If you’re seriously considering teaching on an Indian reservation, you’re probably drawn in for a number of a reasons.
The ones I hear most frequently are:
- I want to live in another culture
- I want to make a difference
- I want to actually TEACH – not deal with all of the other crap
- I’m ready for an adventure
- I’m interested in Native American culture
- I love the Southwest/Pacific Northwest/[your favorite state name here] and I want to move there
And if you’ve had any of these thoughts, then you’re in the right place.
But there are other perks and benefits, too!
We always have to consider things like finances, housing, wellness, and quality of life when taking a job – and this is double true when you’re thinking about moving somewhere.
So in this blog post, you’re going to learn about the best perks and benefits of teaching on an Indian reservation.
If you’re brand new to the idea of teaching on a reservation, start with my ultimate guide here.
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Financial Perks of Teaching on an Indian Reservation
If this happens to be the first blog post you see of mine, then you might want to start with:
Everything You Need to Know About Teaching on a Reservation
You Can Save a Ton of Money
My husband and I saved SO MUCH MONEY by living on a reservation for 5 years.
We’re talking tens of thousands of dollars.
Before living and teaching there, we were living in Phoenix, Arizona – and I’m still not sure how we had a condo for $600 a month!!
Because, I looked this up – that same condo is between $1,100 and $1,600 monthly now.
(And I’m sure that as time goes on, that number will only go up)
If you’re sick of paying way too much for monthly rent or mortgage, then you’ll wanna bookmark this blog post and highlight this section.
Subsidized Housing for Teachers on Reservations
Let’s start with housing.
Many reservations offer free or heavily subsidized housing to teachers who work on the reservation.
We’re talking $150-$600 a month (!!), and that’s in 2023!!!
This can be a huge cost savings – especially if you’re moving to a new area and don’t know where to start looking.
Living in provided teacher housing can also save you a ton of money on gas, and up to 10 hours a week on commuting.
I lived 15 minutes from my school when I was teaching on the reservation.
Lower Cost of Living
In most cases, the cost of living on a reservation is lower than in surrounding areas – and it’s definitely cheaper than living in a metropolitan area!
This means you save money on everyday expenses like groceries, gas, and utilities.
(One drawback though that could affect your gas budget – since reservation communities tend to be rural, you might find yourself driving into “town” often if you don’t plan ahead. We always did weekly or bi-weekly trips for groceries. One tip to get over this is to setup carpooling arrangements with other teachers!)
Affordable, or Even FREE Healthcare
One of the biggest cost savings that comes with teaching on a reservation is healthcare.
Many reservations have their own healthcare facilities that offer free or low-cost healthcare to teachers and other members of the community, even if they aren’t tribal members.
I’ve personally been to IHS (Indian Health Services) a few times and it was SO nice to not be stressed about the co-pays.
My district even paid my monthly premium, which made my take-home pay higher.
Get a Higher Salary
I taught on an Indian reservation in the state of Arizona, which is notorious for absurdly low teacher salaries.
Remember the whole Red for Ed movement that started in 2018?
The low salaries play a huge part.
This is another reason you might want to consider teaching on an Indian reservation – especially if you’re in a southwestern state with regionally low salaries.
Working at a school on a reservation can easily get you a $20-$40k raise. Yes, seriously!
I had some teacher friends who worked at a school 45 minutes north of the one I worked at.
Their base salary? Around $30k (criminal, I know).
My base salary? Almost $40k.
But then, add in all of the bonuses and addenda positions, and I was pulling in abut $70k annually.
It all makes a difference.
Why the Salaries Are Higher
Many reservations offer higher salaries to teachers than other schools in the same state.
This is partly due to the fact that reservations often struggle to attract and retain teachers, so they need to offer competitive salaries to entice educators to come and stay.
Schools on reservations also get special funding and a ton of grants that can be applied towards salaries, bonuses and incentives.
Let’s talk a bit more about those bonuses now.
When you’re looking at the benefits and compensation packages for teaching jobs on reservations, you need to look at bonuses, too.
Note that bonuses aren’t always guaranteed, so you’ll want to make sure you meet the requirements for said bonuses.
Sign-On and Recruitment Bonuses
These bonuses are usually the easiest to get.
A sign-on or recruitment bonus is available to teachers the first time they get employed by a particular district or tribe governing body (depending on who’s running the school – read more about who runs schools on Indian reservations in this blog post).
This can be anywhere from $2,000-$5,000 (possibly higher!), and you’ll usually get it on one of your first few paychecks.
It’s especially nice if/when you haven’t been making money all summer!
You can elect to have your paychecks spread out over 12 months so you always have the same salary to work with.
But many teachers choose to only be paid of the 9.5 month contract.
Then, they’ll pursue summer employment with the district, or work their own side-hustles.
Retention bonuses are for teachers who remain with a particular school or district.
It can be really difficult for schools on reservations to attract and retain talent, especially because the communities are in such rural places.
These bonuses can also be between $2,000-$5,000.
This is a really nice incentive if you love the school you move to!
Performance bonuses are conditional.
This means you only receive these bonuses if certain conditions are met.
Here are some examples of things I’ve earned performance bonuses for:
- Student scores on the standardized AZ Merit state tests
- Growth goals met on students’ NWEA tests
- Proficiency goals met on students’ NWEA tests
- High student academic performance on district benchmark Study Islands tests
- High marks on my data record-keeping, with qualitative records demonstrating student growth
Whether or not teacher performance bonuses are ethical is a whole other blog post entirely.
But I’ll say that, despite my inner protest and personal feeling, it was REALLLLLY nice to earn an extra $10-$20k per year teaching 4th-5th grade, because I helped my students learn.
After all, isn’t that why we all get into teaching in the first place?
