Teachers have rewarding jobs that are also extremely challenging. Having summers off might seem like a dream, but the long hours during the school year are one factor that makes teaching one of the toughest professions out there.
Social and economic inequality can make it even more difficult to make an impact as a teacher. A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute finds kids from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds are already behind when they enter school, making it harder for them to catch up and reflecting poorly on educators.
In many cases, administrators only look at test scores to determine whether teachers are succeeding. “The profession is becoming more focused on standardization and student outcomes,” Maria del Carmen Salazar, a professor at the Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver, told WalletHub. “This has narrowed the definition of effective teaching to student test scores.”
Sadly, teachers are hardly ever paid fairly compared to the importance of their job and the hours they put in. While some states pay teachers handsomely, others are cutting back on teacher salaries, according to a National Education Association report.
Crowded classrooms, low pay, lack of recognition, and dwindling resources make these the 15 worst states to be a teacher, based on the WalletHub rankings and data from the National Education Association, the largest teacher’s union in the country.
15. New Hampshire
- Average teacher salary (2016): $56,616
- Students per teacher (2016): 12.5
Despite an average salary among the top half of all states, New Hampshire still rates as one of the worst places to be a teacher. As WalletHub notes, when adjusted for cost of living, New Hampshire’s average salary is one of the worst. Yet New Hampshire is predicted to spend more than $16,000 per student in the 2017-18 school year, and any drawbacks to being a teacher there don’t seem to impact the students. According to Graphiq, the state is No. 2 in the country on standardized tests with 47% of all students at or above proficient levels in reading and math.
Next: Things aren’t great in Tennessee.
- Average teacher salary: $48,217
- Students per teacher: 14.5
Tennessee isn’t at the bottom of the barrel of any particular metric, but it still garners a spot on the list thanks to overall mediocrity. A modest 0.5% pay increase wasn’t enough to prevent Tennessee from slipping to No. 39 in the country in the National Education Association report. Only 12 states were predicted to spend less than Tennessee’s $9,148 per student. And it had a similar standing on test scores, coming in No. 35, according to Graphiq.
Next: Coal Country under a black cloud
13. West Virginia
- Average teacher salary: $45,622
- Students per teacher: 14.4
It’s not a good sign when teacher salaries drop, but that’s what happened in West Virginia. The National Education Association showed a 0.4% drop in 2016 to an average that was No. 48 in the U.S. The association predicts the state will up its per-student spending to $12,127 in 2017-18, but more might be needed. According to data from Graphiq, the state is No. 46 in the country in testing with just a fraction of eighth-grade students at proficient levels in math.
Next: Salaries not keeping up in South Dakota
12. South Dakota
- Average teacher salary: $42,025
- Students per teacher: 13.9
After ranking dead last in 2015 teacher salaries, South Dakota got the message. It bumped up pay 2.7% for 2016, the sixth largest increase in the nation. Despite the pay raise, teachers in the state still earn the least of any in the country. The same study predicts South Dakota will spend less per student in the 2017-18 school year at $8,961, which is one the lowest in the country. On the plus side, the average number of students per teacher is one of the lowest in the nation.
Next: Another state in New England has work to do.
- Average teacher salary: $50,498
- Students per teacher: 12.1
The average class size in Maine must be a dream for teachers, as only one state has fewer students per teacher. Teachers saw their average salaries increase 1.1% between 2015 and 2016, but that only kept Maine at No. 32 in salary. When adjusted for inflation, however, WalletHub notes Maine rates as one of the worst states for teachers’ salaries. Only nine states are predicted to spend less than the $8,956 Maine will shell out per student in the 2017-18 school year, according to the National Education Association.
Next: The Sooner State could see salaries boom.
- Average teacher salary: $45,276
- Students per teacher: 16.3
Teachers in Oklahoma saw salaries dip 0.1% in 2016, a change of roughly $40 on average and one of just five states to see a decrease. The pay was No. 49 in the country. As Education Week notes, however, Oklahoma legislators are hoping to drastically increase teachers’ pay in the near future. For now, though, Oklahoma has to contend with poor test scores (No. 42 nationally, according to Graphiq data) and a mere $8,164 spent per student, sixth-worst in the country.
Next: A head-scratcher in Big Sky Country
- Average teacher salary: $51,034
- Students per teacher: 14.2
That Montana showed up as one of the worst on the WalletHub report is a bit of a head-scratcher. Teacher pay in Montana isn’t much of a problem, as a 0.7% increase in 2016 put the average salary No. 29 overall, per the National Education Association report. Its students are in the top 20 in math and reading proficiency, according to Graphiq data, just ahead of Ohio, a WalletHub top 10 state. The number of students per teacher is in the top 15 nationally, and its per-student spending ($11,195 predicted for 2017-18) is in the middle of the pack. All in all, Montana doesn’t seem so bad.
