Over the last year, teaching became a very different job. The limits of online learning exacerbated the difficult task of classroom behavior management and made it a challenge to reach students with hands-on learning activities. Whether you were teaching your students how to count to 10 or how to identify metaphors, chances are you faced some new challenges.
But if you’re still working remotely at this point, you may have realized you have an opportunity to relocate. Or perhaps you’d just like to trade your current job for one with a higher salary in a state that offers top-dollar funding for students. For this reason, we put together a list of the 25 best U.S. cities for teachers.
When selecting the top 25 cities, we looked at important factors such as cost of living, median salary, internet speed (given the rise of remote learning), and school funding. We wanted to find places teachers could afford to live and work comfortably, but that also provided a quality education experience.
So whether your curiosity about moving is driven by the pandemic or not, you’ll find our list reflects many of the concerns teachers have when looking for the best jobs.
How we chose the best cities
What makes a city a great place to live and teach? We looked at a variety of factors:
- Median teacher salaries vs. cost of living (30%): We pulled each city’s median elementary, middle, and high school teacher salaries from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and compared those with the cost of living per capita. Some cities are expensive but also pay high salaries for teachers, so it’s the ratio of these two factors that indicate how easily a teacher can live comfortably in each city. Because salary is a primary concern for most people, we weighed this factor more heavily than some others.
- Internet speed (30%): With the coronavirus pandemic continuing and many school districts closing, we wanted to ensure teachers would have sufficient internet speeds for online teaching. If your Zoom meeting freezes up in the middle of class, you’ll lose out on valuable interactions with students. That’s why we checked each city’s performance when choosing our top cities.
- Public school grades (20%): The research website Niche analyzes state assessment data, teacher salary data, reviews from parents and teachers, and more to give each city a letter grade for its schools. We factored in that grade when choosing the best cities for teachers because a great learning environment for students means a great work environment for teachers.
- Funding level (15%): This represents a cost-adjusted dollar amount provided to each pupil from state and local funding sources. The higher the funding level of a state, the greater the resources, support staff, and services available to each student. A higher funding level makes it easier for teachers to focus on teaching, and not on the resources they lack.
- Funding effort (5%): This represents the percentage of state GDP that is invested in public K-12 education. Although wealthier states often have plenty of education funding, some smaller states put a more significant portion of their money toward education. Weighing in school funding versus the size of a state’s economy helped us identify the states that care the most about funding for education.
The best 25 cities for teachers
When weighing those five factors, we came up with 25 cities that would make excellent homes for working teachers. Here are our rankings, along with the median elementary teacher salary and cost-of-living index for each city. An index of 100 indicates the national average, so the lower the number, the lower the cost of living in that city.
|Rank||City||Median elementary school salary||Cost-of-living index|
|1||San Francisco, California||$81,020||131.6|
|4||Kansas City, Missouri||$51,590||92.9|
|5||Virginia Beach, Virginia||$72,380||97.0|
|6||Jersey City, New Jersey||$80,110||124.1|
|12||Raleigh, North Carolina||$49,960||96.6|
|17||Charlotte, North Carolina||$49,440||94.2|
|18||San Bernardino, California||$91,230||107.0|
|19||Buffalo, New York||$70,260||94.8|
|22||Corpus Christi, Texas||$66,810||93.2|
|25||El Paso, Texas||$66,170||88.6|
San Francisco, California
Unsurprisingly, the tech startup haven has the highest cost of living on our list, but it also has the sixth-highest median elementary school salary. There’s extra speedy internet available, and when you’re not teaching, you can enjoy the beautiful weather, the eclectic architecture, the nearby beaches and hiking trails, and the seafood restaurants.
If you’re a fan of field trips, Lincoln is packed with museums, gardens, and a children’s zoo for your students to explore. It also has the second-lowest cost of living on our list, with a comparably appealing teacher salary.
Seattle has a good median salary compared to its cost-of-living index, but you should be prepared for 152 days of rainfall per year if you plan to move to this city. All that rain brings beautiful green spaces and forests, however, and there’s an impressive culinary scene alongside plenty of coffee shops.
