Buffalo City Scape

The 15 Best Places To Be A Teacher In The US

Rachel Burris10-Minute Read
April 21, 2021

Despite how essential teachers are to our society, they don’t always get the support or respect they deserve. With Teacher Appreciation Week just around the corner, we thought we’d take a moment to identify those cities that do their best to make teaching a positive experience so that educators can focus on what they do best: helping their students thrive. With the help of BestPlaces.net, Rocket Homes® found the 15 best places to be a teacher in the U.S.

These metro areas are not just the most lucrative places for educators to live. They are also the places that offer teachers the highest quality of life due to the support and opportunities they provide. Take a look at which cities are home to the happiest teachers.

Finding The Best Places To Be A Teacher

The researchers at BestPlaces.net used the following metrics to determine the rankings for the best places to be a teacher in the U.S.:

  • Average annual teacher salary
  • Average teacher salary adjusted by cost of living
  • Teachers’ salaries compared to salaries of all jobs within local area
  • Average student-to-teacher ratio
  • Instructional expenditures per student
  • Teacher salary increase over the last 10 years
  • Teacher leadership opportunities
  • Teaching as a percent of all jobs within local area
  • Availability of tenure and extent to which teacher effectiveness is considered
  • Availability of financial incentives for teaching in high-need schools

1. Buffalo, New York

Aerial View Of Downtown City
  • Metro population: 1,127,983
  • Average teacher salary: $72,760
  • Salary adjusted by cost of living: $82,029
  • Average student-to-teacher ratio: 12.3

The cost of living in Buffalo may be 3.5% higher than in Rochester; however, teachers’ salaries here are nearly 10% higher than in its sister city. At nearly $73,000, Buffalonian teachers’ salaries tend to be 36.5% higher than all other salaries in the local area. And, after accounting for the city’s cost of living, the average wage for teachers increases to just over $82,000. This high adjusted salary puts the metro area in the top 2% of the country for the “true salary” metric. Yet, it’s not just income that lands Buffalo at the top of our list. The city’s high instructional spending and low student-to-teacher ratio – both of which rank in the top 4% of the U.S. – make working in the area a far more enjoyable experience.

2. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh Skyline During Daytime
  • Metro population: 2,317,600
  • Average teacher salary: $72,307
  • Salary adjusted by cost of living: $83,016
  • Average student-to-teacher ratio: 14.3

Back in 2010, the average teacher wage in Pittsburgh was just $53,170, making their salary lower than teachers in nearly 60% of the country. But the metro area made sure to rectify the situation. Over the last 10 years, Pittsburgh teachers’ salaries have increased 36%. Now, the city ranks in the top 10% of the country for teachers’ wages and the top 1% of the country when you take cost of living into consideration. The average Pittsburgh educator has a “true salary” of $83,016, which is 47% higher than the average American’s.

3. Rochester, New York

Large Blue Sidewalk Bridge With Vintage Brick Buildings
  • Metro population: 1,069,644
  • Average teacher salary: $66,390
  • Salary adjusted by cost of living: $77,923
  • Average student-to-teacher ratio: 11.4

With a cost of living that’s 14.8% below the national average, Rochester is the most affordable city on this list. Teachers’ salaries go much farther than they do in other cities. Rochester ranks in the top 1% of the country for average student-to-teacher ratio and the top 2% of the country for instructional expenditures. With just 11.4 students for every teacher and $12,628 spent per student, educators in Rochester can provide more individualized instruction for their students and ensure they have the tools they need to thrive.

4. Hartford, Connecticut

View Of Hartford City Skyline From Park
  • Metro population: 1,204,877
  • Average teacher salary: $77,943
  • Salary adjusted by cost of living: $72,844
  • Average student-to-teacher ratio: 11.9

Although Hartford is in the top 2% of the country for its low student-to-teacher ratio, Superintendent Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez believes that the needs of the district’s students will soon be greater and that the changes needed will require more staffing. Dr. Torres-Rodriguez has already called on Mayor Luke Bronin to help source tens of millions of dollars that will allow the school district to increase the number of its teachers. The additional staffing will ensure that teachers can provide more instructional intervention for struggling students and receive more professional development time to learn from each other.

5. Cleveland, Ohio

View Of Cleveland Skyline From Across The River
  • Metro population: 2,048,449
  • Average teacher salary: $71,483
  • Salary adjusted by cost of living: $81,323
  • Average student-to-teacher ratio: 17.6

When it comes to providing teachers with professional development opportunities, Ohio is in the top 4% of the country. The state offers highly qualified teachers with leadership positions that are not available in other states. By obtaining a senior professional educator license or a lead professional educator license, teachers can advance not only their careers but also their paychecks. Meanwhile, with Cleveland’s cost of living 12% below the national average, the “true salary” of teachers in the metro area is already in the top 4% of the country.

