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The 11 Best States for Teachers in 2024

best states for teacher 2023

When working to become a teacher, you need to think carefully about the state you want to teach in. Not only will you be taking the certification test specific to the state you plan to teach in, but you’ll also be committing to a city and community for an extended period of time.
When determining the best state for you, start by asking yourself a few key questions:

  • What’s the average teacher salary for my grade level?
  • What’s the average cost of living in the state?
  • What’s the high school graduation rate?
  • What’s the teacher turnover rate?
  • What’s the average student-to-teacher ratio?

In many states, teachers are severely underpaid, which often rules out a teaching career for many young professionals. However, some states have introduced initiatives that raise the ceiling on teacher salaries in an effort to work towards more fair pay. The American Teacher Act, a bill introduced in December 2022, incentivizes states and school districts to raise the minimum teacher salary to $60,000.

Currently, there’s a large discrepancy between teacher salaries in the U.S. New York leads the way with an average teacher salary of $90,222, while Mississippi sits at the bottom with an average salary of $46,862.

how much do teachers make in the US

In this post, we’ll list the 11 best states for teachers in the U.S., the worst states to teach in, and some tips for choosing where to launch your teaching career.

Methodology: To compile our list, we weighed average annual teacher salaries, made available through World Population Review, and scores from the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center’s cost of living index. We divided average annual salaries by scores from the cost of living index to determine a “livability” score. The higher the score, the better the potential teacher experience.

Average Annual Salary ÷ Cost of Living Index Scores = Teacher Livability Score

We also factored in student-to-teacher ratios, made available through Public School Review, as an illustrator of work environment and teacher-friendliness.

1. New York

Whereas New York has the highest cost of living in the continental U.S., the state pays teachers the most overall and ranks high in terms of teacher-friendliness.

Not only does New York pay teachers better than any other state, but the state emphasizes education in other ways. New York public schools boast some of the best facilities nationwide and maintain low student-to-teacher ratios despite having a large population.

Average Annual Salary: $92,222

Cost of Living Index: 134.5

Livability Score: 622

Student-to-Teacher Ratio: 12:1

Required Teacher Certification Exam: Educating All Students (EAS) Test

2. Connecticut

While the average teacher salary in Connecticut is just a little north of $80,000, many teachers in the state earn up to or over $90,000, with a cost of living that’s below its northeast neighbor New York.

Beyond the competitive pay, Connecticut also claims a student-to-teacher ratio of 12:1, one of the lowest nationwide.

Average Annual Salary: $81,185

Cost of Living Index: 116.8

Livability Score: 668

Student-to-Teacher Ratio: 12:1

Required Teacher Certification Exam: Praxis® Exam

3. Massachusetts

Like Connecticut, Massachusetts offers some of the highest teacher salaries in the country to compete with its high cost of living. The state additionally has some of the lowest student-to-teacher ratios.

Massachusetts’s success with education largely comes from the Education Reform Act, a 1993 bill by former Massachusetts Governor William Weld that put more funding into low-income schools. The state primarily uses its funding to hire and retain quality teachers in low-income schools.

Average Annual Salary: $88,903

Cost of Living Index: 149.7

Livability Score: 659

Student-to-Teacher Ratio: 12:1

Required Teacher Certification Exam:  MTEL Exam

4. New Jersey

While the cost of living in New Jersey is one of the highest in the nation, the state attracts and retains teachers through high salaries, low student-to-teacher ratios, and state-of-the-art facilities.

Teacher friendliness is the driving force behind its placement on the list. With a student-to-teacher ratio of 12:1, New Jersey invests in its school systems by offering small class sizes and strong wages.

Average Annual Salary: $79,045

Cost of Living Index: 112.4

Livability Score: 686

Student-to-Teacher Ratio: 12:1

Required Teacher Certification Exam: Praxis® Exam

5. Rhode Island

While student-to-teacher ratios are a bit higher in Rhode Island compared to the states above, the state still has some of the top public school systems in the country and a much lower cost of living than its New England neighbors.

Rhode Island public schools are also made distinct by the percentage of teachers expected to qualify for a pension. Fifty-nine percent of the teachers in the state are expected to qualify for a pension, one of the highest percentages in the country.

Average Annual Salary: $76,852

Cost of Living Index: 112.9

Livability Score: 656

Student-to-Teacher Ratio: 13:1

Required Teacher Certification Exam: Praxis® Exam

6. Illinois

When it comes to teacher compensation adjusted for cost of living, Illinois holds the top spot nationwide. The average teacher salary in Illinois falls well above the national average, while cost of living in the state is far less than in some of the states above.

As for the quality of school systems and work environment, the state isn’t as strong as others — it has higher student-to-teacher ratios than northeastern states like New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. However, the average salary for teachers compared to the state’s cost of living makes Illinois a very attractive location for new teachers to land.

Average Annual Salary: $72,301

Cost of Living Index: 92.6

Livability Score: 767

Student-to-Teacher Ratio: 17:1

Required Teacher Certification Exam: ILTS Exam

7. Washington

Like Illinois, Washington is one of the best states to teach in largely because of its compensation adjusted for cost of living. Washington also separates itself from the competition due to its low student-to-teacher ratios and adoption of a digital learning plan.

Washington also stands alone as a top state on the West Coast salary-wise, with many states like Arizona and New Mexico ranking towards the bottom. As a result, Washington’s compensation draws in West Coast teachers to build their careers.

Average Annual Salary: $81,586

Cost of Living Index: 114.2

Livability Score: 731

Student-to-Teacher Ratio: 17:1

Required Teacher Certification Exam: NES Exam

8. Michigan

Like its Midwestern neighbor Illinois, Michigan also offers strong teacher salaries adjusted for cost of living — the state boasts an average teacher salary of $65,198 and scores a 91.3 on the cost of living index.

