Teachers: Why Choose Between Money and Fulfillment?

10/30/2015 11:52 am ET Updated Oct 29, 2016

I'm going to say something that isn't very popular: teacher pay per hour really isn't all that bad.

Hear me out.

Teachers' official work hours are usually 7-8 hours per day, they typically get a day off each month for some holiday or another, they get fall break, winter break, spring break, and summer break. When you take the annual salary and divide it by the school days on the clock, the hourly rate isn't shabby at all.

Where it gets diluted is when you consider all the extra time teachers put in. As a teacher, you can't just show up in the classroom during school hours and expect to do an even halfway decent job.

There's plenty of work being done during all those "breaks," like planning lessons, tweaking the plans to accommodate specific student needs, meeting with the team, professional development classes, grading papers, getting organized, blah, blah, blah.

Now divide up that salary by hour, and you'll see why there's always so much hubbub.

I started my career in the advertising industry. As you might imagine, that's a pretty lucrative field.

Lucrative? Yes. Fulfilling? No.

The hubby and I, like so many young professionals, lived beyond our means during the early years of our marriage. We made nice money, but charged up way more than we brought in.

After about 10 years in the ad business, I'd decided I was done. I wanted to become a teacher so that I could serve the greater good. What greater job in the world than working with children and shaping the minds of our future leaders?

The problem was, I was trapped.

Trapped by those shiny golden handcuffs. We couldn't afford for me to take the pay cut that I faced if I changed careers to be a teacher.

So we did something drastic: we consolidated our debt with a credit consolidation company, and we worked hard to pay it all off. It wasn't easy. We ate beany weenies and ramen a lot, but it was worth it.

I went through an alternative teacher certification program and became a middle school teacher. I loved it! Even though I wasn't making nearly as much money as I'd made in advertising, I had a sense of fulfillment that I never had in the ad world.

Then I got knocked up.

Nearing the end of my third year as a teacher and verrryy pregnant with our second-born, we faced the additional daycare bill that was right around the corner for us.

We weren't even remotely interested in building up credit card debt again, and we were living paycheck to paycheck, so we had to think outside the box. I'd have to either go back into advertising or come up with some other options that hopefully didn't involve me hanging out on a corner wearing fishnets.

I started doing some ad freelancing, and that generated enough income that I was able to stay home with my new baby and work while he napped, or after my husband got home in the evenings.

There's more to that that I want to share, but I'll save it for a later post. (Remind me, 'k? Because, as that once new, little baby I mentioned, who is now an 8-year-old grown man tells me, I have the worst memory.)

Let me back up a tiny bit.

Before I landed that freelance gig, I did some googling to research ways to make extra money. I came across a site called TeachersPayTeachers.com, where teachers can share their materials for free or for moolah.

I created a test product: a business letter test, and uploaded it. I didn't attach a price to it, because I was just piddling around to see how the site worked, and to see how hard it was, logistically, to upload (it was super-easy).

Meanwhile, I got my freelance gig, and rode off into the sunset.

That was more than eight years ago. I recently went over to the Teachers Pay Teachers site to see if my test was still there. It is, and it's been downloaded a handful of times. Nothing to write home about, but it is pretty to cool to know that, based on the reviews it got, the test I created was helpful to the teachers that downloaded it.

What if I'd promoted my upload? What if I'd shared it with my teacher friends? What if I'd attached a small price tag to it, and then shared it? We'll never know if it could've served as a tiny baby stream of income. But it could've!

Here's where it gets juicy.

I did some reading, and y'all. Ohmygosh, there are teachers out there making crazy cash on Teachers Pay Teachers and sites just like it.

Just look at these two sisters from Farmington, Utah, who posted their 2nd Grade Common Core Morning Work packet, and have pulled in more than $280,000 in sales from that plan alone.

Did you see that number?

I did. I checked it, too. It's not a typo. All those zeros belong in there.

Or this kindergarten teacher, who became a millionaire - a millionaire! - selling lesson plans.

Teachers, you can earn so much more money as a "teacherpreneur" than you can as a classroom teacher. I'm not suggesting you load up your digi-products, try to make bank, and then bail on teaching.

I'm just saying: Why can't you do both?

Let's be honest: teachers don't get into the profession for the money. Why can't you make your impact in the classroom, get your fulfillment there, and make some really nice cash over on sites like Teachers Pay Teachers?

I know, I know: you're too busy to even think about adding "entrepreneur" to your to-do's.

But you wouldn't be adding anything to your plate. If you're a teacher, you're already putting in the work of an entrepreneur. You've probably already created unique, shareable - purchase-able - products for your classroom.

Who says you can't make money off of your intellectual property?

Slight disclaimer: some school districts actually do say you can't make money off of this stuff, so make sure you do some checking first to make sure you're in compliance with your district's copyright terms.

There have been some legal situations surrounding the selling of teacher-created products. While I do agree it can be a fine line, I think there are a few really good reasons school districts should not only allow this practice, but encourage it:

  • Secondly, if a teacher creates amazing products that sell like gangbusters, the school district benefits. They have an obvious thought leader on their hands, and they can tailor how they use that teacher within the district, making use of his/her strengths beyond the classroom. Everybody wins.
  • Here's the deal: it's something you should at least think about doing. You have a unique blend of personality, skills, talents, schooling, life experiences, and job experience that nobody else in the entire world has.

    Think about that. It's true!

    You can put all that gray matter upstairs to good use and create some amazing and truly valuable products that other teachers would pay real dollars for.

    What do you think? Have you ever thought of selling your teacher materials on an online marketplace before? What's keeping you from putting your gifts out into the world?

    This article originally ran on RockYourSideGig.com, a blog that encourages and inspires its readers to create work that's meaningful and pays the bills.