Corrected: An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of Paul Katnick.
More than half of all K-12 teachers in the United States earn income from sources other than their base teaching salary, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. And not just during the summer, although that’s when teachers tend to dedicate more hours to their second job or side hustle—be it landscaping, counseling at a summer camp, tutoring, Airbnb hosting, or any number of other ways to earn extra cash.
“If not for the entire year, many [teaching] colleagues pick up extra jobs over the holidays or summer to make extra money,” said Joanna Pettis, a 1st grade teacher in Florida. Pettis has worked second jobs year-round during her 22-year teaching career, including stints as a volleyball coach, day care center worker, and a fitness instructor.
She says she earns roughly $6,000 extra yearly through the combination of side jobs.
Teachers don’t necessarily want to work outside of their primary job. But many report feeling like they don’t have a choice. Here’s a look at why, as well as the impact that juggling multiple jobs has on individual teachers, their students, and the profession as a whole.
Financial pressures make finding additional income streams a necessity for most teachers.
Inadequate pay is a long-standing issue for teachers, says Nick Kauzlarich of the Economic Policy Institute, whose research reveals that public K–12 teachers are paid nearly 20 percent less than college-educated, non-teaching peers.
“Cost is increasing for everything in life … except our salaries,” said Pettis, who teaches at Atlantis Elementary in Florida’s Brevard County.
To demonstrate the disconnect between teacher salaries and the cost of living, a United Kingdom-based educator job site Teaching Abroad developed the Teaching Salary Index. The index is a measure of the average teaching salary in the top 100 developed economies compared to the respective countries’ per capita gross domestic product, or GDP. According to their findings, the United States was among the 93 percent of countries in which educators make less than the local per capita GDP, which is a measure of the cost of goods and services. For American teachers, the report found a $8,908 difference between the average salary and the GDP, the report found.
Most of the nation’s teachers who pocket extra income throughout the year don’t make up that gap.
U.S. teachers with supplemental income made an average of $4,400 beyond their base teaching salary in 2017-18, the most recent time period when this data was collected by NCES. But teachers also have to be careful about how much extra money they’re making.
When asked how much additional money she earns annually outside her job as an elementary math and science teacher, Ellainn White responded: “Enough to put me into the next tax bracket.”
The 28-year teaching veteran in Titusville, Fla., who counts tutoring, summer school teaching, and retail jobs among her additional income sources, says she has to make sure that the extra work she takes on doesn’t result simply in paying more taxes. That’s never been her intent.
Early in her career, White earned extra money so that she could afford her own apartment. Over the years, she continued to work outside of teaching so she could put aside money for reasons other than paying bills. “Movies, dinner out once in a while, small trips, etc. Paying off my student loan and my car were also factors,” said White, who is single.
That’s how White sums up the effect of working extra hours beyond those she puts into her job teaching, a profession that even highly successful educators acknowledge is becoming increasingly demanding.
Ninety percent of teachers in a January 2022 National Education Association poll described burnout as a serious problem, largely because of the pandemic and related staffing shortages.
Charity Turpeau, the 2021-22 middle school teacher of the year in Louisiana’s Lafayette Parish, acknowledged the worrisome trend on national television, when she told Good Morning America hosts last November: “With the workload, demands from the state, pandemic restrictions, and lack of pay, I feel as if I am doing less of what I love, which is teaching … .The paycheck does not match the amount of workload we are given and the overtime we work to try and complete it all.”
The wear of excessive working may be deleterious to teachers, but it doesn’t stop there.
Matt Yount, a high school teacher in Brevard County, Fla., moonlights as a security officer to supplement his income. He said there’s a “snowball effect” for teachers working second jobs and side hustles.
“You’re not your freshest; you’ve got to save some [energy] for Uber driving or DoorDash or whatever you do on the side,” he said. “Teachers are in survival mode. And it’s yielding negative results.”
Teachers who are tired and stressed can’t be at their best for their students. And, eventually, they may not be there for them at all. Teachers who have lower base salaries not only are more likely to supplement their teacher pay with earnings outside of the school system; they’re also more likely to quit their jobs, according to research findings by the EPI.
Similarly, in a March 2021 EdWeek Research Center survey of nearly 700 teachers nationwide, 57 percent of respondents said a salary hike would make a major difference in reducing their likelihood of leaving the K-12 teaching profession within the next two years.
The threat of losing qualified teachers is a strong incentive behind the push by some states to raise teacher salaries.
In January, as part of a broader budget proposal, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson put forth a plan to increase to $38,000 per year teachers’ minimum starting pay, currently the lowest in the nation at $25,000.
Cody Smith, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee in the Missouri House of Representatives, this week pushed back, stating that he is “unsure of the long-term effects” of raising the base level up from the current base, which is —unchanged since 2005.
Conversely, advocates for the raise question what will happen if starting salaries remain this low.
The state’s teacher vacancies grew by 3 percent since last year, while applicants with the appropriate certifications are down by 38.9 percent, according to Paul Katnik, assistant commissioner of the Office of Educator Quality in Missouri’s department of education.
“We have eight border states. All of them do better than we do,” Katnik said. “You have to pay attention to that.”
Despite pushback to the proposed salary increase, Katnik says he’s hopeful that it’s at least getting some attention. “We’ve had a persistent teacher shortage for a decade,” he said. “Now it’s getting more acute.”
The fix seems both obvious and elusive.
“I think we need to take better care of the teachers,” Yount, the Florida high school teacher, said. “We’re hemorrhaging any and all people who work with students.”