6. Warwick, Rhode Island

Aerial Landscape Photograph Taken In Warwick Rhode Island Surrounded By Ocean
  • Metro population: 1,624,578
  • Average teacher salary: $75,807
  • Salary adjusted by cost of living: $65,805
  • Average student-to-teacher ratio: 13.3

Although $75,807 is the average teacher salary in the metro area, 87% of teachers in Warwick make over $80,000 a year. Less than 4% of teachers earn salaries below the national average of $56,310. Considering that Warwick’s cost of living is on par with the national average, even new teachers make a wage that enables them to comfortably afford life’s basic necessities – a fact that sadly cannot be said throughout the country. The city is also working to offer educators more professional learning opportunities that will teach into best practices regarding differentiated instruction and leveraging technology in the classroom.

7. Virginia Beach, Virginia

Virginia Beach Boardwalk As Seen From The Ocean Front Fishing Pier
  • Metro population: 1,732,436
  • Average teacher salary: $68,260
  • Salary adjusted by cost of living: $67,318
  • Average student-to-teacher ratio: 15.6

In Virginia Beach, teachers are supported both financially and professionally. Educators in the metro area tend to earn nearly 31% more than the average resident, which puts the city in the top 10% of the country when measuring the difference between teacher salaries and all other local salaries. Meanwhile, teachers in Virginia Beach also receive more preparation than most. The city’s Teacher Orientation and Continuous Learning Institute (TOCLI) program offers all new teachers and those new to the area professional learning opportunities that acquaint them with their curricula and coach them in strategies for providing effective instruction.

8. Elgin, Illinois

At Stop Light On A Brick Street With Shops
  • Metro population: 9,458,539
  • Average teacher salary: $73,620
  • Salary adjusted by cost of living: $72,963
  • Average student-to-teacher ratio: 16.4

A school district’s teacher retention rate can tell you quite a bit about how satisfied teachers are working there. In U-46, the school district that encompasses Elgin, the retention rate among teachers is 92.6%. It seems there’s a high correlation between teacher retention and performance. So, teachers in Elgin’s school district not only stick with their jobs longer but also perform better in their roles. While just under 59% of the district’s teachers were rated as exceeding expectations, only about 1% were classified as needing improvement.

9. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Brick Alley With Philidelphia Skyline
  • Metro population: 6,102,434
  • Average teacher salary: $72,050
  • Salary adjusted by cost of living: $67,023
  • Average student-to-teacher ratio: 14.2

Proper instructional funding is key to easing educators’ burdens, as it ensures that teachers receive proper pay and benefits and classrooms are appropriately stocked with textbooks and supplies. In Philadelphia, the school district spends $9,791 per student, causing the city to rank in the top 10% of the country for instructional expenditures. While other cities tend to lose high-quality public school teachers to charter schools, Philadelphia doesn’t have that problem – probably because public school teachers in the area are better rewarded, making about 30% more than charter school teachers.

10. Columbus, Ohio

LeVeque Tower Downtown Columbus Scioto River
  • Metro population: 2,122,271
  • Average teacher salary: $65,957
  • Salary adjusted by cost of living: $72,881
  • Average student-to-teacher ratio: 19.4

As the largest school district in Ohio, Columbus is not without its challenges, but the city’s superintendent, Talisa L. Dixon, owes her career to overcoming them. When working as a substitute teacher, Dixon wrestled to get a full-time teaching position despite her experience and two master’s degrees. Now, as superintendent, Dixon is doing everything she can to ensure her schools, teachers and students have what they need to succeed. The 50,000-student school district has gotten 40,000 Chromebooks into the hands of students to ensure that teachers can remain safe and students remain learning during COVID-19.

11. Cincinnati, Ohio

Aerial View Of Colorful Houses With Street Vendors
  • Metro population: 2,198,450
  • Average teacher salary: $64,603
  • Salary adjusted by cost of living: $73,832
  • Average student-to-teacher ratio: 19.1

Teachers in Cincinnati may typically make just about 15% more than the average American, but their income goes even farther when you consider the fact that the metro area’s cost of living is 12.5% below the national average. Cincy educators’ “true salary” – that is, their average wage adjusted by the cost of living – actually ranks in the top 10% of the country. Meanwhile, before certification, the University of Cincinnati’s CITE program offers teaching candidates the opportunity to work in classrooms half-time as they earn their master’s degree, enabling grad students to get paid as they gain practical experience.

