How 4 Teachers Use Side Hustles to Stay Afloat

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It’s no secret that American educators as a whole aren’t well-compensated. Throughout 2018, in multiple states across the country, educators have publicly demanded salary increases, benefits and more funding for public education through staged walkouts and marches at state capitols. The protests have intensified a national debate about how we value teachers and the future of public education.And then there are the statistics:

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the average annual pay was $58,780 in 2017 for the nation’s 4.2 million preschool, primary, secondary and special education teachers. The average annual expenditure per consumer — the average spending budget for American households — for 2017 was $60,060.
  • An analysis of teacher salaries by the National Education Association reports the average classroom teacher salary is up 15.2% over the past 10 years. However, after adjusting for inflation, the average salary has actually fallen by $1,823 or 3.0% over the same period.
  • In 2017, teachers earned 19% less than similarly skilled and educated professionals, what’s referred to as a “teaching penalty,” according to the Economic Policy Institute.
  • Nearly one in five teachers leave the profession because of low pay, according to the Learning Policy Institute.

Meanwhile, many teachers have taken on side hustles or second jobs as a solution to stagnant wages in their chosen profession. Some sell their expertise by sharing lesson plans and other tools to be used by other educators via platforms like Instagram and sites like TeachersPayTeachers.

Others have taken on side hustles in the gig economy. Airbnb, for example, reports nearly 10% of its U.S. hosts — more than 45,000 people — are teachers. And, based on a Brookings Institution analysis of BLS data, elementary and secondary school teachers are about 30% more likely to work a second job than non-educators.

With that in mind, MagnifyMoney spoke with four educators about what they do on the side to make ends meet at home, and to share their advice for any educators considering taking on a side hustle.

Lorri Lewis

The 12th grade English teacher worked as a driver for Uber and Lyft to fund her wedding planning business. Now she has a fully funded emergency fund and can afford to take vacations.

Lorri Lewis, 50, of Southfield, Mich., told MagnifyMoney she has always been an advocate for having multiple streams of income. So when the 12th grade English teacher and newly single mother of two saw an opening for a paid wedding coordinator at her church in 2002, she jumped at the opportunity to try out a longtime interest. Then, about five years ago, Lewis started driving for Uber and Lyft to raise the seed money she needed to launch her own wedding coordinating business. Lewis also made Instacart deliveries once her youngest son entered college.

“Having multiple streams of income is a big thing in my life now because I’m at the top of the pay scale and want to do other things in my life, like travel,” said Lewis, referring to educator salary schedules set by school districts. The educator notes because there’s no room for a raise, her pay technically decreased a couple of years ago when she and her co-workers started paying a larger portion of their health care expenses.

Earlier in 2017, Lewis ditched the gig economy in favor of running her business.

“The nice thing about being a wedding coordinator is that it allows me to work on the weekends and the summers, which is “off time” for teachers anyway,” said Lewis.

Where the side hustles help

Lewis’ teacher salary is just enough to cover the basics, including her mortgage, utilities and student loan payments. Until recently, the majority of her side income went to raising her kids as a single parent, completing necessary home repairs and funding her business. She said it was a struggle, but now that both of her sons are out of the house, Lewis has enough to build a financial cushion.

“I’m at the point now where I’m actually accumulating an emergency fund since becoming an educator,” Lewis told MagnifyMoney. Lewis’ career in education spans 20 years.

Advice to other teachers

Lewis’ main suggestion to other educators looking to start a side hustle is to find something you can do in the off-hours, like on weekends and during summers.

“Outside of the emails and phone calls, I schedule rehearsals on Fridays and weddings are on Saturdays, so I still have Sunday to regroup and organize for the new school week,” Lewis said. She added that it’s nice to do something that doesn’t involve working with students or children so teachers can get a break from their work environment.

Cecily White-Cooper

The middle school English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teacher tutors online, sells T-shirts she designs and creates teaching materials so she can travel and fund the holidays.

Image courtesy of Cecily White-Cooper

Cecily White-Cooper, 40, in Laurel, Md., told MagnifyMoney the predominant side hustle throughout her 18-year teaching career has been tutoring. It was a necessity, both when she started her career in California and when she moved to Maryland.

“I was on the bottom tier of the pay scale,” White-Cooper said. “I was not making enough money either here in Maryland or California in order to survive.”

