art, uses math in surprising ways–and surrounded some of the greatest artwork of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Math at Work Monday, Ursula the glass artist

Ursula Marcum practices an amazing artform called kilnformed glass, which she can explain better than I.  Her pieces are layered and rich, unlike any other glass I’ve ever seen.  Like most artists, Ursula does quite of bit of basic math in her work, and she shares the details here.

Math at Work Monday: Marie Grace the children’s knitwear designer

If you don’t knit, a knitwear pattern probably looks like a random selection of letters and numbers.  But that special code actually reveals beautiful creations–sweaters, hats, booties and blankets.  Marie Grace Smith is the founder of Marie Grace Designs, and she lives these patterns.  You might be surprised to learn how much math is involved in developing these patterns.  Marie Grace was!

“If I had known how much math I would need to do to make a living playing with yarn I would have become a painter or something. Just kidding. Sort of.”

Math at Work Monday: Shana the jewelry designer

Shana Kroiz is a Baltimore-based, acclaimed jewelry designer and artist, whose work has been shown in the some of the country’s most esteemed galleries and museums, including The Smithsonian and the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City.  She’s kind of a big deal–and she does math!

Math at Work Monday: Louisa the Greeting Card Designer

Nothing says hello to a new neighbor like sending a greeting card or an invitation. And cards can mean so much in times of grief or illness. Those special little messages to pull the heart strings have to come from somewhere, right? Louisa Wimberger, founder of Weehah Greeting Cards and Invitations has built a business around these special messages. From greeting cards to invitations, she makes some of the best cards available.

Photo Credit: shioshvili via Compfight cc

Numbers in the News: Teacher Salaries

teacher salaries numbers in the news

The series, Numbers in the News, looks at the numbers underlying hot topics in the U.S. The goal of these posts is not to take a political or moral stand but to simply outline reliable data about these issues. Look for these posts to appear monthly.

Big thank you this week to Annie Logue, a fellow freelance writer and one of my go-to folks for economic data. Check out her books and other writing.

Teacher salaries: what a big debate. Are teachers paid too little? Too much? Haven’t teachers’ unions bumped up teacher pay and benefits so that teachers are given a far greater piece of the pie than similar jobs in the private sector? Are teachers whining too much?

Like many numbers in the news, there are myths surrounding teacher pay. Talk to a weary teacher in an inner city school, and you might hear about working far more than 40 hours per week. Another teacher might tell you that he’s got a second job just to help make ends meet.

But many parents and politicians have a very different view. They say that teachers are well compensated, especially given their generous benefits packages and summers off.

There are a lot of caveats about this particular issue, so bear with me. It is challenging to generalize about teachers’ salaries, because like with many other professions they depend on a variety of factors: time on the job, geographic area, and perhaps most important here, the effectiveness (or even presence) of a teachers’ union. But the biggest caveat is this: comparing public sector and private sector jobs is generally not fair. It makes sense to compare teachers’ salaries from state to state or region to region. But what does it mean to compare teachers’ compensation with those of managers? What does it mean to be a manager? How are these categories developed?

And then there is the whole issue of teachers’ time “on the clock.” I’ll address that concern at the end of this post.

Still, I’m taking the risk to make these comparisons, even knowing that they’re not entirely fair–because they’re the only options we have. I’m going to assume (based on the salary ranges and the descriptions in the tables) that managers are college educated (or the equivalent) and have similar responsibilities as teachers. Teachers manage classrooms, budgets and schedules in similar ways that marketing managers manage staffs, budgets and schedules.

And yes, this is a compromise that is not fair. If you have a better idea, I would love to hear it. Honestly.

To help draw some clumsy conclusions, I’ve turned to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a federal agency that keeps track of things like salaries and benefits packages. You can find all of my numbers here. Please do check them.

First off, how much do primary, secondary and special education teachers earn?

Total teacher compensation is $56.89 per hour worked. About 69% of that ($39.20) is wages and salaries, while 31% ($17.69) is total benefits.

So close to a third of a teacher’s compensation package is devoted to benefits. This is an important point, because the public teacher is one of the few workers in the country who still earns retirement and savings. Most pensions and retirement plans went away years ago. But let’s break down the teachers’ benefit package a little more.

Of the teacher’s benefit package, an average of $2.49 is spent on paid leave, $0.17 is spent on supplemental pay, $6.34 is spent on insurance, $5.85 is spent on retirement and savings and $2.84 is spent on legally required benefits.

All of those amounts are per hour, remember. So for every hour worked, a teacher earns, on average, $5.85 in retirement benefits.

What about managers in the private sector? Turns out that the differences are not all that stark.

Total management compensation is $58.28 per hour worked (full-time). About 68% of that ($39.59) is wages and salaries, while 32% ($18.70) is total benefits.

So again, the benefits packages for managers in the private sector are about a third of the total compensation packages. The per-hour compensation for private-sector managers and public school teachers are pretty darned close. Now we can dig into the compensation packages.

Of the private-sector manager’s benefit package, an average of $5.11 is spent on paid leave, $2.73 is spent on supplemental pay, $4.32 is spent on insurance, $2.78 is spent on retirement and savings and $3.75 is spent on legally required benefits.

The balance is really different here. Managers in the private sector earn more on paid leave and supplemental pay, but less in retirement and insurance. Still, the cost of the total benefit package is remarkably similar to that of teachers’.

Again a warning: it is not really fair to compare these two industries in this way. One of the big issues around this is whether or not the hourly rate has been figured correctly. Most teachers will probably say that their hourly rate is much less than $56.89, because they work far more hours than the schools tabulate.

However, research conducted by a variety of outlets reports that teachers work, on average, fewer hours than most professionals, including managers. In this round up of the research, NPR and StateImpact (a consortium of Ohio public radio stations) report that teachers work three hours fewer per week than other professionals. This research is in line with BLS foundational data for the numbers above.

So why is there such a different impression among teachers? Some teachers work two jobs. They tutor or coach a sport or put in time at the local diner. And of course, just because some teachers put in the minimum, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t many teachers out there who are putting in far more than a 40-hour work week.

And then there is new research from the Gates Foundation, which concluded that teachers put in 10 hours and 40 minutes a day, far more than the BLS estimates. (See page 13 of the linked report for the details.) If true, the hourly wages and salary totals for teachers are much, much too high. Then again, BLS could be underestimating for all industries and professions.

Clearly this debate is not easily defined or settled. We need better data about how much teachers actually work and better ways to compare the information we do have. In my mind, the discussion about teacher pay is far from over.

What are your thoughts on the data presented above? On the teacher salary debate? Do you have personal experience as a teacher or a private-sector manager? If so, please share your ideas in the comments section. 

Photo Credit: smkybear via Compfight cc