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40 Hour Workweek

Education Trends, Edupreneur Resources, Truth for Teachers Collective   |   Nov 30, 2022

“I want to be a teacher, but I can’t afford it.”

By Erika Walther

5th Grade ELA

“I want to be a teacher, but I can’t afford it.”

By Erika Walther

Talking with folks in coffee shops or even while in line at Target, the MOMENT it comes out of my mouth that I am a teacher…within 60 seconds, they mention salary.

“I don’t know how you do it! I know they don’t pay y’all enough.”

What I WANT to tell them is I am very fortunate to work for a high-paying district in my state of Maryland. But I am unfortunately the exception, not the rule.

Here are the answers to the FAQs I hear about my own experience and what I’ve learned about teacher salaries and income levels.

So how much DO you make, Erika?

Even in 2022, discussing salary still carries a stigma. This “hush hush” attitude when it comes to discussing pay stems from anti-union propaganda from the 1950’s-1970’s as unionizing started to take hold across the United States.

These days, we are just starting to realize that keeping salary a secret is a ploy for companies, not some privacy protection for employees.

So, let’s talk about it! Not counting my extra income (I will discuss that later), I make between 90-100K per year working for Baltimore City Public Schools. When I started working for the district in 2013, I made $47K as a new teacher.

How long did it take you to make that much money?

Everyone’s career trajectory is different. Mine involved one year in New Mexico’s public school system five years ago. I only made 35K for the year, and I was one of the highest-paid teachers in my building.

When I returned to Baltimore City after that year, I was fortunate that I was able to negotiate to be placed back on my previous salary scale prior to leaving (I left to take care of a family member, which helped a bit in the negotiations). My salary was about 70K at that point.

In the last four years, I have been doing more and more work in instructional leadership, which often comes with additional pay raises and stipends for work above and beyond my teaching contract, which is how I’ve managed to get my salary up close to 100K per year.

Where is the best place to teach if I want to make that kind of money?

Before you Google this question, there are some things to take into consideration and some hard questions to ask yourself.

The national average K-12 teacher salary is about $65,000. However, this figure varies greatly by state, and even further by districts within a state. For example, teachers in Mississippi make $45K per year, on average. By comparison, teachers in New York can expect to make around $85K per year.

$65K sounds like a respectable place to start, right? Unfortunately, many new teachers won’t make anywhere near this amount until five or more years in education.

New teacher salaries can vary even more depending on your state or district and are often nearly half of what the average 5–10-year experienced teachers are making. So, if you are new to the field or considering entering education, you may need to brace yourself for an adjustment in salary, at least for a few years.

It is important to note that the figures I am about to share below are the average salaries for teachers with at least five years of classroom experience.

The highest-paying states for educators are New York ($85K), California, and Massachusetts (both paying around $82K).

The lower-paying states with salaries less than $50K per year are Mississippi, West Virginia, New Mexico, Florida, South Dakota, Kansas, and Arizona. These states also tend to spend less per pupil on education statewide.

What about the cost of living?

It is important to reiterate that starting teacher salaries are much lower than many of these figures and are often far below the actual cost to live in many states.

The only states currently with starting teacher salaries above 50K are the District of Columbia and New Jersey ($55K and $51K, respectively). The living wage for D.C is around $70K and $56K in New Jersey.

There are 34 states in the U.S. that have starting teacher salaries of less than $40,000 per year.

Here is a ranked list of the 10 states in the U.S. with the highest average teacher salaries (as of 2019):

  1. New York – $92,222
  2. Massachusetts – $88,903
  3. California – $87,275
  4. Washington – $81,586
  5. Connecticut – $81,185
  6. New Jersey – $79,045
  7. Rhode Island – $76,852
  8. Maryland – $75,766
  9. Alaska – $73,722
  10. Pennsylvania – $72,428

If you are deciding on a new place to teach or are new to teaching and haven’t yet put down roots in your community, you will want to ask yourself how far you are willing to relocate or commute for a higher salary. What tradeoffs are you willing to make for a higher salary? Fewer benefits, longer commutes, extended school year programs, etc. are just some of the trades you may need to consider for a higher salary.

But what about “step” raises?

Most school districts increase teacher salaries yearly either based on “time in” or “effectiveness measures.” Some even use both to determine raises for teachers each year.

“Time in,” raises, also known in many places as “step raises” are automatically given for each completed school year of service. Your human resources department or teacher’s union can provide clarity on exactly how and when these raises are given.

“Effectiveness” raises are more controversial but are also becoming more popular for school districts that continue to perform poorly on state testing. Some of these districts also offer regular step raises, but most choose one or the other. These raises are typically determined by some combination of teacher evaluations, school-wide data, and student achievement data. If your district determines salary raises in this way, make sure you talk with human resources or your union representative to make sure you are very clear on what the requirements are to earn your raise each year.

What about career advancement opportunities?

Much of the work being done at the national level around teacher pay and retention is around career advancement. When looking into a new school district or even re-evaluating where you stand with your current school district, you will want to familiarize yourself with the process for moving up the career ladder within that district.

Baltimore City Public Schools offers more career paths than many other districts in Maryland, with new teachers able to move along salary “pathways” based on coursework and portfolio reviews that are specific to each pathway. My district also offers a “model teacher” pathway for teachers who can demonstrate excellence that not only affects students in their classroom, but in the entire school building.

These pathways are challenging to navigate for many. They often require a certain degree of patience and skill with documentation and creating digital portfolios, but the effort is well worth it for many teachers in my district who want to remain in the classroom/school building but need to improve their earning potential.

Should I get more degrees/certifications so that I make more money?

