The summer side hustle

East Texas teachers take on second jobs to make ends meet

When Marcy Sauer began her career as a Texas public school teacher in the early 1990s, the average salary was just over $28,000. Almost 30 years later, the average salary in 2020 rose to just over $54,000. Still, Texas sits at 39th in the country in average teacher salary — 13.7% below the national average.

Sauer, a 26-year teacher who retired in 2019, took on side jobs as a server, bartender and Dillard’s employee throughout the years to help make ends meet for her family.

In her 26 years teaching, Marcy Sauer has held side jobs to make ends meet, from restaurant server to bartender to retail. Retired from teaching in 2019, Sauer poses in her truck — her latest new job venture.

According to the Texas State Teachers Association, 39% of public school teachers take on second jobs to make ends meet. For some households, Sauer said, a teacher’s pay acts as supplemental income for non-necessities. 

“I think that for a while, teachers didn’t make a whole lot of noise because it was like the family’s supplemental income, because daddy’s out there working in an office or whatever,” Sauer said.

But for her household, Sauer said she worked side jobs on top of teaching throughout the years to help put food on the table and fund repairs for appliances and vehicles. 

“When two vehicles needed tires and another one needed a timing belt, what else do you do?” Sauer said. “You sling fajitas at Jalapeno Tree for a few months to get things done.”

Teacher Andrea Harris said having a side job at First Watch this summer helped her save money and catch up on expenses.

Much like Sauer, Andrea Harris, an East Texas band teacher, said she uses her side job as a server at First Watch to get a leg up when it comes to bills and other expenses.

“It’s helped me kind of catch up, because there’s this weird transition between being in college and becoming a teacher,” Harris said. “Now I just want to save money so I have something to fall on if something comes up down the line.”

Having worked as a server before, Harris said taking on a second, part-time job over the summer would be beneficial after completing her first semester of teaching. As a graduate less than one year out of college, Harris is already working on preparing materials and setting goals for her students this fall.

“I’m thinking of continuing and working weekends-only during the school year,” Harris said. “In all I probably won’t though, because I really want to focus on school and making sure that I’m at the best of my ability for my students.”

Typical teacher contracts are for around 180 days per year, which sounds like a nice summer off. But when taking into consideration the amount of work teachers take home in order to perform their duties successfully and efficiently, Sauer said the work can become a year-round, around-the-clock endeavor.

“If you’re not careful, even if you’re only teaching, you can make it a 24/7 job and they’re definitely not paying 24/7 wages,” Sauer said. “You can easily take it home and spend the summer planning and laminating and cutting out and making better things for your students.”

One specific suggestion Sauer has for maintaining a work-life balance even with part-time jobs on the side is setting short-term goals to achieve before moving on.

“I think you should have a short, focused goal of what you are planning to achieve financially with this side money,” Sauer said. “Once that goal has been met for that side job, write a lovely resignation letter and go back home because otherwise, your goals will continue growing and you’ll struggle to ever enjoy just having one job.

Jennifer Perry found tutoring students on the side to supplement her teacher’s salary.

Jennifer Perry, a 12-year teacher at Tyler ISD, said she began tutoring students throughout the year because it has allowed her to set specific hours and work toward specific financial goals.

“[My tutoring schedule] just depends on what I feel is my financial need at the time,” Perry said. “This school year, I tutored at least four days out of the week and would try to leave Fridays off as a crash day at the end of a school week.”

Perry said if she was better compensated for teaching, she would have never begun tutoring.

“Initially, I probably would not have been seeking out ways to supplement my income if my pay was a certain amount more,” Perry said. “Now, I feel like I’ve tutored for so long, I don’t think I would stop even if my income was higher.”

As bills come in and responsibilities pile up for educators across the country, Perry said a good work-home balance is key to staying mentally and physically healthy as a teacher.

“If you don’t have to pick up a side hustle, I don’t necessarily recommend it,” Perry said. “Work-life balance is very important, especially in this profession, and taking care of yourself and your mental health is important as well. We often give up [ourselves] for the cause and that’s what we’re here for, but a healthy me is better than an unhealthy me.”

Brady Stone is a lifelong east Texan and a senior journalism major at Texas A&M University. Brady served in several roles at A&M’s student newspaper, The Battalion, before stepping away after a year long term as editor in chief his junior year. He now serves as a freelance designer and reporter and is a contributor to the Tyler Loop. After graduating college, Brady plans to pursue a career in journalism.

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