“What? How Long?” It was my first year of teaching, and I was sure I’d just misheard my more experienced colleague. Nope.
“36 years” she reiterated proudly.
36 years. Not just in the same school district. Not just in the same school. She’d been teaching the same grade-level for 36 years. In the same room.
She loved her job, and had found her passion. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Yet, this conversation was my first glimpse into the depth of stasis in the education profession.
Change. It’s a strange dichotomy that teachers routinely navigate a constantly changing classroom environment yet so many are afraid to change schools, districts, or even grade-levels. Perhaps it’s a natural result of the former that we desperately want some stability in our profession.
Unfortunately, so many opportunities come to us only when we are willing to change. While educators don’t necessarily get the massive raises other professions do when changing employers, all of my biggest increases have come as a result of movement between districts.
Don’t be afraid of switching school districts – it may be good for your career and money!
Table of contents
- Advantages of Switching School Districts As A Teacher
- Things to Check Into Before Switching School Districts
- Change – Give it a Try (But Do Your Due Diligence)
Advantages of Switching School Districts As A Teacher
I’m focusing on switching school districts because I believe that is where the most opportunity lies. That said, many of these advantages apply to a willingness to consider shifting schools or assignments within a district. In short – be open to the potential of change.
Potential Pay Increase
Once you know how to analyze a contract, you can find out which districts around you pay the most. It’s not unusual to make several thousand more by moving to a district just a few miles away.
Of course – you may be working in the highest paying district in the area. But you won’t know until you’re open to the possibility and take the chance to look.
If you’re open to switching states, check out the best states for teachers pursuing financial independence.
When starting out, most young people only pay attention to the paycheck. Salary is the defining feature in a job offer. Teachers are no different.
As you get older, the total compensation package (especially health benefits!) becomes both clearer and more important. Benefits like health care, 403b and 457b options, and education credits vary from district to district even more than salary.
A job that looks like equal pay could be worth dramatically more if it has better benefits.
Lower Cost of Living
By changing districts you may give yourself the opportunity to move to a lower cost of living area. Perhaps by switching cities or neighbors you can lower your rent. Changing states may have a dramatic impact on your tax burden.
Or maybe, you’re just switching to the school district in which you actually live, thereby cutting your commute costs.
So many teachers stay in the district that first hired them right out of school, even if there may be simple ways to cut costs by moving. Consider it.
Opportunities for Advancement
By being unafraid to change districts you open up more possibilities for career advancement.
Perhaps you want to earn an extra duty stipend but the position is filled by a long-time staff member. It’ll be a decade before you have a shot. A nearby district might be desperate to fill that position!
Or, if you’re ready to climb the education career ladder you’ll find many more administrator openings across multiple school districts than clinging to just one. I received two substantial raises by moving to positions that weren’t open in my current district but were available in nearby districts.
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Often, when staying in one school or district (or classroom like my colleague above!) you simply aren’t aware of the opportunities out there. You may believe your job is better, or worse, than others. You may think it’s the only thing you’re capable of. Or, that you can only be successful in a single location.
Taking your skills to another district may be scary. But, it will give you the opportunity to prove yourself in another context. It will show you a different way of doing things. You’ll see other opportunities you might pursue.
Career perspective is far more valuable than people realize. By understanding all the career opportunities and levers out there you have more control over your financial path.
Being willing to change school districts will introduce you to a whole new set of professionals. Your network can literally multiply in size.
Having a solid network of colleagues, who know and respect your work gives you access to more opportunities. Even if you may think you don’t need it, should the worst happen and you find yourself looking for a new job – you’ll have a greater base of people to draw upon.
Perspective Improves Mindset
I mentioned career perspective above as a financial advantage. It’s even more valuable for job satisfaction and how we view our careers.
Too often educators have only experienced school. They went to school, went to college to learn to teach school, and now teach school. This can create an insular perspective. It’s even more challenging if you’ve only been in one education system.
