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?