Kansas City, Missouri
You’ll have less to worry about when it comes to internet hiccups in Kansas City, which has the fastest download speed of any city on our list. Plus, you’ll be able to enjoy a low cost of living (along with plenty of barbecue joints). The city has been known for its jazz music since the early 20th century, so jazz enthusiasts can enjoy live jazz along with a visit to the American Jazz Museum.
Virginia Beach, Virginia
The coastal city of Virginia Beach isn’t just a beach town. You’ll also find a growing culinary scene and plenty of arts and entertainment, from comedy clubs to theater performances. What’s more, Virginia Beach received an A grade for its schools on Niche, so you can rest assured it’s a great place to teach.
Jersey City, New Jersey
Funding isn’t lacking in Jersey City schools — the state of New Jersey has the highest percentage of funding effort and the second-highest funding level of the states on our list. Jersey City itself has the second-highest cost of living of the cities we chose, but it also has a comparably high median salary for teachers. It’s also known for its diversity and vibrant nightlife scene.
Austin has the second-highest download speed on our list, thanks to the availability of Google Fiber. It also received an A- grade for its schools on Niche. If you’re the outdoorsy type, you’ll find plenty of hiking trails, lakes, and other outdoor spaces in Austin. And city lovers will enjoy the diverse dining and live music scene.
Although Atlanta doesn’t stand out in any one area like some other cities, it has an average cost of living with a decent median teacher salary when compared to other cities on our list. And the cultural scene in Atlanta makes for great field trip opportunities: Kids can explore everything from the Center for Civil and Human Rights to the World of Coca-Cola. What’s more, there’s plenty of nightlife, dining, and shopping for teachers to enjoy when they’re not working.
Bakersfield has one of the lower download speeds on our list, but it also has a high median salary relative to a low cost of living. Plus, there are plenty of parks and hiking trails for outdoor enthusiasts, a plethora of farmers markets, and enough arts and entertainment venues to keep teachers busy as well.
Riverside shared the top spot for median elementary school teacher salary alongside San Bernardino, California, and it has a lower cost of living than many of the other cities on our list. Riverside is also a college town home to many museums and attractions at the University of California, Riverside, including 39 acres of woodlands and gardens.
Fresno has a high median elementary school teacher salary relative to a low cost of living. The city is known for its agriculture, including a 62-mile tree-lined trail, and monthly ArtHops offer an opportunity to explore the area’s many galleries. There are also seven stadiums for sports enthusiasts to enjoy.
Raleigh, North Carolina
Raleigh has the second-lowest median elementary school teacher salary on our list, but the cost of living is also below average. You’ll also get speedy internet in Raleigh with the third-fastest download speed on our list. And Raleigh was one of the few cities to receive an A grade from Niche, though North Carolina has the second-lowest funding effort percentage of any of the states we named.
Pittsburgh is, of course, located in Pennsylvania, which is the third-highest state on our list for both funding level and funding effort. The city also has an eclectic arts scene, with art galleries and live music venues alike, plenty of riverfront trails from which to enjoy the great outdoors, and a diverse dining scene. Pittsburgh is also an extraordinarily welcoming and LGBTQ-friendly city.
Stockton has one of the lower grades from Niche on our list — it received only a C+ overall. However, the median salary is high relative to the average cost of living. Download speeds are about average as well. Stockton is a family-friendly city with a children’s museum and amusement park along with a marina and plenty of places to eat and drink.
Sacramento scored about average on many of the factors we measured, including receiving a B grade for its schools on Niche. Known as the nation’s Farm-to-Fork Capital, Sacramento is packed with restaurants, breweries, and farmers markets. And although Sacramento isn’t as close to the beach as some of the other California cities that made our ranking, it still has beautiful weather and outdoor activities to enjoy, including river rafting.
Portland ranked about average on most factors, but it did receive a B+ grade for its schools from Niche. The city is known for being progressive and has brought many young and well-educated transplants in recent years. Plus, there are plenty of kid-friendly museums, a zoo, and hiking trails to explore.
Charlotte, North Carolina
North Carolina is a state with one of the lower funding effort percentages on our list, and the median elementary school teacher salary in the city of Charlotte is also low, but the cost of living is below average as well. And there’s plenty to do in Charlotte when you’re not working, especially if you’re a sports fanatic. Charlotte is home to the biggest human-made whitewater river and the fastest and tallest giga roller coaster for teachers who seek adventure. And there are scenic trails and hikes right outside the city.
