April 6, 2022 | Becoming a Teacher, Careers

What are the Best States for High School Teachers?

sheila mickool

Written and reported by:
Sheila Mickool
Contributing Writer

teacher instructing two high school students at whiteboard
teacher instructing two high school students at whiteboard

The job outlook is strong for high school teachers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment is expected to grow 8% through 2030, and more than 77,000 job openings are anticipated on average per year due to retirements, transfers, and promotions.

While the outlook is rosy, there are challenges. High school teachers face considerable hurdles, many of which are amplified by our long-running battle with COVID. They deal with long hours, concerns over classroom safety, burnout, and the on-again/off-again transition to online learning.

But still, they persevere, and the field continues to draw dedicated professionals year after year. If you know teaching is your calling, then this post is for you. You want to teach, but where? Which states are best for high school teachers? Not all states are created equal. Which pay the most? Can you afford to live there? How large is the job market? Your current home state may be ideal, but if you are willing to move, another state may be more to your liking and be a better fit for you financially. We’ll help you sort it out.

Top 10 States to Work for High School Teachers

To help you review and decide which states might be best for you, we evaluated all 50 states in several categories and then ranked them. You can look at the data for each state and see how they compare. For example, California’s median annual salary for high school teachers is $88,420; but the median salary is only $45,290 in Missouri.

But before you pack for a move to California, check out the cost of living index. California’s is 146.9, meaning that California’s cost of living is 46.9% higher than the national average (100). Missouri’s cost of living index is 91.2. That is below the national average, making Missouri a more affordable place to live. Depending on your circumstances and personal preferences, either may be a great choice for you, but it pays to know before you go!

#1 Ohio

  • Median salary: $66,420
  • Cost of living index: 92.9
  • Number of teachers employed: 50,010
  • Location quotient (density of jobs in a given area): 1.37
  • Forecast for growth (2018-2028): -0.4%

State highlights: Ohio has a reputation for commitment to education and was the first state in the nation to open a junior high school. It was also first to open a school for the visually impaired. Now Ohio adds another first: with solid top 20 rankings in all categories, it is our top-ranked state for teachers, ranking fifth nationally for employment and sixth in location quotient.

#2 Illinois

  • Median salary: $70,740
  • Cost of living index: 90.5
  • Number of teachers employed: 42,700
  • Location quotient (density of jobs in a given area): 1.06
  • Forecast for growth (2018-2028): -0.6%

State highlights: Illinois grabs second place on our list with top 20 ranking in all categories, including placing in the top 10 for its favorable cost of living index score and total employment. The state’s oldest institution, Cambridge High School, opened in 1834 and ranks within the top 40 of a list of the oldest high schools in the United States.

#3 Pennsylvania

  • Median salary: $67,180
  • Cost of living index: 100.5
  • Number of teachers employed: 50,450
  • Location quotient (density of jobs in a given area): 1.28
  • Forecast for growth (2018-2028): 7.3%

State highlights: Pennsylvania is home to Penn Foster High School in Scranton, the high school with the largest enrollment in the country (45,000 students in traditional classrooms and online), and comes in third with strong rankings in employment and location density. Unlike the first two states in the Top 10, Pennsylvania is also expected to have solid job growth.

#4 Texas

  • Median salary: $58,400
  • Cost of living index: 92.6
  • Number of teachers employed: 97,060
  • Location quotient (density of jobs in a given area): 1.13
  • Forecast for growth (2018-2028): 11%

State highlights: The Lone Star State is a powerhouse in the Top 10, with high rankings for growth, employment, location quotient and cost of living. The only downside: the state ranks in the bottom half of all states for salary. Established in 1845, New Braunfels High School is the state’s oldest high school and Kliff Kingsbury, head coach of the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, is an alum.

#5 New York

  • Median salary: $86,230
  • Cost of living index: 143.7
  • Number of teachers employed: 67,810
  • Location quotient (density of jobs in a given area): 1.10
  • Forecast for growth (2018-2028): 8.2%

State highlights: New York almost has it all: it’s second nationally for salary, and ranks high in employment (third overall) and location quotient. Job growth is expected to be strong. That’s the good news. The downside: New York ranks 47 out of 50 for cost of living. But the state has a long history of commitment to education. Oxford Academy and Central School District, chartered by the State of New York in 1794, is believed to be the fourth oldest public school established west of the Hudson River.

