The Best State to Teach in the USA

It probably wouldn’t be too hard to find a teacher in each of the 50 states to say that their state is the best for teaching. After all, there are countless things that factor into what kind of job environment is best for a particular individual.

But if you’re reading this, you’re probably looking to further your teaching career through a J-1 Visa Exchange Visitor Program like Teach USA—which means that the cultural and educational environment of your future teaching position is likely far more important than for an American teacher.

An energetic group of students poses with a Cultural Vistas participant in a public school classroom in Brooklyn.

For those who may not know much about the 50 states but are interested in teaching in the U.S. on a J-1 Visa for teachers, below are a few things to keep in mind.

Go to the Coasts to Catch the Most Vistas

For an international teacher like yourself, finding the best way to maximize your exchange experience is likely more important than knowing whether or not a state’s teaching salary will beat inflation in the next decade.

By working in a populous coastal region, you will have the opportunity to learn and engage with the most people possible. You’ll also be more likely to teach a class of students offering you a full picture of the country’s diversity.

A diversity quilt made by elementary school students depicting African-American role models.

Whereas larger states like Nevada and Texas have diverse populations dispersed across a large area, culturally diverse cities with dense urban environments tend to be located in states on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Not surprisingly, these states are also the most likely to be recognized by international visitors: New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and California.

If the goal of your exchange program is to experience the most diversity and engage with the most people possible during your time in the U.S., the populous coastal regions are a good place to start.

Stretch Your Dollars Further in the Heartland

Though every state uses the same U.S. dollars, what those dollars can actually buy will vary considerably across states in the same way as cost-of-living between countries.

Because you will have a limited program duration as an international teacher and may want to utilize some of your existing savings throughout your program, it might be worth considering how far the money you have now will go in a particular state before considering what you might be expected to earn during your program.

A Filipina Teach USA participant instructs a class of Lakota schoolchildren in Saint Francis, South Dakota.

This is very important to keep in mind when considering states in coastal regions which are known for higher costs of living as well as higher levels of cultural diversity.

After adjusting for cost of living, less-expensive midwest states like Michigan and Illinois have been found to actually compensate their teachers better than higher-paying states on the coasts. Michigan, in particular, generally has some of the lowest costs of living in the country which makes it a good choice for more frugal-minded international teachers.

Don’t Fly Over If You Want to Be a Trailblazer

Regardless of the many learning opportunities for international teachers when they come to the U.S., most program participants are chosen based on the considerable teaching experience they already have.

And if you’re an already-experienced teacher who is interested in having the greatest possible cultural or educational impact on your students, it might be a good idea to head toward states in the middle of the country with lower population densities where people tend to live further apart.

Because coastal regions and big cities already attract talent from all other the world, your experience and qualifications as an international teacher will have the greatest impact on students who otherwise wouldn’t benefit from such a high level of instruction. A group of students from a more remote and less-populous state like Arizona, Nevada, or Alabama are most likely to benefit from a highly-qualified international teacher such as yourself.

As a Teach USA participant, you have a uniquely influential role in international education and great opportunities to make an impact.

In other words, to truly make the most impact, try not to think of where it would be best for you—think instead of where you could benefit your students the most.

Know Yourself to Know the Best Place for You

Whatever your situation, you know it best. The best state for teaching in your case might be based on a specific factor, or a combination of factors, not mentioned in these guidelines.

For instance, a math teacher from a Spanish-speaking country may feel more comfortable living in a southern state with a high Spanish-speaking population whereas someone coming to teach Spanish in the U.S. may prefer to go to a state where the need for Spanish-language teachers is higher.

Sonia and Marta are two teachers from Spain who taught in Colorado through the Teach USA program.

If you know that your situation is unique, keep searching! The best state for you may not have been mentioned here and may not be one that you have thought of before. We hope that some of the points and resources here will help you get a better sense of what to expect.

Next Steps

After you have determined that you satisfy the teaching standards of the U.S. state in which you wish to teach and have a formal written offer from a U.S. primary or secondary school, you will be ready to apply for the Teach USA program.

Applications open for the coming school year on April 1st of each year. Complete applications (from teacher and host school) need to be received no later than July 15th. Teachers should begin their programs at the beginning of the academic year in August or September, but may be considered during the school year under special circumstances.

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