“I love my job as a teacher, but it doesn’t pay me enough”

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Getty Images

I’m a high school history teacher and I really like it. It’s what I always wanted to do and I love my children and my colleagues. I work in a small private school, which has its dramas and inconveniences, but overall I’m happy here. The problem is that the salary is zero. Most of my fellow teachers seem to have family money or a wealthier spouse, but I have neither and can barely make ends meet. My salary is about $60,000 a year, which doesn’t get you very far in Brooklyn, especially with student loans. (Mine are pending right now, but I dread the day when payments resume.)

My colleagues act like it’s part of the job we do, like we took a vow of poverty to be teachers or something. And I used to believe it or not care so much. But now that I’m in my thirties, it’s starting to bother me that I don’t have any savings anymore. It took the pandemic (and the student loan freeze) to allow me to pay off my credit card debt.

I don’t want to give up my career. I’m good at it and I’ve dedicated more than a decade of my life to it. Besides, what else am I even qualified to do? But I’m starting to realize that it’s just not sustainable. I pretty much gave up on the idea of ​​owning a home. And the irony is that if I ever had kids, I could send them to the fancy school where I work for free – but I don’t know if I could afford to support them any other way. Sure, I have great benefits and I’m saving for retirement, but I work with teachers in their 60s who literally can’t afford to stop working. How can I avoid this fate?

First of all, you deserve to be paid more. It’s absurd that we ask so much of teachers and that we don’t pay them better. This is a major systemic problem, and I wish I could change it. But I can’t, so we’ll have to step back and consider your options.

I’m glad you like what you do, and I’m sure you’re brilliant at it. I’m also glad you’re taking a moment to re-evaluate if this career choice isn’t what you need or want in the future (the income to live comfortably, possibly support a family and eventually retire).

To start, you need to collect information. If you want to stay teaching, you probably need to do at least one of the following: find a school that pays you better, move to an area that costs less, or pick up a few side gigs to supplement your income. Obviously, these paths are neither simple nor easy. But neither squeaks without enough money to do the things you want.

Talking about what, what do you want? I’m not asking you to come up with a rigid life plan, but it’s wise to think about what financial security really means to you. These are just a few examples: maybe it would be like traveling to see family a few times a year, renting a one-bedroom apartment on your own, and being able to go out to dinner once a week and not worry about your bank balance and your retirement. Account. Or it might look like saving and investing more aggressively so you can afford a down payment on a house in five to ten years. Or you might want to take a major, amazing international trip every summer and spend $5 on fancy coffee every day. It’s yours! Remember, what you want doesn’t have to align with “traditional” ideas of financial success (home, kids, etc.). You can skimp on the things you’re not interested in and spend more on the things you love.

Once you have more clarity on what you hope to afford, you can examine your current income and see what is realistic. This might give food for thought. But it can also push you to make some big revisions if necessary.

“When you realize your situation isn’t viable, it’s often a good time to make a drastic change,” says Rashad Muhammad, a school principal in Fort Worth, Texas, who runs a YouTube channel on the creation of wealth on the salary of an educator. . He and his wife, a pre-kindergarten teacher, started their careers in Florida and quickly realized their income wouldn’t be enough to support the kind of family life they wanted (three kids, healthy retirement savings, and enough money). money to go on vacation). So they started looking for areas that paid educators the most and offered a lower cost of living. “At the time, most major cities in Texas suited us best,” he says. They settled in Fort Worth.

Obviously, Texas isn’t for everyone. And Muhammad says there were downsides to that decision – he and his wife didn’t know anyone there at first, to begin with. Moving might not be realistic for you either, and there are a million good reasons to stay in Brooklyn. (I would know: I live here too.) But expanding your horizons might reveal options you hadn’t considered before. “There are a number of big cities where you could make $65,000 or $70,000 and probably cut your expenses in half,” says Muhammad. He recommends researching where your salary might go the furthest. “It’s a simple mathematical equation,” he adds. “And right now you have a big advantage in that you don’t have kids, so you’re relatively free.”

When it comes to your student loans, I recommend you find out about the Civil Service Loan Forgiveness Program. Many private school teachers are eligible, provided their employer is a nonprofit organization and provides elementary and/or secondary education according to state law. The Biden administration recently made it easier to sign up and, for a limited time, is giving credit to people whose payments didn’t previously count. If you’re able to take advantage of this, it’s almost certainly worth pursuing your teaching career until your debt is forgiven.

It’s also worth considering potential career transitions. I spoke to a teacher in Colorado who had hit her salary cap (about $60,000) and realized she’d be better off working in an adjacent field. Now she’s taking classes to get a job in education technology. The courses cost money – around $15,000 – but the pay raise will be much more than that.

I’m sure you’ve considered supplementing your salary by tutoring, working in summer programs, etc. Muhammad pointed out that these side gigs can bring in up to an additional $10,000 to $15,000 a year, or even more. As you probably know, public schools tend to pay better than private schools. I understand that you may not want to leave the school where you currently work, but you may be able to land relatively lucrative summer jobs in the public system.

What I mean is that you have a choice and you are not trapped. I also think your riddle is more common than you think. As you consider your next steps, your best resource might be other teachers, especially those outside your school – there are many websites, online groups and even podcasts for educators trying to improve their career. Don’t be afraid to network and ask people how they manage to make ends meet. You’ll probably be able to pass along the favor to another teacher someday.

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