Leaving Teaching: The Money Question, Part One

Teaching pays less than many other professions — even ones that don’t require a college degree. Even so, if you’re thinking of leaving teaching, it’s natural to wonder whether you can afford to change careers.

Let’s say you’re offered a job that matches your current teaching salary, but only includes two weeks’ vacation. Should you take it?

Or what if you get an offer for even less than what you make now? Could you maintain your standard of living?

When thinking about leaving teaching, salary and benefits are not the only important factors in your decision. But you should still ensure it makes sense from a hard-nosed financial perspective. To calculate if leaving teaching might make sense for you, consider (1) your hourly rate, (2) the value of your free time, and (3) other job benefits.

In this post, I’ll go over why your hourly rate is important and how you can use it to evaluate a potential career change. To start, I’d like to give credit to reader (and science-teacher-turned-app-developer) TK for recommending hourly pay as a unit of comparison. He writes:

Figure out what your hourly pay is/was as a teacher and negotiate off of that. Look at the teacher contract calendar your district puts out and find the number of days you’re contracted to work. Divide your base salary by the number of contracted days, then divide again by 8 (assume an 8 hour workday as a teacher, haha). That is your hourly rate, and don’t accept anything less than it.

I’d also like to offer an alternative to TK’s formula. In addition to basing your hourly rate on an eight-hour teaching workday, you can also calculate your hourly rate with the actual number of hours you work. We all know what that teachers put in much more than 40 hours a week, so why not find out the true value of your time?

Here’s an example of how you might figure out your hourly pay with all of your work hours:

teaching salary: $50,000

hours worked:

10 hours of work per weekday (8 hours at school and 2 hours at home) x 5 = 50

+ 5 hours of work/weekend = 55 hours per week

55 hours per week x 38 weeks

(I’m assuming 37 weeks of school a year + 1 week of planning/grading during vacations, including summer)

= 2,090 hours per year

$50,000 salary / 2,090 hours per year = $24 per hour (rounded) 

Now let’s compare that $24 per hour to what you might make at a “normal” 9-to-5 job with the same salary:

9-to-5 job salary: $50,000

hours worked:

7 hours of work per weekday (assuming a one-hour lunch break) x 5 = 35 hours per week

35 hours per week x 48 weeks (2 weeks’ vacation plus 10 holidays) = 1,680 hours per year

$50,000 salary / 1,680 hours per year = $30 per hour (rounded)

While it may not surprise you to discover that your hourly rate at a normal job with the same pay as teaching would be higher, doesn’t it feel good to see the cold, hard numbers? That increased hourly rate means you earn lots of extra leisure time while maintaining the same annual salary. Crunching the numbers can also help you see that, in some cases, even a lower-paid job could be worthwhile.

For instance, if you made $24 an hour in a $50,000 teaching job, that means a non-teaching job with a $45,000 salary would still pay more ($27) per hour, given a 35-hour workweek. In fact, it’s not till the pay dips to about $40,000 that your hourly rate is about the same for teaching and the office job!

Are you unsure what a job might pay — or whether you can really expect a 7-hour workday in your next career? Do some digging! Here are three sites I’ve found helpful:

Glassdoor.com includes employee-submitted (but anonymous) salaries and reviews for specific job titles at specific companies. You’ll need to register to use the site, and provide your current salary information to improve the site, but it’s free and you can always unsubscribe from their email updates, which include job postings.

Indeed.com pulls together job listings from different websites (kind of like Kayak) and it’s how I found my current job. It lets you filter your job search by estimated salary range (such as “$50,000+”). The Salaries section also estimates how much jobs pay based on real postings from employers.

Payscale.com is another resource for estimating how your salary stacks up to those for similar jobs in your area. It even tells you what you might expect to make as you advance in a career. The one slightly annoying part is that it makes you answer questions about your current pay before it gives you your “salary report,” but I was able to do so anonymously and without signing up for spam emails.

In the next post in this series, I’ll discuss why you should include the value of added free time in your “leaving teaching” calculation. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on hourly pay? Would you ever take a non-teaching job with a lower salary if you found out you’d be making more per hour?


10 thoughts on “Leaving Teaching: The Money Question, Part One

  1. The only thing I will say is that most jobs are 8 to 5, not 9 to 5. Maybe it’s different in nyc but out west 9 to 5 is hard to come by. Sometimes you can find 8 to 4 or 4:30 if you’re kucky. I still plan to take an 8 to 5 (with an hour lunch) so the work day is long. But still seemingly worth it.

