Because salaries are not set-in-stone, and vary from one job posting to the next, this can become a source of confusion and frustration for teachers navigating a corporate environment. In this episode, I am going to break down how to research and negotiate salaries and battle popular misconceptions in order to help you make a well-informed decision when choosing your path.
Listen to the episode in the podcast player below, or find it on Apple Podcast or Spotify.
All About Salary with Daphne Gomez
Welcome to the Teacher Career Coach Podcast. I’m your host, Daphne Gomez.
Salaries outside of the classroom are not set in stone. They vary from one job posting to the next. And it makes this a huge source of confusion and frustration for teachers who are navigating this new work environment.
Unfortunately, due to how many teachers are looking for this type of support, I have started to see some pretty shady marketing that says something. Like: “Leave teaching for this brand new, exciting role. It’s guaranteed six figures. All you have to do is buy this product! Three easy steps to find out how you can land this job within three weeks time.”
This scares the crap out of me because it’s going to leave so many teachers with unrealistic expectations, broken hearts and empty wallets. Are there six figure jobs for teachers out there? Well, yeah, absolutely. Will you land them in three weeks time? While nothing is impossible, I would always advise you to take caution if you’re following anyone who makes a claim like this.
In this episode, we’re going to break down as much as possible as we can in about 30 minutes time about salaries. I’m going to share some of the past to higher paying salaries for teachers. I’ll break down how to research and negotiate salaries and battle some of those popular misconceptions that teachers have.
Honest Conversations about Salary
As much as I want to be your biggest cheerleader that anything is possible, it’s always going to be my number one goal to educate you honestly in order to help best prepare you to make the best decisions for your own personal situation. I’ve personally been financially independent and living on my own since I was 17 years old. I was not in a position where I could depend on someone else to pay my bills when I left teaching. And this is not an area that I take lightly.
I am going to start with addressing the elephant in the room: I don’t ask many former teachers to share specific salary details. Because it’s really tricky to navigate, and it does make people feel uncomfortable.
I do see the comments “Salary increase?” Or, “Did you take a pay cut?” on my Instagram feed, and often I don’t engage. If a former teacher offers the information, I gladly share it. We have shared many stories of former teachers having both salary increases and salary decreases. I want to be as honest and transparent as possible with all of my resources to ensure everyone has enough info to make this really important decision.
But if me not asking the question you want the answer to the most drives you crazy, I feel you. But honestly I think about it a lot and it’s just a decision I’ve made for a few reasons.
Asking & Answering Questions about Salary
The question. “Did you take a pay cut?” Isn’t really going to be helpful if they just answer with a yes or a no. It’s so hard to answer this question without asking a lot of specific questions. Well, what is your salary? What state are you in? What district? Is it a higher paying district in that city or one of the lower paying districts in that city?
A teacher on the salary schedule in Minnesota is going to be paid much differently than a teacher on the salary schedule in New York. One person may take a pay cut that would actually be a $15,000 pay increase for you. But if you heard them say that they took a pay cut, you might walk away from opportunities that are similar in the future just based on this limited information. So please keep your own unique factors in mind as I dive into this topic further.
Misconceptions about Entry Level Positions & Salary
I want to battle this big misconception that teachers have. That entry-level always equals lower pay. And that it’s just a total slap in the face for any teachers to take an entry-level role. It’s really not always the case.
Many of the roles that teachers are getting, SDR or BDR roles, customer support, even project management roles, and even instructional designer roles fall into an entry-level category. Entry-level simply means that they’re open to candidates who don’t have as much “formal” experience in this position. And they’ll have someone above them managing them to ensure that they’re successful in this new position.
Entry-level roles still come with qualifications that they want in candidates, like years of K-12 experience, or three plus years experience training adults, or experience in customer support. That’s going to disqualify other candidates who don’t have any work experience at all, and your experience is going to translate in these roles. But mid-level roles are going to take more work to get into straight out of the classroom.
