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Virginia Journal of Education

Moonlighting As a Way of Life

Many teachers must take additional jobs to make ends meet.

By Courtney Cutright

Ryan Abbott holds half a dozen odd jobs – in addition to teaching – to support his family throughout the year.

The high school social studies teacher and Chesterfield Education Association member tutors, coaches, grades essays and more because he says teacher pay has declined relative to living expenses since the recession in 2008 and subsequent salary freeze.

“In part, this is the result of the fact that the cost of living raises Chesterfield County promised me as a new teacher have been phased out, a move which has both devalued the skills and knowledge I have obtained through 17 years of experience and created pressures to find new sources of money,” Abbott says.

The financial hardship Abbott faces is all too familiar to teachers in Virginia.

According to the 2011-12 School and Staffing Survey (SASS) data, about 16 percent of U.S. teachers earn a supplemental income outside of the school system. That may not seem especially alarming until you consider that approximately 42 percent of teachers in the survey work additional jobs within the school system in which they teach. That could potentially mean that nearly six out of 10 public school teachers moonlight.

Data recently collected by the Fairfax Education Association paints a similar picture. But travel far south through the Blue Ridge Highlands and the numbers of Bristol City teachers working to supplement incomes is much higher.

Recently in the Bristol division, 170 teachers responded to a Bristol Virginia Education Association survey. More than 90 percent reported holding additional paying jobs outside their contracted teaching hours. The majority of those are working in after-school or summer jobs unrelated to education.

Dana Rasnick, an elementary school teacher and BVEA member, works year-round at a private golf community. Her jobs at the club include working at the pool in the summer or as a hostess or waitress. Rasnick puts in 20 to 35 hours a week during the summer months, but cuts back when school is in session.

“I don’t usually do it [work my second job] during the week,” she says.

The exception is the time from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve, when the club is busy with holiday parties.

Rasnick is grateful to have the support of her principal, who relieves Rasnick of after-hours duties when it conflicts with the schedule at her second job.

“If it’s between going to help with a festival or going to make money, she [the principal] says ‘Go make money’,” Rasnick says.

She began her 28th year of teaching in August, and says she moonlights because everything costs more these days. The additional income helps alleviate stress in her family.

“I don’t want to live in debt,” she explains. “You can’t save with the cost of living being what it is.”

Data from the 2011-12 SASS showed the average income earned outside the school system in Virginia was about $5,400. Calculate that additional income for a teacher who earns $45,000 and the extra job accounts for about 11 percent of that educator’s annual income. While it’s not difficult to figure out how much extra money a teacher can make through a second job, it’s a lot harder to get a handle on the effects of moonlighting on the teacher’s primary career.

One anonymous respondent to the recent Fairfax survey wrote: “Extra employment has a negative impact on student performance. Teachers have less time to devote to preparing lessons and are exhausted by the long hours they’re working. They also have less time available to take classes to improve their skills.”

Another unidentified teacher’s response included similar concerns.

“With the responsibility of providing for my family’s basic needs, I have to work in addition to my teacher salary, and that’s with a master’s degree. The work outside of FCPS leaves me too tired and fatigued to do my job in FCPS well. Some days I feel like I am just getting by,” wrote that teacher, who has five years of experience in the classroom.

CEA’s Abbott concurs, saying the extra jobs take away from time he could use to design lessons, provide feedback to students, and improve his own content knowledge.

“With the outside jobs and new responsibilities squeezing my time, I feel a lot of pressure to be 100 percent efficient during my planning periods,” Abbott explains. “There is no time to think. I have so much to do every day that if I stop to think about how to improve a lesson or how to create something new, I feel guilty about the time I’m ‘wasting’ by not grading or fulfilling a central office mandate.”

The impact is a double whammy for Abbott and his wife, who also is a Chesterfield teacher, as they raise their school-age daughter.

“I have seen a number of experienced teachers leave the profession in recent years, and the inability to adequately support a family is probably the primary reason why,” Abbott says.

What keeps Abbott going is his love of teaching and the affection he has for helping students work to better themselves.

“At first, not having the time to do all of the things that I once did for students … really bothered me,” he says. “While it still does bother me, I think I have done a good job of identifying the most important things students need and focusing on them.”

Abbott’s motto has become, “I’ll do what I can for them.”

“If I let myself think about everything I wasn't doing for students rather than all of the things I still try to do for students, it would be soul-crushing,” he says.

In Fairfax County Public Schools, where about 1,000 employees were surveyed, 58 percent reported moonlighting – either working extra jobs within the school division or for outside employers – to make ends meet.