Not necessarily. Very few states pay teachers enough of a salary boost to justify the time and money spent to earn additional credentials. Most teachers enter the field with a master’s degree either complete or in progress.

National Board Certification is becoming more popular as states are increasing incentives and salaries for National Board Certified teachers (NBCT), but the cost for the program is still more than what many districts are offering to pay.

However, if your career trajectory involves instructional leadership or even school leadership, additional credentials that are required for those positions are worth it. Not all teachers want to leave the classroom one day, but for many, this is a natural progression of our careers.

The average salary for instructional leaders (from instructional coaches to school administrators) ranges from $80,000-120,000 depending on the state and role.

If you are considering instructional leadership or another role in education to make more money, make sure you take the time to talk with other teachers who have made similar career moves. They can offer insight into the process, which certifications are necessary, and what the return on investment would be for those additional certifications. They can also share valuable information about what you can expect from these roles in terms of work-life balance.

Leaving the classroom does NOT automatically mean you are “getting your nights and weekends back.” Administrative and leadership roles often require just as much time and energy, just a “different” kind of energy. I can’t count the number of teachers who were burnt out and thought that working for the district office would solve their problems, only to dislike the demands of those jobs even MORE than they were weary from the classroom.

If you are still struggling to set boundaries for your time and energy as a classroom teacher, that issue will follow you into other positions even if you leave education altogether. Make sure you are still prepared to set those boundaries and time-management systems for non-classroom settings if you are considering a vertical career move. The skills taught in the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek course are useful for not just in the classroom, but also teachers moving into other job titles!

I don’t want to leave the classroom or move to another district. What can I do to make ends meet?

Prior to COVID, about 20 percent of teachers held second jobs during the school year.

Today, that number is estimated to be as high as 50%, if not higher, according to a 2021 national survey conducted by the Teacher Salary Project. Inflation mixed with many families losing at least partial income during the pandemic has exacerbated the problem.

I have always held at LEAST one second job since I started teaching in 2013. Making a higher salary means higher taxes. This means that many of my yearly raises are “eaten up” by the new tax bracket in which I find myself. As a result, a second job is often needed to make up for the difference in my take-home pay.

I do have some tips and tricks for working a second job while teaching so that you don’t burn yourself out completely while trying to provide for yourself and your family.

First, work to your strengths.

Make yourself a list of all the skills that you can use to make extra money. These can be related to teaching, or something different! My list reads something like this: K-5 tutoring, article/op-ed writing, resume editing, baking, fixing up old furniture.

Which direction you go in depends on your comfort level and the time that you can invest into your second job. If you only have a few extra hours on weekends, you may want to lean toward something you can do from home like writing articles or upholstering furniture for clients. If you only have time after school during the week, tutoring may be a better option for you.

Universities often love to hire K-12 teachers to teach pre-requisite or remediate coursework. These courses can be in-person or online, and often only meet 1-2 days per week. Some even offer Saturday courses that you can teach just once a week.

Whichever direction you choose to move in for your second job, make sure it’s something you can sustain while teaching. If you are new to teaching, you may want to wait a few months into the school year to start working another job on the side to give yourself time to adjust and determine how much time and energy you will truly have to commit outside of teaching.

If you have some years of experience in the classroom and you are looking for ways to streamline that secondary income, making a list like the one I made for myself is a great way to see where you would prefer to put that time and energy.

Some teachers prefer to do something that is completely unrelated to teaching as their second job to get a “mental break” from the education world. Others still prefer to work to their strengths as educators and take on jobs that involve students or education in one way or another, ranging from writing about teaching for websites like this one, or training teachers for a curriculum company or educational technology firm. There are pros and cons to both, it really depends on your own needs and capacity for extra responsibilities.

Also consider: what side jobs have worked for you, without affecting your ability to serve students?

In my ten years as an educator, I’ve held many different jobs to make ends meet. Some worked out wonderfully, while others didn’t work very well for me.

Some of the non-teaching jobs I’ve held have been ridesharing, ghostwriting, personal shopping, and pet sitting. The pros of these jobs involved the mental break they gave me. Each of these jobs requires a different skill set than teaching, which at times was what I needed. The cons were around the time it took to make the money I needed to make. These types of jobs often pay close to minimum wage, which means more hours are put in to make the same amount of money.

Over time, I noticed my desire to streamline the type of work I do outside of the classroom increased. As a result, I started to seek out education-related jobs that pay per contract or stipend. I’ve worked as an adjunct professor, a curriculum implementation specialist, and as a private tutor.

The pros of these types of jobs are higher pay with typically more flexible time commitments during the school year (or none if you choose to only work those jobs during the summer months). The cons can come from having trouble balancing multiple priorities while dealing with the changing pressures of the school year.

Today, I still work for a curriculum company during my summers where I get to travel and work with educators all over the continental U.S. I also still tutor 1-2 clients at a time when needed for a tutoring agency throughout the summer and some months of the school year. This works best for me as I can front-load the extra income that I need, put it to the side for when I need it during the year, and focus on my school and my students during the school year.

Whether you are looking to earn more as a current teacher or are considering joining the field but cannot conceptualize how to make the salary work for you, the questions below are a great starting point in your decision-making process.

Of course, the ideal situation would be fair compensation for teachers nationwide so that none of us have to work multiple jobs.

Hopefully, however, the strategies and information I’ve shared with you will help you navigate making the money you need and deserve until the rest of the country catches up.

Works cited

Erika Walther

5th Grade ELA

Erika Walther has worked for Baltimore City Public Schools since 2012. While working as a case manager for youth in the juvenile justice system, Erika realized that relationships between students and their school communities were a major indicator for student...
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