Looking at Entry Level Roles from a Different Perspective
So just imagine a person who has 15 years of corporate training experience that decides that they want to be an elementary school teacher. If they decided to go into the classroom, they may have a good idea about how to actually chunk information and create presentations, but they still have to follow protocols and be labeled as a first year teacher. And the district would want them to have a mentor for them to be successful.
Companies are going to operate the exact same way. They want you to succeed, but they also have protocols and qualifications in place to ensure their new hires are happy and successful in the long term.
In order to get to the next step above something labeled entry-level, you’re going to have to work harder to prove to them that you are ready to take on this very next step. I do think that one struggle that teachers have besides finances is just removing the relationship our job title has with our worth as a person.
Your next job title may sound boring or not get the same emotional reaction as when you tell people that you’re a teacher, or it may be something that’s labeled entry-level and you left somewhere where you had 10 years experience and that feels awkward, but you could be a lot happier afterwards.
You can start as an entry-level position, still be a huge asset to your new team, make more money than you did as a teacher and feel more value you and respected it than you ever have before. These roles are not always lower paying. The good news is that higher paying roles do hire former teachers. And they’re totally possibilities for you.
Salary Increases: Success Stories
We had a thread once with everyone sharing their successes on an Instagram back on November, where everyone started talking about their pay. One commenter shared that she’s a corporate trainer and she makes $17,000 more after nine years in the classroom. Another said that they got a good pay increase after 13 years in the classroom, and is now working at a nonprofit.
There were over 20 comments from former teachers with a variety of years who all said that they saw pay increases. Even in Episode 45 of this podcast, I interviewed Nicole Bryson who saw a pay increase after being in the classroom for 17 years. Many entry-level positions do have starting salaries that are higher, depending on how long you’ve been in the classroom and what state or district you teach in.
These are types of entry-level positions that I’ve seen teachers get; project management positions, curriculum writing positions, BDRs, or SDRs, customer success, learning and development jobs, training jobs. I’m not really necessarily talking about entry-level retail, and I feel like people do make that inference sometimes. But I am going to tell you that my sister has been a manager at both a retail store and for a popular coffee chain and her salary for both of these positions paid higher than my salary would be if I stayed in teaching for 10 years in California. So don’t knock these types of positions just based on an assumption of what the salary would be.
Researching and Comparing Salary for Your Desired Role
You can go to Glassdoor or do a Google search to try and get the best estimate of the salary range for that specific position. But know that there’s always going to be some fluctuation between company A and company B. It’s always going to be kind of challenging to guess before you actually get the offer in front of you.
For example, you may be applying for a corporate trainer position at one company, and the salary might be $55,000 because that corporate trainer is an entry-level position and all the materials are completely created for you. You have a team of 10 other people who are going to walk you through the process, and a manager who checks in every step of the way.
But then there might be this other corporate training position that might be $85,000 because they need you to be bilingual. You have to create all the presentation materials yourself. They may fly you state to state or even overseas.
These are totally different job duties with different salary schedules, and it’s going to be hard to guess if you just hear someone say, “I’m a corporate trainer and I make $55,000,” you can’t assume that all corporate training positions make $55,000.
Daphne Shares her Experience
It goes back to my experience leaving teaching. I remember interviewing for one of my positions as a learning consultant. I had actually been interviewed for another position that was somewhat similar for another ed tech company about a month prior. They had shared the salary with me, which was a pretty big pay cut for me. I was excited about any opportunity to get my foot in the door, and as you know, I was completely burnt out and was just willing to do basically anything besides teach at that point. I ended up not getting that first position.
But as I was applying to this new learning consultant position, I just assumed that the pay would be the same, it wasn’t in the details, and I took the interview anyway. At the end when they offered me a contract, it was $15,000 more than the other company. You really cannot make assumptions based on another person’s salary at another company.
