Depending on where you live and work, teacher pay varies greatly. Occasionally, I get questions about how we managed to earn such “high” teaching salaries over the years. When my wife and I took jobs in LaGrange, Georgia in 2002, we were pleasantly surprised by our combined salaries of $85,000. That seemed like a ton of money at the time because I earned only $18,500 during my first year of teaching back in 1992. Obviously, teacher pay had improved over those ten years. A few years later as we climbed the pay scale, our combined salaries crossed the six-figure salary mark. In 2011, we hit our peak earning with combined salaries of $132,000.
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Because we’re veteran teachers with years of experience on the pay scale, our base pay is a combined $125,000 a year. Take a look at the pay scale below. My wife and I are both in the Prof T-6 column (3rd from right). She’s at the L3 salary step of roughly $60k and I’m at L6 of $65k. A combined base salary of $125k is a good living, especially in rural south Georgia. (It amazes me how many teachers have no clue about how their pay scale works.)
How We Maximized Our Salaries
There were five key concepts that helped us to maximize our salaries:
- Years of Credible Service * The first column in the pay scale is the “years of credible service” column. Your position on the pay scale determines your salary. In 2002 we both put down every year of teaching experience that we had in order to maximize our salaries. This meant that we had to track down a few former employers to get them to fill out our employment verification forms. While these forms required a lot of paperwork, emails, and phone calls, they ensured that we’d receive our highest salaries possible. As a result, Edwina began on salary step 1 and I began on L1. Be sure to document all of your credible service or you’re leaving money on the table!
- Graduate Degrees * Most teachers start their career under the “Prof T-4” column which is for a certified teacher with a bachelor’s degree. However, since my wife and I already had our master’s degree, we began at the T-5 level. I began at the Prof T-5 level because I was already a certified teacher. Edwina began at the Prov T-5 level (Prov = provisional) because she still had to finish her initial teacher certification. Having our master’s degrees meant that we earned $12,000 more a year than our co-workers holding only a bachelor’s degree. In 2006 I earned my educational specialist degree, and Edwina earned hers the following year. Our new degrees moved us to the Prof T-6 level on the pay scale and increased our combined pay by $12,000 a year.
- Teaching Certificate * Edwina received a pay increase of $2,500 in 2003 when she received her professional teaching certificate. In the summer of 2002, she began working on a teaching certificate from the state of Mississippi because at the time they only required three college courses and no student teaching to earn a professional teaching certificate. (Hard to believe, right? At the time, Mississippi had a severe teachers shortage, so they were desperately trying to get teachers in the classroom.) To fulfill these requirements she took two correspondence courses from Mississippi State University and a two-week seminar at the University of Southern Mississippi. After completing her coursework, Edwina received her Mississippi teaching certificate in December of 2002. A month later she received her Georgia teaching certificate via the reciprocity agreement between the two states. (Now that was an awesome teacher certification hack!)
- Extended Day * During my seven years at LaGrange High School, I worked extended day both semesters of every year. What is extended day? Simple, instead of having a planning period, I taught an extra class and gave up my planning period. My reward was a juicy 12.5% increase in pay every semester. Since I taught extended day both semesters, I earned 25% on top of my base pay. Not bad, huh? The one semester I was scheduled to have a planning period, a co-worker got sick and I had to fill in. Not having a planning period wasn’t always fun or easy, but it sure grew my paycheck.
- Stipends * Like most teachers, we eventually became involved with extracurricular activities. Over the years I coached basketball, cross-country, and soccer, and Edwina sponsored clubs such as FBLA and TSA. While the stipends associated with these extracurricular activities were usually modest, they did add to our bottom line. However, in some districts stipends are based on a percentage of the teacher’s base pay. For example, in our most recent jobs Edwina received a 10% stipend for sponsoring a club while I received a 6% stipend for coaching JV soccer. The net result was almost $10,000 in extracurricular stipends. Obviously, percentage-based stipends can increase your pay considerably.
