Study your paycheck
Time and again teachers have found that they were underpaid. There are also cases where teachers were overpaid and then asked to repay large amounts of money. Sadly, teachers' paychecks may be incorrect and this will cost teachers money. We all have to read our paychecks regularly to make sure those paychecks are accurate.
File your contract, paychecks, and other professional documents
Often educators are so busy that they don't make time to carefully organize and file documents either online or offline. That puts educators at a disadvantage. I've known teachers who have paid a lot of money to take a professional course, but then when it comes time for reimbursement, they can't find the documents needed so they lose that money. This mostly occurs because teachers typically are very, very busy with little time for this paperwork organization.
Read your contract
No one will remind you of your contractual rights if it is to their advantage for you not to know those rights. Know your rights. Your contract matters.
Work to increase your place on the pay scale
Many teachers simply don't take the time to review the pay scale and think about ways to get to the top of the scale. Many years ago, I quit a doctoral program to take care of my new baby. In hindsight, it would have been a better investment to get a loan for some extra child care and finish the program. That would have resulted in more money every year of my career and into retirement. To increase on the pay scale, I suggest you do the following:
- Work for the system that pays the most
- Study the pay scale and figure out how you can grow on that pay scale in ways that increase your professional skill and knowledge and ways that are the most cost efficient
- Rather than take a hodge-podge of courses, engage in a new degree or certificate program. This will make you more marketable and give you greater flexibility. For example, if you have a degree in general teaching, you might want your next degree to specialize in coaching or supervision.
- Look for the biggest bang for your buck--programs that result in many credits for a good price. Often free professional study opportunities are offered. For example, I became nationally certified, in part, because the state offered a financial incentive to this certification. That helped me to earn the certification and a rise on the salary scale too. National certification also gives you flexibility to move from one state to another with regard to teaching in some cases--you have to explore where this is possible and where it is not.
- Keep track of your records.
- Grow on the pay scale as high as you can go as early in your career as you can.
Establish and nurture a high-quality, Professional Learning Network (PLN) online and in real time
Via social media and in-person events, establish a professional circle of inspiring, knowledgeable, and skilled educators. That PLN will be an invaluable resource to you when it comes to good ideas, advice, connections, and more.
Track your progress via a digital portfolio
Teachers' lives are very busy. It's easy to lose track of all that you do. Create a digital portfolio to collect evidence of all that you do. This portfolio can help you when you want to submit a request to present at a conference or apply for a new position. Your digital portfolio is also a great point of reflection about your professional goals and direction. I include my yearly goals and progress towards those goals in my portfolio too. That has helped me to work towards better learning and teaching year after year.
Invest your money; save your money
A long time ago, a veteran colleague inspired me to put away a few dollars each pay check into a 403B. I took her advice, and I am so glad that I did yet I wish I put more away. Due to tax laws, when you put that money away, you hardly feel the pinch and later on, when your children are older and you are older too, that money will be very helpful. I think it's best to put away the maximum allowed if possible. It is also positive to read up on investments, and consider the advice out there about the different kinds of investment accounts you can establish.
Make wise financial decisions
Looking back, I made some good and not so good financial decisions. Once I offered to work for sub pay so that I could gain a desirable position that afforded me more time with my children. Looking back, not only was that against contract, it also was against my best interests financially. The system should have alerted me to the problems with this, but since it was a win-win for them to get a professional teacher at a cut rate, they didn't speak up. Another time, I took a part-time position rather than a full-time position. Since the position didn't pay enough for me to pay the bills, I ended up taking a number of part time jobs to pay the bills. In hindsight, I would have been better off staying with the full time position which paid more overall and would have been better for me when it came to retirement calculations. The lesson here is to take the long view, and while those views don't always work out, it's important to try to plan for your financial future with wise choices.
Teachers, first and foremost, mostly think about their jobs as vocations. That's why they spend their own money to support students and classrooms and that's why they work long hours after hours and over the summer to support their work. Unlike other professions that charge for their time, teachers just work and work and work. We like our jobs and we like to do a good job, but we have to be smart too and treat our jobs as a business at times to make sure that we are financially healthy and work with the best possible work conditions.