      • Hi Alison,
        Thanks for weighing in. I didn’t know that many West Coast jobs are 8 to 5 — here on the East Coast, the norm for an office job is 9 to 5 or 10 to 6. Anyhow, good luck with the new job, and enjoy your hourlong lunch break! It’s made a huge difference to me.

  2. This is a really interesting article. I resigned from my Head of Department job (in UK) in December because of the hours I worked and having no social life or any life at all really! I am now doing supply teaching which pays an awful lot less but you know what I am so much happier.. I have a life! I never really worked it out per hour until I became a supply teacher but you know there is more to life than money. I have reduced my outgoings like not buying things like clothes because I was so unhappy and felt like I deserved it, returned my very flashy car to the dealer and will buy a cheaper one soon. I am now looking outside of education and have found a job which I have just applied for which I think I would love but it pays half the salary, if I can manage and be happy surely that is so much more important.

    • Hi Helen,
      Thanks for reading and sharing. It’s great that you’ve been able to cut down on expenses while boosting your quality of life. That approach will help keep your job search focused on what’s important to you. Wishing you better balance in your next career!

  3. When I first started teaching my heroes were the teachers who worked 2nd jobs to buy classroom supplies in addition to before and after school tutoring (unpaid, of course) with the kids. You know, the teachers you see in the movies or glamorized in the press.

    By my fourth year my heroes were the teachers who managed to leave by 3:30 every day, have well managed classes, decent test scores, and families at home.

    If you’re thinking of taking a lower paying job for the sake of freeing up more time, I think it’s a better idea to stop the martyrdom syndrome and just work your contracted teaching hours. Become a more efficient teacher, stop taking work home. Don’t let your principal bully you into taking extra duties like coaching or club sponsorship – its not like she/he can give you a raise, and you are harder to replace than you think. Shift work doesn’t always come with the same benefits you have as a teacher (health care, holidays & summer off, snow days).

    Then, since the goal is to quit teaching, use that freed up time to develop skills that will lead to a career with better pay and happiness.

    • I went through the same attitude shift that you did. In fact, I’m still in awe of teachers who can get everything done between 7:30 and 3:30 — I will never be that disciplined or efficient.

      The martyrdom syndrome can be tough to break since those who enter the profession tend to be the self-sacrificing kind. Schools often exploit that tendency, but I agree that teachers need to overcome it if they want to get serious about changing careers.

  4. I know teachers work hard. I will be the last one to EVER say otherwise, but the math here is simply incorrect. It assumes (correctly) overtime for teachers, but underestimates even a standard work week for someone at a standard job with a $50K salary. Assuming someone with traditional work hours doesn’t work any overtime (Most absolutely do), it should look like this:

    40hrs x 48 weeks = 1920 hrs

    50,000 / 1920 hrs = $26.04/hr

    It is still more than $24, but also includes zero overtime which is often expected and is included in the teacher calculations.

    Also note that teachers also receive paid vacation days and holidays off that were not subtracted from their work day count.

    Again, I know teachers deal with absolutely frustrating working conditions and definitely put in lots of overtime and often their own money. Just trying to keep it apples to apples. It would appear that the hourly compensation is even, if not in favor of the teeachers. Whether or not a 50K salary does the job justice……that’s another issue entirely.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting. It’s true that many non-teaching jobs require more than 7 hours of work per day, but there’s great variability here — some people work lots of overtime for no extra pay, and others work significantly less than 35 hours per week. On average, I think office jobs have a higher proportion of hours that might not be jam-packed with actual work (see here, or more seriously, recent studies). The comparison is only meant as an example, and in the post I encourage readers to research a typical workday at their prospective new jobs.

      My calculation for teaching does account for vacations and holidays by starting with 37 weeks of work. Since the school year is typically 10 months, or 40 weeks, long, I subtracted three weeks for breaks during the school year. Then I added one back since teachers also do work during the summer and other holidays.

      However, I agree that it may be helpful to be more precise in the comparison. So, here’s the breakdown using the standard 180 days school is in session:

      180 days of school a year / 5 days a week = 36 weeks

      36 weeks of school + 1 week of grading/planning during summer and vacations – 0.5 weeks for personal days = 36.5 weeks

      36.5 weeks x 55 hours/week = 2,007.5 hours of work a year

      $50,000 / 2,007.5 = $25/hour (rounded)

      This version of the calculation shows a slightly higher hourly rate for teaching, but it is still significantly below the office job example. I’d encourage readers to do similar calculations using the most appropriate assumptions for their particular situations.

  5. Pingback: “I Hate Teaching”: My Most Popular Search Term in 2015 | Those Who Teach

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