It’s important to remember that increasing your pay is great, but if wealth building is your goal, it’s even more important that you save your pay increases. The easiest and more tax-efficient savings method is to fund your retirement accounts with your extra money. In our case, we channeled our extra money to our 403b, 457, and IRA accounts.
There are also other ways for teachers to increase their income. Teachers, especially young and energetic ones, can take on weekend or summer employment. They can also add a side hustle to their income producing repertoire such as Teachers Pay Teachers or online tutoring. Other than my failed attempt to teach part-time at Florida Virtual School, we generated zero income outside of our jobs.
“Lazy Ed” vs. “Awesome Ed”
Now it’s time to see how much a teacher’s salary can vary depending on a few choices. Let’s compare “Lazy Ed” to “Awesome Ed.” Both teachers have 12 years of teaching experience when they begin their new jobs at Swampwater Public Schools in Humidity, Georgia. Awesome Ed already has his master’s degree and is willing to teach extended day; he also wants to coach cross-country and basketball. Lazy Ed only has his bachelor’s degree and wants nothing to do with teaching extended day or any extracurricular activities. To make matters worse, Lazy Ed doesn’t bother to track down all of his employment verification information and only receives 6 years of credible service on the pay scale.
Unlike the lazy version of himself, Awesome Ed verifies all 12 years of his credible service, teaches extended day for a 25% pay increase, and coaches cross-country and JV basketball for a stipend of 12% (6% each * 2). Meanwhile, Lazy Ed peels out of the parking lot as soon as his work day is over. Let’s see how their salaries compare:
Awesome Ed’s salary is $30k higher than Lazy Ed’s for a couple of reasons. First, documented years of employment chew up steps on a pay scale. Lazy Ed needs to document his work experience if he wants to get paid to the fullest. Second, Awesome Ed is earning almost $18.5k extra a year via extended day and coaching. I’m sure Awesome Ed’s butt is dragging on Friday afternoon, but I’m equally certain that he has a spring in his step on payday.
Over the next five years, both teachers progress on the pay scale. With 17 years of work experience Awesome Ed makes it to the L4 salary step. With only 11 years of work experience Lazy Ed makes it to the L1 salary step. Because he still hasn’t tracked down his initial employment verification info, he’s still six years behind Awesome Ed on the pay scale. (Believe it or not, there are people who let things like this slide.) Naturally, Awesome Ed is still teaching extended day and coaching two sports while Lazy Ed is teaching a regular class load with no extracurricular activities.
Over the course of a few summers, Awesome Ed earns his educational specialist degree at a local university. His new graduate degree allows him to leap two columns to the right on the pay scale (to the Prof T-6 column). Lazy Ed enjoys his summers to the fullest, so he never gets around to starting his master’s degree, much less his specialist degree. Here’s how their salaries stack up after five years:
Wow, Awesome Ed almost doubled Lazy Ed’s salary. Granted, the example above is an extreme one, but I have known lots of people who have coached multiple sports while also teaching extended day. (I know one coach who is currently receiving an additional 16% for teaching extended day in addition to his 18% coaching stipends; he’s also a few courses from having his educational specialist degree…go man go!) At any rate, I hope the example above helps you understand just how much teaching salaries can vary among seemingly identical teachers.
If you’re looking to maximize your teaching salary, make sure you do all you can to pump up your income. Verify all of your previous employment experience, get your next degree (as cost-effectively as you can of course), take on additional teaching assignments if you can handle it, coach a sport if it’s financially worthwhile, and be sure to SAVE your extra income in your retirement accounts. If it’s not possible to grow your salary in your current job, you might consider moving to Georgia and working your financial magic in the Peach State. Here are the most current jobs…happy hunting and good luck.
Let me know if you have any more questions about how we were able to maximize our teaching salaries. Thanks for reading this dry post.
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