#6 Missouri

  • Median salary: $45,290
  • Cost of living index: 91.2
  • Number of teachers employed: 30,850
  • Location quotient (density of jobs in a given area): 1.61
  • Forecast for growth (2018-2028): 1.9%

State highlights: Missouri ranks 50th when it comes to median salary, but the state’s strength in other areas are strong enough to offset that deficiency. Missouri ranks first in location quotient for all states and ranks eighth for employment. It’s also home to Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in St. Louis, the oldest high school west of the Mississippi River.

#7 Connecticut

  • Median salary: $78,240
  • Cost of living index: 119.5
  • Number of teachers employed: 15,850
  • Location quotient (density of jobs in a given area): 1.44
  • Forecast for growth (2018-2028): 1.5%

State highlights: Like several other states in the northeast, Connecticut has very strong rankings in salary and location quotient, ranking in the top 10 for both. But it also has a high cost of living index, making affordability an issue. But education has always been a priority for state residents. Hopkins School (grades 7-12) is a private school in New Haven that was established in 1660. One student, Walter Camp (class of 1876), was the founder of American football.

#8 New Jersey

  • Median salary: $77,790
  • Cost of living index: 118.3
  • Number of teachers employed: 29,860
  • Location quotient (density of jobs in a given area): 1.11
  • Forecast for growth (2018-2028): 3.4%

State highlights: With top ranking in salary, location quotient and employment, New Jersey slides into the Top 10 in eighth place despite its high cost of living index rating. It is also home to Columbia High School, a school which traces its roots to a one-room stone schoolhouse in the days of the revolution and was the first school in the nation to observe Earth Day, in 1970.

#9 Kansas

  • Median salary: $53,140
  • Cost of living index: 86.9
  • Number of teachers employed: 11,290
  • Location quotient (density of jobs in a given area): 1.19
  • Forecast for growth (2018-2028): 4.2%

State highlights: While not as highly ranked for salary or teachers employed as many other states, Kansas shines in the affordability category, ranking second out of all 50 states. It’s also in the top 10 for job density. As it was for many states on the frontier, education became a priority for settlers in Kansas. Schools often began in a one-room schoolhouse that was also used for other activities including dances, church services, and public meetings. Leavenworth High School, established in 1865, is the oldest public high school in the state.

#10 Massachusetts

  • Median salary: $83,680
  • Cost of living index: 132.5
  • Number of teachers employed: 25,730
  • Location quotient (density of jobs in a given area): 1.08
  • Forecast for growth (2018-2028): 1.3%

State highlights: Massachusetts is home to Boston Latin School, established in 1635, the oldest public high school in the U.S., and the school of choice for five of those who signed the Declaration of Independence. For that alone, some would say the state deserves to be in the Top 10. However, the state’s rankings also qualify it for the 10th place slot. Massachusetts ranks in the top 20 for salary (a powerful third overall), employment and location quotient. If not for its high cost of living index, the state would have ranked much higher in the Top 10.

11-50 Ranking for High School Teachers

Rank/StateMedian SalaryEmployment
#11 Georgia$61,36025,310
#12 Virginia*$69,07024,540
#13 Tennessee$52,77020,060
#14 Oklahoma$48,37013,550
#15 Arkansas$51,31012,030
#16 California$88,420103,830
#17 Minnesota$62,41018,900
#18 Michigan$62,21022,570
#19 Rhode Island$79,0104,400
#20 Mississippi$45,4009,040
#21 Indiana$50,94019,450
#22 New Mexico$55,7406,180
#23 Louisiana$50,81014,610
#24 Alabama$53,44012,570
#25 Iowa$57,1409,690
#26 Nebraska$62,0906,320
#27 Wisconsin$58,63017,160
#28 Florida$60,47048,600
#29 Vermont$63,0803,030
#30 Kentucky$55,54011,680
#31 Maryland$76,84015,520
#32 Delaware$68,3603,140
#33 Maine$57,0205,060
#34 Alaska$75,6002,470
#35 South Carolina$53,18012,850
#36 Washington$76,82014,810
#37 Colorado$55,27016,600
#38 Idaho$50,5205,680
#39 New Hampshire$62,1704,350
#40 North Carolina$50,36024,820
#41 Wyoming$61,7301,620
#42 Utah$61,5708,440
#43 West Virginia$48,7804,040
#44 Oregon$72,3709,070
#45 South Dakota$45,3203,090
#46 North Dakota$54,2002,630
#47 Arizona$50,78015,600
#48 Hawaii$64,7503,600
#49 Nevada$57,0905,810
#50 Montana$50,7202,960
* Virginia ranked by 2019 mean salary; 2020 median salary unavailable

