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I had not considered any option like this, but I have been looking at pursing my Master’s of Education degree part-time over the next 4-5 years...

With our new collective bargaining contract getting settled recently I thought I would take a quick look through to see what changes there were from the contract I had originally signed a few years ago (yes, this is what teachers do on Tuesday mornings in August). One item in particular caught my eye and that was the new educational sabbatical option. Here is the deal in a nutshell:

• After two years in the school division, you are eligible to take a year educational sabbatical and 1/3 your salary.
• After five years in the school division, you are eligible to take a year educational sabbatical and ½ your salary.
• No union dues or pension contributions will be deducted during that year.
• Your seniority will not be affected.
• You need to present proof of schooling to the Division.
• You have to sign an agreement that says you will work for the division a minimum of 2 more years after you return.

For Your Voyeuristic Pleasure

This is very intriguing to me, but there is no doubt that the financial sacrifice would be substantial. Before I ask you to help me out with my reasoning, here are a few personal finance facts about my current circumstances:

• I live rurally, so my mortgage is $462 a month.
• I live with my common-law girlfriend who will be a student for two more years before she too is a teacher. Her summer employment usually pays her enough for her schooling and she also buys most of the groceries. The rest of our household expenses comes out of my cheque.
• Other than my mortgage, my expenses total about $900 a month.
• I have no student debt, credit card, or consumer debt of any kind.
• I will make about $57,500 this year, and next year (the potential year of sabbatical) I would be at about $62,000.
• I also co-own a web business, but we’ve been advised not to reveal what our profit margins are. We’ve reinvested everything back into the company so far anyway, so I’m not depending on it for income.
• I’ve made a few grand in freelance income over the past couple of years whenever I’ve had a little free time.

We Don’t Need No Education

I had not considered any option like this, but I have been looking at pursing my Master’s of Education degree part-time over the next 4-5 years. So far I’ve completed a couple of courses towards the 36 credit hours that are needed. This credential would automatically bump my annual pay by $6,000 and give me a higher ceiling. It would also open up a whole other world of promotional opportunities. I figure that if I took this year off, I could polish off 30 of the 36 total hours needed (two courses won’t be offered during that year, so I’d have to wait to finish the whole degree).

Initially, taking a massive paycut when my girlfriend is already in school might seem like a pretty dumb move. If anyone is aware of the future compound interest loss I would be looking at (being that I would invest a decent amount of my salary in a registered account) it is me. All that being said however, I think the sacrifice might be worth it. Here are some of the pros to weigh against the main con of going from roughly $62,000 in salary to roughly $20,660.

  1. My take home pay would not suffer nearly as much as my gross pay would. I figure that after all of my deductions are taken off and the higher tax bracket is taken into account, I’d be looking at about a $20,000 vs $36,000-$37,000 comparison (which is still obviously pretty substantial).
  2. I could easily make $500 a month in freelance web work per month just by accepting the current offers that I get on a routine basis. I think a reasonable goal if I truly committed 25 hours a week or so to freelancing would be $1000. My education load wouldn’t be that heavy, and many of the courses could be taken online.
  3. The pay bump from having the Master’s degree a couple years early would help offset the long-term costs.
  4. A key factor is the huge load of stress it would take off of me trying to do my Master’s degree and working full-time, along with the blogging side business and plenty of extra-curricular volunteer work as well.
  5. I could pour more time into our online ventures. We have a big project on the horizon that I’m super excited about, and it could have some great spin-off opportunities.
  6. The following year after my sabbatical our household income would likely jump to $115,000 or so assuming my girlfriend could find full-time work (in a rural school division where she will have done all of her student teaching, and have some pretty good connections thanks to a special someone, this isn’t too big of a concern). At minimum, I would be guaranteed employment at my new increment of roughly $66,000. Yet our expenses won’t increase at all.
  7. I could always substitute teach a couple days a week when I wasn’t in class to supplement my income. The going rate is about $140 a day.

Risk and Reward

Just from crunching a few numbers quickly, I’m fairly certain my expenses can’t rise above $2,000 a month. Even if I had a major maintenance repair or something, when averaged out over the year I can’t see that number climbing above the $2K level. That obviously leaves me with a $4,000ish gap in my budget once my 1/3 pay kicks in (but that I wouldn’t be paying much tax on). I know that I could easily make this up in freelance work and substitute teaching. I also have a little emergency fund built up, and I could decide to cut back a little on my RRSP contributions for the upcoming year in order to give myself even more of a cushion going into my proposed sabbatical.

How cool an option is this to explore? People will pay me to study… seriously? It almost sounds too good to be true. Also, I’d get to keep all of my sweet benefit package from my current teaching position. In an absolute worst case scenario, a basic LOC to fall back on when our household income would skyrocket the next year isn’t exactly Apocalypse Now. The part where some of you are really going to hate me out of jealousy (and I wouldn’t blame you one bit) is when I reveal that a year-long sabbatical would give me 14 months of no-day job living. It’s a pretty cool little halfway option relative to several of the bloggers out there lately who have quit their day jobs and jumped in with both feet.

