Did you know you don’t have to side hustle to earn more as a teacher? So many of the stories about teachers building wealth focus on ways to earn extra money. Many turn out to be something like, “I used to be a teacher, but then I ended up starting this business breeding ocelots!”
But – what if you enjoy teaching and want to focus your time and energy on that?
The good news is there are ways to grow your teacher salary! While in some professions salary increases are dependent on politics, hope, or luck, teachers control most of their salary growth levers.
I’ve written extensively on all the levers teachers can pull to build wealth. But in today’s post, I’ll just focus on how to increase your base salary number. After all, for most of us it’s the vast majority of our income.
Three Ways To Increase Your Salary
There are three primary ways to increase your salary as a teacher. We’ll look at them in order of action required.
The first two will result in slow(ish) steady increases. It adds up though – in combination you can double your salary in a few years. The third can lead to a big jump in salary immediately.
Let’s start with the most straight-forward.
If you haven’t taken the time yet, I encourage you to analyze your teacher contract. Look for your salary schedule. The first thing you’ll notice is your salary increases for every year you work (to a point.)
In some ways this is the most passive way to increase salary – but, anyone who has worked as a teacher knows it’s not that easy. Teachers are leaving the profession at an accelerating rate.
Each year of experience will increase your salary, even if you do nothing else! I just took a look at the very first district I taught in. My first-year salary was $35,000. If I’d done nothing else but kept teaching there, my base salary would now be $76,480. More than double – just by working longer.
These experience raises are often called “steps.” Experience salary increases don’t last forever, but in many districts you’ll get a step for at least the first 10 years of your career.
Bonus: Cost of Living Increases
Be aware that even if you look at your salary schedule now, it will change over time. In some years, there will be a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) applied to the schedule. If you’re in a union district, this will be an amount negotiated between the district and union,
The amount of COLA will vary depending on negotiations and economic circumstances. In some districts, you’ll get at least a small COLA every year. In others, it could be a long time without a COLA increase.
Most years though, your salary will increase by both an experience step AND a small COLA.
This one takes a little more initiative on your part.
If just simply grinding out years of experience isn’t what you had in mind, you can take a more active role by improving your education.
Look at that salary schedule again. Experience steps aren’t the only thing that will increase your salary. You can move to a higher salary by getting additional education. These are usually called “column moves” because, well, each education level is a column on the schedule.
Increasing your education level can dramatically increase your salary as a teacher. If you plan carefully, you can even get that education free!
Many districts provide tuition support for continuing education. Others will grant continuing education credit for attending professional conferences or workshops. I prefer to get the actual college credit because I know it will apply should I ever switch school districts.
If you just want to increase your salary as quickly as possible, then take as many classes as you can to hit the next column. You’ll probably end up paying for it yourself. If the jump is substantial, it may be worth it.
Here’s how I’d do it though:
- Determine how many credits you need for your next column. Let’s say 15.
- Look at your contract, or contact HR, to determine how many credits your district will pay for annually. Let’s say it’s 6 graduate credits.
- 15 credits / 6 credits a year = a free column move in 3 years.
You’ve increased your education-level and salary for free! You’re also three years further along in experience. If you were on the example Phoenix teacher schedule, you’d have increased your salary by 10%.
The credits you’ve banked may be helpful if you want to choose the MOST active step to increase your salary as a teacher…
The third option to increase your teacher salary takes the most dramatic action, but can also yield the greatest results.
Depending on where you are in life, taking this step may be more than you’re willing to do. But, if you’re willing to move it can make a big difference in your teaching salary.
Start just by looking at the districts in your area. Notice that some are higher paying than others? In some cases, you can increase your salary by 10% or more just by switching school districts in your region.
You can get an even bigger salary jump by moving to another state. I’ve written about the best states for teachers pursuing financial independence. It includes a look at several factors. Just look at this chart on starting salary by state:
That’s a dramatic difference. A starting teacher can make 43% more just by moving from Montana to Wyoming!
Here’s the chart of average teacher salaries by state. If you’re willing to move, use this as a starting point – but make sure you look at actual school district salaries to make your decision.
While years of experience and education credits will get you solid salary increases over time – the biggest short-term jump can be made by changing locations.
How to Increase Your Teacher Salary
As a teacher, you’ll likely never be able to write one of those “How I doubled my salary every three years” articles. That doesn’t mean you have to sit at a stagnant salary for your career.
Teachers may not have the highest salaries, but they can expect steady growth. With intentional action, you can increase your salary in the following ways:
- Work longer (years of experience)
- Increase your education (column movement)
- Different district in your region
- Different state with higher wages