About the Job

The majority of high school teachers work in public and private schools, generally teaching grades nine through 12. They tend to work an academic year (nine months) and may have summers, school breaks, and holidays off. When not with their students in the classroom, high school teachers prepare lessons, grade papers and tests, and handle administrative duties like entering grades—often at school, but also after classroom hours and on evenings and weekends as well.

Public high school teachers are required to have a bachelor’s degree in all states and many require high school teachers to have majored in a content area such as Math or English. Some states require high school teachers to earn a master’s degree after earning their teacher certification and obtaining a job. While private schools are not required to meet state requirements, many of them choose to do so. All states offer alternative or fast-track options for those who decide to become teachers after pursuing another career, or who have a bachelor’s degree but did not take education courses.

While private schools are not required to meet state requirements, many of them choose to do so.

All states require teachers in public schools to be licensed or certified in the specific grade level they will teach. High school teachers are usually receive a secondary or high school certification and may teach grades seven through 12. In many states, professional or continuing education is required for license renewal.

Skills You Should Have

Key characteristics that will help prospective and current high school teachers succeed include:

  • Good communication skills
  • Great interpersonal skills
  • The ability to handle pressure
  • The ability to deal well with the unexpected
  • Comfort with and love of technology
  • Empathy and patience

How Advancing Your Career May Advance Your Salary

If you are currently a high school teacher or are thinking of becoming one, there are many things you can do to advance your career that may also help you increase your salary over time. Gaining the right experience, pursuing additional education and certifications (such as becoming an Educational Specialist), embracing technology, and participating in extracurricular roles and projects (sports, clubs, school district projects) may all contribute to advances in career and salary. The BLS reports a national median wage of $62,870 for high school teachers, with the lowest 10% earning $41,330. Of note is that the highest 10% earned $101,130, bolstering the argument for adding credentials.

Top States Ranking Methodology

We started with the four main questions you might ask yourself when thinking about which states are best for high school teachers:

  • Where are the jobs?
  • How much can I earn?
  • What is the cost of living?
  • What is the job outlook?

To answer these questions, we pulled data for each state from three sources:

Employment, annual median wage, and location quotient: From the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, High School Teachers (secondary school teachers, except special and career/technical education)

Cost of living index: From the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center’s (MERIC) Cost of Living Data Series

10-year job growth percentage of change: From the U.S. Department of Labor’s Projections Central site for state employment projections for all states, recommended by the BLS for state employment projections

To determine the rank of each state:

  • We loaded employment, annual median wage, location quotient, and cost of living index data for each state
  • We ranked each data element in relation to all states
  • We totaled the rankings for each state
  • In the event of ties in ranking, we used the 10-year job growth percentage-of-change as a tie breaker

Definition of the data elements:

Employment: The current number of high school teacher jobs in each state

Annual median wage: The mid-point for annual earnings of all high school teachers; half earn below this midpoint and half earn above the midpoint

Location quotient: The ratio of high school teacher employment in a state compared to the national average concentration. A location quotient greater than one indicates that high school teachers in the state have a higher share of employment concentration than the national average, and a location quotient less than one indicates the occupation is less prevalent in the state than it is nationally.

Cost of living index: Derived by averaging costs in each state for living expenses, including housing, groceries, transportation, and health. One hundred is the national average. Because they are more affordable compared to the national average, states with an index below 100 are ranked higher than those with an index above 100 (which are more costly than the national average).

10-year job growth percentage: Indicates the projected percentage of growth for high school teachers over a 10-year period. This data element is used in reporting and as a tie-breaker for rankings.