How to Survive (And Perhaps Thrive) On a Teacher's Salary

By Linsey Knerl on 1 April 2009 24 comments

In today’s economic climate, many people would be grateful to have any kind of salary, but it’s a fact that many teachers and other service professionals have always been struggling to make it.  Special education teacher Danny Kofke authored in hopes of inspiring others to dream big on the same limited budget.  We chatted with him today on how he does more with less and what advice he has for you! 

Danny’s a normal guy with normal goals:  He wants to take care of his family, providing for their basic needs, and he also wants to pursue his passion.  Danny found a way to do both, and he’s not shy in sharing the nitty-gritty on what worked.  In fact, his book is a brief (only 88 pages) but dense tell-all of how he planned ahead during the good times to prepare for the leaner times.  He gives us the details on how he made disability insurance and the Family Medical Leave Act benefit his family, and he shares inspiring truth for anyone struggling in a season of less. 

To hear the full interview with Danny, join us tonight on our .  We’ll hear more from the man who believes you can achieve.  Call in after the interview to talk with the host, or join us in the chat room to converse with other listeners.  (We’re giving away prizes of to some lucky listeners!)


Editor's Note:  For those who listened in last night, you no doubt are aware that we were only able to share a portion of the interview during our hour-long regular show.  We are making the entire exclusive interview available on a of Monday, April 6th at 3pm CST during a half-hour show.  We will still be giving away pasta in the chat room!)


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Guest's picture

My experience has been that for an entry level school teacher, in Massachusetts at least, there's no way you can make ends meet without picking up a second job. Your salary is also determined to a large extent by which town you work in. My wife works in Brookline, where they pay a much better salary than most towns.

Also, if you calculate the pay per hour of a school teacher, it's pretty low. Most teachers work quite long hours during the school year.

Linsey Knerl's picture

The subject of location, type of school, and tenure came up in our interview.  I agree that teacher pay can run the gamut! 

Thanks for your comment.

Linsey Knerl

Guest's picture

I feel the key here is to follow the thumb rule of spending less than what one earns. Prioritise whats things into necessities and desirables and spend more on necessities and less and desirables if the budget permits...

Guest's picture

My experience is that teachers as a group are very frugal and have great benefits-- not a bad gig!

Guest's picture

Honestly? Compared to what I was making before a teacher's salary would be a HUGE step up for me. Granted, I live in a LCOL area, but at least here in Cinci I don't think teachers have bad salaries at all.
I'm in school to get my masters in education right now so that I can teach. I had a lot of motivations for doing this that were focused on this being the right profession for me and doing what I love, but I would be lying if I said the giant increase in salary was not a motivator.

Guest's picture

I totally agree with Ash (above). Teachers here start at 42,000. Now compare that with someone working at Walmart for min. wage and tell me about making ends meet. I find it really hard to feel bad for them (especially when I'm shlupping into my county employee job on a hot summer day-lol!) and because teachers have so many programs available to them for continuing education, loan reimbursement,etc. But I bet in every field there is a low end, and maybe some teachers are not being paid what they are worth. I don't even want to know what my college profs are making...

Guest's picture

Gotta tell you: I've only worked in one school, a private one, that gave me anything toward my continuing education. And that continuing education isn't an option: its required for me to keep my teaching license. But, the requirements for my license, and the requirements under various federal laws are different. No Child Left Behind has very different requirements for a "highly qualified teacher" than state laws for a teaching license.

Also, I do work during the summer. With students. I bring home a pile of work every night, and over each break. In fact, I'd better get back to the quarterly reports, IEPs, alternative assessment, and curriculum design I need to do.

I will admit that as a single person, I make a good salary and am comfortable. I'm frugal, and don't spend a lot... But I would very much like to buy a place, and cannot afford to do so in the area I teach.

Guest's picture

He claims it's not just for the summer vacations, but I have my doubts. Seriously, he seems pretty determined. I'll have to pick this book up for him.

Guest's picture

Teacher salaries vary WIDELY by state and location. I live in Baltimore, where my first-year teaching salary is quite high ($43,000) and the cost-of-living is quite low. (I pay $435 a month for my apartment.) Right now, as a non-married 22 year old with no children of my own, sharing an apartment, I'm able to save money, even when I spend thousands of money on supplies for my classroom. (Don't forget about that expense that most teachers have. Some schools offer more supplies or offer teachers a budget for supplies, but my school seriously wouldn't even make photocopies for us. Every single copy I made for my students cost $.05. It adds up. Also bought whiteboards as we didn't have enough board space to adequately teach all 5 subjects. $100 each. We didn't have any computers, I had a Special Education class, thought we really needed one, got fed up, bought one for the classroom, $400. But I digress...)

