Special Report

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

Source: dszc / Getty Images

5. Arizona
> Average teacher pay: $47,597 (2nd lowest)
> Student-teacher ratio: 43 to 1 (the highest)
> New teachers expected to qualify for a pension: 100.0% (the highest)
> High school graduation rate: 78.0% (3rd lowest)

While all new teachers in Arizona are expected to stay in the profession long enough to qualify for retirement benefits, the average annual retirement benefit is low. At nearly $20,000, it is the eighth lowest of all states. Additionally, huge class sizes — with 43 students per every teacher, the highest teacher-student ratio in the country — only make teachers’ job harder and worsen both the learning experience and their working environment.

Teachers working in Arizona are not very well paid at all. The average annual pay, adjusted to the cost of living in the state, is almost $48,000. It is the second lowest average annual teacher compensation among states and almost $15,000 below the national average for teacher’s pay of almost $63,000.

See all stories featuring: Arizona

Source: Eric Tessmer / Wikimedia Commons

4. Hawaii
> Average teacher pay: $51,550 (4th lowest)
> Student-teacher ratio: 28 to 1 (19th highest)
> New teachers expected to qualify for a pension: 25.0% (5th lowest)
> High school graduation rate: 82.7% (17th lowest)

Hawaii has the nation’s highest cost of living, with prices on average 18.0% higher in the state than across the nation as a whole. After adjusting for the high living costs, the state’s average annual salary for teachers of $51,550 is the fourth lowest in the country.

Only a quarter of new teachers in Hawaii are expected to remain teachers long enough to qualify for retirement benefits, the fifth lowest share of teachers out of all states. The low retirement benefit for those teachers who do manage to retire of just over $9,000, the second lowest of all states, may contribute to turn over of public school educators.

See all stories featuring: Hawaii

Source: Davel5957 / Getty Images

3. Oklahoma
> Average teacher pay: $46,456 (the lowest)
> Student-teacher ratio: 29 to 1 (14th highest)
> New teachers expected to qualify for a pension: 44.0% (25th lowest)
> High school graduation rate: 82.6% (14th lowest)

Teachers in Oklahoma earn about a third less than the average teachers’ pay nationwide. The average annual pay in the state, adjusted to the cost of living, is $46,456, the lowest teacher salary of all states and considerably less than the U.S. average of almost $63,000.

Large class sizes are making teachers’ jobs more difficult. Research has shown that students are served better when teachers know them better, which is more likely in smaller classes. Further, small class sizes have been linked to several cognitive and non-cognitive benefits for both students and teachers. There are on average 29 students for every teacher in Hawaii, the 14th highest student-teacher ratio in the country.

See all stories featuring: Oklahoma

Source: Nick Fox / Shutterstock.com

2. Montana
> Average teacher pay: $55,705 (13th lowest)
> Student-teacher ratio: 25 to 1 (18th lowest)
> New teachers expected to qualify for a pension: 35.0% (15th lowest)
> High school graduation rate: 85.8% (24th lowest)

Even though teachers in Montana earn higher adjusted pays compared to the five worst states to be a teacher, only 35.0% of new teachers are expected to qualify for retirement benefits.

The National Council of Teacher Quality has given an F grade on the state’s teaching quality policies. When it comes to retaining effective staff, none of the measures, including supporting teacher leadership opportunities and considering effectiveness during layoffs, are implemented. The report lists no strengths at all in the state’s teaching quality policies.

See all stories featuring: Montana

Source: EunikaSopotnicka / Getty Images

1. South Dakota
> Average teacher pay: $48,947 (3rd lowest)
> Student-teacher ratio: 25 to 1 (17th lowest)
> New teachers expected to qualify for a pension: 53.0% (17th highest)
> High school graduation rate: 83.7% (20th lowest)

South Dakota’s teachers’ pay, adjusted to the cost of living, is relatively low — third lowest of all states. Though more than half of new teachers are expected to qualify for employer-based retirement benefits, South Dakota still ranks last as the worst state to be a teacher. The average retirement benefit new teachers actually receive is the third lowest in the country at just over $16,000 annually.

The NCTQ has ranked the state’s various policies on making sure teachers are qualified with either F or D. That means South Dakota’s rules and regulations on issuing licenses and evaluating teachers’ progress are not very strict. The state’s overall grade is F, worse than the previous three years when it was awarded a D or D-.

See all stories featuring: South Dakota