San Bernardino, California
San Bernardino is tied with Stockton for the lowest grade from Niche on our list. But it’s also tied with Riverside for the top median salary, and the cost of living is relatively low. Plus, it’s a haven for lovers of the outdoors, with two national parks and nine regional parks in the county. And you’ll find music festivals and sporting events in the area as well.
Buffalo, New York
Buffalo has the slowest download speed on our list and only a C grade from Niche, the second-lowest of the cities we ranked. However, New York has the second highest percentage of funding effort and the highest funding level on our list. It can be tough to find areas with below-average cost of living in the state, but Buffalo is one of them. And if you like Buffalo wings, there are plenty of places to get them in Buffalo, the city in which they were invented.
Madison has an A grade from Niche for its public schools, as well as a funding level that is better than many other states. Madison is also a vibrant college town with more than 40,000 students enrolled at the University of Wisconsin Madison. It’s home to several museums, the biggest producer-only market in the U.S., and has been named one of the best cities for biking.
Anaheim has the third-highest cost of living on our list, but it also has the second highest median elementary school teacher salary, so teachers can expect to bring in enough to live comfortably. What’s more, it’s home to Disneyland for all you teachers who are kids at heart (we recommend buying the season pass) as well as plenty of dining, shopping, and sunshine.
Corpus Christi, Texas
Corpus Christi has a decent median elementary school teacher salary relative to its low cost of living, and its public schools received a grade of B+ from Niche. If you were to move to Corpus Christi, you’d be located on the Gulf Coast with miles of beaches to explore (by horseback, if you wish), plus plenty of great seafood to enjoy during a night out. And if birdwatching is a hobby of yours, Corpus Christi is a great place to get your fix.
Detroit had the lowest grade from Niche on our list and the second-lowest download speed. But the ratio of median elementary school teacher salary to cost of living is excellent. And your students can enjoy field trips to inspiring places like the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Michigan Science Center, and the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory.
Omaha had the third-lowest cost of living of the cities on our list, but that doesn’t mean the city is lacking. There’s plenty of nightlife and shopping for you to enjoy (for less money) on the weekends, as well as activities you can do with your family or students, from museums to gardens to theaters.
El Paso, Texas
Teachers in El Paso get a decent median salary considering the cost of living in El Paso is the lowest on our list of cities. Plus, El Paso received a B+ grade for its public schools on Niche. You can enjoy 302 days of sun per year, and if golfing and wine appeal to you, you’ll fit right in. The city’s vintage streetcars have also returned and the city square is filled with art for a fun and friendly vibe.
It can be tough to make ends meet as a teacher, yet 94% of teachers end up buying school supplies out of their own pockets. The coronavirus crisis has also presented new challenges for teachers, and we know that some of your days last longer than eight hours. You deserve to live in a city that has sufficient funding for its schools, provides sufficient wages for its teachers, and offers affordable ways to enjoy life as well.
Moving could be one way to improve your career outcomes and increase your savings. But if you’re teaching in-person and relocation isn’t an option for you, you might still be wondering how to make money to help you pay all the bills you face as a teacher.
Here are some tips for handling the financial burden while still honoring your passion for teaching:
- Sell your lesson plans and materials at TeachersPayTeachers
- Teach an educational experience through Dabble or Airbnb
- Ask to take on a coaching gig or lead an extracurricular activity at your school
- Create an online course to share your expertise with students or other teachers
- Consider picking up one of the best side hustles for teachers, such as tutoring
- Shop at second-hand and outlet stores, especially when purchasing supplies for students
- Take advantage of teacher discounts at retailers that offer them
- Make your purchases with one of the best credit cards for teachers so you’re always earning rewards or cash back on your spending
- Work on improving your credit score so you can get better terms on financial products and save money on interest, especially if you’re looking at refinancing student loans
- Explore the many debt relief options for teachers if you’re feeling overwhelmed by your financial situation
Data for this study were collected from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Speedtest.net, the St. Louis Fed, Education Law Center, Niche.com, and Zillow.com. FinanceBuzz then indexed the best data to a maximum of 100 and minimum of 0, and weighted the scores according to their estimated importance for teachers. Those scores were then averaged to create the final score. The final rankings were limited to cities with a population between 25,000 and 1 million.