Like someone said above, the HOURLY pay of a teacher is quite low, especially if you're the kind of teacher who works 10-12 hr days 4-5 days a week and at least 3-6 hours over the weekend. 56 hrs a week @ $43,000 averages out to about $13-15/hr. No, it isn't minimum wage. No, it's better than many other people are getting right now. But considering the amount of work that goes into teaching---both before employment (Bachelor's Degree, several standardized tests, certification costs, Master's degree costs) and during (TEACHING, counseling, grading, cleaning, organizing, mentoring, paperwork, etc.) it doesn't pay nearly enough as it should to keep the best, most qualified, most effective teachers in the field. Most teachers quit within the first 5 years of teaching, just when they're finally hitting their stride. Studies have shown that most teachers don't quit because of the salary, BUT, it can be a deciding factor. In some areas of the country, it's very easy to replace teachers. But in other areas (like Baltimore!) there is a true shortage of qualified, experienced, effective teachers, especially in the very intensive fields of Science, Math, and Special Education. If you already feel abused and disrespected on a constant basis, as it's easy to feel at times as an inner-city teacher, that higher paying consulting job or something similar gets more and more enticing every day...

I LOVE teaching. I am trying to make the wisest choices possible so that I can pay off my atrocious student loans and have a good nest egg saved up for when I'm older and looking to buy a small house. It is definitely possible.

Guest's picture

I have been living for years as a seasonal employee, waitress, odd jobber. Along the way I have collected debt, scrimping on everything I could. Cutting my own hair, living in horrible apartments and buying clothing only when it came in under $10. I CANNOT WAIT to live on a teacher's salary. I have a bachelor's degree, but no job I was qualified for made me feel excited or good about myself. I am very excited to teach.

Guest's picture

The idea of working from home, or doing side job can be a problem solver.If you are professional educater, it would be easy start writing a book, or open class English Course in a Third World Country.

Guest's picture

I have quite a few friends, family, and neighbors who are teachers and their standard of living is great to compare to a lot of people. I work for a small environmental working to improve the environmental conditions for our community. Our firm won't even look at someone unless they have a master degree and even then, starting salary is mid-twenties and your lucky to 30k after 5 years. So many of our friends who are teachers are making at least in the mid-forties. Plus, they have great health insurance, retirement plans, programs for continuing education, loan reimbursement, and have the summers off. Sorry, Janel. Teachers having to work 40+ hours for 10 months, two weeks off for winter vacation, 1 week off for spring break, and how many national holidays off are not getting any sympathy from the rest of working class/middle class. Sorry to say this, but I think a majority of Teachers have gotten into a bad habit about complaining about salaries and work requirements and forget that the grass isn't always greener on the other side.

Guest's picture
A Teacher

Time off doesn't mean that teachers are not working on grading, planning lessons, buying resources, writing curriculum, etc. Please don't be so naive to think that because your kids aren't in school that teachers are not working. Please, get accurate information before you assume things.

Laws nowadays require continuing education for teachers so that they can keep their certification.

In one school district in CA -- so I've been told anyways -- teachers have to buy their own liability insurance.

Have you spent a day on the job with a teacher? It's not all a picnic as some may assume. It's certainly not at all like babysitting.

Guest's picture

I have to agree with the above reply.  I am a teacher at the elementary level, and every year I spend that supposed two month vacation attending classes, cleaning classrooms, creating lesson plans, creating projects (with my own money).  My actual vacation last about two weeks.  And the money is far from great.  Understand that for 6 years of schools (bachelor and master degrees) the students loans are very high and in other professions we would be earning a great deal more.   My husband is not a college graduate and after student loans are taken out of the equation we earn the same amount.

 Only in this profession do we have to put up with 32 children, their parents, and administration with caring and compassion and then feel physically and mentally drained after.  I have bought breakfast for my underprivilaged students and covered the cost of their field trips, I have paid out money for college couses just to continue certification. And every march I get a pink slip in my box because the state can't manage their money and they don't know how many teachers they can rehire next year, so every summer is spent on a shoe-string budget until I know the status of my teaching job in August.  I find the only ones who have a true concept of what really goes into being a teacher are the educators themselves and the loved ones who deal with stress it takes on the family.

Linsey Knerl's picture

There are many factors that play into this discussion.  Nebraska, for example, has relatively low average pay ($39,000), coming in at 30th for the entire country -- Keep in mind that average includes tenured teachers who have been there for 20 years or more.  The starting pay is between 25K and 29K.  When you factor in that many schools also require teachers to take on extra activities (class sponsorship, athletics coaching, elective classes), this can put the burden fairly high for a new graduate.

On the other hand, a school with greater pay and excellent benefits can put you in an excellent position to earn more.

I think it really depends on your situation.

Linsey Knerl

Myscha Theriault's picture

I'm glad the issue of "average pay" was brought up. Starting salaries can be quite low. I've seen under twenty thousand, and the issue of spending a ton of your own cash to fund "mandated curriculum" that the school districts can't or won't pay for is real. When you are making under twenty thousand, those expenditures really hurt.

