How Can Teachers Increase Their Pay?

We are on our fourth post in my series about Rewarding Great Teaching.  Last time, we learned about the “Step and Lane” or “single salary schedule” pay system.

Today we look at how teachers move through this pay system, and how individual teachers can increase earnings throughout their career.

New teacher pay experience

For new teachers, a typical pay progression would look like this (these figures are based on the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA)):

  • Year 1:  (Step 1, Bachelor Lane):    $48,520
  • Year 2:  (Step 2, Bachelor’s, 1% grid increase): $49,462
  • Year 3: (Step 3, Bachelor’s + 24 credits, 1% grid Increase):  $52,770
  • Year 4: (Step 4, Bachelor’s + 24 credits, 1% grid increase):   $53,796
  • Year 5:  (Step 5, Master’s, 1% grid increase):  $57,409
  • Year 6;   (Step 6, Master’s, 1% grid increase):  $58,831
  • Year 7:  (Step 7, Masters + 15, 1% grid increase):  $64,557

So this teacher will experience a 30%+ pay increase in 7 years, from three sources:

  1. Step increases (7 steps worth 9% pay increase)
  2. Lane increases (3 lane movements worth 15% pay increase)
  3. Grid increases (7 annual 1% increases worth 7%) — not guaranteed as this is negotiated between PSEA and UCF during collective bargaining, but 0.5% to 1% has been typical in recent years.

In our example (which is based on real pay data and the average rate of progression through lanes at UCF), we can see the following dynamics at play:

  • Pay increased at an annual rate of 4-5%.
  • Lane movements contributed half of the overall pay gain
  • Step increases contributed one quarter of the pay gain
  • Grid increases contributed one quarter of the increase in pay

The under-appreciated fact about the “step and lane” system is that pay increases are built in every year, even without any grid-wide increases.  These guaranteed pay increases only stop once teachers reach Step 16, and Masters + 60 credits.  Excluding any grid increases, teacher pay (with an average pace of progression through lanes) will increase 3.9% annually until Steps and Lanes are  ‘maxed out’ in mid-career.

[Update April 2015]  It is worth noting that some recent collective bargaining agreements have contained step and/or lane ‘freezes’ for one year.  So while a teacher may have accumulated another year of service, or have earned the next level of educational preparation, pay will remain unchanged for an additional year.  So this will slow down pay the built in pay progression. 

So if there is no grid increase in a particular year, it would be misleading to say that there is no increase to teacher pay.    As our example makes clear,  the step/lane system guarantees pay progression up to Year 16 and up until Masters + 60 credits.  So for at least the first 16 years in the profession, pay increases are structured, regular, and guaranteed in the CBA.   So if a past, present, or future CBA has no grid increase in a given year, we should not think that teacher salaries are standing still.   Of course if the District and the UCFEA agree to a pay freeze as part of negotiations, a pay freeze can be experienced.

Topping out

But for some teachers, salaries do stand still:  those who have completed all 16 steps and who have moved through all educational lanes.   At UCF, 31% of teachers have topped out in the Step dimension.  And 51% of teachers have topped out in the Lane dimension.  Only 23% have topped out in both dimensions.  So if there is no grid increase in a particular year, it is accurate to say that 23% of teachers would be ‘frozen’ at their current level of pay.

How to maximize pay within the step/lane system

So, if one is trying to maximize lifetime compensation (don’t we all try to do this in our own jobs?), clearly getting additional education is key.  If you could add a guaranteed incremental 10% to your pay, year after year, for holding a degree, wouldn’t you beat a path to the nearest grad school and get your master’s degree ASAP?  I know I would.

And as if this were not incentive enough, collective bargaining agreements require school districts to reimburse the cost of continuing education (up to an annual limit).  So why would a teacher not  get a Master’s degree?  Over a 30 year period, one could earn an additional $150,000+ in base pay, with the only investment being the time and energy needed to complete the coursework while still working full time (not easy, but doable especially using summer time off to do extra coursework).  Given these incentives, it is no surprise that 87% of UCF teachers have achieved master’s or higher graduate-level education.  And the 13% that do not have a master’s degree are almost all in their first 4 years of teaching — not quite enough time to have completed the coursework.


Every pay system has incentives.  The teacher pay system we have has been in place for a long, long time.  And it creates incentives to stay in the profession, and to complete additional graduate-level coursework.  Our teachers respond to this incentive, with almost 90% completing at least a master’s degree within their first eight years.


  • Teacher pay increases automatically each year from Steps
  • Larger jumps occur as graduate coursework is completed
  • Grid increases (the number that is usually trumpeted during CBA negotiations) is a small contributor to individual teacher pay increases during the first 15 years

2 thoughts on “How Can Teachers Increase Their Pay?

  1. Jeff Hellrung

    Bob, Well done but let me add some information. First, pay increases are not certain in the first 16 years because from time to time teachers accept a temporary pay freeze in collective bargaining or because they “work to contract” during collective bargaining. Those lost wages during collective bargaining may or may not be recouped after final contract settlement. These situations have happened from time to time in recent times in local school districts and at our CCIU.

    Second, unfortunately, the top of scale teachers (with the exception of a few bargained pay freezes referred to above) do not in practice ever get pay freezes. This is because negotiating salary scale increases, beyond step and prep, is a key priority of UCFEA negotiators. This is a huge part of the maximizing lifetime income goal and also not unrelated to the fact that union bargaining team members and key influencers tend to themselves be disproportionately maxed out on the pay scale. They want raises too, and get them.

    Prepare for collective bargaining. A time that tries men’s souls …


  2. Jeff Hellrung

    Bob, The Dec 15 edition of Forbes had an interesting article on improving teacher quality. It’s called “America’s Education Moon Shot”. I couldn’t make an attachment but I think you’d find it interesting.


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