Many employees can negotiate their salaries when they start a new job or ask their bosses for a raise, but teachers often have someone else doing the negotiation for them and don’t always have an opportunity to increase their pay based on performance.
If you are a public school teacher, chances are that your salary follows steps and lanes on a salary schedule. The steps are your years of experience, and the lanes represent the level of education that you completed. A teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no experience would start at a lower salary than a teacher with a master’s degree and five years of experience.
There are a few things teachers can do to earn more money over the course of their careers.
When You’re Just Starting Out
Teachers that are just starting out have different considerations than teachers that are already established in their careers. Young teachers may be more flexible in where they live, but do not have the three to five years of experience that many districts look for when hiring. You may need to compromise on where you live to get some experience that you can use to apply for your next position.
Where You Teach Matters
Teachers in different parts of the country make wildly different salaries depending on where they live.
According to USA Today, the three highest paid states for teachers are Alaska, New York, and Connecticut. Each of those three states has an average teacher salary over $70,000 ($74,122, $73,247, and $72,524, respectively). The lowest paid state is Oklahoma, where teachers are paid, on average, $41,088.
Here is a salary schedule from Oklahoma (the lowest paid state for teachers):
Compare that to an example from a salary schedule from Alaska:
Even though the average salary in Oklahoma is $41,088, you can see how little teachers make when they are just starting out. When I taught out West, I made $34,000 my first year, and I have friends that teach down South that make similar amounts of money.
Some may argue that the cost of living is cheaper in the states at the bottom of the list, but that is not always the case. Teachers that work in expensive tourist towns or popular southern cities are most likely struggling to make ends meet with their low base pay.
It is not always possible to move, but if you are a young teacher starting out, it may make financial sense to apply to jobs in higher paid states and districts.
But Aren’t the Higher Paid Jobs the Harder Ones to Get?
Yes, but there are ways that you can make yourself more marketable. Consider furthering your education and pursuing an additional degree. Take more classes to get a second teaching certificate.
In my area, you could not get an interview without at least a master’s, and many job postings require dual certification (subject area plus teaching students with disabilities certification or literacy).
Many schools also like to hire teachers with a little bit of experience (but not too much because then you’re too expensive), so it may make sense to accept a lower paying job to get a few years of experience.
Once You’re Hired
There are ways to earn more money in most schools, so it would be smart to read over your contract to learn about what you can do.
If you are just starting a teaching job, it can be overwhelming to try to take additional classes, but in the long run, it is worth it. Many districts pay teachers for the classes they take and the professional development they attend. An additional degree may put you in a different lane on the salary schedule, but any additional classes you take could earn you extra pay.
At my school, I get paid about $70 per graduate credit beyond my master’s every year. In addition, I can accumulate hours of professional development to enhance my salary. If a three-credit graduate class costs around $800, it would only take four years for that class to pay for itself.
The earlier you can max out the credits that your school will pay you for, the more money you’ll make over the course of your career.
In addition to getting a salary bump from taking additional graduate classes or professional development, some districts pay you more to get the National Board Certification.
After School Side Hustles
If you are looking to get a bigger bump in your teaching salary, there are plenty of opportunities for teachers after school.
You could tutor students through your school or privately (and set your own hourly rate). You could lead an after-school club or activity. Another option is to coach a sport.
Mr. Farmhouse Finance and I both lead after-school activities.
How I Doubled My Salary as a Teacher
After I graduated from college, I worked a couple years as an environmental educator. Although I was passionate about the work, it wasn’t going to pay the bills, and working with a new group of kids every week started to get old. I decided to go back to school, completed my master’s, and got a certification to be a classroom teacher.
First Round of Applications
After I got my certification, I started applying to jobs. Once the school year began, I started substitute teaching in a couple local districts, while I continued my job search. After a year of subbing, and about 100 applications, I interviewed for three positions, and was offered one.
Needless to say, I took the job.
I moved across the country and began my first teaching job making $34,000 per year. After three years, I was making $38,000 due to small yearly raises.
Second Round of Applications
After teaching for three years, Mr. Farmhouse Finance and I decided to try to move back to the Northeast to be closer to family. I started applying to jobs again (about another hundred), interviewed for and was offered one job in Vermont, but decided to turn it down.
Why would we turn down a job offer? It just didn’t feel right, and we would still be a few hours away from our families.
Third Round of Applications
We decided on our target area (which is incredibly difficult to find a teaching job in), and I resigned myself to another year of subbing while Mr. Farmhouse Finance worked as a contractor.
This time around, I only subbed in my two target districts and made sure I made an impression on the principals. I did longterm leave replacements at one school while tutoring after school at the other school.
To make myself more marketable, I decided to take additional graduate classes to get a second certification, and luckily that decision paid off.
I interviewed for and accepted a job at my top choice school, and started off making $58,000. After the school accepted my additional graduate coursework, my salary was bumped up to around $60,000.
During this time, Mr. Farmhouse Finance also interviewed for and accepted a job at another great district.
After a year of teaching, we switched to Mr. Farmhouse Finance’s health insurance and started taking the buyout from my school. Add onto that some after-school homework help, and my salary shot to over $70k a year. That’s not much compared to some professions, but that is a lot more than I ever could have imagined making as a teacher a few short years ago.
We are very happy at our jobs and are not looking to switch schools again (unless we have to due to some unforeseen circumstances), so right now we are working on maximizing our school salaries by taking additional classes and attending professional development.
How have you increased your salary at your job?
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