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There are two sides to the wealth building equation: earn more or spend less. Educators are constantly bombarded with ideas on how to save and live on meager salaries. Yet, earning more is the best way to rapidly improve your financial situation. In this quick guide, I summarize how educators can make dramatically more money while doing the job they love.
Each section gives an overview of major categories of educator income growth. At the end of each section is a link to a more in-depth article.
(Note: It’s my hope that educators are paid what they are worth. There is broad public support for this. In that case, earning potential grows even more and the following information can help those who wish to lift their earnings even higher.)
If maximizing income is a priority, it is possible for virtually any educator to earn 6-figures in the course of their career. Examples of this are included at the end!
Climb the Educator Career Ladder
In other professions, they often talk about how to earn promotions and “climb the corporate ladder.” Yet, in education it’s almost frowned upon to seek higher paying positions or go into administration.
Each person has to decide their own balance of passion and responsibility. I am certainly not encouraging anyone to go into school administration solely for the money. However, if you’re interested in taking on more responsibility, consider the options.
Here is a quick summary of median salary by relative position:
|Paraeducator / Teaching Assistant||$26,260|
|School Principal / District Administrator||$94,390|
|Superintendent (small district)||$96,750|
|Superintendent (large district)||$260,000|
Sources: US Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook | 2017-18 AASA Superintendent Salary and Benefits Study
If you were to start in education as a paraeducator and work your way up to a large district superintendent you’d have 10x your income! It wouldn’t be easy, and would take time, but it is absolutely possible.
There are shortages of qualified people at each of these positions, and frequent turnover in the administrative ranks. It takes time and effort, but if you are interested in dramatically increasing your income it’s achievable.
For more detail, check out: The Educator Career Ladder
If you aren’t interested in climbing the career ladder, there are still plenty of ways to increase your income!
One of the simplest (but not easy!) ways to increase your income is to do the job over a long period of time! Public education is still largely built on salary schedules that emphasize experience. This can be frustrating because it’s difficult to dramatically increase your income. On the positive side, you earn more simply for being in the role.
How much of an effect does experience have?
As an example, I just randomly pulled this salary agreement for Omaha Public Schools. The difference between a new teacher and one with 15 years experience is 25-27% depending on education level. That’s simply for staying in the job – those salary schedules will also (hopefully) be adjusted annually based on cost-of-living and other adjustments. Your salary will likely increase by more than 50% over that time.
At Denver public schools, the difference between a first-year teacher and a teacher with max experience is over 60%. Top experience salaries in Denver approach 6-figures across the board!
So, you can earn more simply by staying in the job for a number of years. Typically, this experience adjustment will happen for at least the first 10 years of your career and is on top of other increases.
I won’t say it’s an “easy” way to increase your income because it requires years in a challenging job. But, it is automatic and substantial!
More Professional Education
Experience may be a mostly passive lever, but there is another aspect of most education salary schedules that is in your control: professional education.
More education is required for most steps of the career ladder. It’s also a major driver of salary schedules. In the Omaha public schools example, the difference between a Bachelor’s Degree and the highest education level is almost $8000/yr. In Denver it varies from $15000 – 25000/yr.
Getting more professional education isn’t always worth it from a pure financial standpoint. You’ll want to pay attention to your specific situation and salary agreements in your district.
The Omaha Public Schools example is a great illustration of this: The cost in money and time to earn a PhD starting from a Bachelor’s almost certainly exceeds the extra $8000 a year. It simply wouldn’t make sense to do this solely for financial reasons. It may be a nice benefit for extra education you want to do anyway – particularly if your district pays for college coursework.
On the other hand, in Denver public schools, you earn $3000+ more a year for having 18 credits more above a Master’s degree. This is likely a positive financial decision and can be done for little extra money with tuition assistance.
Gain Extra Endorsements / Certifications
Be intentional about the professional development courses you take. Another extra benefit of additional professional education can be earning additional endorsements or licenses.
- Reading endorsement
- English Language Learner endorsement/license
- Special Education certification
- Library/Media Specialist
- Additional content endorsements
These extra endorsements might get you extra money in your current position. Some districts offer “hard to fill” stipends or dual certification bonuses.
Being qualified for multiple positions will certainly give you more options should you decide to change jobs or face a layoff situation!
For a more in-depth look at experience and education (and more salary table analysis!) check out: The Three Es of Educator Income.
While not everyone is interested in moving to pursue income, it can make a dramatic difference in earning potential.
In the two random examples I pulled above, you see the remarkable difference in educator pay based on location. In Omaha, the highest level of pay is $66,000 if you have a doctorate and work for 20 years! A Denver teacher with just a Master’s earns more than that in year 9. A Denver teacher with equivalent education/experience earns $100,000!
In Geoarbitrage: Where Can I Make the Most Money? I explored the regional differences in pay for educators, specifically teachers. The regional differences are dramatic.
Of course, you also have to factor in cost-of-living to your choice. Moving to San Francisco to make a higher teaching salary is likely a poor financial choice. The salary gains will be eaten up by the ridiculous housing cost.
You may even be better off making less when moving from a high cost-of-living (HCOL) to a lower cost area. Geoarbitrage works on both sides of the equation!
If you are able and willing to move review salary schedules and job opportunities in other regions. Factor in cost-of-living. You can start with a simple comparison calculator like this one at Bankrate.
Continuing with our previous examples, a teacher with a Master’s in Omaha makes $52,480. According to the calculator, that teacher would need to make $62,998 in Denver to maintain the same standard of living. Denver pays $65,421.
With that quick look, it may make sense to move to Denver. Only you know your situation – do your own research. Just know that location affects pay dramatically in education.
Change Jobs Without Moving
You may not even need to move your family in order to make more money! Education labor markets are not perfectly efficient. Salary negotiations, funding streams, and job conditions impact pay.
