WRITTEN BY Kian Northcote • 8 min
Kian Northcote is a freelance journalist and writer with a background in education.
Despite the pandemic, education remains largely recession-proof, with the shift to hybrid and online education creating new opportunities and helping many experienced educators keep their jobs.
If you’re considering a career in education and you’re researching the best options for getting a full U.S. teaching license, then you should also be thinking about where you want to live and teach once you’re fully certified.
Accredited teacher certification programs can help fast-track graduates into full-time teaching positions in just a few short months!
That means if you want to hit the ground running, you’ll need a job search strategy that works.
Knowing where you want to teach before you graduate, is crucial for a couple of reasons.
First, it’ll help you refine your job search criteria, and more importantly, if you’re planning to apply for out-of-state positions, you’ll be better informed.
But what prior knowledge will help you feel confident about kicking off your teaching career in a different state?
On the one hand, you’ll need to consider how the pandemic guides the decision-making process in different school districts.
You’ll also need to think carefully about salary expectations, living costs and how demanding the job is likely to be before you commit.
We’ve compiled a list of the seven states that pay teachers the most, accounting for the pro and con variables in each state.
1. New York – $85,889 per year
New York is the top paying state for experienced teachers, with an average annual salary that tops $85,000 and a starting salary of $57, 845.
On average, teachers in the Empire State get paid 11.5 % more than other full-time workers in New York, which is eye-opening when you consider how poorly some teachers are paid for the work they put in.
It’s also worth noting that the average pupil to teacher ratio is a mere 13- to-1, which compares favorably with many other states.
Living in New York is expensive.
Rent often exceeds more than $3,000 per month, and it’s also important to be mindful of the tax rate, which can range from a low of just 4% to more than 10% at the high end.
This means you might have to be frugal with your money if you want to live here, which is not exactly ideal when you think about how much there is to see and do in New York.
It’s also worth noting that you’ll need to obtain a master’s degree within five years of embarking on your teaching career.
2. California – $82,282 per year
California is the second-best state for teacher salaries, with an average of $82, 282.
Entry-level teachers can expect to earn just shy of $50,000 per year, and educators in the Golden State also make 9.10 % more than other full-time workers, on average.
It’s also worth noting that while teacher-salaries in many states have stalled over the past decade, in California, the average educator has enjoyed a 3.20 % increase in wages since 2010.
Another big draw is the lifestyle.
California is known for its year-round warm weather (you may be disappointed in Northern California), beautiful coastline and cultural diversity.
If you’re the kind of teacher that likes to spend your spare time soaking up the sun, then this is the place for you.
There’s also the issue of class sizes.
The student to teacher average in California is high! At 20.9-to-1, it’s way above the national average of 15.5.
This could make teaching in some Californian K-12 schools a challenging prospect.
3. Massachusetts – $82,042
Next on our list of top-paying teacher-states is Massachusetts, where skilled teachers can earn from $82,000 per year.
The typical salary for an entry-level teacher is a healthy $48,000, but location matters, with some districts offering as little as $36,000 per year, while others top $55,000.
That’s why it’s always a good idea to do some research and identify which school districts offer the best compensation rates.
At 13.6-to-1, the Massachusetts student-teacher ratio is also well below the national average, and aspiring teachers can also benefit from various loan waiver programs and the most comprehensive public-retirement system in the state.
Then, of course, there’s all that culture: You can explore the Freedom Trail and learn more about our nation’s history.
You’ll also have access to numerous world-class museums, art galleries, and a certain university you might want to check out.
Like New York, you’ll eventually need to earn a master’s degree if you want to teach high-school on a long-term basis in Massachusetts.
Whether or not this is a disadvantage is subjective, and may depend on your overall career goals.
Further opportunities to develop your teaching methodology will probably boost your job prospects, but it will also mean a significant financial outlay.
Massachusetts also has a high cost of living, but this is concentrated around the Boston area.
Indeed, if you’re prepared to look elsewhere, you’ll find lots of affordable accommodation across the Bay State.
4. District of Columbia – $78,477 per year
Though not technically a state, we really should talk about D.C. as it’s our nation’s capital and offers an excellent average salary for experienced teachers, as they can earn over $78,000 per year.
At $62,000, the average salary for new teachers in D.C. is also extremely competitive.
But what about when we move into the classroom?
D.C. has a student-to-teacher ratio of just 13-to-1, which means you should have plenty of time to get to know your students properly and prepare more individual learning plans.
And of course, it’s D.C., so you won’t run out of things to do in your free time: entertainment, architecture, world-famous landmarks and great restaurants are all easily accessible.