Similar to Illinois, Michigan performs well in other categories, but not as strongly as northeastern states like New York and Connecticut. Michigan has a student-to-teacher ratio of 17:1, the nationwide average for the metric.

Average Annual Salary: $65,198

Cost of Living Index: 92.2

Livability Score: 714

Student-to-Teacher Ratio: 17:1

Required Teacher Certification Exam: MTTC Exam

9. Pennsylvania

According to a study by Business.org, the average teacher salary in Pennsylvania was 28.5% more than the average salary of all other occupations — the largest gap in the nation. With teachers making well above the average salary, Pennsylvania attracts and maintains strong teachers.

Beyond the wage benefits, Pennsylvania also has a student-teacher ratio of 14:1, putting it below the national average.

Average Annual Salary: $72,428

Cost of Living Index: 98.2

Livability Score: 686

Student-to-Teacher Ratio: 14:1

Required Teacher Certification Exam: Praxis® Exam

10. Ohio

Ohio is another midwestern state that offers great compensation and an average to low cost of living. On average, Ohio teachers earn $63,153 annually, putting the state above the national average.

While Ohio is in the middle of the pack in terms of quality of schools and student-to-teacher ratio, it has one of the highest percentages of teachers that will qualify for a pension.

Average Annual Salary: $63,153

Cost of Living Index: 91.9

Livability Score: 692

Student-to-Teacher Ratio: 17:1

Required Teacher Certification Exam: OAE Exam

11. Virginia

Virginia rounds out our list of the best states for teachers, based somewhat on their teacher compensation but largely on the quality of their school systems.

According to WalletHub’s study that considers average test scores, dropout rates, and other key performance indicators, Virginia has the fourth-best public school system in the country. As a result, Virginia attracts families from the District of Columbia, which falls toward the bottom of our list.

Average Annual Salary: $59,965

Cost of Living Index: 102.8

Livability Score: 589

Student-to-Teacher Ratio: 14:1

Required Teacher Certification Exam: Praxis® Exam

Worst States for Teachers

The worst states for teachers generally have low pay, a high cost of living, poor school systems, or all the above. Here are the five states considered to be the worst for teachers based on these factors.

worst states to teach in

1. Hawaii

Hawaii is typically considered one of the worst states for teachers as it has the highest cost of living in the country, mixed with a relatively average teacher salary. Despite being costlier than expensive states like New York and Massachusetts, Hawaii pays public school teachers far less.

2. New Hampshire

Unlike its New England neighbors, New Hampshire sits near the bottom of the list of the best states for teachers.

Despite having one of the best student-to-teacher ratios in the country, New Hampshire public schools are some of the most underfunded nationwide, as the New Hampshire state government contributed the least amount of money out of any state government for the 2021 school year.

3. District of Columbia

Like Hawaii, the District of Columbia provides another case of an incredibly high cost of living and average to low teacher salaries. Teacher turnover is also a problem in the D.C. school system, as 30% of teachers left their current role during the last school year.

4. Arizona

Arizona teachers are some of the most underpaid in the country, and the state is considered to have one of the worst public school systems in the country. Arizona has a student-to-teacher ratio of 18:1 and a student-to-counselor ratio of 716:1, according to a 2021 study by the American School Counselor Association.

5. New Mexico

New Mexico ranks among the five worst states for teachers largely due to the state being both rural and impoverished. The state has the third highest poverty rate in the country, and with limited funding leading to poor quality in schools, New Mexico struggles to fairly pay and maintain teachers. However, New Mexico increased funding for public schools in 2019 in a continued effort to improve the educational system in the state.

Tips for Choosing Where to Teach

The 11 states listed above are great options if you have the freedom to move anywhere. However, there will always be factors that dictate where you end up teaching — both personal and financial. When deciding where to teach, you should…

how to decide where to teach

Consider Cost of Living

While salary may look great in certain states, you should always analyze it against the cost of living. Some states adjust teacher salaries to account for cost of living while others don’t.

New York has one of the highest costs of living; however, the state adjusts teacher salaries to account for the high prices. Washington D.C., on the other hand, has one of the highest costs of living in the U.S. but a median entry-level teaching salary of just $47,327 — putting it on the lower end of teacher salaries nationwide.

Research Specific Districts

You should research and analyze your state and dig into the specific district you want to live and teach in. Some questions you may ask while looking into different school districts or interviewing at schools include:

  • Is it a large or small district?Large districts often have more room for professional development but can also have more regulations and hoops to jump through. Consider what matters most to you when researching districts. 

 

  • What type of challenge do you want? Districts with less funding present numerous challenges to first-year teachers. However, the opportunity to impact students’ lives in underfunded areas can also be very rewarding.


  • What’s the student-to-teacher ratio? Student-to-teacher ratios are generally a good indicator of the quality of the school. A lower number usually means a better learning environment.

Factor in Proximity to Friends and Family

Cost of living and teacher salaries are certainly significant when determining the district you want to teach in, but don’t let those factors come at the expense of other factors in your life — like family and friends.

If it’s important for you to be close to loved ones, factor this into your school search or look in affordable states nearby to your home and family.

Find the Freedom to Teach Anywhere

One of the best parts about becoming a teacher is that you can largely pick and choose what state you want to live and work in. Unlike jobs where you have to move to your employer’s location, you can apply for teaching jobs anywhere you desire.

With the right resources, study guides, and practice tests, you can ace your state certification exam and start your teaching career with confidence.

Select your state to get started today.

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