Special Report

The States Where It’s Best (and Worst) to Be a Teacher

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10. Nevada
> Average teacher pay: $59,088 (24th lowest)
> Student-teacher ratio: 37 to 1 (4th highest)
> New teachers expected to qualify for a pension: 57.0% (10th highest)
> High school graduation rate: 80.9% (11th lowest)

Smaller classroom sizes have been shown to benefit both the students and the teachers by allowing educators to focus more on individual students, spend less time handling interruptions, and experience less stress on the job. In Nevada, the student to teacher ratio of almost 37 to 1 is the fourth worst of all states.

Additionally, the National Council of Teacher Quality has given an overall C- grade to the state’s teaching quality policies. Some of the weaknesses the report has identified include lack of support for leadership opportunities and no additional compensation for more experienced teachers.

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9. Utah
> Average teacher pay: $61,715 (24th highest)
> Student-teacher ratio: 41 to 1 (3rd highest)
> New teachers expected to qualify for a pension: 52.0% (18th highest)
> High school graduation rate: 86.0% (25th lowest)

Like Nevada, Utah’s teachers earn nearly the U.S. average for teachers’ annual pay, adjusted to the cost of living. Also, a relatively high share of new teachers is expected to work long enough to qualify for pension benefits. However, the state student-to-teacher ratio of 41 students per one teacher is the third highest of all states. Large class sizes can contribute to a more stressful work environment for teachers.

Contributing to Utah’s low ranking is also the National Council for Teaching Quality’s report on the state’s policies. There is plenty of room for improvement. The state for example does not require that tenure decisions are made on the basis of teacher performance, and there are few policies that reward teachers with more relevant experience.

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8. Mississippi
> Average teacher pay: $52,575 (9th lowest)
> Student-teacher ratio: 27 to 1 (25th highest)
> New teachers expected to qualify for a pension: 22.0% (3rd lowest)
> High school graduation rate: 83.0% (18th lowest)

As is the case in only two other states, less than one-quarter (22%) of new teachers in Mississippi are expected to stay in the profession long enough to qualify for a pension. For those who do end up retiring with benefits, the average pension is $18,928 annually, the sixth lowest of all states.

Mississippi has the nation’s lowest cost of living, with prices on average 14% lower than across the nation as a whole. Even after adjusting for cost of living, however, the state’s average annual salary for teachers of $52,575 is the ninth lowest of all states.

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7. Maine
> Average teacher pay: $54,759 (11th lowest)
> Student-teacher ratio: 22 to 1 (4th lowest)
> New teachers expected to qualify for a pension: 14.0% (2nd lowest)
> High school graduation rate: 86.9% (19th highest)

Public school teachers in Maine benefit from small classroom sizes, which have been shown to be favorable to both students and teachers. With one of the lowest student-teacher ratios in the nation, the state is an exception on this list of worst states to be a teacher.

One of the factors driving the state’s poor ranking is its failure to provide retirement system that adequately supports teachers. Only 14% of new teachers in Maine are expected to remain long enough to qualify for pension benefits, which in Maine require a five year vesting period. Further, teachers in Maine are not permitted to take their benefits to other states, are extremely unlikely to receive in retirement payments that are equal to their total contributions, and an estimated 74% of teacher pension contributions go to debts created by poor state management.

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6. Colorado
> Average teacher pay: $52,357 (8th lowest)
> Student-teacher ratio: 31 to 1 (11th highest)
> New teachers expected to qualify for a pension: 36.0% (17th lowest)
> High school graduation rate: 79.1% (6th lowest)

Like most states where teaching is a relatively difficult profession, teachers in Colorado are paid relatively lower wages. Teachers earn on average just over $52,000 annually, the eighth lowest average teachers pay of all states, and well below the national average teachers pay of about $63,000.

Though teacher retirees in Colorado receive on average one of the highest retirement benefit amounts, just over a third of new teachers are expected to stay teaching in Colorado and qualify for retirement benefits. This may be partially due to the fairly stricter rules to collect benefits. Teachers can retire at any age after 35 years of teaching, more than the standard of 30 years, or at age 66 after any amount of service, also longer than the standard of 60 years.

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