A high school administrator who responded to the survey wrote, “I see every day my teachers who work other jobs to support themselves or their families. In some cases, it does impact their ability to fully commit to their job as a teacher.”

The same administrator, who has more than two decades vested in the county’s schools, said, “I consider myself lucky that I am financially stable, because I work a 10-hour day every day and can’t imagine going on to another job.

“I am often walking out with my teachers in the evening who have worked well beyond ‘contract hours,’ whatever those are. Most of them are taking work home, or in some cases, going on to tutor or other employment.”

 Many respondents to the survey pointed to the cost of living in Fairfax County and Northern Virginia.

“Many of my younger co-workers are forced to work extra jobs to be able to afford to live in the county,” says a female middle school teacher who is between the ages of 56 and 60. “Salaries are not adequate to be able to afford the high cost of living in Fairfax County.”

The issue of the educator earnings is multifaceted. Part of the problem may be attributed to low starting salaries as compared to professionals in other fields. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the teaching profession has an average starting salary of $30,377. Meanwhile the average starting pay is $43,635 for a computer programmer, $44,668 for a public accounting professional, and $45,570 for a registered nurse, as reported by the National Education Association.

The gap widens with time. The NEA reports that “annual pay for teachers has fallen sharply over the past 60 years in relation to the annual pay of other workers with college degrees.”

The other complication with teacher salaries is that teachers routinely work more hours than their contract pays. The workday does not end when school is dismissed; there is almost always work to take home at night and on the weekends. The NEA reports that teachers spend an average of 50 hours weekly on instructional duties, including a dozen hours of unpaid classroom-related tasks, such as grading papers, bus duty and lesson planning.

Kristi Fry, a high school English teacher in Roanoke County, has held a variety of summertime jobs during three decades of teaching, including a stint as a lifeguard.

“That was the longest summer of my life,” Fry says.

She spent three summers as a sales associate in the men’s section of a department store, pairing shirts with neckties. Another summer she staffed a roadside produce stand and scored fresh fruits and veggies for her family. Nowadays, Fry reads and scores SAT essays in addition to her full-time teaching job.

“I’ve never taught summer school because I am afraid I would burn out during the school year,” she says.

Instead she spends 40 to 50 days a year reading SAT essays, averaging about 100 per day.

“They allow you to schedule the hours, and I’ll spend quite a bit of the weekend grading SAT papers,” Fry says.

Her family needs the additional income, which goes toward her daughters’ college tuition expenses. But she admits she doesn’t mind the work.

“That’s the writing teacher in me, I guess.”

Cutright, a member of the Roanoke County Education Association, teaches English at Northside Middle School. She’s also a former education journalist.



Smart People Who ‘Get It’
To be a teacher is to do work that’s not only incredibly important, but incredibly difficult, too. Just ask Lee Shulman, an education professor emeritus at Stanford University and the author of numerous books on public schools. He calls teaching “perhaps the most complex, most challenging and most demanding, subtle, nuanced and frightening activity that our species has ever invented.”

The late William Glasser, a psychiatrist and author, would agree. “Effective teaching may be the hardest job there is,” he once said.

No need to convince NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, either, who says, “Our work changes lives; it’s the foundation of our economy, our politics, our communities and our ability to live in a society that’s just and wise.”
Professionals who do that work truly deserve to be well and fairly compensated for it, and they shouldn’t have to work second and third jobs just to support their families. Clearly, that’s not the case in Virginia today.

Here’s what some other smart people have to say about teachers and salaries:

Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, gets it: “The story of labor shortages in teaching and other occupations is not very mysterious. Employers who are willing to pay workers a decent wage and treat them with respect seem to have little difficulty attracting qualified workers in this economy.”

Isabel V. Sawhill, Senior Fellow for Economic Issues at The Brookings Institution, gets it, too: “Teacher salaries are, in my view, a huge issue.  Schools are now competing for talent with other sectors in a way that wasn’t true in a world where well-educated women had few professional opportunities. Until more people accept the need to raise teacher salaries significantly, schools are not likely to improve…the main reason that money matters in education is because teachers matter, and attracting and retaining the best talent has to be a priority.”

Many newspaper editorial boards get it now, too. Here’s what the editorial page of the (Lynchburg) News & Advance said recently: “If we’re serious about every student getting a quality education, then teachers must rank among our highest-paid professions.”



Taking the Salary Message to Richmond
Part of the VEA’s 2016 Legislative Agenda, the Association’s member-generated list of objectives for the coming session of the General Assembly, says this: “VEA proposes significantly closing the 12-percent gap between the Virginia teacher average salary and the national teacher average salary. Legislative leaders should create a clear policy for offering the compensation needed to attract and retain high-quality teachers.”




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