A Middle School CA Teacher Making $131K

In our new series Teacher Salary Stories, We Are Teachers readers share how they’re making it work—or not—on a teacher’s salary. The goal is to take an honest look at teacher pay in the United States—what’s working, what’s not, and what needs to change if we want to stem the flow of educators leaving the profession and recruit new teachers to the field.

In today’s Teacher Salary Story, a middle school social science teacher in California who will earn $131,000 this year discusses what they do to earn salary bumps and the mixed feelings they have about teacher pay.

Where do you live?

Thousand Oaks, California.

What is your job title?

Middle school social science teacher.

What is your annual salary?

$105,855. (But I have an extra class this year, with no Prep, which raises it to approximately $131,000.)

What is your level of education?

Master’s degree.

How did you pay for your education?

My parents agreed to pay for my education up through my master’s degree. I am very privileged in this regard.

How long have you been teaching? Is this your first career?

Thirteen years. This is my first and only planned career.

What was your starting salary as a teacher?

About $40,000.

Tell us about your income progression (e.g., have you received standard step increases, taken on extra duties, gotten an advanced degree, or switched roles?).

I receive the standard schedule bumps each year, which in my district is based on years served and education level. Our union also negotiates for on-schedule raises each year, which in my 13 years with the district have varied between 1.5% (lowest we ever got) and as high as 10% one year. I also teach the ASB Leadership class, which provides me a $2,100 per year stipend, and as mentioned above, whenever I get the opportunity, I agree to “teach on my Prep,” meaning I have an extra class and no prep period in exchange for an extra 20% on my year’s salary.

How much is one paycheck, after taxes, and how often are you paid?

$6,891 monthly.

What is your approximate net worth including savings, investments, retirement, and other assets?

With the equity in our house, plus investments and retirement savings, we’re probably somewhere around $800,000.

How many people live in your household? Are you the only earner?

Two people. My wife is also a teacher, paid similarly, and we are looking to start a family soon.

What are your approximate monthly expenses (e.g., rent/mortgage, car payment or other loans, childcare, food, entertainment, phone/Internet/utilities, other subscriptions)? 

Mortgage/Insurance/Taxes = $2,465

Utilities (Gas/Electric/Water) = ~$300

Cable/Internet/Subscriptions = ~$350

Credit Card (which is most other spending for Cash Rewards points) around ~$5,000 per month (we pay it off completely each month—no debt)

No car payments—both of us own ours outright

No student loans—I did not have any, and we paid my wife’s off with an inheritance windfall about six years ago.

Do you receive a school- or PTA-provided budget for classroom supplies? If so, how much?

$300 per year.

How much of your own money do you spend on your classroom every year?

$200 to $500 when factoring in what I end up buying for student activities.

What kinds of things do you buy when you treat yourself?

We like to go on mini-vacations to Disneyland, the mountains, or the desert. Also, we enjoy nice meals out.

What expense would you take on if you suddenly got an extra $1,000 per paycheck?

None—I would just be investing it and saving more.

How does your district handle retirement? Will you receive a pension?

My district often offers “golden handshake” cash incentives upwards of $50,000 to get older teachers out. Nonetheless, I will also receive a pension of half my ending salary from CalSTRS (California State Teachers Retirement System).

Do you have any secondary sources of income, like a side hustle or another job?

I have a Teachers Pay Teachers account that I sell stuff on, but it doesn’t bring much in—maybe a couple hundred per year, that’s all. I’ve thought about increasing my marketing and online presence, but it’s time-consuming.

How satisfied are you with your teaching salary on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being very satisfied and 1 being not at all satisfied? Please explain.

8. It is the only career I ever wanted and still the only thing I want to do. However, we need to be treated much better by the “system.” My district actually tries its best to appreciate us, but it’s the wider world that needs improvement. We need to be trusted and empowered to design curriculum, assess students, create classes, and lead our schools without non-education oversight. The pay should also be far better considering our critical role in society.

Has your current and/or future salary impacted your decision-making around other major life choices (e.g., where you live, whether you rent/own, whether or not to have kids, etc.)? Please explain.

Yes. We delayed starting a family until our mid-30s, until we were more financially stable with enough seniority in our districts to assure placement stability. We would also love a bigger house (we currently live in a three-bedroom, two-bath that we bought for $565K eight years ago, that is now valued at nearly $1 million; housing prices in our area are out of control). But anything bigger is very much out of our budget.

Do you plan to stay in education?

Yes, until retirement.

Do you have any other thoughts about teacher pay that you’d like to share?

Pay is reflective of value. And while local districts have some control over that, it is the larger world that greatly determines it by funding and other legislative decisions. Bottom line is, teachers are not valued the way they should be. I can’t put a number on what we deserve, and I will admit some of us are more deserving than others based on our abilities in the classroom and dedication to our craft. I actually think partial merit pay (NOT based on test scores, but on lesson design, student engagement, extracurriculars, service to schools, etc.) and individually negotiated raises would benefit the profession greatly.

Are you interested in participating in our Teacher Salary Stories project? Fill out the Google Form here. If we choose your story for publication, we will notify you and send you a $150 gift card. All responses will be published anonymously.

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