12. Riverside, California

Snow Capped Mountain View Of The Historic Skyline Of Riverside California
  • Metro population: 4,650,631
  • Average teacher salary: $88,863
  • Salary adjusted by cost of living: $69,916
  • Average student-to-teacher ratio: 24.3

Living in Riverside doesn’t come cheap, but the metro area tries to compensate for the high cost of living by paying teachers more. The average teacher earns nearly $89,000 a year, causing Riverside to rank in the top 1% of the country for teachers’ wages. Educators’ salaries tend to be about 66% higher than the metro average. Meanwhile, the state of California also incentivizes teachers to work in high-need schools. Qualified teachers who work in a high-need school for 4 consecutive years are rewarded with an extra $20,000 over the course of 4 years.

13. Grand Rapids, Michigan

Bright Buildings Photographed From Across The River
  • Metro population: 1,074,223
  • Average teacher salary: $62,957
  • Salary adjusted by cost of living: $70,738
  • Average student-to-teacher ratio: 17.8

Being a teacher anywhere is challenging, but what makes the job even harder is that teachers don’t always feel that their voices are heard. In Grand Rapids, teachers are joining other educators across the state of Michigan to speak out about the problems they encounter in the classroom, and politicians are listening. Initiatives have been established to gain educators’ opinions about issues, such as compensation, student loan debt and educational policy. Governor Gretchen Whitmer has created an educator advisory committee, which provides teachers with the opportunity to give input on educational policies and recommend legislation reform.

14. Arlington, Virginia

Kayaking On Potomac River Before Sunset Over Virginia Skyline
  • Metro population: 6,267,226
  • Average teacher salary: $86,070
  • Salary adjusted by cost of living: $65,155
  • Average student-to-teacher ratio: 14.6

With a cost of living 32% above the national average, Arlington may be part of a pricey metro area, but it historically has attempted to pay teachers better than most cities in the nation. Arlington teachers currently earn an average salary that’s nearly 53% higher than the national average. This high wage is the result of a 23% increase that took place over the last 10 years. Yet, even in 2010, when Arlington teachers were making just shy of $70,000 a year, the area ranked in the top 5% of the country for average teacher wages.

15. St. Louis, Missouri

Saint Louis Missouri Downtown At Daylight
  • Metro population: 2,803,228
  • Average teacher salary: $58,113
  • Salary adjusted by cost of living: $67,416
  • Average student-to-teacher ratio: 13.9

With teachers accounting for just 2% of all jobs in the area, St. Louis may have fewer teachers than other metro areas, but St. Louis Public School Superintendent Kelvin Adams has been doing something about it. To get more high-quality teachers into classrooms, Adams has been fighting for more hiring flexibility and allocating more resources to support teaching candidates through the certification process. Any teachers thinking of making a move to Missouri needn’t worry, as recertification is not required.

Methodology: Finding The Best Places To Be A Teacher

To identify the metro areas where teachers are the most supported and rewarded for their work, BestPlaces.net began by examining all of the U.S. metropolitan areas with a population greater than one million. All metro area population data was sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau and reflects 2019 estimates.

The team collected and analyzed statistics in 10 key measures that give insight into how committed each community is to ensuring their teachers are financially and professionally supported. State-level data was used in some cases where policies are made by the state instead of the local area.

Each data metric was normalized and transformed to a common range of 0 – 100 points for the purposes of scoring and comparison. Weights were applied to each metric to reflect its level of importance in the study. The weighted scores for each metric were then summed and sorted to produce the final rankings.

 

Metric

Weight

Level

Source

Average teacher salary adjusted by cost of living

41%

Metro

Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2020, Occupational Employment and Wages, BestPlaces Cost of Living Index, 2020

Teachers’ salaries compared to salaries of all jobs within the local area

17%

Metro

Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2020, Occupational Employment and Wages

Average student-to-teacher ratio

15%

Metro

National Center for Education Statistics, 2018, Local Education Agency Universe Survey

Instructional expenditures per student

7%

Metro

National Center for Education Statistics, 2018, School District Finance Survey

Teacher salary increase over the last 10 years

7%

Metro

Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2020, Occupational Employment and Wages

Teacher leadership opportunities

5%

State

National Council on Teacher Quality

Teaching as a percent of all jobs within local area

3%

Metro

Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2020, Occupational Employment and Wages

Availability of tenure and extent to which teacher effectiveness is considered

2%

State

National Council on Teacher Quality

Availability of financial incentives for teaching in high-need schools

2%

State

National Council on Teacher Quality

Average annual teacher salary

1%

Metro

Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2020, Occupational Employment and Wages

 

 

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    Rachel Burris

    Rachel Burris is a writer covering topics of interest to present and future homeowners, as well as industry insiders. Prior to joining Quicken Loans, she worked as an English teacher for the New York City Department of Education and a licensed real estate agent for Brown Harris Stevens. She holds a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Bucknell University, a postbaccalaureate certificate in psychology from Columbia University and a master's degree in English education from Teachers College, Columbia University.