Here’s How Teachers Can Do What They Love Professionally And Have Financial Freedom, Too

Name the number one lament of any schoolteacher, and it is not the workload, the students, or even the overbearing parents. The biggest complaint: the low salary. Fortunately, teacher (and author!) Danny Kofke penned a fab book called How To Survive (and Perhaps Thrive) On A Teacher’s Salary, which teaches (no pun intended) teachers how to continue doing the job they love and have financial balance, too.

Let’s talk about your background.

I am a special needs teacher in Georgia. I originally started in elementary education as a kindergarten and first grade teacher. The class was a special class; there were 16 general ed. and 5 full-time special needs children. I had a special needs teacher with me, and I really enjoyed the experience. I thought, “I have the patience to do that.” A couple of years later, there was a job opening to teach autistic kids, so I got my feet wet with that class. I am in my 5th year now with my current class. I felt that I had a love for the lower functioning students and that it was what I was meant to do.

It takes a special kind of person to teach special ed. My sister is a para in NYC, and she tells me all the time about the tremendous joy she gets from her one-to-one.

It’s a great joy. The kids teach me more than I teach them. It also helps to me to justify a behavioral problem; when you’re in a Gen Ed. setting, you think that if a kid is acting up, he shouldn’t be acting like that. With the special needs kids, they get such joy out of the littlest things. I am reminded that we should all enjoy the little things on a daily basis. It’s refreshing to see life a little differently.

Now, what was the impetus for your book?

My colleagues had said to me, “You and your wife do well financially. You should write a book.” I didn’t give it too much thought. One day, my wife Tracy was out of town, and I thought I would sit down and start writing it. I just honestly thought it was cool to get my words on paper and that was it. I let friends and family read it and they thought it was great and that I should really try to get it published. I sent it off to a couple of publishing companies and one of them published it.

I think teaching is one of those unique professions in that mostly all teachers love their job and have a passion for it.

That’s true. In researching for the book, I found one study that said that teaching ranked as one of the top ten most gratifying jobs. And yet there was another study that said that 50% of teachers quit within the first five years because of low pay. I was one of those numbers. I had a chance to triple my salary by selling high-end flooring. I didn’t want to do it. After a couple of months, I wasn’t happy at all; I didn’t care if someone bought a $5000 area rug or not. Having money can help us do what we want to do, but it is not the ultimate source of happiness.

That’s where I wanted to go with my book. Of course, it applies to teachers, but it also applies to other professions as well, like nurses, firefighters, police officers, small business owners. Those jobs usually are moderate level jobs. You have to have a passion first and foremost for it. I’m not a financial expert; I’m just a schoolteacher. But I have most of those aspects figured out. Even if it doesn’t pay a lot, you can do okay financially.

What are some tips you can give to people who love their jobs but think they don’t make enough?

What I recommend is to track your money. People spend money every day on little things that can add up fast over time. My wife and I walked around with a piece of paper and a pencil for a month and we wrote down everything we spent. It wasn’t easy and there were times we didn’t want to do it. At the end of the month, in black and white, in our own handwriting, we were able to see exactly where our money was going.

When you did the tracking, where were your splurges?

We ate breakfast out a lot. This was before we had kids. We would eat out twice a week, and breakfast is something you can definitely make at home. I’m not saying never do it, but you have to do things occasionally. Now, we go out to dinner once every three to four weeks. We tend to be an all-or-nothing society. There’s never an in-between, and that’s a key to life. We can’t always have what we want the second we want it, and for far too long, people have thought that way. There’s only two ways of making more money; get a higher paying job or cut back on some things. And let’s face it; it’s much harder to find a job today than it was 5 years ago.

What was the response to the book?

It’s done pretty well. The book is our story, in a way. It shows the steps that we’ve taken, and many people can apply the tips to their lives as well.

Do you have plans for another book?

I want to write a follow-up book. I want to show that I’m still making it on my teacher’s salary, but I want to include more tips and things I’ve learned along the way. I would also like to write a book about finance for kids. It doesn’t have to be difficult, just some lessons that the kids can carry forward in their lives so they can have the jobs they love and be happy.

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