Next: A Southwest state coming up short
8. New Mexico
- Average teacher salary: $47,163
- Students per teacher: 15.5
When some of the main factors are taken into consideration, New Mexico isn’t all that bad of a state to be a teacher. The average salary, while not stellar (No. 44), went up more than 1% between 2015 and 2016. The $10,875 spent per student is in the middle of the pack, and the number of students per teacher is No. 21 in the country. Yet the state was the worst in testing, with only 22.8% of students at or above proficient, according to Graphiq.
Next: North Carolina is near the bottom in two areas.
7. North Carolina
- Average teacher salary: $47,941
- Students per teacher: 15.3
Despite a modest 0.3% bump in the average salary, North Carolina actually dropped to No. 41 in the U.S. The number of students per teacher was right in the middle of the pack at No. 25, but the state was near the bottom in one area. North Carolina is one of the worst states in the nation in per-student spending at a predicted $8,940 for the 2017-18 school year. Only eight states are worse, according to the education association report.
Next: Louisiana is trying to improve.
- Average teacher salary: $49,745
- Students per teacher: 16
Teachers in Louisiana saw their average salaries go up half a percent from 2015 to 2016, but even that increase only puts Louisiana No. 34 in the country. The state struggled to get results on standardized tests, as Graphiq data shows its math and reading scores are No. 47 in the country. Louisiana seems intent to turn around its reputation, though. It is predicted to increase per-student spending in 2017-18 by 2.1% to $11,495, according to the education association.
Next: A state across the Gulf of Mexico is coming up short.
- Average teacher salary: $49,199
- Students per teacher: 16.1
A state that has been known for poor public education doesn’t seem like it will improve anytime soon. The average teacher salary in Florida rose 0.4% from 2015 to 2016, but the Sunshine State actually dropped to No. 35 in the country in that category, according to the National Education Association report. Florida was predicted to spend $9,227 per student 2017, one of 17 states not to reach five figures despite a 0.8% increase in per-student spending.
Next: This Deep South state is a bad spot for educators.
- Average teacher salary: $42,744
- Students per teacher: 15.4
When you look at the numbers, it’s hard to believe Mississippi doesn’t rate worse than this. A 0.4% increase in the average teacher salary in 2016 was nice, but Mississippi still comes in at No. 50 in that category. Data from Graphiq shows the state is No. 48 in the nation in reading and math test scores, and that doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon. The education association predicts Mississippi will spend just $8,361 per student in 2017-18 — an increase of just $21 from 2016 and one of the lowest in the country.
Next: A picturesque state doesn’t rate for education.
3. South Carolina
- Average teacher salary: $48,769
- Students per teacher: 15.3
Where to begin with South Carolina? A 0.6% bump in the average salary from 2015 to 2016 was a middling increase that put the state No. 36 in the country. The number of students per teacher was middle of the pack, but test scores were some of the worst in the country. South Carolina ranks No. 41 in testing in the country, according to Graphiq, and the percentage of math- and reading-proficient students was lower among eighth-graders than fourth-graders. On the plus side, the $11,039 the National Education Association predicted South Carolina to spend per student in 2017 is a 4.2% increase, one of the largest jumps in the country.
Next: America’s paradise, except for teachers
- Average teacher salary: $57,431
- Students per teacher: 16.8
A quick look at the numbers might indicate you can earn a pretty penny as a teacher in Hawaii. Dollar to dollar, the average salary ranks No. 17 in the U.S., per the education association report. Adjusted for cost of living, however, Hawaii is dead last. A mere 0.4% pay raise in 2016 was No. 40 in the country. The number of students per teacher in Hawaii was one of the worst in the country, and it seems to be taking a toll. According to data from Graphiq, only 26% of Hawaiian eighth-graders tested at or above proficient in reading.
Next: The worst bad apple of the bunch
- Average teacher salary: $47,218
- Students per teacher: 23.8
There are several chinks in Arizona’s proverbial educational armor. The average salary, already one of the lowest in the nation, dropped to No. 48 in the U.S. thanks to a 0.5% decrease that was the largest in the country. The average number of students per teacher was the second highest in the U.S. In its annual May report, the National Education Association predicted Arizona would spend almost 1% less per student in the 2017-18 school year, down to $7,501 and — you guessed it — one of the worst in the country.
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