The Secret to Earning Big Bucks in Education

Our family is on a three-year journey to double our net worth and become location independent, so part of our strategy is earning more over the next three years. One of the ways we’re doing so is through my teaching position. But how do you earn big bucks in education?
The Secret to Earning Big Bucks in Education---www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
I admit that the title of this post is meant to reel you in. Because, as we all know, if you want to earn a big salary, then education is generally not the field to pursue. And, truth is, if you’re in education, you’re probably not going to ever make the big bucks that lawyers or doctors make (but kudos to you guys!).
However, if you’re already in the education field, or you’re interested in pursuing a career that gives you summers off, may I recommend a way to make more money in education than the average salary schedule of a classroom teacher?
Here’s the big secret: become a contracted service provider for a school district. I am a contractor for two school districts, and while I’m a part-time worker, my hourly rate is high enough that I’d be a six-figure income earner if I worked full-time, year-round.
Surprised? So was I when I first started teaching this way. Read on for more details. 
First of all, what is a contracted service provider? It’s a person who provides some type of service to a school or district, but not on a full-time basis. Usually, specialists like ESOL teachers (that’s what I do), Reading Specialists, Special Education teachers, Curriculum Developers, psychologists, Physical Therapists, Occupational Therapists, and Speech and Language Pathologists can work with a school as a contractor. Usually, these professionals work on a part-time basis with the district, and may provide services for multiple districts.
I am a contracted service provider for two school districts about fifteen minutes apart. I provide English to Speakers of Other Languages services for both districts. What this means, practically speaking, is that I am a 1099 contractor who owns my own business and provides ESL teaching services to both districts. In one district, I have two students with whom I work, and in the other, I have four. I work a total of about 30-35 hours per week at both districts.
Teaching---www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
A view of my ESOL teaching table at one of the school districts I work at.
Many school districts have just a few English Language Learners in their populations, so it’s hard to attract an ESOL teacher to work for just a few hours a week. If an ESOL teacher is able to find several districts with the same small population of students close to one another, then he or she can work part-time at several schools. This is not just true for ESOL teachers, but for Occupational or Physical Therapists, Speech and Language Pathologists, School Counselors, psychologists, and many other professionals.

As you might imagine, there are positives and negatives to a contractual arrangement. Let’s start with the benefits:

Higher Hourly Rate

First of all, I earn a six-figure hourly rate. Yes, that’s right. If I wanted to work 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, I would earn over six figures in my job (some W-2 teachers also earn six figure salaries–check out She Picks Up Pennies’s post on the topic). However, because I choose not to work at all during the summers, and I work part-time during the week, not including school vacations, I earn less than that. When I finish my Master’s degree at the end of the summer, I will be able to increase my rate, and will be able to earn even more than I’m currently earning.

My hourly rate, although high, is not nearly as high as some other contracted service providers. One friend’s hourly rate is almost double my own, and a school psychologist’s rate is three times my own. However, the going rate for ESOL teachers is not that high–how do I know? Because I’ve asked my professors and and others in the know. It’s important to know if you’re being paid fairly, and knowledge is power in the case of salary negotiations. Why are some contractors paid so much more? The requirements and education to become certified to provide psychological testing services, for example, are much more onerous than the requirements to become an ESOL teacher. Therefore, these services are in higher demand and the market is willing to pay more for those services. An ESOL teacher, however, is in enough demand that the market will bear a six-figure hourly rate in my state.

Lizard---www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
One of my students is a dinosaur fanatic, so we spell words like “lizard.”

Amount of hours

I can work at multiple districts, and work more than 40 hours a week if I so choose. One of my districts has a school day that runs from 7:30 to 2:15, and the other starts at 8:35 and runs until 3:20. I could hypothetically work for eight hours from 7:30 to 3:20, taking no lunch, and do several hours of planning during the afternoon and evening hours (which I’m also compensated for). I could also choose to offer services during the summer. Currently, though, I am happy to work part-time, and I’m working all the hours I want to work.

Tax write-offs

Being an individual contractor has its tax perks. I am able to save $18,000, tax free, in my i401k account. Also, I am able to write off my mileage, graduate courses, books, and even some expenses in my home, because I’m an independent contractor. I currently operate my business under my own name and Social Security number, because that’s the most straight-forward arrangement for me (I do have personal liability insurance though!).

