No teacher will tell you they're in it for the money, but everyone has bills to pay. While we may be pursuing a career we love, living on a teacher salary can be an adjustment.
There are unique opportunities for teachers to supplement their income, reduce debt, or increase their wages. The key to living on a teacher's income is to be creative, resourceful, and persistent while seeking options to improve your current and future income potential.
Further Reading: 3 Tips for Finding Summer Jobs for Teachers
Seeking Additional Income
Many new educators supplement their teacher salary with a second job. While some choose jobs outside of teaching, like working as a receptionist or bartending on the weekends, others pursue more creative avenues.
Lavon Grizzle, a former fifth-grade teacher and current special education teacher in Georgia, made a unique choice to earn extra income: she got a commercial driver's license (CDL).
"I decided to get my CDL so I could take my students on community-based field trips," Grizzle said. "I take my students and campers on field trips, and I drive the bus for the high school band and soccer team."
Kristen Taglia, an English teacher from Arizona, admits working extra hours can be difficult. So she finds it most convenient to pursue additional roles within her district.
"I supplement my income by teaching English online, teaching homebound, and coaching speech and debate," Taglia said. "It's incredibly difficult, but necessary. I'm grateful that all I do is through my district. I think it makes it easier."
Education Pays Off
Taking classes and earning higher degrees can directly impact your teacher salary. Catherine, a 2012 graduate of Western Governors University who currently works with students with emotional disturbances, knows this firsthand.
"I completed my master's degree while working as a first-year teacher. I did it in less than a year while teaching and having two part-time jobs," Catherine said. "My advice for future teachers is to get as many certifications as possible to make yourself more marketable, and also so you won't burn out as easily. A master's degree is a no-brainer because who wouldn't want to increase their knowledge and then get paid more for doing the exact same job?"
Finding ways to pursue additional college classes and degrees is one of the best ways to increase your salary. It's a direct path up most districts' pay ladder. Some districts offer money toward partial reimbursement for coursework. It's worth checking to see if yours offers this benefit.
Unfortunately, some districts, including those in Wisconsin and North Carolina, have moved away from using an established salary scale with steps and lanes, so do your research to learn if your district follows a pay scale that rewards education with pay increases.
The Incentive of Teacher Loan Forgiveness
Another benefit unique to teaching is the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program. The program can forgive up to $17,500 of federal student loan debt for teachers who have worked in Title I schools for five consecutive years. The federal program has strict eligibility requirements, so make sure you read all the fine print to determine if you qualify.
Kenneth H. Samuelson, EdD, is a middle school self-contained/resource teacher in North Carolina. He received $12,500 in teacher loan forgiveness after teaching in special education for five years.
"My biggest advice on forgiveness is to try to apply," Samuelson said. "Too many people don't look for programs for loan forgiveness, and they are out there. It may be a tedious process, but it saved me $12,500 and interest."
Another assistance option is the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which forgives the remaining balance on a qualified student loan for full-time teachers working in public schools. Qualifying teachers must have made 10 years' (120 months) worth of payments on a qualifying repayment plan. Samuelson suggests applicants keep copies of all documentation, verify their employment annually, and ensure they're on a qualifying payment plan.
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Teaching may not make you rich, but it doesn't mean you have to be poor. Be proactive and diligent in looking for ways to increase or supplement your teacher salary. While your early teaching years may require some sacrifice, the more time you invest in bettering your situation, the faster your income will rise to a more comfortable level.