Add to that nearly everyone on the planet assuming they can interrupt you when you are at work early on unpaid time, not even being able to pee when you need to, standing in line on your only bathroom break of the day to return a parent's phone call . . . the list goes on.

Now, if you work for a school district that has separate instructors for the extra classes like art, music and PE, and actually pays for a reasonable amount of supplies (I don't mind dishing out for glitter and pom poms if it's a special project I really want to do), then yes it is a bit more fair. Especially if the district pays decently and you are a few years in on the salary scale. Personally, the only schools I ever worked for where this was true were overseas where my lower salary was tax free. Now THAT felt a bit more fair. I totally feel for the person who mentioned having to pay for photocopies. I've had to do that before too. Older students can take notes off the board, but try doing that for more than a mini list with first graders. Not fun.

All that being said, I always enjoyed the students and do miss seeing their completed projects and academic growth. I've started a little project to help teachers get their job done on a budget.   There's also a link there to a curriculum site, which we are in the middle of revamping. Feel free to take advantage of any of the free articles there.


Guest's picture

I think that this book would be great. Teaching pays an adequate amount, although the work can be stupenduous.
Financially, I think there are traps though in the amount spent in the classroom, as well as that summer. Some districts only pay 10 months out of the year, which means that it requires careful planning. Those classes which have to be taken during the summer may only be reimbursed after you are finished taking them...prorated by the grade you earned. I hope he addresses some of those issues in the book.

Guest's picture

In North Carolina at one point I heard beginning salary was around 25K, but I just looked and for bachelors with 3 years of experience it is just under 31K. Again what people said, the salaries really vary. I know in our state we have a pretty big dropout rate for beginning teachers because of the combination of high workload/bureacratic responsibilities paired with low salary. Also many teachers pay for school supplies out of their own pocket because the school is underfunded.

Guest's picture
Debbie M

Teachers do have low salaries if you compare them to those of most other people with jobs that require a degree.

Guest's picture

Didn't realize salaries for most teachers in most states are so low... From some of the comments above, tenured teachers are making well under $50k. Up in Canada, most provinces start teachers around $40K, moving up to about $65K within 10 years (this can range depending on education, province, etc). But most teachers with a good 5 years under their belt are making over $50K.

But then again, slightly higher taxes here, but also virtually zero healthcare costs. Our schools are underfunded too, but teacher don't have to pay out of pocket for the basics.

Guest's picture

I have a Masters degree in Education. I was a high school English teacher for three years in the state of Florida. My salary was $35,500 when I started. It rose to $37,500 by my last year. Yes, it was a pretty good salary for a recent graduate, but not for someone with an advanced degree and seven years of administrative and training experience. When I lived alone, I did well, but by the time I left teaching, I was married with a child, and the salary didn't cut it anymore.

The cost of living in South Florida is sky high. My benefits were great, but to add my family to my insurance would have cost me $445 a month. And yes, I had my summers off, but much of that time was spent in one of two ways - either re-charging my batteries so that I could go back in the Fall and be a great teacher again or doing training and research for the upcoming year. I loved my job. I loved my students. The bottom line, however, is that I love my family more. I left teaching and am now in a job making $14,000 more a year with much better benefits. The kicker is that I worked MUCH, MUCH harder as a teacher.

Yes, teachers in some places and circumstances make a good living, but it doesn't mean they're paid what they should be for the level and amount of work they're asked to do.

Guest's picture
A Teacher

To clarify my post was directed to the few posters and readers who think teachers have a cushy job, with all this free vacation time. They make it sound like we've won the lottery. And, they won't even take the time to walk in our shoes. Anyways, I am grateful for the article and the many comments here who shed light on the reality. Thanks guys!

Guest's picture

Just like to comment that I started teaching 12 years ago in Northern NJ. Small houses/condos were already $100,000 at that time, and I started at $17,000 for part time kinder. With all the prep work, I was working 30+ hours at a part time job. Then, when I got full time I was only making $27,000. Now I have a masters + 60. I didn't qualify for loan programs and paid for it all. I earn a very good living. But as the sole bread earner, I am not able to afford a home in Los Angeles were I work. Granted a house the size of my apartment (1,100 sq") is listed at over 1 million just down the street!

As for benefits, I have 30+ children sneezing and coughing all over me daily. I have been barfed on and peed on by other people's children. I deserve my benefits.

Guest's picture

Teacher's salary is relative to the cost of living in the area to some degree: a teacher in a small town in the midwest makes less than a teacher in New York or Florida, but the cost of living is lower in the small town. While teachers make less than others with a master's degree, they make more in comparison to a lot of other people who also struggle. Plus frugality in teachers is applauded, while they same teacher in an high profile job would have to spend more on a car, clothes and lunches. I applaud teachers for what they do, but think they should be happy in the recession to have a stable salary and job that many would love! You go into teaching for the intrinsic rewards, not the financial ones.

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