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Image shows a female teacher standing in front of a classroom full of students sitting at desks. SmartAsset takes a look at various data sources to complete this year's version of their study on the best U.S. metro areas to be a teacher.

From lesson plans and student development to grading and proctoring, teaching is one of the most demanding jobs out there. And it can also be demanding financially – some teachers struggle to afford local housing costs comfortably, and some school districts receive support from municipal bodies. There are some places, though, where it is less difficult in this regard to be a teacher than in others. That’s why SmartAsset analyzed data from various sources to find the best U.S. metro areas to be a teacher.

To do so, we considered the following metrics: teachers as a percentage of the workforce, average income, one-year change in income, one-year change in employment, spending per student, housing costs, student-to-teacher ratio, unemployment rate and percentage of households with internet access. For details on our data sources and how we put all the information together to create our final rankings, check out the Data and Methodology section below.

This is SmartAsset’s 2020 version of our study on the best places for teachers. Read the 2019 version here.

Key Findings

  • Pennsylvania and New York pass with flying colors. Pennsylvania is home to four metro areas in our top 10 – the Lancaster, Pittsburgh, Scranton and York metro areas. These places rank within the top 20 out of all 132 metro areas in the study for their high average spending amounts per student and the top 30 for low student-to-teacher ratios. New York State is home to three metro areas in the top 10 – the Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo metro areas – which rank within the top 10 of the study for both of those metrics.
  • Income and employment numbers vary widely. Across the bottom 10 of the study, the average income for teachers in 2019 was less than $53,000. Across the top 10, however, it exceeded $70,000. Six of the bottom 10 metro areas had as much as a 20% dip in teacher employment. Only four of the top 10 saw a decrease in that metric, and all at less than 8%.

1. Rochester, NY

Rochester, New York is the best metro area in the country to be a teacher, according to our study. It places second in two different categories – average spending per student ($21,477) and student-to-teacher ratio (12.40). Teachers are also a big part of the community in Rochester, with 2.24% of the workforce made up of teachers, the ninth-highest rate for this metric in the study.

2. Syracuse, NY

Syracuse, New York ranks in the top 10 of the study for three different metrics: fifth-best for its high positive one-year change in employment (14.45%), sixth-best for its high average spending per student ($19,877) and sixth-best for its low student-to-teacher ratio (13.25).

3. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV

The metro area around the nation’s capital – which includes not only Washington, D.C. but parts of Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia – ranks in the No. 3 spot. The D.C. metro area has the fourth-highest percentage of households with internet access across all 132 metro areas in the study (91.9%), which is especially important right now, while many students learn from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Teachers in the area earn $81,167 on average, the 10th-highest average salary in the study. The student-to-teacher ratio ranks 20th-best, at just 14.64 students per teacher.

4. Lancaster, PA

Lancaster, Pennsylvania places eighth overall for its positive one-year change in employment, an uptick of 9.90%. Lancaster teachers can expect substantial monetary support from their districts, as the average spending per student ranks 10th-highest, at $17,248. The metro area also ranks 13th-best for its low student-to-teacher ratio, with just 14.17 students per teacher.

5. Dayton, OH

The Dayton, Ohio metro area doesn’t rank in the top 10 of the study for any one metric, but it ranks within the top 50 for six out of the nine metrics we considered. That includes having the 25th-highest percentage of teachers in the workforce, at 1.93%. It ranks 26th for its relatively high average spending per student, at $14,330, and 28th for its one-year employment bump of 4.70% for teachers.

6. Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY

The third New York State metro area in our top 10 is Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls. Teachers there can expect relatively small classrooms: The student-to-teacher ratio is 13.14, the fourth-best in the study. Buffalo also ranks fourth for average spending per student, at $20,385. While May 2020 unemployment numbers were relatively high there, prospects are still promising, as the metro area ranks within the top 25% of the study for teachers as a percentage of the workforce (at 1.84%) as well as for 2019 average income for teachers. At $71,923, it’s the second-highest salary figure in our top 10 and the 22nd-highest overall.

