How to Maximize Your Earning Potential as a New Teacher

Don't Make This Mistake!

I recently spent the weekend with my three best girlfriends in the world!  Like all good girls’ weekends, each morning we chat over coffee about all things from world peace to the new wrinkle repair products we’ve discovered.

Inevitably we start chatting about retirement planning as we dream of a new footloose and fancy free lifestyle.

One of my girls, who is also a teacher of 20 plus years, mentions that she needs to find units to move up the pay scale.  I’m thinking, “What?!  Now?! You’re three years away from retirement!  What happened?”  Knowing me, I said it out loud and with far more passion than I would recommend.  

But the conversation got me thinking about how new teachers, early in their career, make this same mistake because it’s not talked about enough.  

So today, we are looking at how to maximize your earning potential while in the classroom and beyond.

There I was, my jaw gapping at my friend’s admission that she still needed to add units this late in her career.  I just kept thinking how much less she was actually being paid compared to what she could have earned over the years.  Can you say, thousands of dollars?!

Let’s start with  a bit about how teachers’ salaries are determined in most districts, and what you can do to maximize your earning potential.

Teachers’ salaries are based on a step and column schedule

A step is what you get for each year of working full time.  So if you’ve been with a school district for three years you would be on step three.  In your fourth year you move to step four.  

The difference in your take home pay will vary greatly from district to district, but it is an increase nonetheless.  

A column is a move based on the number of units on your official transcripts.  A column increase is usually based on 15 post bachelorette units.  In other words, how many units you have over your BA.  

You can add additional duties and receive stipend pay 

Teachers take on a number of different roles on campus and some of those can earn you extra bucks: coaching, club supervising, leadership committees to name just a few.

Your district may have a separate salary schedule for your additional duties that works on a step and column.  The more time you spend in that role, the more money you will make.  

Advanced degrees will bring you a stipend

If you’ve earned a masters or a doctorate degree, you will probably receive a stipend for your troubles.  I’ve seen these around $500-1500 per year.  But the benefit to getting a masters is not in the stipend itself.  

Per diem rate for special projects

There are times when a school needs your help with something that wasn’t planned for and doesn’t fall onto any salary schedule.  In these instances, you could be offered an hourly rate or your per diem rate (daily rate).

For example, the English department I was a part of was in charge of scoring all writing benchmarks for our high school.  This was a huge job, and we were compensated for our time with an hourly rate determined by our district contract.

I’ve also written special reports, project proposals, grant proposals, and award submissions for my school while receiving an hourly rate.  There are a few opportunities out there that don’t require you to coach to bring in extra money.

Let’s come back to the focus of this post.   

In order to really make the most money you can in your career as a teacher you have to top out on the salary schedule.  This means moving through those columns as soon as possible.

Allow me to illustrate…

To complete your teaching credential, you need 30 units post BA, which is where most salary schedules start for new teachers.  But a schedule can have as many columns as a BA plus 90 post BA units.  Each column equals 15 units so that is a move of four columns! Now get this…. Each column can give you an increase in your salary of $2,000-4,000! That’s $8,000-$16,000 more a year -EVERY YEAR- that you work.

But here’s something even more important!

The more money you make toward the end of your career, the more money you will bring home in your retirement.

You see, there are 3 factors that go into the calculation of your teacher’s retirement or pension:

  • Your age at the time of retirement
  • Your years of services 
  • The average of the last 3 years of your highest paid salary

When you retire the formula that uses these three factors determines your income for the rest of your life.  Yes!  That is correct!  Forever.  

The goal then is to try and maximize all of these factors so you can maximize your retirement.  

The swing numbers can impact your take-home pay significantly.

I spent many years of my career in a district I absolutely loved, but didn’t pay much compared to neighboring districts.  As retirement moved closer than before, I changed districts.  I moved to another district and made $13,000 more a year!  Why?  Because the impact on my retirement will be  approximately $500 a month for the rest of my life!  That’s a big deal for both my family and I.

What should you do to  move up the salary schedule?

  • Check your district's website and see where you land on the salary schedule.  
  • Contact human resources to see how many units you currently have on record.
  • Send all transcripts from every institution you attended to your HR.  There is usually a deadline when they will accept these and apply them to your salary.  They have to plan for this in their budget.
  • Collect units everywhere:  conferences, workshops, professional development providers, classes (online and in person).
  • Consider getting your masters if you have 2 or more columns to move over.
  • Remember that for every 15 units you can make anywhere from $2000 - 4000 more a year. So take it seriously.

The bottom line here is you must be proactive in collecting those units and moving up the salary schedule so you can maximize your income for you and your family.  

And do it sooner rather than later.  It will pay off in dividends over the course of your career.

And the New Teacher Success Network offers up to three units to help you do just that!

Important Links:

➡️ Check out RICA Prep 101:

➡️ Listen to this episode on my podcast:

➡️ Join the New Teacher Success Network:

➡️ Check out my YouTube channel:

➡️ Get on the waitlist for the Reading Lab SOS:



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