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?

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Money Talks, Teachers Walk: Low Pay Is Yet Another Reason Why Teachers Quit

A recent Vox article highlights how little teachers make for their education and experience.

Citing a new report from the Center for American Progress, Libby Nelson writes:

Nationally, average salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 10 years’ experience is $44,900…. In 18 states, teachers with a graduate degree and 10 years in the classroom still make less than $45,000 per year.

As sad as my pay stubs from teaching seemed, these figures made me realize that the average teacher in the U.S. is even more poorly paid than I was.

It gets worse: According to the report, teachers in some states are still making less than $40,000 with a bachelor’s and 10 years of experience.

americanprogress.org

To underscore this point, Nelson points out that “[t]he average teacher in South Dakota with a bachelor’s degree and 10 years of experience earns $33,600 per year  — less than the average South Dakotan auto-repair worker.”

Some of my readers’ stories support these depressing statistics:

Becky Hollibaugh, a teacher with credits beyond her master’s, wrote:

I am in SD [South Dakota] and we are at the bottom of the barrel for pay. I have my master’s plus 45 additional graduate hours after the master’s and my salary is still only $40,000.

Melanie, another reader, wondered whether she should leave teaching for a higher paid job at a CVS store:

While I was in college, I was a shift manager at CVS.  I have recently gotten in touch with my old store managers and I have been given a window of opportunity to become a store manager myself, starting out at $10,000 more a year than what I make now with my master’s in education.

To add my own story: I have less than one year of experience  at my current job, but I get paid about the same as I did as a teacher with 7 years of experience. And my current work is much less stressful than teaching, partly because I no longer have to do unpaid work at home.

Yes, Teacher Appreciation Day is nice, and the intrinsic rewards of teaching are wonderful, but they only go so far.

The Center for American Progress finds that the children of mid-career teachers in some states qualify for federal assistance programs, and that more than 20 percent of teachers in 11 states rely on income from working second jobs during the school year.

As I’ve said before, teachers aren’t saints. They shouldn’t be expected to take vows of poverty, or to do their jobs just “for the kids.” Isn’t it absurd that so many are paying a personal price for doing such vital work?

We all benefit from investing in teachers. Studies have shown that for every dollar spent on universal pre-k, we get at least $8 back in increased earnings, lowered spending and reduced crime. Other research shows that states with better educated workers have stronger economies, and that higher levels of education also correlate with improved health and lower mortality rates.  What better returns could you ask for?

As long as low teacher pay persists, however, we can expect more people do their own cost-benefit analysis, like I did, and quit.

Related

Mid- and Late-Career Teachers Struggle with Paltry Incomes (Center for American Progress)

Teachers Get an Appreciation Week; Lawyers Take Home $70,000 More Per Year (Vox)

Last Year, Hedge Fund Managers Earned More than Double Every Kindergarten Teacher Combined (Vox)

Why Teachers’ Salaries Should Be Doubled — Now (The Answer Sheet)

The Teacher Salary Project

A Reader Asks: Should I Quit Teaching if I Can Make More Working at CVS?

Melanie is a fifth-grade math and science teacher at a Title I public school in Florida
where 79 percent of students receive free or reduced lunch.

She’s looking for advice from fellow educators – past and present – on whether she should leave teaching.

Here’s her story:

After teaching for seven years, I have come to hate my job. 

I dread waking up in the morning. The children put me in a bad mood.  The stress of being held accountable for situations out of my control puts me in a bad mood.  Never feeling like I am successful at my career has put me in what seems like a permanent bad mood. 

I’m tired of not being recognized for good work.  I am tired of not being able to “move up” in a company even though I work hard.  I am just tired!

While I was in college, I was a shift manager at CVS.  I have recently gotten in touch with my old store managers and I have been given a window of opportunity to become a store manager myself, starting out at $10,000 more a year than what I make now with my master’s in education.  I’m not sure whether I should take this opportunity.

When I think about store management, I start feeling happy.  I enjoy daydreaming about mastering my job duties and being recognized for them.  Everything about this seems appealing except for the hours. 

I am only 28 years old, and I want a family one day.  Teaching offers a great schedule for having children, with holidays, weekends and evenings always at home.  Store management does not offer such a stable, family-friendly schedule.

Can anyone provide me with a perspective that may help me make a decision?

Thank you!

Those who teach or have taught: What advice can you offer Melanie?

I know that lots of teachers work retail jobs on nights and weekends or during the summer. Do you find retail work relaxing compared to teaching? How else do the two compare?

Here’s my take:

Both retail and teaching require standing on your feet for hours. You also need to interact with large groups of people, manage a wide range of personalities, and cater to people’s needs and complaints in both situations. I know this from making Blizzards at Dairy Queen in high school, checking through long lines of customers at Target in college, and teaching high school for seven years.

So working in retail full-time will be tiring too, but in a much less personal (and more manageable) way. Sure, you’ll have to deal with old ladies complaining about discounts that didn’t scan, or hear kids whining to their parents, but those kids won’t be complaining to you or about you. They are no longer your responsibility. I think that could be really freeing.

But you won’t get to do much creative or intellectually challenging work. And you won’t feel the joy or accomplishment that can come from a great lesson or a funny moment you share with your students.

You say you want to be able to spend evenings and holidays at home when you have kids, but I don’t think that means you have to stay in teaching right now, or that you can never go back to it if you leave.

You’re only 28! What if you try the retail job for a year? You can go back to teaching when, and if, you’re ready. In the meantime, you can try something new, get your energy back and make more money.