During the school year, Dianna Bunker is busy. A career advocate at Russell Unified School District 407 in Kansas, she wears several hats: managing students’ individual plans of study, creating individual student and master schedules, assisting with Individualized Education Programs and 504 meetings, and advising on scholarships and postsecondary planning.
Her position pays $49,000 a year. To bump it to $53,000, Bunker takes on additional roles: career and technical education coordinator, testing coordinator, lunchroom supervisor, and professional-development chair. By the time school lets out for the summer, she’s ready for a break.
But she doesn’t get one. This summer, Bunker will run the high school’s monthlong summer school program, for $1,600, or roughly $33 an hour for 48 hours total. She may also update its credit-recovery program at a rate of $25 per hour. Bunker, a single parent who said she takes the additional roles to pay expenses, expressed mixed feelings about her summer side hustles.
“I am thankful that my districts have had these opportunities for me, but I do not like that I have to work extra in the summer to help pay bills,” said Bunker. “I have a master’s degree and make less than the majority of my friends who only have undergraduate degrees.”
A necessity, not a choice
As Bunker’s circumstances illustrate, summer for teachers isn’t necessarily synonymous with vacation. Instead, it’s a time when a sizable chunk of teachers take on second jobs—not because it’s how they choose to spend their time but because they need the extra income.
Among the nation’s public school teachers, 16 percent worked nonschool summer jobs, according to a recent Pew Research Analysis. Among them, younger and less experienced teachers were most likely to take on a summer job. About one-third of teachers with a year or less of teaching experience had a nonschool job over the summer break, and 26 percent of teachers under 30 worked a summer job outside the school system. In comparison, just 13 percent of teachers with a minimum of 15 years of teaching experience, and 12 percent of teachers 50 and older, held a non-school summer job.
Further, the analysis may not take into account the less traditional ways that teachers generate income during the summer. For instance, during the summer months last year, U.S. teachers earned $110 million as Airbnb hosts, according to the company, which operates an online marketplace for short- and long-term home and room rentals.
Teachers who work in the summer earn less than similarly educated professionals
Paying down debt, health-care costs—these are the reasons Terrance Anfield, a kindergarten teacher at Center for Inquiry School 27 in the Indianapolis school district and a former advocacy fellow for the Association of American Educators Foundation, gave for working most summers. He ticked off a number of jobs he’s held over the summers to supplement his teacher’s salary: working at summer camps, seasonal worker at a department store, maintenance work, lawn care.
Anfield, an educator with eight years of experience, makes an annual salary of $50,000. Most summers, he earns an extra $5,000-$10,000 doing various other jobs. Anfield estimated he would need an annual salary of between $75,000 and $80,000 in order to comfortably take off each summer.
That amount also would bring Anfield’s salary in line with workers who have the same or less education. Statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau show that teachers, among the nation’s most educated workers, earn on average far less than workers with similar education levels. In 2019, the average annual salary of full-time elementary and middle school teachers with a bachelor’s degree or more was $53,800. In comparison, workers in the following professions—who also are far less likely than teachers to have a master’s—averaged the following salaries in 2019: human resources workers $77,430; accountants and auditors, $84,050; and registered nurses, $82,210.
Lawmakers recognize need for better teacher salaries
The discrepancy in pay has not gone unnoticed by federal policymakers.
“Teachers make on average 20 to 30 percent less than other professions with similar degrees. That’s unacceptable. We’ve got to not normalize teachers driving Uber on the weekends. We can’t have that. ” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona told Education Week this month in an exclusive interview. “They’re professionals. Treat them like professionals.”
This congressional session saw multiple proposals to increase teacher pay to a minimum of $60,000. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., earlier this spring introduced the Pay Teachers Act, which proposed raising public school teacher salaries nationwide to $60,000 or higher. Former teacher, Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., introduced the American Teacher Act in December 2022, which also proposes a teacher salary minimum of $60,000. Despite generating significant support and publicity, neither bill has gone anywhere.
A version of this article appeared in the June 14, 2023 edition of Education Week as Summer Jobs Have Become An (Unwelcome) Tradition For Many Teachers