I Know When I’ll Make 6 Figures

6 Figures (1)No, I don’t have a crystal ball or a super power. I have a salary schedule. In addition to revealing exactly how much money my coworkers make, a salary schedule also lets me predict the future in the sense that I know exactly when I’ll crack the six-figure salary mark.

I imagine there are a lot of people working in different sectors that would love to have this information at their fingertips. There’s no guessing. There’s no wishing. There are no bonuses, no commissions, no extra effort, no deal closings to be calculated or approximated. There’s just a 20×20 grid with time of service on one side and advanced degree hours on the other. And after almost a decade of staring at this chart, I’ve realized exactly one thing: it’s not good, it’s not bad, it just is.

It’s Not Good

If you’re not an intrinsically motivated person, I imagine a salary schedule can kind of take the wind out of your sail. Under a salary schedule, I can work infinitely harder than the teacher down the hallway, but I’m not going to make any more money than her. Now that test scores are tied more closely to teacher evaluations, I could certainly be fired a lot faster for low test scores. But there’s no financial incentive for better scores, no year-end bonus the best scores. As a result, there are some people who argue that this is a recipe for mediocrity. A salary schedule like this inspires people to work just hard enough to stay proficient at their jobs but does nothing to push them into the strata of excellence.

It’s Not Bad

On the other hand, competition is not conducive to education. Sure, there will always be teachers who try to have the most inventive lessons, the most expansive classroom library–why hello there!–, the most thorough handouts, but generally, the my-student-is-your-student attitude prevails. The students I teach this year will be shuffled along to a new teacher next year. Rinse and repeat until graduation day. And while I’d like to think that I work miracles, the truth of the matter is one teacher can only do so much each year. Of course, I put in countless hours laboring over my lesson plans to have a positive impact on my students. But I know that I can’t do it alone. I collaborate with colleagues all the time, and my students are better for it. If there was a bounty tied to test scores, what motivation would anyone have to share? The teacher’s lounge would turn into a weird version of Survivor with people wearing pantsuits and Clarks instead of bikinis and Birkenstocks.

It Just Is

Most days, a salary schedule suits my temperament just fine. I am incredibly driven when it comes to most things in life; this holds especially true for teaching. No external motivation is needed for this Type-A individual. I also really treasure opportunities to foster real relationships with my coworkers, learning from them and sharing my ideas in return. Yes, most days, things are just fine.

Then there are days when I spend time running numbers. How quickly can I max out all of my advanced degree credit hours? What will it cost? What else* will I study? Then, I do the same for Mr. P’s schedule. Ah, yes. I could spend a lot of time playing this numbers game.

But for the most part, I don’t. It isn’t because I don’t want to dream bigger. Instead, it’s because I know the only thing I’m likely to do with that extra income is to save or invest. Our budget doesn’t change from year to year; our savings does. Every time I get impatient or antsy about how much money I make, I remind myself that I’ll get there one day. And in the meantime, my salary schedule is what it is.

*I already have a Master’s degree and two other advanced degree certifications on top of my undergraduate degree and several endorsements. Maybe I’ll get a physical education certification next. Ha. Maybe after I learn how to not trip on flat ground.

So Tell Me…Would you enjoy a salary schedule? Do you think it would work well for your career path?

I Know When I’ll Make 6 Figures

30 thoughts on “I Know When I’ll Make 6 Figures

  1. You could always be a great teacher and get tapped for an admin job. Less of a direct impact on students, though. Salary schedules are by and large a good thing, I think. As much as people complain about the downsides of unions, I think they protect already underpaid educators.

    1. The politics in education make me very leery of an administrative role. I don’t think anyone in my state really realized how badly we need unions until our governor started going after pensions. I’m still not sure I’ll make it out with one since our state is totally mismanaging the funds. I just hope I at least get back what I put in. 10% is a lot of money each year!

    1. Good point! It’s really hard to measure what someone is work in an objective way when it comes to teaching. They’re trying it now with test scores, but that’s so difficult. If someone’s hamster dies the morning of a test, that could undo an entire year’s worth of growth. I can definitely see it from both perspectives!

  2. I am not in the same exact boat but in a similar one in that I know I won’t get another promotion for at least 2 years. I plan on spending the 2 years seeing what else I can milk out of this job for free 🙂 I am discovering all sorts of programs I had no idea existed that they definitely don’t advertise! For example, my company reimburses you $20 a month if you bike ride to work at least 50% of the month!