I guess what I’m asking is does anyone seen a solid reason I shouldn’t do this that I’m missing? I’m pretty sure of my ability to resist lifestyle inflation at any point, but I’m positive I could resist it if it meant going into debt. What do you all think? Is this a great opportunity to get paid to further my “day job career” and invest serious time and focus into my online endeavours, or is it merely coping out when I should be working hard and maximizing my earning potential (I am only in my 20s after all)?

Article comments


I think you really have to focus on doing what is best for you. If you don’t take your sabbatical, will you regret it? It looks like you will. I think expenses just keep creeping up, and eventually you’ll want to get married and do a whole bunch of other things that cost money so I would definitely do it while your expenses are so low!

Teacher Man says:

This is sort of my thinking as well Daisy. If I don’t do it now, I never will.

Chriss says:

I know for my board in AB we can only take one sabbatical, and we get 70% of our salary and are expected to return to work for at least a few years after. In our agreement a certain amount of money is put aside yearly (for a certain amount of sabbaticals) and often the fund is underused. We are encouraged to continue education and do research.

Usually the application is put in before December, and you go through an interview process. You do lose that pensionable year, but if you are young enough that doesn’t really hurt you.

I am currently part way into a 2 yr Masters and working full time. The second yr of Masters will be an even heavier load. It is something to consider. If you are only doing your Masters over a 4-6 years, you could do it and work. If you are going to take the time off (sabbatical) I would try to do a full load that year and finish up your Masters. Taking the sabbatical for the first courses and finishing later while working would not serve you the best.


young says:

Do it!! There’s nothing stopping you, really. Teachers have it good! I wonder if teachers in BC get education sabbaticals too? You could travel the world while blogging- how awesome would that be? 🙂

Teacher Man says:

Hey Young! Us teachers do have it good. On the other hand I almost threw a kid out of a window today at about 2:30 so it isn’t all roses all the time. I would assume BC teachers have some sort of educational incentive. Our union is great at trading perks and negotiating advantageous little parts to contracts. The crazy thing is that most teachers never make use of them.

This sabbatical would be to get my degree and would take the stress out of working full-time and trying to get it done (which I’m sure you can related to).

If you want to read about a dude that is travelling and living the dream stay tuned for Joseph’s upcoming articles. Way out of the ordinary!

Martin says:

Wow that’s an amazing opportunity. How could you not take advantage of it? On top of everything else, you might have some extra free time to pursue other interests.

I’m envious of this offer. What’s this big web project that you’re working on? Shoot me an email sometime!

Teacher Man says:

Yah it’s not a bad deal eh? I’ll shoot you a email to catch you up on a few things this weekend. How was FinCon12? Congrats on winning an award, I hear you were in a pretty exclusive group of nomination 😉

Little House says:

I’ve never heard of sabbaticals for teachers in the K-12 system. Maybe I need to move to Canada! I think taking a year off and almost finishing that other credential is a terrific idea. Your cost of living is low and even with the 1/3 salary you’d be taking in the year of the sabbatical, it would still cover your expenses. Of course, the other option is to wait until your girlfriend is finished with her schooling and employed then take your sabbatical.

BTW, does Canada hire US teachers? Maybe I need to move. 😉

Teacher Man says:

Hey LH. I think sabbaticals are pretty standard across most provinces. There are two main types from what I have been able to gather over the last couple weeks. Almost every division will administer a sabbatical that you pay for. You basically give them permission to deduct a certain amount from your paycheque for a period of time and then they will continue to send you money while you take your year off. Your seniority is safe. Some offer a few other sweetners as well.

This educational one is not standard, but most divisions offer some sort of incentive like this.

As far as USA vs Canada teachers, I grew up right by the US/CAD border and I can say with absolutely certainty that Canadian teachers have way better compensation packages and perks that our USA brethren. We do hire US teachers, but usually you have to take a few certification courses up here (minor and very easy). The one caveat is that jobs in urban centers aren’t easy to get. On the other hand, I live a couple hours away from Minot, ND (just to give you an idea) and my cost of living is extremely low like you mentioned, so the rural lifestyle has plenty to offer as well.

Joe says:

My bro and his wife both teach in Canada’s north. He loves it, making a difference, etc. and excellent earnings. I could never handle the winter.

Teacher Man says:

The winter would be tough. I live in rural Manitoba, so I’m about 75% of that sort of winter and it is more than long enough for me (and I actually like cold and snow a lot more than most people).

I had no idea that there was such a thing as a federal teaching contract. I assume this must be aboriginal-based mainly?

Joe says:

My Dad took this sabbatical early in his teaching career (it’s been in the Ontario contract for a long time). It seems to pay dividends. He did self-funded leave later in his career, but ended up returning because the school was going to cancel the program (no other teacher). Pretty sweet way to make the sunshine list.

