The Best (and Worst) States For Teachers in 2018

2018's best and worst states for teachers

Teaching is a thankless job. If it's not unruly students giving teachers trouble, it's the parents blaming them for their kid failing out of school. Coupled with the fact that jobs in education are among the lowest-paying occupations that require a bachelor's degree, it's a wonder anyone wants to become a teacher these days. 

According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, about 1 in 5 new teachers leave their position within their first year on the job. Nearly half of new teachers only last around five years. Many of the teachers end up transferring to other schools, or abandoning their chosen occupation altogether "as the result of feeling overwhelmed, ineffective, and unsupported," according to the nonprofit ASCD. 

But, for people determined to enter the classroom hoping to mold young minds for the future, they may want to look into states where teachers reported being the happiest and most fulfilled in their jobs while educating the minds of tomorrow.


To help narrow down the choice for novice teachers, WalletHub compared all 50 states and the District of Columbia using 22 key indicators of teacher-friendliness and satisfaction.

Some of the data WalletHub looked at included how much a teacher could potentially make over the course of their career, how many students per class the teacher has, and even how safe the neighborhood the schools are located in. 

The results? New York was number one for teachers, with Connecticut, Minnesota, Illinois and North Dakota rounding out the top five. 

One of the reasons why teachers reported being so happy in those states was because those were also among the states that were ranked as paying teachers a higher-than-average salary. 

However, money isn't the only thing. Teachers also reported being pretty happy in places like Kentucky, Montana, Missouri and New York with those states boasting the lowest turnover rates in the nation.

One big surprising takeaway?  Turns out, teachers hate teaching in Hawaii. Education job salaries in the Aloha State are ranked among the lowest in the nation and coupled with the high cost of living, teachers eventually realize they can't affording to teach in paradise for long, eventually moving to another state or leaving the profession entirely. 

It may not be surprising to find that the nation's most populous state also boasts the highest pupil-to-teacher ratio. According to a UCLA study, nearly 1 in 3 California students attend a school that is overcrowded. One extreme example is a school in Los Angeles where 4,200 students attend South Gate Middle School, a school designed for 800. 


However, despite the doom and gloom hanging over the conversation about public schools in the U.S., there's reasons to be optimistic. According to Professor Leslie Burns, an associate Professor of Literacy, Program Chair of English Education at the University of Kentucky, schools across the nation aren't doing as badly as the news media might have you believe. 

"Today's teachers face significant obstacles to their success mostly due to the idea that public schools are failing and in crisis. This comes with frequent misrepresentation in the media related to international studies comparing school systems in ways that can be useful but are often misinterpreted," said Burns, 

Burns points out that the first studies comparing school system were flawed in their design and are outdated for current teaching standards and styles. 

For example, the first international studies comparing school system success in a global context were done in the 1960s and out of the 12 nations participating, the United States was ranked #11 for our public schools. That's led to an undeserved reputation for public schools in the U.S., with many putting the blame on poor teaching.

However, Burns says it's not fair to compare public schools in the U.S. with international schools like that based on how different the 

Finland's total population is approximately five million, and Singapore is just under six million. The U.S. population is just under 270 million people. It is literally impossible to compare the school and teaching capacities due to those differences alone, even using sophisticated statistical techniques.

And when the studies are controlled for poverty levels, the education system in the U.S. ranks #1 across all metrics, Burns says. 

Teachers here are never credited for their enormous success in the face of these realities. They are constantly compared unfavorably with other nation's schools that simply do not educate their youth in the same ways, or to the same level.

Burns also points out much of a student's sucess in school depends on outside factors beyond the teacher or school district's control. According to the RAND corporation, a teacher's quality *may* only account for up to 14% of a student's achievement in the classroom. 

"Similarly, the Heritage Foundation reports that teacher quality *may* account for *up to* 30% of student learning. Between those two very conservative organizations, that means anywhere from 70-86% of student learning in school is completely beyond the control of any individual teacher," Burns said. "This should be understood as obviously unfair and challenging for teachers. Any expectation that a teacher should (or can) control and ensure universal student success is an expectation that completely ignored nearly everything educational research on this topic has established as knowledge."

The best way to help teachers? Burns says it's to allow them to act like the professionals they are. 

"Most governmental bodies mandate standardized teaching--the impossible expectation that all teachers teach the same content in the same ways at the same times, with the additional demand that all students attain the same levels of learning at predictable rates," Burns said. "Those systems have led to lower rates of school success so often that the problem should be despairingly obvious. The greatest challenge teachers face today is the political assumption that standardization is the key to school success."

When it comes to attracting great teachers, Burns says there is no shortcut. 

"Attracting, preparing, educating, training, and retaining great teachers requires investment. Real financial and personal investment. Great teachers matter, but they cannot succeed without the equipment and resources they need to do their jobs," Burns says. 


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