When I began teaching years ago, I entered the profession with dear friends, people I knew to be the most resilient, kind, and ambitious. Within six years, half of these friends had left the teaching profession burnt-out, tired, and bitter.
Research across countries shows us that teacher attrition is generally higher than in many other professions, with attrition among teachers cited as affecting 30-40% of our profession.
Does teacher salary affect teacher burnout?
In this post in the burnout series, I want to discuss solutions to a well-known, but little-discussed fact: many teachers burnout and leave because they make very little money. Here in Alberta, Canada, where I teach, I am lucky to be part of the highest paid teacher group in Canada. However, before I moved to Alberta, I faced the prospect of a teacher salary that would provide just the basics while working 60+ hours a week.
Mr. Thain, my favourite teacher/YouTuber, talked about this problem in his “Do Teachers Make Enough Money?” video below. When I first watched this video, I could not believe the conditions American teachers face.
- Salaries starting as low as $31,159 USD
- After 26 years of teaching, some teachers are making $52,000 USD
- American teachers regularly buy supplies for their students, even basic supplies
- American teachers regularly seek summer employment just to make ends meet
To think that some teachers are barely scraping by themselves but putting their own money into their classrooms, out of love for their students, is almost too much to bear.
Teaching is already demanding, but to worry about your next pay cheque on top of that—it’s just not right.
What can be done about low teacher salaries?
While we cannot change our teaching salaries immediately, there are some practical steps to take to beat a low teacher salary.
- Stop complaining about your pay. One of the worst traps to fall into is the negative thinking loop: “I am paid too little”–> “Society doesn’t value me or my profession”–> “Nothing can be done about it” –>“I am powerless.” Believe me, after being trapped in a negative thinking loop before, it’s hard to get out, and it ain’t a fun ride. Complaining also doesn’t make you as fascinating a conversationalist as you think!
- Stand in solidarity with your teachers’ union and be politically active. If there is a union fighting for decent teacher pay, on par with other professional groups, do what you can to support them. This may involve voting in union elections, attending meetings, or even joining the union organization itself. It may involve voting for politicians who support fair pay. There is nothing greedy or ungrateful about pride in one’s profession and a desire to be compensated fairly.
- Don’t go overboard spending your money on school supplies. When one acquaintance quit teaching, she sold the equivalent of $2000 of school supplies she had bought over three years on Facebook. Bitter and tired, the mounds of children’s’ books, stuffed toys, and letter manipulatives she had bought reminded her of how teaching had consumed her life and her bank account.
When I hear of stories like this, I am reminded of the phrase, “Teachers are their own worst enemies.” Because we teachers buy so many school supplies for our students, and work so many unpaid hours, it has become expected. The only solution is to set a limit on your classroom spending, and stick to it. If all teachers set limits, both our money and our time would be more valued.
To put this in perspective: Do we expect doctors to buy their stethoscopes, engineers to buy their own computer programs, or architects to buy their own tools? Do we expect doctors to cure people on the streets in their off hours, or ask engineers to engineer projects for which they are not compensated? No, these professionals are equipped by their employers with the tools needed to perform their jobs, and they are paid for their work. So should we be.
4. Start making more money on the side. As you push for organizational change, start making money by yourself. Use your skills to make passive income.
A. Sell your teaching resources on Teachers Pay Teachers. You may be sitting on a gold mine. The worksheets, tests, PowerPoints, and activities you made on your own time and on the weekend can be sold. For three years, I did not sign up for Teachers Pay Teachers because I thought it was a waste of time. This was a big mistake. I could have been making between $25-$35 USD a month, just as I am now. If you’re curious what kinds of products sell, check out my store, Blackboard Talk Resources.
B. Copywrite/edit online. If you’re an English teacher, you have valuable editing and writing skills. For teachers like this, I recommend the website elance. You can sign yourself up as an editor and make extra money on the weekend.
C. Tutor. In Canada, an experienced English teacher could charge between $20-30 USD per hour for tutoring. Why not start a tutoring business in your basement, operating on the weekend?
5. Make the most of the money you earn by saving and investing. While you do not make a lot of money, if you live below your means, save a little each month, invest that money in a high-interest index fund, and repeat this process over decades, you will retire financially free.
The power of compound interest is well-explained in The Millionaire Teacher: The Nine Rules of Wealth You Should Have Learned in School. The book author, Andrew Hallam, a Canadian teacher working overseas, harnessed the power of compound interest to build a million-dollar investment portfolio on a teacher’s salary. Here is a brief summary of Hallam’s nine laws. I encourage you to buy the book, however, for an in-depth understanding of Hallam’s wisdom.
Teachers, you may not get paid a lot, but know that what you do is invaluable.
You don’t need others to tell you that you make a difference.
You don’t need the government to tell you that you change lives.
You don’t even need students to come back and tell you that you impacted theirs.
You and I KNOW you are making a DIFFERENCE.
That “making a difference” is priceless. It will allow you to die happy.
And in time, trust that your bank account will reflect your value.
To your teaching success and work-life balance,
P.S. If you’re feeling burnt out, check out the first instalment of this beating burnout series: 10 Tips for Work-Life Balance