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Broke teacher syndrome is real, but it’s not just because of low pay. There are lots of subconscious ways that being a teacher is keeping you broke. But before we can get past these hurdles, we have to recognize them.

When it comes to making money, teachers often struggle. 

We’ve all seen the stories of teachers who can’t pay their bills, have to choose between putting gas in their car or paying for heat… 

And while those stories are necessary to keep the realities teachers face in the public eye, they can actually play a part in keeping teachers broke.

One element of anyone’s ability to make money is their belief that making money is possible.

And no, I’m not suggesting that if you just think hard enough or believe enough that your salaries will suddenly reflect your value. But a salary isn’t the only way to make money.

Even still, many teachers struggle to make financial ends meet, and it’s not just our paychecks that are holding us back. It’s also our mindset.

If you’ve been with me for a while, you know I’m not really a woo-woo person, but I do believe that our brains are incredibly powerful.

If you believe you can do something, you will find a way. If you don’t believe it, you will find an excuse.

In this 2-part post, I’ll be exploring some of the most insidious ways that being a teacher is impacting your ability to believe that you can be financially successful.

Broke Expectations

Teachers are poor. Everyone knows that, right?

In the 1800s, when what we think of as a modern school system started to take shape, teaching wasn’t considered a career. It was something women could do while they waited to find a husband, or men could do when winter prevented them from working their farms. 

Women teachers, who were typically 17-24 years old, were paid very little money. They were “paid” in room and board in the homes of their students. 

Eventually the room and board part was dropped and teachers were paid real money… but not a lot… and it was dependent on gender and race.

I could go on about this, but I won’t.

In 1897 Margaret Haley formed the Chicago Teacher Federation (CTF) for the purpose of raising “the standard of the teaching profession by securing for teachers conditions essential to the best professional service.”

The fight continues as teachers still aren’t paid what they deserve – more on that in the next section.

All this is to say that teacher salary has been a problem for a long time, and the belief that teachers don’t make a lot of money is likely imprinted in your brain. And what you believe, you make happen. 

Think of the kid who says, “I’m not good at math.” Until they unlearn that belief – which is a lot harder than learning it in the first place – they will continue to struggle. They unconsciously will look for proof that they are bad at math, and that belief will be reinforced.

The same is true when you tell yourself that you’re broke because you’re a teacher.

Money Hurdle: I’m a teacher. Teachers don’t make a lot of money, therefore I’ll always be broke.

Clear the Hurdle: No one goes into education to become a millionaire, but being a teacher doesn’t mean you have to take a vow of poverty. Buying into the belief that teachers are poor, broke, strapped for cash, struggling financially, or don’t have 2 nickels to rub together makes it more likely that that will become your reality.

Suggested Mantra: My ability to earn is not limited by my salary.

Low Salary

Okay, okay, I know. This is obvious. We already talked about how low salary expectations are sabotaging your ability to make more money, but the realities of a teacher’s paycheck are another thing. 

According to Business Insider, the average teacher salary in May of 2021 was $61,000. Of course, this varies widely by state, with Mississippi’s average salary being a paltry $45k, and New York’s being $87k. 

This actually represents a pretty big jump over the last few years… but the data suggests that’s just because there are fewer new teachers entering the profession, meaning there are fewer people at the lowest end of the salary scales. So… take that gain with a grain of salt.

Shannon McLoud wrote an article for We Are Teachers in which she detailed the actual hours she worked in a given school year. Her grand total? 2,200 hours a year. That’s the equivalent of 42 hours a week, 52 weeks a year. Or 6 hours a day, every single day of the year.

If we put on our math caps, we can see that works out to $27 an hour.

Which doesn’t sound too bad, right? 

But do you know who else earns that? 

Concrete pourers, secretaries, and warehouse workers. And no, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with those career choices, but they don’t require a college degree, much less a masters, or extensive ongoing professional development.

But schools offer ways to make more!

When it comes to making extra money, the first thing that comes to mind is running a club, coaching a sport, or taking one of the other stipend positions the school offers. I once ran a ukulele club to make extra money. It was a $500 stipend which, when you add up the 1 ¼ hours per week with the kids, plus prep work, comes out to just about $25 an hour. 

Coaching often pays more, but there are more hours required… My husband averages $17 an hour.

I know I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. So what’s the point of this, if not to depress you?

Here is it: Teachers work really hard for their money. Really, really hard.

When you do this for a while you begin to associate hard work, long hours, mental and physical exhaustion, and self-sacrifice with making money. 

And there’s only so much of that you can do before you drop.

It’s no wonder that the mere suggestion of a second job or starting a business gives you hives. Your brain believes that the only way to make more money is to work even harder… but how?

Money Hurdle: If I have to work this hard to make only this much, I couldn’t possibly work hard enough to make significant money beyond school hours.

Clear the Hurdle: The fact is that teaching is one of the most challenging ways to make money. That’s not to say it’s something you’d see on Dirty Jobs (well, maybe pre-school teaching), but the amount of time, energy, and mental space teaching takes up is far greater than the salary earned. 

There are easier ways to make money – and yes, they’re legal.

In order to make more money one of the first things you have to let go of is the belief that you have to work really hard in order to make money.

Suggested Mantra: It’s okay to make money in ways that come easily to me.

These represent the most direct, obviously money-related ways that teaching can impact your money mindset.

Next week I’ll go into some of the less obvious things teachers deal with that play keep-away with your belief in your ability to earn. 

You’ll be surprised by some of the other ways school culture is messing with your psyche.

In my experience, blogging is one of the best ways for teachers to make money. If you’re ready to jump into your blog, grab my FREE guide, 5 Steps to Start Your Blog Today!

Whether you’re considering blogging as a side hustle or just aren’t sure how to get started, this free training is for you!

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How Teaching Is Keeping You Broke… and it’s not how you think (part 1)How Teaching Is Keeping You Broke… and it’s not how you think (part 1)How Teaching Is Keeping You Broke… and it’s not how you think (part 1)