  3. I am not in the same exact boat as you, but I do know that I won’t receive another promotion for at least 2 years (just the way my company works). In those 2 years I plan on milking as much out of this job as I can for free. I am finding all these programs that my company offers but doesn’t really advertise. For example, they will pay you $20 a month if you bike ride to work for 50% of the month!

  4. A salary schedule sounds tough but it probably has benefits. At least you know that you and your co-workers are all being treated fairly and equally. It always bugged me how much politics and optics go into merit increases at my work. It’s a tiring game to play every day.

    1. In theory, it is a really equitable way to work. I don’t know that any pay system is without its flaws, but at least it’s fairly universal in teaching across the country. Politics and optics are definitely part of education, but more on a political/district level. I’m glad I see my coworkers as resources rather than competition!

  5. Nope, a salary schedule would really bother me. I’d be completely distracted by the fact that Mediocre and Lazy were making the same amount or more money than I was. This has happened more than once in previous jobs and I was only happy and successful because I knew that it wasn’t set in stone, that I could fight and negotiate for higher salaries after a while.

    Besides, like I told PiC, I’ve made a career of fighting for everything, heck a life of it, and I wouldn’t know what to do with all the extra fight if I wasn’t using it to increase my income 😀

    1. It is hard to work with mediocre and lazy. And I’m not sure how it could be eradicated from teaching. Theoretically, test scores and teacher evaluations will help…but not really. Thankfully, the school I’m in is full of really motivated teachers, so it’s not really a problem in my day-to-day experience. And that’s amazing that you are such a fighter! Truly inspirational.

  6. I was a teacher and so appreciate your assessment of the salary schedule. I know some teachers move districts because of better pay or benefits, but aside from that there is little way to change your pay. My husband, on the other hand, recently realized how career- and income-building it can be to move companies (he’s an engineer). Now he’s wishing he’d taken the leap sooner, but I’m glad he realized this when he did. It was not on my radar because I was accustomed to the salary schedule–my dad was a teacher as well.

    1. That’s awesome for your husband. Making leaps are scary, but it sounds like his definitely paid off. Playing the could have/would have game is tricky! Glad he moved when he did.

  7. When my husband was in the military, it was a bit the same. Rank and years of service determined your pay. Promotions were possible but that really depended on your job more than your performance. I think you are right, that you just focus on what you can focus on. We focused on saving, investing and learning to be frugal. Our creative energy went into those things and we did just fine.

  8. Honestly I don’t know. I’m used to working in publishing – which is basically the equivalent to working in non profits. Raises, pssssh. Plus it’s really quite flat so there’s not much moving up / ladder climbing.

    I’m now in the public sector and considering moving into private at some point. I’ve never been anywhere where there’s a lot of structure around reviews, performance, pay, etc. And never worked anywhere with bonuses!

    1. I held a commission job in undergrad, and I did quite well. But I hated so many parts of it. Some of my coworkers were so cutthroat, and they totally took advantage of customers to meet their daily and weekly goals. It was good experience (and money!), but I find this work much more fulfilling and this salary schedule way less stressful!

  9. Interesting – I don’t think this would work well in the corporate world, everyone is focused on being the best and trying to climb the ladder (sometimes to a fault unfortunately)

    I like to be rewarded for my contributions – not my years served

    if you had a great company/team it is not that big of a problem, but there always seems to be “that person” that takes advantage of everything and works the system

    1. Christie says:

      “I like to be rewarded for my contributions – not my years served”

      I understand this sentiment! But at the same time, I think the concept of reward is different for teachers. As a teacher, I am rewarded for my contributions all the time, it’s just that the rewards aren’t monetary. It’s a pretty awesome reward to see a bunch of kids make growth – academic, emotional, etc – while under my tutelage! Also, having parents thank me, having kids thank me, having my principal tell me I’m doing a great job… I leave work most days feeling good about the work I’m doing, which to me, is a better reward than a chunk of change.

  10. I’ve been in both systems, and I think there’s good and bad to both, as you said. Knowing you’ll get a raise can keep you going when times get tough — and most people have no certainty over that stuff. But the cap is challenging, too, as is knowing that others can do the bare minimum and earn the same as you. I think that would ultimately be the biggest challenge for me!