Within regions there are often significant differences in income. This is especially true if you live near a state line or on the edge of a major metro area.
You can find most of the information you need online simply by searching district websites. Download salary schedules or pay attention to job postings. You can make several thousand more per year simply by changing to a new school district or new position that has attached pay incentives.
Caution: Be aware that your full experience may not travel to a new district. Salary agreements or HR practice sometimes cap new district employee experience placement. Confirm your experience will be counted before making a move.
For a more in-depth look at location change as an income lever: Where Can I Make the Most Money?: Educator Geoarbitrage
Everything up to this point has been about how to earn more by focusing on your core job. For many, particularly new educators, the job is consuming enough. If that’s you, use the prior levers to make as much as possible.
If you’re interested in doing a bit more to make more income, you’ve got great options. Education as a career is well-suited to extra income opportunities.
Extra Duty in Education
There are many tasks in a school that need doing but don’t require a full-time staff member. Districts manage this by offering extra-duty pay to current employees for taking on additional responsibility.
Sometimes these are jobs completely unrelated to your current position – a good example is coaching athletics. Other times, they may be an additional duty, like teaching an after-school enrichment class. Either way, they are opportunities to earn extra money while continuing to work in education.
The pay for extra duty positions (and even which positions are considered extra duty) varies by district. So, I can’t give exact numbers for your context. But, it’s usually very possible to earn anywhere from a few hundred extra to thousands more dollars from extra duty pay. If you are an athletic coach, an extra five figures is possible.
Extra duty is the third E in The Three E’s of Educator Income Growth and includes a table of examples and pay pulled from random districts.
These are jobs that are either completely different from your daily work or with another employer. Fortunately, teaching lends itself well to side hustling. You can work on a side gig in the evening, on weekends, or during summer depending on how taxing your position is.
Unfortunately, for many early career educators the summer job is necessary to simply make ends meet. (It was for us!) As your experience and education pay kicks in, they become great opportunities to earn money and accelerate your financial progress.
Popular side hustles for educators include:
- Uber / Lyft
- Outdoor camps
- Freelance writing
- Adjunct work at local colleges
- Real estate
There are multiple stories of educators who have started a side-hustle and ended up earning more than their education career. I was never even close to that, but have earned tens of thousands some years from a combination of side hustles.
Check out Real Educator Side Hustles Used by Real Educators for examples of how actual educators have made money working on the side.
Using a combination of these, it is possible for educators to earn 6-figure incomes in many places. Here are a few examples of how a public educator can successfully create a 6-figure annual income:
Become an Administrator
This is a straightforward (didn’t say easy) path to earning a higher income while still working in education.
Most school administrators will earn 6-figure incomes at some point in their career. Despite the narrative that there are too many administrators and they are all dramatically overpaid, there is somehow still a shortage of qualified school administrators in many areas. It’s not an easy job, but if you want to earn more and affect systemic change, you can choose this route.
|Elementary Principal (4th year)||$103,000|
Move to Denver!
Okay, that’s a bit tongue in cheek. But I immediately noticed that a teacher in Denver at the highest education and experience level earns $100,000. If that teacher works 30 years total, they’ll be earning six figures for more than ten years of their career.
This isn’t a massive anomaly. There are many districts where the upper end of teaching salary schedules approach or cross 6-figures. These are usually unionized districts in metro areas with a higher cost-of-living.
|Classroom Teacher (20 years and EdD)||$101,300|
Combining Multiple Levers to Make More Money
If hitting that 6-figure mark is your real goal and you don’t want to work in administration, this is your most likely path. A real example of a teacher who started out earning $43,000/year.
She increased her education level and moved over three columns on the schedule. With twelve years experience, her annual salary is $77,000. Extra duty work (a week of summer school, and in-school leadership positions) brings in $7000. She teaches four college courses to new teachers at $3000 per course and does freelance writing projects throughout the year.
|Full-time teaching (12 years / Master’s +23)||$77,090|
|Extra Duty total||$7,000|
|Adjunct Professor (4 courses)||$12,000|
She is 34 years old, earning more than $100,00 a year doing work she enjoys. She won’t keep this up forever, but she doesn’t have to. The extra money she’s earning will buy her flexibility and time whenever she decides to use it.
Day Job + Investment Income
Another option is to use the stability (and benefits) of a teaching position to build other sources of income like an online business, real estate practice, or rental income. One educator has done exactly that. She is a teacher in her 7th year with a Master’s degree and a bilingual stipend. She works in real estate on the weekends and in summer. She’s used her earnings and real estate knowledge to purchase rental properties. Here total income for the year looks like this:
|Teacher (7 years MA) + Bilingual Stipend||$65,300|
|Real Estate commissions||$24,400|
At 30, she is making 6-figures. Her plan is to build her rental portfolio and quit the active real estate work which takes time away from her family.
To read stories of educators working on paths to financial independence in a variety of ways, check out the Educator on FIOR series.
Conclusion – Make More Money As An Educator
There is a persistent narrative that educators are doomed to poverty. It’s harmful for society and the profession – it keeps good people from entering or causes them to leave.
It’s true that there are systemic issues which need to be fixed and that teachers should be paid more given their education levels and significant responsibilities. Also, in some areas the pay is so incredibly low that we can’t pretend 6-figures is possible. We must continue to work to change the systemic inequities and ensure educators are compensated for their worth.
Individual success is possible! If you love the job, we need you working in public education. By knowing the levers and opportunities available, you can maximize your options and earn more money as an educator.
This site exists to support educators to financial independence. Earning more is the strongest driver for improving your financial situation. Everyone needs to decide how they want to spend their time, but you have options. Don’t hesitate to contact me for support.