In California, she began by finding clients on Craigslist and tutoring students at the local public library. After moving to Maryland, she tutored with a company based in Washington, D.C., until it became too much of a hassle to travel and find a babysitter after having twins in 2009. At that point, White-Cooper turned online, teaching English to students in China through VIP Kids.

Though tutoring has always been a staple side hustle, White-Cooper also has other income streams. She designs and sells T-shirts through Merch by Amazon, Redbubble and Etsy. White-Cooper also produces her own teaching material and sells that on TeachersPayTeachers.

White-Cooper’s experience as a lifelong side hustler inspired her blog, TeacherCes.com — from which she earns some advertisement income — and a podcast of the same name, where she shares advice and interviews with other moonlighting educators.

Where the side hustles help

“Initially when I started up until when I got married, every year I had to have something going on. It was hustle, hustle, hustle annually,” White-Cooper told MagnifyMoney. White-Cooper married about eight years into her teaching career. Having a dual-income household means the extra income is no longer a necessity, but she maintains her side hustles because they provide extra money she can use to travel or pay for seasonal expenses like holiday debt.

Advice to other teachers

“There will be something that will suffer,” White-Cooper said. “For me, it’s my social life.” But she makes up for the lost time with vacations once in a while, like a trip to Las Vegas with her friends.

White-Cooper added that having a side hustle and a family has also forced her to manage her time more efficiently to be successful.

“I’m very selective about what I do and where I go in order to get my tutoring projects and all of that finished,” she said. “I do my personal projects during my lunch hour. Then once the day is over at 3 p.m., I eat lunch.”

White-Cooper said she also gets to bed earlier so she can be up early on the weekends to work in her home office before the twins wake up.

Shannon Mitchell

The high school English teacher turned to multilevel marketing companies to get the money her family needed to fix their home sewer system. Now, she runs her own jewelry business.

Image courtesy of Shannon Mitchell

It was a poor housing market, low wages and a broken sewer system that drove high school English teacher Shannon Mitchell, 40, in Fredericksburg, Va., to seek side income through multilevel marketing (MLM) companies in 2013.

“With teaching, there’s no overtime — there is no other way to make money unless you get a second job,” Mitchell said.

Upon realizing there was no other option to earn the funds to fix the sewer system, she told herself, “‘Here I am, 35, and I have to ask my parents for money.’ I was like, ‘No way. I’m taking the bull by the horns.’”

Where the side hustles help

Mitchell became a representative for Rodan and Fields, where she said she quickly made the money she needed to repair the sewer system. She later worked for an MLM called Keep Collective before ending her side gigs with MLMs in 2016.

Although Mitchell says she and her husband have always generally lived beneath their means, she says the side income from her work with multilevel marketing firms helped them have a more flexible lifestyle and extra funds for life’s emergencies. Mitchell no longer has these income streams, but she started a porcelain jewelry business, which she runs outside of teaching, and hopes it will eventually become profitable.

Advice to other teachers

While many teachers seek extra-income opportunities within the world of education, Mitchell recommended not limiting yourself to the profession. She encouraged teachers to follow their interests.

“Don’t feel like it’s all or nothing with teaching,” Mitchell said. “You can be a good teacher and also explore other things as well.”

Finally, Mitchell warns any educators interested in multilevel marketing to “be smart about it” and weigh the pros and cons.

“Don’t buy into their hype,” said the MLM veteran, who mentioned that she didn’t have the control over her business the way she thought she would when participating in an MLM.

Jessica Cioffi

The 5th-grade teacher walks dogs with Wag! to fund humanitarian trips.

Jessica Cioffi, 32, an educator based in Los Angeles, told MagnifyMoney she first looked into dog walking in June 2017.

“The summer came and some of my travel plans had fallen through, so I had some extra time on my hands that I needed to fill,” said Jessica. With travel out of the picture, she said she decided to turn to her other love: dogs. She started walking dogs through an app called Wag!

Where the side hustles help

At first, dog walking was a fun way for her to exercise, hang with dogs and get paid, but when Cioffi realized the income could help her pay humanitarian trips she wanted to do, she was motivated to walk more often. She dog walks up to 8 miles a day on the weekends and in the summer.

Advice to other teachers

Cioffi advised using breaks to earn extra income with a side hustle.

“Summer is a great time to take on extra work, especially if it is something you can find joy in,” Cioffi said. “For myself, regardless of income, Wag! was a great way to interact with animals, get outside and meet incredible people.”

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