7. Pittsburgh, PA

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania ranks ninth-best in the study for average spending per student ($18,050) and 11th-best for student-to-teacher ratio (approximately 14 students per teacher). Pittsburgh is also in the top 30 in terms of 2019 teacher earnings, with a median income of $70,969.

8. Scranton—Wilkes-Barre—Hazelton, PA

Coming in at No. 8 is the Scranton, Pennsylvania metro area. The Electric City metro area spends the 17th-highest amount per student of the total 132 places we studied, at $15,389. It is also affordable to live there: The average housing costs are $809 per month, ranking 18th-lowest overall.

9. Spokane-Spokane Valley, WA

The only metro area in our top 10 located in the Pacific Northwest, Spokane, Washington takes the No. 9 spot. It ranks second-best for its positive one-year change in teacher employment, jumping 16.07%. In addition, it cracks the top 30 in terms of internet access, with 88.5% of households having the ability to connect. While Spokane does have a fairly high May 2020 unemployment rate, it finishes within the top quarter of the study for 2019 average teacher income as well as one-year change in income – at $69,380 and a growth of 5.92%, respectively.

10. York-Hanover, PA

The final metropolitan area in the top 10 is York-Hanover, Pennsylvania. This area ranks 10th-best for its high rate of teachers as a percentage of the workforce, at 2.22%. It also comes in 23rd out of 132 for 2019 average income, at $71,624. Although employment for teachers dropped about 6% from 2018 to 2019, the metro area has a top-20 figure for average spending per student and top-30 rate for student-to-teacher ratio.

Data and Methodology

To find the best places to be a teacher, SmartAsset looked at the 132 largest U.S. metro areas for which data was available. Specifically, we compared the metro areas across the following nine metrics:

  • Teachers as a percentage of the workforce. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is for 2019.
  • Average income. This is the average income for teachers. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is for 2019.
  • Income growth. This is the percentage change in average incomes for teachers from 2018 to 2019. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Employment growth. This is the percentage change in the number of people employed as teachers from 2018 to 2019. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Spending per student. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2018 Public Elementary-Secondary Education Finance Data.
  • Housing costs. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2018 1-year American Community Survey.
  • Student-to-teacher ratio. Data is for the 2018-2019 school year and comes from the Elementary/Secondary Information System, published by the National Center for Education Statistics
  • Unemployment rate. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is for May 2020.
  • Percentage of homes with internet access. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s 2018 1-year American Community Survey.

To create the final score, we ranked each metro area in each metric. We found each metro area’s average ranking, giving equal weighting to each metric. Then we used this average ranking to create our final score. The metro area with the best average ranking received a 100. The metro area with the worst average received a 0.

Getting Schooled in Making the Most of Your Money

  • Financial mentorship. Teachers, like all professionals, may need the help of a financial professional. They’re used to sharing they’re knowledge, but they could benefit from a lesson or two when it comes to their financial life. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool connects you with financial advisors in your area in 5 minutes. If you’re ready to be connected with local advisors get started now.
  • Graduating to homebuyer? If you’re a new teacher and are looking to buy a home in your city, make sure you figure out what your mortgage payment might be with SmartAsset’s free mortgage calculator.
  • Never too early to prepare for retirement. Most teachers have access to some sort of retirement plan. Make sure you use it and are saving for retirement now.

Questions about our study? Contact press@smartasset.com

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/LumiNola

Ben Geier, CEPF® Ben Geier is an experienced financial writer currently serving as a retirement and investing expert at SmartAsset. His work has appeared on Fortune, Mic.com and CNNMoney. Ben is a graduate of Northwestern University and a part-time student at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing and a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®). When he isn’t helping people understand their finances, Ben likes watching hockey, listening to music and experimenting in the kitchen. Originally from Alexandria, VA, he now lives in Brooklyn with his wife.
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