Although the average salary for both new and experienced teachers looks great on paper, there is a catch.
According to Business.org, the average salary in D.C. for full-time workers in non-teaching-related positions is $99, 557, a difference of more than 20%.
This means you’ll be earning significantly less than other professionals, in a city with an average income tax rate of 8.95% and where realistically, only a salary of $80,000 plus will allow you to live comfortably.
Traffic congestion is also notorious in D.C., and public transport is underfunded.
This means you might want to consider saving time and money by living close to campus.
5. Connecticut – $76,465 per year
With an average teacher-salary that exceeds $75,000 per year, Connecticut is an attractive proposition for educators.
First-year teachers can also expect to earn in the region of $45,000.
There is now more emphasis on building a more diverse workforce in Connecticut, with the Department of Education recently unveiling its NextGen Educator initiative.
The program will encourage more college students from different cultural backgrounds to qualify for teaching positions across the state, helping to address our ongoing teacher shortage.
Connecticut’s student-to-teacher ratio currently sits at just 12-to-1.
It also has one of the most educated populations of any state, with an 88.5 % graduation rate, which ranks comfortably above the national average.
The state also boasts its fair share of natural beauty, with more than 300 miles of rugged shoreline and pristine beaches for you to explore.
And for the more adventurous, there’s great hiking, camping, and water sports, too.
Connecticut is not exactly tax-friendly, with residents paying an average of $10,364 per-head in general charges.
That’s more than any other U.S. state, and it’s resulted in a population short-fall of more than 21,000 in recent years, with both residents and businesses packing up and moving elsewhere.
Although Connecticut has a reputation for valuing education, the numbers tell a different story.
The average teacher salary of $75,000 is almost $10,000 less than the state-wide average in other full-time professions.
6. Washington – $72,965 per year
Washington state could be an excellent option for new teachers as the average salary for educators has increased by a massive 28% over the past three years.
The current average salary for an experienced teacher tops $70,000, while new teachers can expect to earn around $40,000 in their first teaching year.
The state also operates a TRI model (additional time, responsibility and incentive) to encourage teachers to work harder for bonus payments.
Aside from income growth potential, there are other advantages to pursuing a teaching career in Washington.
A recent report by Wallethub.com dubbed Washington the best state for educators, using key metrics like “opportunity and competitiveness” and “work environment” as a means for ranking different states from best to worst.
Away from the classroom, if you’re looking for a place to put down roots and save money, Washington could be the ideal choice as its progressive tax system doesn’t require residents to pay any income tax.
This means earnings from social security, pensions and retirement accounts are all tax-free.
Unfortunately, at 18-to-1, Washington’s student-to-teacher ratio is on the high side, which might prove daunting for some educators.
Test scores among students in core subjects like math also compare quite poorly to many other states, and reports from 2019 suggest that the gap between the top and lowest performing students in Washington appears to be growing.
This could result in additional demands being put on K-12 teachers to help solve the problem.
7. Pennsylvania – $68,141 per year
Although Pennsylvania ranks just below Alaska, Maryland and New Jersey in terms of average teacher salaries, it trumps all three when the focus shifts to comparisons with other occupations.
On average, Pennsylvania educators earn noticeably more per year ($3,000) than other full-time workers in the Keystone State.
Experienced teachers can expect to earn around $70,000 a year, and according to the NEA, the average annual salary for new-starters in Pennsylvania is a reasonable $44, 674.
That might be less than high-income states like New York and California.
Still, it compares favorably with many other places, including nearby West Virginia and Ohio, where starter salaries for first-year teachers begin at just $31,000 and $33,000, per year.
According to recent statistics, Pennsylvania is also affordable, with the average monthly rent working out at just $1,330.
In fact, of the seven states featured in this article, Pennsylvania is considered the most cost-efficient.
Although some teachers in Pennsylvania earn 4.30% more than other full-time workers, salaries have declined by 1.20% over the past three years and by 1.40% over the past decade.
This suggests the possibility of a long-term downward trend.
And if you’re looking for a state with a robust public-pension system, you may want to look elsewhere.
Recent state-wide legislation in Pennsylvania means teachers are likely to receive reduced pensions in the years to come.
Deciding where you want to teach requires a lot more involvement than merely Googling the states that pay the most.
General living costs, class size, recreation and even tax rates are all worth exploring before you make any decision.
And while it might be tempting to head for the glitz-and-glamor of New York or California’s sun-kissed beaches, you’re likely to get more bang for your buck in Pennsylvania and experience greater earning potential in Washington state.
Either way, if you’re ready to plan your first teaching adventure, we can help you start your journey.