My brother teaches for the feds. There may or may not be a sabbatical option. They do, however, pay for courses toward a M.Ed (which, in my opinion, is about as easy with a B.Ed with an Honours Thesis tacked on) although I’m sure there’s a laundry list of requirements and catches like any program. He’s doing these courses part time. When you and your wife are each making 6 figures in a government-owned trailer in Canada’s vast north, what else would you do during 24-hour darkness? He actually managed to get the province to pay for his BEd and room/board (“lucky for getting laid off” doesn’t sound like a common refrain).

To get a solid chunk of time away from work (albeit busy), there’s also self-funded leave (expensive) and parental leave (can be well-paid like in my case but it 100% depends on the generosity of the employer’s top-up).

Since I assume you need 1 year to do an MEd, I would go about it like this: wait til 5 years of service (I’d be worried about building my career in other ways, e.g. principal’s courses, til then anyway so when you return to work you’ll get more noticed; nobody’s going to make you a principal til minimum age 30 anyway). Then you’ll get the full 1 year off, and 50% of your salary. Your girlfriend will, by then, be out-of-school and earning money. Since you supported her for year, reverse rolls – she pays most living expenses, you pay for groceries. I’ve done a different but financially-similar arrangement with my partner, to ensure I can keep saving money while on leave (I pay the utilities and my personal cash and that’s pretty much it — but don’t feel bad for her, I supported her by paying most of the bills for a year). Clearly you’re being financially supportive and I’m sure your gf would be delighted to return the favour when she’s able.

Teacher Man says:

Thanks the detailed comment Joe, I appreciate it!

As far as it being in the Ontario teaching contract I’m fairly sure that things like sabbaticals are negotiated at the local level with divisional contracts. They are here in Manitoba anyway. Since writing this post I have been informed that apparently this wording has been in the contract for awhile (I must have missed it before), yet know one has taken advantage in over 25 years. Your dad sounds like the type of teacher people write books about (coming back early from a leave he had worked hard and banked dollars for).

If you don’t mind me asking, what does “teaches for the feds” mean? Does the Canadian government hire people to teach abroad or something?

Your impression of a B. Ed is right on the money from what I can tell – except it’s even easier. Get this, my Master’s degree doesn’t even have to include a thesis. Most people choose to simply do 36 credit hours of courses, the thesis option means that you only have to do 24 credit hours. I would be able to finish the degree in one year without working too hard (imho), save for two courses that would not be offered until the following year.

Interesting advice, here is one view I’ve been thinking about it from. If I take the sabbatical now, I lose out on 40K roughly, it I wait until 5 years in I’m still going to sacrifice that much since my pay will have increased enough to make the difference even though I’d get .5 wages instead. You do raise a scenario with my wife I have considered as well. I know for a fact that she definitely wouldn’t have a problem supporting us if I went back for a year (in fact it would hopefully remove the little bit of guilt that she feels right now). At the same time, biting the bullet and saving a little this year in order to hold us through one year of meagre wages could be followed by a combined household income in the 120K range the following year (this would be a really nice light at the end of the tunnel). Your analysis is sound, thanks for stopping by!

krantcents says:

You already answered my question. How many sabbaticals can you take? It may even be an opportunity to investigate other things too. Good luck.

Teacher Man says:

Good point KC. Definitely from an online perspective it should give me some pretty good flexibility to look in new directions.

Sabbaticals like this are pretty common for university professors for research, but I’ve never heard of one for teachers. That’s pretty cool that you found out about it as I imagine it’s not a program that gets advertised heavily.

How much is tuition for the masters program? Are you calculating that into your expenses? Or if it’ll be debt-financed, any interest/principal payments that might begin while you’re on sabbatical?

One other thing worth thinking about – will you lose out on teaching courses that you like teaching by being gone a year? I’ve seen teachers move to another position, say reading specialist, not like it, but then not be able to get their primo classes (think honors, AP courses) back when they want to return to the classroom.

Teacher Man says:

I actually inquired today. Believe it or not, I am the first person in 25 years to ask about this sabbatical! How insane is that?! The cost for the courses would be around $3-$4k for the year. I’m pretty sure I have a decent earnings cushion to soak up any unforeseen costs, but even in a worst case scenario I know that I have access to a LOC that I could dip into for a couple months until work started again. Since I’m currently debt-free, I think it is a decent low-risk situation to roll the dice with.

I had considered the classes option, but to be honest I’m sort of weird in that I like teaching a variety of stuff. The courses I’m currently teaching are not my favourite (I’m still a young teacher so seniority has not passed on a lot of benefits to me yet), so I’m not too worried about a change. In a small cool everything equals out eventually anyway. Now that I think about it, perhaps a change in course scenery would reinvigorating actually.

Thanks for the comment!

I say go for it. It sounds like a great way to advance your full time career. I myself am trying to figure out how I could possibly afford to take time off work to study, so an option like that sounds too good to pass up.

Teacher Man says:

That’s what I figure too Jordann. Too many positive incentives to offset the lost income right?

I say go for it! It will increase your future income too! Can you take more than one of these over a career?

Teacher Man says:

Yes, you can take several actually. Not a bad deal eh?