I’m my own boss

I do not have a principal who comes and observes my classes. I don’t have to turn in yearly goals, attend staff meetings, or come to training days. I do have to make sure I get my professional development hours, but that’s something I can do outside of work (and get reimbursed for). If I need to take vacation, I inform my districts, rather than asking for permission. I do have to make sure my minimum service hours for each student are made up, though. I can choose to work for whomever I’d like, and if I’d prefer not to continue to work with a particular district in the future, that’s my choice.
There are some negatives to being a contractor, though. They include:

No Benefits

I was surprised, when I started teaching two and a half years ago, that a contracted service provider would be paid such a high hourly rate. Unfortunately, I soon learned that this higher rate made up for costs that the district did not have to pay on my behalf. I am not paid for any benefits. I am not paid when there is no school. I do not receive insurance, retirement benefits, or any other benefits of a full-time employee. Also, I have to pay my own Social Security taxes, which means that I have to set aside 12.4% of my earnings for that. Normally, the employee pays half of the tax and their employer pays the other half of that tax. I also have to pay quarterly taxes to the IRS, and I have to make sure I’ve taken enough money out of my checks to send in. I have to keep up with the dates those quarterly payments are due, as well.
Vietnamese money--www.thethreeyearexperiment.com
Some Vietnamese money one of my ELL students brought in to show me.

Costs of doing business

I have had some costs associated with becoming an ESOL teacher. To become a certified teacher, through what our state calls the Alt-4 plan, I needed to take several graduate classes.
(What is the Alt-4 plan? Our state has a shortage of ESOL teachers, so it allows qualified college grads, those who’ve taken foreign language classes, to take jobs as ESOL teachers and learn the skills needed over the next two years. It’s not necessarily an ideal situation for the students, but it’s one of the only ways the state is able to find enough ESOL teachers for all its ELL students).
Luckily for me, I negotiated with the district that hired me and they paid the first five graduate classes of my master’s program. After that, because I chose to finish the program and get my Master’s, I have had to pay out of pocket for the rest of my courses. The good news is that these courses are a tax write-off and once I finish, I will have a Master’s Degree and will be able to charge more for my services.
I also have to purchase personal liability insurance for myself, in the event that I’m sued. This insurance costs a couple of hundred dollars and I have to renew it each year. In order to get a special rate for that insurance, I have to belong to a professional organization, which costs around $100 per year.
If I want to go to conferences, I generally have to negotiate with my districts. It’s written in my contract that they’ll pay for one professional development opportunity per year. Also, they pay for all materials needed for my classes–books, courses, etc. (but I often have to negotiate to get those purchased. “Do you really need these materials?” I’m sometimes asked).

No students, no pay

If the school is having Columbus Day break, Christmas break, Winter break, Spring break, a snow day, or any other break, I don’t get paid. If my students are sick, I don’t get paid. If the regularly-scheduled class is interrupted for standardized testing, I don’t get paid.
This year, I did put a clause in my contracts stating that if I showed up for a class and my student was not there, because of sickness or a scheduled activity that I wasn’t told about, I would be paid.
This part of my job is truly the most annoying. Also, because I work with two different districts, they have two different calendars, and two sets of breaks.

Working in education can be more lucrative than you think

When I first started working, after being a stay-at-home mom for seven years, I had no idea that working in education could be so lucrative. However, when I learned about the ESOL job opening at my children’s school just over two years ago, I was surprised by how much I could earn (if you’d like all the details of how I became an ESOL teacher after working in marketing for years, check out this post).
If you, like me, thought there was no money to be made in education, think again.
And if you have any questions about my job, how I’m paid, or how the set-up works, please let me know in the comments!

Author: Laurie

Hi. I’m Laurie, and my family and I have set out to double our net worth and move abroad in the next three years. Join us on our journey!

3 thoughts on “The Secret to Earning Big Bucks in Education”

  1. Foreign language translators and interpreters make $40-$60/hour in our district. Other than that, most everyone is on a salary schedule whether they are full or part time. But can we talk for a moment about what the educational technology consultants who get brought in can charge?! Wowza! But to bounce from district to district around the country? I’d say they more than earn it. Thanks for writing this. It’s really interesting how different every state and district is when it comes to education and pay.

    1. Educational technology consultants…. hmmm… maybe I should explore this? Just kidding–traveling that much (for work!!!) does not sound fun. It’s interesting that only interpreters are hourly in your district. I think because New Hampshire is so small, districts don’t want to lock in full time positions because they may not need them the next year. I’m really happy being a contractor because I have so much flexibility. But I never know exactly how much I’ll work year-to-year.

  2. Thanks, Laurie, for sharing this secret with us. Getting involved in the career of educational technology consultants is not so easy. Become an expert in the area about which you’re most passionate. One has to give full time to it in an initial stage.

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