Let’s Talk about Experienced Teachers & Looking for Higher Paying Roles
For those more experienced teachers who are much higher on the pay scale, there are different options for you, but realistically, it is going to be more challenging. If you are looking for something higher and are interested in sales, you may want to look for account executive roles, especially if they offer commission. Many AE roles are actually in the six figures range. Roles that are tech heavy, like UX designer, software engineered, they’re also going to be more lucrative. Leadership roles in almost any department at companies, those in charge of managing others, they have manager and their title, like sales enablement manager, customer success manager, those are often higher paying as well.
SDR and BDR roles, which we talked about in past episodes about sales are also more entry-level, but often higher paying after you add in the commissions. While SDR and BDR and account executive roles are all sales related, the difference is usually an account executive role is looking for someone who worked in a position where they spoke to district leadership about purchasing curriculum, and either they’re an admin, a curriculum specialist, an instructional coach, or they have past sales experience. Anything that says director in it is a very high-level role.
Obtaining Mid-Level Roles
Here’s the real talk: In order to get these mid-level roles, you’re going to have to prove that you took ownership in your own past career to create leadership opportunities, or heavily upskill right now to prove to them that you’re ready to step directly into these types of jobs.
Just because you’ve been in the classroom for 15 years, does not mean that you’re automatically entitled for these roles without proving to them how you mentored others as a grade level leader, or managed a team of TAs, and are just up for the challenge and have upskilled and continued to learn in this direction.
For those of you who have less than 15 years experience, you don’t have to have that many years experience either. There are early year teachers who have taken on almost every opportunity. They’re liaisons for their school districts. They’ve articulated this in their interview and they have been able to land these higher paying mid-level roles.
Salary Strategy: Getting Your Foot in the Door
I’ve interviewed multiple teacher on this podcast who make well over six figures. Now some of them are in tech heavy roles. They took an extensive bootcamp. They learned the skills to prove that they were ready. Many of them actually landed a first entry-level role and then worked their way up to leadership positions to get to that salary range after years.
Getting your foot in the door at a company with an entry-level job and proving to them that you are highly skilled for leadership positions is a really good long term strategy. Most companies give raises and promotions at a much faster rate than you’ll ever see in a classroom position. And teachers come in as strong candidates because they are helpful. They like helping other new hires when they come in. They are just great and empathetic leaders inside of companies.
Salary Strategy: Switching Companies
If you’re serious about leaving the classroom for good, and you know that you need out there, there are strategies you can also use to continue to keep pursuing higher salaries. This is something that recruiters have talked about for years, and it happens a lot inside the tech industry.
It would be get your first job at a tech company, and then after two years, even if you’re super happy at a company that you’re at, you begin applying for other jobs so that they bid against one another. I’ve heard stories from former teachers who went from a $60,000 starting salary to over a six figure salary just switching companies over the span of four years. This strategy does work, but you need to evaluate if you feel like you are the type of person that has the personality that will continue to push yourself outside of your comfort zone.
Are you open to taking a pay cut?
I also want you to evaluate whether or not you are open to taking a pay cut at all. This is something that happens. One of the reasons why I don’t always ask a lot of salary questions, especially on Instagram, is because when former teachers share too much about their salary, it opens up a portion of this community that I just honestly, don’t like to see come out.
This community blows me away and is the best and most supportive place, but I know it’s a stressful time and money is a very sensitive topic and that makes people forget how to speak to one another. People can openly judge others about choosing a path that isn’t what they would do when they come from this heightened sense of stress.
There have been one or two former teacher stories where someone is truly vulnerable and honest and says, “I did take a pay cut of a certain amount of money, but my mental health improved, and it was truly one of the best decisions and life changing.” And I ended up being very disappointed in the comments section. There were negative comments that would make the person being vulnerable and honest, feel yucky. It stops people who are truly struggling.
Differences in Teacher Salary
Going back to my previous example, a pay cut from one person’s salary schedule may not be as devastating if they’re leaving teaching in a different state as it would be for you, depending on where you are on the salary schedule or what state you’re in.
And other people may truly be in a completely different head space than you are at also, where doing anything but teaching and surviving and being able to pay their bills, gaining their mental health back, being able to spend time with their family is a huge win.