    1. Ha! Probably because I have at least one more Master’s degree standing between me and the cap (plus 12 more years of service), I haven’t started dwelling on that yet. Good point!

  11. In 2004 I realized that I could study my way to a $6,000 raise by earning an Ed.S. degree. I jumped into an Administration and Supervision program that required 9 courses (27 hours). The total cost was $6,000, so it paid for itself after one year. My wife also did the coursework with me, so we increased our pay by $12,000 a year. That’s $1,000 a month to do the same job. For that reason, I always encourage my co-workers to get their next degree…at least up to the specialist level.

    My wife and I now earn over $130,000 a year thanks to our advanced degrees and years of experience. That’s a good living in small-town Georgia. I believe that every teacher should study their pay scale to determine a way to maximize their salary.

    Finally, earning more money is always nice, but if you don’t save the pay increases, you’re missing a golden opportunity. Maximizing our paychecks has enabled us to aggressively save in our various retirement accounts: 457, 403b, IRA, HSA, Coverdell ESA, and 529. A maximized paycheck + hardcore savings = financial independence !

    1. And in the off-chance that anyone who just read this comment doesn’t read Ed’s blog…you’re missing out! Thanks for chiming in, Ed. You definitely have this system figured out and maximized to suit you both. Always in awe 🙂

  12. Carrie says:

    I am a nurse and your pay raises are strictly based on hours worked. The fact that I went back to school to get extra education in my specialty does not contribute to a raise. The fact that some lazy people make the same as hard workers is a little discouraging. I am also at top pay grade and there are no more raises for me (unless our contract is renegotiated).
    When I was a teenager I worked at McDonald’s, the amount of your raise was based on performance appraisals so you were rewarded for hard work. That actually offered incentive to do a better job and just seemed more fair.

    1. I’m so glad you commented, Carrie. I hadn’t thought about how this topic intersects with the medical profession. I hope your contract is renegotiated. Since I wrote this post not having maxed out my salary schedule, I hadn’t really thought about what it might feel like to have no where else to go in terms of pay increases. Hmmm….

  13. Christie says:

    Salary schedules seem really predictable, which I love. But they don’t account for years when there are pay freezes/cuts after a tanking economy. In my district we are just coming off of a 6-year pay freeze (with cuts). Which is always something to keep in the back of your mind when you are trying to plan for the future.

    Also, I think sometimes when we talk about the downsides of salary schedules, we over-focus on the lazy person. In 13 years of teaching (at four different schools), I can’t think of a truly lazy teacher. Some teachers are less skilled, some teachers have lazy days, some teachers have difficult years because of personal reasons, but everyone works pretty hard. I have noticed that newer teachers who are in the early stages of forming their practice (although I don’t think that ever ends, really!) work more hours because, man, when you are just starting out, everything is harder and takes longer. Also when you are in your first couple years of teaching a new grade or content area, lesson planning and grading take longer as you learn all the new standards. So it might seem like those teachers are working harder, but the outcome for students could be the same, or even less.

    I believe that these lazy teachers are out there, but I’m not sure are as many as we think. I’m fortunate that I’ve never had to drag one along on my team!

  14. Nice perspective Penny.

    Being a CPA, I’m torn.

    My salary schedule is pretty straightforward, and probably attractive to 99% of people in the world.

    However, I’m a rebel by heart (for better and worse)..and even great salary schedules seem so….boring. I want gigabit speed….and salaries seem like 56k modems.

    Anywho, great post 😉

  15. Interesting question! I think the negative feelings (potentially some resentment about not having any ability to negotiate or put in extra effort and have it rewarded) would outweigh the positives for me, but it sure would be nice for making accurate projections about what the financial future will look like.

  16. I’m a professor at a public university in Australia. We have a salary schedule but it is dependent on getting promoted which depends on performance. The same is true in some US public universities. At other US public universities and private US universities there is no schedule and pay levels depend on individual performance and history. In our system some people do earn more than the scale (same in California for example) but those “market loadings” are not permanent here and seem very hard to get. I prefer the US private university approach of paying everyone differently. I would hate a schedule based just on time served.

  17. I think I would become complacent with a salary schedule. However, I’m in an industry where I can double my earnings potential by adding a small skill. I would resent having to stay low when I’ve almost finished mastering that skill. I would not want to feel stuck.

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