To help students succeed?
Health and Wellness Benefits of Teaching on an Indian Reservation
Since you’ll likely be moving to a reservation to teach there, you need to know what to expect from possible lifestyle changes.
Just like any other opportunity, it’s definitely not for everyone.
If you like living 5 minutes from a Target and getting a coffee from a specialty café before driving to work, then reservation living might not be for you (unless you teach on a reservation and get housing off of the reservation).
So in this section, we’ll talk about what you can expect lifestyle-wise, and about the perks and benefits you can expect when it comes to your health and wellness.
More Opportunities to Get Outdoors
Reservations tend to be in rural, remote places.
Depending on where you end up, you can find yourself really close to incredible scenery.
When I was living and teaching on a reservation in northern Arizona, I was just a road trip away from:
- Grand Canyon National Park
- Monument Valley
- The Million Dollar Highway in southern Colorado
- Page and Antelope Canyon
I felt very privileged to live (relatively) close to these beautiful places, so I got out and traveled as much as I could.
Here’s a photo of me looking optimistic before doing the infamous Angel’s Landing hike:
But reservations have outdoor destinations worth visiting, too (in fact, some include the ones I’ve mentioned above).
The White Mountains in Arizona and the nearby Painted Desert have so much to explore.
The Mogollon Rim, Greer, jewelry stands off I-40, Meteor Crator, I could spend a lifetime sharing these with you.
And hey, maybe I will with this blog. 😉
If you haven’t explored much of Arizona, it’s worth several trips.
There’s so much diversity in the regions, wildlife, cities, and towns!
Explore Destinations Off the Beaten Path
If you like to travel off the beaten path, then you’ll definitely love living and teaching on a reservation.
I can’t tell you how many beautiful places I’ve seen that are just untouched by tourists.
My husband and I have found trails where you can still find mostly in-tact pottery from hundreds or thousands of years ago.
We’ll probably never say exactly where those places are online, because I’d hate for those beautiful, ancient artifacts to be stolen from the land.
But if you want to find them, there are places in the Southwest where you still can.
This is a photo of my husband showing off this cool pottery he found.
And if you love canyons and waterfalls?
Then you’ll love living just about anywhere in northern Arizona.
These are some photos we took at Cibecue Falls.
If you want to visit, you’ll need to get a permit from the White Mountain Apache tribe.
We got ours from the Sinclair gas station on the corner of Highway 76 and Highway 60.
Slower Pace of Life
I’ve heard so many teachers say that, when they moved to the reservation, they worked less than they ever had before.
I found that work wasn’t prioritized as heavily there as it was by other employers.
What I mean by that is, they want for you to have a life.
This opens up so much more free time for teachers who want to spend more time with their families, travel, get in better shape, or just enjoy life by taking up a hobby.
I had so much free time that I started this blog to share, because I couldn’t believe others weren’t sharing about it.
Towards the end of my time there, we had 4-days workweeks (Monday-Thursday), so having 3-day weekends every week was A HUGE PERK.
I can’t guarantee that you’ll get this wherever you end up, but it’s something you can look into as you start your search.
Professional Opportunities for Teachers on Reservations
I feel like I went to a whole second teacher university by being a teacher where I was.
When I was first working there, Fridays were half-days where we had some kind of PD.
More Opportunities to Get Promoted
For the first four years there, I taught 4th and 5th grade.
On my fifth year, I was able to apply for the K-5 S.T.E.A.M. teacher job, which I looooved.
At another school, I probably wouldn’t have even been considered being so new in the teaching profession.
But if you’re willing to work hard and develop yourself professionally, you can see all kinds of opportunities for promotions and leadership opportunities.
Discover What You Really Love to Teach
I’m really grateful that I had the opportunity to “try out” different grades and subjects.
When I first started, I said things like, “ELA all day,” and, “Social studies all the way!”
And I love those topics.
I mean, come on – my bachelor’s came from the geography department!
But you know what I discovered I really loved?
Math through entrepreneurship.
And hands-on science.
And real-life S.T.E.M. challenges.
Totally lit me up!
So as one of my side-hustles, I sell upper elementary math, science and S.T.E.M. resources on TPT.
Smaller Classroom Sizes
My heart goes out to any teacher who has 30, 40, or 50-something students in their classroom.
I honestly couldn’t imagine doing anything but classroom management with a group of that size.
My biggest class ever was a group of 26 students, and again, I am SO THANKFUL for that.
I wish it was that way for every teacher!
But if this is something you feel passionate about – if you want to truly build deep connections and rich relationships with your students?
Then you’ll leave teaching on an Indian reservation.
I had the most interesting conversations about history, philosophy, science, faith, religion, heritage, and a myriad of other things with students during my time there.
Less Stress (Sometimes!)
Please do not go to any teaching job and expect no stress lol
I wish that were the case. Stress is everywhere.
But I know for a fact that I didn’t have to deal with half of the crap my colleagues did at other schools.
Are there other, unique stressors about living and teaching on an Indian reservation? Absolutely.
But I wouldn’t want to teach anywhere else after my time there.
Teaching on an Indian reservation can be an incredibly rewarding experience that offers unique perks and benefits that you might not find in other teaching environments.
From the sense of community and the opportunity to immerse yourself in a new culture to the chance to witness history and current events firsthand and the potential for higher salaries and financial incentives, teaching on a reservation can be a great way to grow as a teacher and as a person.
If you’re looking for a teaching experience that is both challenging and fulfilling, then teaching on a reservation might be the perfect fit for you.
So why not apply to a few teaching jobs and see what happens?
You never know what incredible adventures and opportunities might be waiting for you.
Learn Even More
Want to learn more about teaching on an Indian reservation?
Check out these other related blog posts.