There are other people who are really truly struggling, and if you are one of them, I want you to be able to see and hear this message as well. And if that is not you and you are absolutely not going to take a pay cut, that’s okay. But if it’s a number that works for someone else, their family, and it helps them find happiness, please don’t yuck their yum.
I just urge everyone not to shame others for making decisions that don’t align with what you would personally do. There is nothing wrong with having a firm salary non-negotiable and only wanting certain positions that align with what you want to do in your life, but just remember that your job title and your salary do not define your worth.
What is Your Non-Negotiable, Walk-Away Number?
It is super important to really have the true numbers in your head. So sit down and calculate what your non-negotiable walk away number is because there are going to be companies that also are taking advantage of this community as well, and offering very low salaries, knowing that people are desperate.
I don’t mean to tell you this so that you go into interviews from a place of fear and distrust, because navigating interviews with a chip on your shoulder and something against hiring managers, is never going to be the way to get your foot in the door anywhere. I just want to prepare you in case there is a company that comes at you with unpaid internship opportunity, or something that you can tell is $10,000 under market norms.
Creating a Formal Budget
If you have been applying for jobs and you know that you’re going to maybe potentially have to take a salary cut, this might be the time that you need to sit down and make a formal budget. If this is a couple of months before your career transition, try and see if it’s really feasible for you to live off of what would be a potential worst case scenario for a few months.
I am not encouraging anyone to take a pay cut if they know in their heart that it’s a non-negotiable for them, but there are so many people who are so unhappy and just know that they need out. So if you can take a $5,000 pay cut, I would just evaluate looking at your month-to-month spending and see if that would work for you.
Try to live off of $60,000 a year and see if that number works for you. Once again, $60,000 may be much higher or lower than what you are making depending on where you are in your salary schedule and different states, but continue to work towards seeing what is a genuine, comfortable number for you. This can also help you in the next few months as you’re budgeting to save up for a potential emergency fund if you’re leaving at the end of the year and you don’t have a job lined up.
Being Prepared for Worst Case Scenarios
If you are leaving teaching without something lined up, experts say to have between three and six months of income saved. I personally always lean towards six because I’m just super cautious, and I have a money mindset issue just based on always being financially independent on myself. You are going to know what works best for you and your family, whether or not you have a significant other who can pay for your bills if you were on unemployment for an extended amount of time.
Also, sit down and think of the worst case scenarios. If by one point in the summer you do not have a position, would you apply back to your school district? Would you take one of the openings that you see at a neighboring school district? Would you take part-time work that aligns with your further career goals?
There are also things like real estate. We had this really great interview with a former teacher who’s a real estate agent, that can supplement your income, and you could also be working on the weekends if you’re looking to do so.
Supplementing Your Income
Talking about that $5,000 pay cut, there are so many ways that you can supplement that type of money either with tutoring or freelancing. If you were like me and you worked 60 hours per week as a teacher, if you took a pay cut, but you only worked 40 hours per week in your new role, would you be able to do something to supplement your income and still work less time than you did as a teacher?
For example, if it was tutoring and you tutored for $40 an hour, it would only take about 11 hours per month to make up the extra income to earn that $5,000 back, and you’d still have more time back than that 20 extra hours you worked per week with this supplemental income or side hustle.
Talking About Salary with Prospective Employers
During the interview process itself, just know that they’re not allowed to ask you what your last salary range was. I just want you to make sure that you go in and have a clear idea of the market range for the position if it has not been established before the actual interview itself. Just know that you are confident and you know what your worth is using some of the advice I gave earlier.
I will say that you do need to be well educated and do your homework for this position, because it will show that you have a lack of understanding of the job if you ask for a really, really high salary for a job that often does not have that high of a salary. I would say a customer support position is a great example of something that usually is entry-level, but if you tried to ask for six figures as just a customer support person, it would kind of show that you hadn’t done a lot of homework about this type of position.
Like I mentioned at the very beginning of this episode, salary is often not set in stone. They usually have a range that they’d be able to pay for someone in a specific position. This often comes as a surprise to former teachers who are used to working under more set and stone contract terms predetermined by school budgets.
