As you prepare to become a teacher, it’s good to know the average starting teacher salaries by state. What will you make at your first teaching job? Which state is the best state to teach in, in terms of pay?
The most obvious measure of entry-level teacher pay is the actual amount of money in a year’s worth of paychecks. The most comprehensive and reliable study of this is the National Education Association (NEA). The NEA page for average starting teacher salary by state is very well researched, and only slightly dated (it looks at the 2012-2013 school year).
To see average entry level pay for teachers in all 50 states and in Washington DC, you can go to the page I just linked. In this post, we’ll look only at the top 10 states and bottom 10 states, in terms of the numeric amount of dollars teachers earn in their first year on the job.
Average starting teacher salary by state: the 10 smallest first-year earnings
- Montana: $27,274
- South Dakota: $29,851
- Missouri: $30,064
- North Carolina: $30,778
- North Dakota: $30,844
- Idaho: $31,159
- Mississippi: $31,184
- Maine: $31,385
- Oklahoma: $31,606
- Arizona: $31,874
Average starting teacher salary by state: top 10 largest annual salaries
- Washington, DC: $51,539
- New Jersey: $48,631
Federal Education Association*: $45,751
- Alaska: $44,166
- New York: $43,839
- Wyoming: $43,269
- Maryland: $43,265
- Connecticut: $42,924
- Pennsylvania: $41,909
- California: $41,259
- Hawaii: $41,027
* The Federal Education Association is the United States Department of Defense school system. FEA schools are public schools located on or near U.S. military bases. These schools primarily teach the children of U.S. military personnel. All 50 states have FEA schools, and FEA schools can also be found in any overseas nation or territory where the U.S. has an established military presence.
Average Teacher Salary by State In Relation to Cost of Living
Observant readers may have already noticed that the bottom 10 states tend to have a lower cost of living, while the top 10 states tend to be the more expensive places to live. To truly understand which states have the best starting teacher salary, you really need to look at the cost of living in those states.
There are a number of American organizations that track cost of living by state. For this post, I’m using the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center. Their data is very up-to-date and is also well-trusted, as it is used by the federal government and the governments of other states.
The bottom 10 states for average starting teacher salary: cost of living rank
- Montana: 20th most expensive
- South Dakota: 21st most expensive
- Missouri: 11th cheapest
- North Carolina: 19th cheapest
- North Dakota: 23rd cheapest
- Idaho: 16th cheapest
- Mississippi: 1st cheapest
- Maine: 14th most expensive
- Oklahoma: 3rd cheapest
- Arizona: 24th cheapest
The top 10 states for average starting teacher salary: cost of living rank
- Washington, DC: 2nd most expensive
- New Jersey: 12th most expensive
- Alaska: 6th most expensive
- New York: 5th most expensive
- Wyoming: 15th cheapest
- Maryland: 9th most expensive
- Connecticut: 7th most expensive
- Pennsylvania: 18th most expensive
- California: 4th most expensive
- Hawaii: 1st most expensive
So What Really Is the Best Average Starting Teacher Salary by State?
If you compare the two sets of data above, some states clearly emerge as good states or bad states in terms of first year teacher pay.
Montana, South Dakota, and Maine have an obvious unfavorable ratio of starting teacher salary to cost of living. These states are among the more expensive states to live in in the USA, yet they are in the bottom 10 when it comes to paying their starting teachers. Wyoming clearly has very good teacher pay, possibly the best in the nation. It’s in the top 10 for starting teacher pay and in the top 20 for low cost of living.
It’s also interesting to see which states do not appear in the bottom 10 or top 10 for starting teacher pay, but do appear in the top or bottom 10 for cost of living. Indiana, Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, Kansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, and Georgia are among the 10 cheapest states to live in. But they pay higher than the bottom 10 states for average starting teacher salary. This makes them very good states for entry level teacher pay. Massachusetts, Vermont, and Oregon are on the top 10 list for living expenses, but don’t crack the top 10 for first-year teacher salary. This indicates these three states offer less-than-stellar prospects for newly licensed teachers.
The Federal Education Association is an interesting case. Because the FEA operates schools in all 50 states and in overseas territories, these schools sometimes pay new teachers quite well in relation to cost of living. The trick is to find an FEA job in a place where the cost of living is relatively low by US standards.