Personal Finance

Best Cities for Teachers

Best Cities for Teachers

After earning their graduate degrees, aspiring teachers head in all kinds of directions depending on what, who and where they want to teach. For these professionals, unlike those in many other careers, the best city to be in a classroom could be the worst for another.

After earning their graduate degrees, aspiring teachers head in all kinds of directions depending on what, who and where they want to teach.

Some seek the inner-city challenge, the suburban support or perhaps a school with a greater mission. For these professionals, unlike those in many other careers, the best city to be in a classroom could be the worst for another. It just depends.

At ValuePenguin, however, we classify the best city as one that scores well in three metrics that all teachers care about: median salary, cost of living and location quotient.

5 best cities for teachers

Of the 274 cities reporting data about their teachers, these five earned our best score. Each landed on the list for a variety of reasons. See more on our methodology below.

1. Salinas, Calif.

With the country’s highest location quotient, a metric that belies a city’s demand for teachers, Salinas takes the top spot. Having the study’s fifth-highest annual average salary, $78,590, for the profession didn’t hurt either. Famous author John Steinbeck is required reading in schools here, as is a visit to the National Steinbeck Center on the city’s Main Street.

2. Valdosta, Ga.

Unlike the other four teacher-friendly cities among the top five, Valdosta is 7% more affordable to live in than the average American city. Augusta (No. 17), Albany (No. 22) and Warner Robins (No. 24) joined Valdosta as particularly teacher-friendly Georgia cities. Located in the extreme southern section of the state, it is home to 10 schools, 650 certified employees and 8,000-plus students.

3. Charleston, S.C.

Charleston scored well in each of the four metrics we considered, most highly in annual average salary, reporting $68,620, or 54% higher than the study’s average. Charleston, which combined with North Charleston and Summerville in its reporting to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is a two-hour drive southeast of the state capital, Columbia. Education programs in the state overall, from kindergarten to college, have received millions of dollars from the South Carolina Education Lottery.

4. San Diego

With the fifth-most teaching positions in the country (7,470), San Diego (and data-reporting partners Carlsbad and San Marcos) finished in our penultimate spot in the pecking order. Only Chicago (18,700), New York (12,980), Los Angeles (12,970) and Washington, D.C. (7,550) can say they employ more teachers.

San Diego instructors have the option to join one of two powerful unions: the California Teachers Association or the California Federation of Teachers. According to a San Diego Union-Tribune article based on Transparent California data, more than 500 teachers in San Diego County made more than $100,000 in 2013.

5. Oakland, Calif.

The third California city to crack the top five — and one of eight to be ranked in the top 30 (see below) — Oakland narrowly beat out Detroit for this slot despite the fact that it’s 44% more expensive than average to live in its metro statistical area, which covers Fremont and Hayward.

Oakland has the benefit of being in close proximity to some of the U.S. News & World Report’s best graduate schools for aspiring teachers. The University of California at Berkeley is five miles away, and Stanford University is about 35. Working against Oakland is that our study deemed it to be the least safe city in California.

Top 30 cities for teachers


Average salary
Location quotient
Cost of living


Salinas, Calif.$78,5902,7008.481208


Valdosta, Ga.$61,1405605.599336


Charleston, S.C.$68,6201,3802.2410144


San Diego$59,4507,4702.8315245


Oakland, Calif.$59,8004,4602.1814456




Washington, D.C.$60,8007,5501.5915775


Fayetteville, N.C.$53,4709003.629475


Lawton, Okla.$58,6302102.578677


Warren, Mich.$60,1703,3001.459578


Kalamazoo, Mich.$53,6406502.478787


Gulfport, Miss.$56,7904302.149193
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What’s it like to teach in…

20. New York

Dana Humphrey | Adjunct professor |The Fashion Institute of Technology

"What is interesting is I have students from all walks of life. Sometimes they come from far away, such as Mexico, Japan, Chicago or Kansas. New York City is so accessible from nearby places such as Long Island, New Jersey, D.C., and Philly as well, so we usually have many different ZIP codes represented in the classroom."

37. Chicago

Ciara Newby | Assistant headteacher | British International School of Chicago

"There are some great teacher discounts, and it is free to get into the Art Institute of Chicago."

109. Rochester, N.Y.

Steve Maier | Teacher | Rochester Institute of Technology

"I have worked at a small community college in Texas and now a large private college in New York. The community college helped me to really connect to the students. Some of them were coworkers of mine as well. I learned to have a good rapport with them, and that has helped me to do the same with the students at RIT."

141. Charlotte, N.C.

Kelly Culver | English teacher | Lake Norman High School

"I work in a school that caters to the higher socioeconomic classes. Many of my students' families are independently wealthy. Coming from urban and rural environments, I was unaware of the challenges facing me here. It's a bit disconcerting to see students driving cars worth as much as my house. In the end, though, they are just teenagers and they come with the same host of dramas that all teenagers come with."

144. Santa Fe, N.M.

Monique Anair | Professor | Santa Fe Community College

"Diversity and extreme poverty (are characteristics here). Santa Fe is known for its art and wealth, but the students who come to the city college are 75% Hispanic and low-income, and most of our students are first-time college students. That energy permeates Sante Fe Community College. And the faculty… people want to live here, so many amazing faculty take pay cuts and make sacrifices to be in New Mexico. And that wealth and knowledge lands in our classrooms."

Milford, Mich.

Cindy McKinley | English instructor | Oakland Community College

"I teach only part-time at my community college, but they pay me very well, about $50 per hour."

New Britain, Conn.

Daniel Blanchard | Teacher | New Britain High School

"I work in the largest inner-city high school in Connecticut. We have real poverty issues that are extremely sad. However, on the other end, some of these students will spend some real quality time with you and develop life-long relationships with you. When they know that you are there to help them, they open up to you."

Richmond, Ky.

Joel Cormier | Associate professor | Eastern Kentucky University

"The Midwest is unique, especially when you are at a regional college. You will find yourself wondering why the local people don’t respect the economic impact of the university as they cheer on all the sports teams of the big conglomerate state school in which they never attended."


These were the three key questions we asked in coming up with the list.

1. What can teachers earn in the city?

We ranked the best cities for teachers based on the median annual pay. Income is likely the most important factor people consider when starting their career or relocating elsewhere. A high salary in an expensive city, however, may be less attractive than a lower salary in an affordable town. Our next metric takes affordability into consideration.

2. How affordable is it to live in this city?

Now that we have the median salary, we’ll look next at the cost of living. The cost of living is a measure of how far earnings can be stretched. Cities with lower cost of living index numbers ranked higher in our study. For example, the average city is benchmarked at 100. A city with a cost of living index of 188, such as Honolulu, would mean that generally speaking, living expenses are 88% more expensive compared to the average city.

3. What is the location quotient for teachers in the city?

A place with a high median salary and low cost of living may seem perfect, but job opportunities may be limited. Our third factor accounts for this by favoring cities with high location quotients. Location quotient measures the concentration of teachers in an area as a percentage of all occupations, and then compares that to the national average. We interpret a higher location quotient to mean a relatively higher demand for a teacher’s services.