FORT COLLINS (AP) – Nicholas Peterson stood in the parking lot of Loveland High School with a crowd of marching band students. It was still early, but the pavement already radiated heat. He told students they’d be practicing parade-style today, so it was important to keep their feet moving in time.
He used to be the band director at Loveland High, but these days music is just his side gig. Now, he works primarily a counselor at Fossil Ridge High School in southeastern Fort Collins. Throughout the year, he freelances as a marching band instructor to pay the bills. He also judges various out-of-state shows and helps design drills.
He is among the many educators who work second jobs to make ends meet.
About 1 in 5 teachers have a second job, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Their average starting salary – $38,617 in 2016-17, according to the National Education Association – lags the overall starting wage of $50,359 for graduates with a bachelor’s degree in all fields.
Teachers’ take-home earnings are also often stretched by student loan debt, which saddles about 70 percent of college graduates with an average $30,100 owed, according to the nonprofit Institute for College Access and Success.
Due at least in part to those factors, teachers are about 30 percent more likely to have a second job than other workers. That additional work can add to the stress teachers face, and contribute to why an estimated 40 percent to 50 percent of new teachers leave the profession within five years.
In Colorado, where the average teacher salary lags behind the national average, rural schools are struggling to recruit and retain teachers. In the state’s more populated Front Range, teachers face the same ever-increasing cost of living as other college-educated workers who often earn more than them.
Recent statistics about the number of Colorado teachers who hold a second job are hard to come by, but a 2014 Center for American Progress report found that 22 percent of Colorado teachers held a second job – above the national average of 14 percent.
“It’s a bit my choice to overwork and sacrifice freedom, mental health, and in some ways, job performance coming to work tired,” Peterson said. “It’s the price I have to pay to avoid a lifetime of crippling debt and slavish payments.”
Dick Startz, an economics professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, analyzed federal labor statistics for the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution.
He found secondary teachers are more likely than elementary school teachers to have a second job. He also found male teachers are more likely than female teachers to hold a second job.
Of those who do have second jobs, he wrote, females are more likely to work in a field related to education. Male teachers are more likely to do something unrelated to education.
Many people assume that when educators work a second job, they do so only over the summer months when school is out, Peterson said. That’s not true for him – and he’s not alone.
According to the report, Startz wrote, teachers are more likely to report having second jobs during the school year rather than just over the summer.
“I do want to raise one caution about interpreting the apparent summer drop in second jobs among teachers,” Startz wrote. “Respondents are asked whether they had multiple jobs in the last week. It’s possible that, in July, teachers who have a non-teaching job might answer ‘no,’ because they aren’t in the classroom during July.”
On why teachers are more likely to have a second job, Startz wrote teachers presumably want the additional income and the financial cushion offered by a side hustle.
According to Education Week, teachers who work a second job earn an average of $5,100 to supplement their incomes. Teachers who moonlight in a non-education field earn about $1,000 more on average than teachers who work a second job related to teaching – $5,500 compared with $4,500.
The income from Peterson’s freelance marching band work helped him stay afloat when he had a bout with skin cancer a couple years ago. He’s also saving up for a sinus surgery this summer.
Peterson is considered a licensed professional by Poudre School District. He shares a salary schedule with teachers in the district.
He considers himself fiscally responsible. He managed to pay off his car and his student loans. He bought a house in Loveland in 2011 when the market was down – living outside of Fort Collins and commuting to work saves him some money.
But much of that progress made toward his financial goals required the year-round second job, Peterson said.
“I took on these extra jobs even before I was a counselor,” Peterson said. “My expectation was that I would be able to let those go and focus on being a counselor, but it became apparent that I had to hang onto as much income stream as I could.”
Amy Healy, a German teacher at Fossil Ridge High School, also works her second job at REI all year long.
During the school year, she works three days a week at the outdoor gear retailer, and ramps up her hours at REI over the summer. The extra income helped her move out of her parents’ house and rent with a friend. She’s able to live within biking distance to Fossil Ridge.