This is really exciting, but what you would want to do is make sure that you have talked to a couple different people. You go on Glassdoor and see if they’ve listed salary for this specific position. I always encourage people, even if you feel like it’s potentially a waste of your time, to try and go into an interview before you even know what the salary is.
This is why: if they start to ask you what the salary would be, that you would need to go in into the position, I always try and deflect my answer to say, “It’s negotiable. I am focused on finding the right opportunity and position as I explore this new path. I’m looking for an environment where I’ll be excited and pushed to utilize the skills that I already have, and for me, that’s the priority.” Salary is negotiable.
The reason why I say this is once you are in that interview, you have more opportunities to understand the scope of what they’re asking you to do and whether or not it’s going to be higher than you originally thought it was or lower than you originally thought it was.
But if you are able to impress them during an interview process, even if you have to walk away at the end because it’s far too low of a salary, you were able to actually impress them to the point that they gave you a job offer. That means that when you say, “I’m so sorry, but I’m looking for something more around this range and that’s where I would really need to land to be comfortable,” they can either try to change the salary so that it fits what you need or potentially they would just reach out to you in a couple of months if they had an opening.
… and when to walk away.
It’s really rare that this happens, but I’ve had former teachers who said, “I walked away from one salary, but they liked me so much when there was a better fit months later, then they were able to actually offer it to me.”
You don’t want to waste their time. So if they tell you that the salary’s going to be between $50,000 and $70,000, and you’re looking for something $90,000, then that’s the time to walk away. It’s a little bit tricky because I know that you have limited time right now, but any exposure to interviewing is great and you never know what the salary is actually going to be unless you sit through that conversation.
Like I said, with that position that I interviewed for when I was leaving teaching, I just assumed it was going to be $15,000 lower than it actually was, and I was pleasantly surprised and happy to take the job. If I was operating out of a place of fear or just distrust of the entire situation, I probably would’ve stopped interviewing for any types of jobs that seemed similar to that one that didn’t end up working out for me.
Making Difficult Decisions
What you do ultimately is up to you. Whether you are staying in the classroom for another year while you build your skill sets to prove that you are a great fit for the highest paying positions, because you know that taking any dip is a firm non-negotiable for you. Or whether you’re open to taking a pay cut and supplementing your income, just to have a mental health break and experience in a new field, this is up to you.
Making this decision is so difficult, and I don’t want to downplay that at all, but you are truly the only one who can make this decision for yourself and for your family. Do not let any single person talk you into or force you into a decision that you know is not a good fit for you personally.
I know that this may not be the news that you wanted to hear because it feels so challenging, but I am always here to be that source of honesty and transparency. I will be here alongside to root you on.
It is not impossible to find a really high paying salary. If you are in the classroom for 15 years or 20 years, those jobs are out there. If you are lower in the salary schedule right now, any entry-level positions are going to be an increase just depending on what state you are at.
Thank you much for joining me on this episode of the Teacher Career Coach Podcast. We’ll see you in the very next episode.
Mentioned in this podcast:
- EP 45 – Nicole Bryson: From Teacher to Training Consultant
- 57 – A Career in Sales Isnâ€™t Scary with Alexis Scott
Find out more about our podcast sponsor: How To Get Away With Teaching
Find out about The Teacher Career Coach Course
If you’re thinking of leaving teaching. . .
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Taking the First Steps to a New Career
If you’ve already taken our quiz, it may be time for the next steps. I want to help you get some clarity in the options available to you. To know EXACTLY what you need to do (and not do) in order to get your foot in the door. This knowledge may help quell some of the anxiety you feel about the big changes that come with a new job.
One of the biggest mistakes that I see teachers make is that they try to navigate this process alone. Often, they put off “researching” until the very last minute. Which sets them up for a very stressful application season – trying to juggle teaching, figuring out a resume, researching jobs, and hoping to nail down some interviews before signing next year’s contract.
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