I did it.
I finally did it.
I doubled my salary.
I’m not talking about my full-time income mixed with various side hustle streams. This has nothing to do with passion projects. No freelancing, no ghostwriting, none of it. I doubled my full-time salary.
And I am so proud.
There’s a lot of debate about how to achieve your financial goals. Do you cut your spending? Do you increase your income? I’m a firm believer in doing both.
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But I would be lying if I said that frugality is the only tool I am using to make my money goals a reality. Increasing income is essential.
However, a lot of times, the pacing gets distorted. The effort required gets minimized. In some fields, there are no quarterly bonuses. There is no merit pay. Instead, it’s a long slow slog to the top.
It took me a decade of work in and outside the classroom, but I did it. Here’s how:
What it Cost to Get Here
I am making a lot of money. I won’t cross the six figure mark for more than another decade, but as far as teaching salaries go, I am doing just fine.
Becoming a high earner in any field is difficult. Whether it is cultivating a skill set, wielding an innate intelligence, fostering persistence, or something else, making a lot of money is hard work. It just is.
But when you choose a field like education, it can often feel like an impossibility. Our industry isn’t designed to pay well. It is designed to pay enough. Enough to keep teachers in classrooms educating students. Enough to hope that people will still pursue their passion, follow their dreams to the other side of the desk and stick around. And a lot of times, it can’t even do that.
The way you earn more money in education also varies. I won’t claim to be an expert on all public teacher salaries. I know next to nothing about private teacher income. But I do know that for a lot of people, myself included, the way you earn more money is to spend it.
99 Credit Hours
In the past decade, I have spent a lot of time in the classroom. Not just my classroom either. As someone who has always delighted in school, especially now that I have started to shed a bit of my perfectionism and am learning to take real risks, this is a dream come true for me. But it came at a very real cost.
- Spanish endorsement (12 hours – $4,000) – In an effort to get out of undergrad before my academic scholarship ran out (if you went past four years, you
turned into a pumpkinpaid full price for everything), I couldn’t finish a Spanish minor. Instead, I completed the coursework in the evenings during my first year of teaching because so many of my students’ families were Spanish speaking. It remains my favorite program, and it was also the most cost effective since a few hours carried over from undergrad and I took the rest at community college. BOOM.
- Master’s degree in Reading (36 hours – $11,000) – The first school I worked at served a very special population. We were a Title 1 school that was almost entirely free and reduced lunch. Most of my 8th graders read at a late elementary school level. When I started teaching special education students who had phonemic awareness (I didn’t know what that was either because my background is 6-12) goals, I knew I had to go back to school to figure out how to help them. So I got my K-12 Reading Specialist degree in 18 months. I was also fired (for the second time) during this program. Had this happened a few years later, I would have priced myself out of a job, as the district I went to work for no longer considers applications from people with graduate hours.
- English as a Second Language certificate program (18 hours – $6,000) – There was supposed to be a significant amount of overlap between my first Master’s and this program. However, the State overhauled their requirements for ESL teachers, and only one of my classes counted toward this program. So it was another 9 months of learning for me.
- Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction (33 hours – $13,000) – Less hours and more money. Ouch and ouch. There were parts of this program that I really enjoyed. But if you follow me on Twitter, you know that there were also plenty of parts that I could have done without. My school district is very particular with the programs that they approve now. Not only do you have to justify your field of study, you can only select from very few colleges and universities. Still, it was necessary for me to max out my salary schedule, so I paid for it.
All of this coursework took me to various stages on the salary schedule. It looked different in the two districts that I worked at, and it looks different now due to contract negotiations. But if I had to synthesize all of the blood, sweat, and textbooks into a single sentence, I would say this: Outside of a negligible annual increase (half a percent?), the only way that I was able to grow my salary was to accrue more credit hours. So back to school I went. Often.
In addition to shelling out a ton of money on continuing education, I also took a paycut of over $10,000 when I switched schools. I made the decision for two reasons: I was tired of being RIFed, and I was thinking long term. I had a sense that if the district I was currently in was struggling with money so much and so obviously that things were going to get worse before they got better. And they have. When I was there, they were RIF-ing 1st and 2nd year teachers. Eventually, they went all the way up to 7th year.
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Still, it was hard and uncertain. It is very easy to tell people to think long term. It is another thing entirely to do it. Especially when you are in the middle of a $11,000 program. The hardest part, though, wasn’t financial. It was emotional. My students need me now. I make a difference. I matter. I do.
But if I am being totally frank, I mattered a lot more in my first district. My leaving was an act of self preservation but in a field where you are taught to consider yourself last, it still feels incredibly selfish, even today.
What Else it Took to Double My Salary
If I believed everything I read on the Internet, I would be in for a world of hurt. There was nothing simple about what I did. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t quick.
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I don’t think I have ever encountered a clickbait headline that mirrored the process that I muscled through to double my salary.
It’s true that money and learning are a big part of the equation, but something that can’t be overlooked either is sheer time. I have been doing my job—the same job—for over a decade. Of course, I’ve been in different districts. I’ve taught different grade levels and content areas. I’ve had more than a handful of different bosses. But I am still doing the same job that I’ve always done.
That doesn’t happen anymore. Not really. Not in my generation.
But that’s part of why I’ve been able to maximize my income as a teacher. This is not a field that you can enter and expect to pull a big salary right away. But it is possible. It just takes time. And in a world where it seems that most career decisions move at warp speed, I can tell you that there have been points over the past ten years where it felt like I was standing still.
There’s this misconception that no one gets fired in teaching. As someone who was fired both my first and second year in the classroom, I can assure you that isn’t true. Even as more teachers leave the profession, there are still gaping holes in school budgets. Reducing staffing and increasing class sizes is one of the easiest—and most problematic—ways to cut costs.
Beyond that, though, is something that people inside the profession understand well. After massive overhauls that have been done to evaluation models, no one is safe. Not entirely. Not absolutely.
That’s the way it should be. We don’t just need teachers; we need dedicated ones.
Over the past decade, I have absolutely thought long and hard about my salary. But I’m in it for my students. I participate in and lead professional development that doesn’t pay anything but makes me a better teacher. I continually put my students first. I also work hard to help my coworkers because I believe that their students are my students as well.
Pushing myself to excel continually keeps me in the classroom. Not just from a hiring and firing perspective, but also from a burnout perspective. When I give my students my best, I get their best in return. That doesn’t mean it isn’t hard. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t days that seem impossible. But it does mean that in a field that is becoming notorious for burnout and turnovers, I can stay strong.
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Final Thoughts on Doubling My Salary as a Teacher
I never thought this day would come.
Logically, I knew it would. But psychologically, I can’t believe it happened.
It’s a relief to be here, and it is also incredibly validating. To stay in a field you love for so long is an accomplishment in and of itself. To work so hard to finally start to feel that you are being compensated not just in warm fuzzies but in an actual denomination that pays bills is incredible.
But this position that I am in isn’t perfection. In fact, it’s quite precarious. There is a very real chance that if I needed to or wanted to leave my district, I would never be hired elsewhere. I have, essentially, priced myself out. Because when you make double what a first-year teacher does, you don’t get hired. Not in this climate, not in the midst of this budget crisis.
I wouldn’t do things differently given the chance. I am glad that I pursued so much additional schooling. I am better because of it. I am also thrilled to be earning a good living for my family. But I’m also not kidding myself. I’ve doubled my salary, sure, but that comes at quite a cost.
So Tell Me…What does doubling your salary look like in your profession? Is that something you have ever aspired to do?