She graduated with about $20,000 in student loan debt after attending the University of Northern Colorado. She’s close to paying off her loans.
“If I didn’t have REI, it would be very challenging to pay rent and my student loans and not live with my parents,” Healy said.
She enjoys working at REI. It’s straightforward work and problems are solved by the end of the day. She likes that she’s been able to plug into the outdoor community. The demand to show up to work at REI also prevents her from staying at school late into the night.
Nicole Alvarado works as a counselor at Fossil Ridge and a server at DC Oakes Brewhouse & Eatery. When she did her taxes, she said, she learned that her serving job earned her an extra $10,000.
She decided to get a second job after she bought a new car and a house in Fort Collins. Before that she’d been driving the same car she got during her junior year of high school. She’d also been renting with a roommate.
“I’m not complaining, it is what it is,” Alvarado said. “A lot of people have to work hard to pay off bills and debt.”
Alvarado enjoys working as a server. It gives her a chance to be more extroverted and have more conversations with other adults. She loves when she sees students and their families or coworkers come into the restaurant.
It gives her an additional sense of community, she said.
According to Poudre School District guidelines, district employees can’t engage in or have financial interest in any activity that conflicts or raises a reasonable question of conflict with their duties and responsibilities in the school system.
Employees also can’t use information available to them through district resources to conduct work on the side.
District employees are also forbidden from selling books, instructional supplies, musical instruments, equipment or other school supplies to any student, parent or guardian from the school served by the employee unless they have received approval from the district board.
But there are still a wide range of opportunities for educators to work in retail, service, education and more.
When teachers do have an extra gig, Healy said, it can sometimes make for a weird dynamic.
She sees students who come to shop at REI. There’s also a chance she’ll be working alongside students in the store.
“Working together makes you a peer,” Healy said. “That’s a weird position to be in.”
Second jobs can provide educators a leg up in buying a home and paying off loans. They also help if and when unexpected expenses come up. But they take time.
As a server, Alvarado works later hours if she picks up shifts during the week. She often works until close to midnight. Then she arrives at school for work early in the morning.
“I would be lying if I said it wasn’t draining,” Alvarado said.
Peterson said he starts the school year on empty.
Healy, too, is tired.
“If I had more time, I would be a better teacher,” Healy said. “I would be able to give better feedback.”
Sometimes she has to tell students she can’t meet with them after school because she has to make it to her second job. Sometimes she can’t grade assignments right away.
Most students are understanding, she said, especially those who also work after school. But some aren’t.
“Students sometimes forget that teachers have outside lives,” Healy said.
Though they all enjoy their side gigs, Alvarado, Healy and Peterson said they would likely quit their second jobs if they felt they could afford to do so.
Teacher salaries in Colorado are determined by a system of “steps” and “lanes.” Steps measure how long teachers have worked in the district. Lanes measure how much education teachers have under their belts. Teachers earn more the longer they stay in the district and the more educational credits they take.
In Poudre School District, first-year teachers with a bachelor’s degree earn $37,948 per year. If teachers never pursue additional credits, the pay caps out at $52,461.
First-year teachers and counselors with master’s degrees earn $41,725 per year in PSD. That pay caps out at $66,576.
First-year teachers and counselors with a doctoral degree earn $46,068. That pay caps out at $87,716.
Peterson said the only meaningful way to get a raise within the district is to pursue additional educational credits – but teachers typically have to pay for those out of pocket.
Healy is interested in pursuing her master’s degree but knows it can be expensive
She heard about a $5 million grant funded by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Language Acquisition and offered through the BUENO Center for Multicultural Education at the University of Colorado Boulder. The grant, secured in 2017, launched in PSD and Eagle County Schools. It’s intended to help train teachers to work with English language learners and students with disabilities.
It would be a valuable addition to her skillset, Healy said.
It’s also a pathway to boost her income without going into more debt.