If things are hard, or not going well, in one school and you’ve never experienced another it’s easy to generalize your experience to the entire profession. By being willing to change you can experience a healthier environment and understand that it is possible to teach and be satisfied. (I speak from personal experience on this one.)
Environment matters. So does your boss. Let’s face it – not all principals are winners. Not all work cultures are healthy.
Do yourself a favor and be willing to change rather than suffering in the same location.
Peer Appreciation / Credibility
I’ve mentioned several times how many educators fear change. They’re quite happy doing the same thing year after year. Every time there is an opening or new program added, the staff fills with dread and wonders who will need to do it.
If you’re the one willing to change, or you move in to fill the hole, you have removed that dread for them. It matters. By being a teacher who was willing to switch grade-levels I built credibility with my colleagues quickly. Every year, they knew I’d be willing to change and save them from the creeping dread during staff assignment season.
By switching schools and districts, you also carry a wide depth of experience. You can bring new ideas, suggestions for change, and knowledge of other approaches. This is appreciated.
Just don’t be that teacher who says “At my old school we….” constantly. That’s a special kind of death.
Openness to New Experiences
Change is hard. Even if you have a natural bias for action like I do, it can be challenging to make a move.
This is especially true the first time. Yet, after you make yourself do it once, it becomes a little bit easier. You realize how staying in one place may feel secure but can create stagnation.
Suddenly, you may find yourself more open to new experiences. Most opportunity comes from a willingness to change.
Things to Check Into Before Switching School Districts
Will you make more money switching school districts?
While you can probably tell I’m an advocate of the change, I also urge you to be cautious. Change for change sake doesn’t work for everyone, and there are cases where even a potential benefit isn’t as great as it appears.
Let’s explore a few things you should pay attention to before making a leap.
Many school districts cap placement of new employees on the salary schedule. That is, you may have 10 years of experience, but they only credit new employees with five years.
Make sure you verify the rules for salary placement before you jump into a change based on an increase in salary.
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Also – know that in many cases the contract may have an exception or appeal process. This allows a district to get top tier candidates regardless of experience caps in the contract. Don’t be afraid to ask if there is any way to have salary placement considered.
Benefits can be a big incentive to change. They can also be a hidden disincentive. Do not assume the benefit package is the same even for a district that is right next door.
Look into and compare the following when considering a change in school districts:
- Health insurance options / cost
- 403b and 457b plans
- Education credits
- Work days / leave days
A pension is the biggest benefit for most educators. It’s important to understand your teacher pension benefits in both your current and prospective school districts.
Make sure you understand how a change will impact your pension. Most (but not all) pension systems are larger than a single school district. You can move between many districts and retain credit for your earned benefits.
Verify this, though. It may still make sense to move (I have colleagues that are vested in multiple systems) but it’s another factor to consider. It could be a huge benefit! It could also be a huge loss.
This is especially important if you are crossing state lines. You’re almost certainly moving to an entirely new pension system.
In addition to financial benefits, make sure to compare the working conditions and culture in the district you are considering. Money is important, but so is how you feel about where you work. If you’re unhappy, this may be additional incentive to change.
If you work in an amazing environment, with supportive colleagues, and strong collaborative leadership then even a large financial incentive probably isn’t worth it.
Check the contract / employment agreement for things like work hours, days, and work load sections. Whenever possible, talk to someone working in the prospective district about the things that are important to you in an environment.
Change – Give it a Try (But Do Your Due Diligence)
I’m undoubtedly a better educator because I wasn’t afraid of switching school districts. I learned a lot, have a wider perspective, and made more money as a result.
If you are 100% happy with your current job and able to make progress financially, then there is no need for you to change. I’m not advocating change just for the heck of it. Feel free to spend 36 years in the same place.
If you haven’t even looked into the financial benefits, are feeling a little dissatisfied, or getting curious about what’s out there: take a look at a nearby district.
On the whole, I believe the benefits of change are worth it.
Don’t be afraid of switching school districts. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Have you ever made a switch? What was your experience?
If not, why have you chosen to stay in one place?