We all have that teacher who made a positive impact on our lives — whether they coaxed us out of our shells, believed in us or inspired us to pursue our dream career.

Great teachers exercise a powerful influence on the lives of students and so have the potential to shape the future. As such, education is an excellent field for someone with a strong sense of purpose who wants to make a difference in the world.

But as the headlines remind us, it’s not always easy to fill teaching roles. In fact, one thing we are not short of is information about the teacher shortage, which is said to be at its most challenging in decades.

Demand is up, but not enough people are entering the profession, and others are leaving. So as the new school year kicks into gear, we at Indeed decided to shine a spotlight on this most essential of jobs — what it pays, the extent of the shortages, and what can be done about it.

Where it pays most to be a teacher in the U.S.

First, let’s take a look at salaries. Although teaching is not as well paid as some other professions requiring a college degree, this doesn't mean that conditions are the same across the country.

To find out where it pays most to be a teacher, our data science team used Indeed salary data to identify the cities (among the 25 largest) with the highest average salaries, then adjusted for cost of living using the most recent information from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).  

A table ranking the top 15 cities in the U.S. where a teacher’s salary goes the furthest when adjusted for cost of living.
This table shows where it pays most to be a teacher in the U.S., by ranking 15 major metros where teacher salaries go furthest when combined with the cost of living. Riverside, CA, ranks number one with an average salary adjusted for cost of living of $58,025, and an average unadjusted salary of $62,192. Bringing up the rear in 15th place is Orlando, FL, with an adjusted average salary of $45,170, compared to an unadjusted average salary of $44,197.

It turns out the city where it pays most to be a teacher is Riverside, CA (one of five California cities in the top 15). Here, the adjusted average annual salary is $58,025. This is slightly lower than the “on paper” unadjusted salary of $62,192 and so illustrates how state-hopping job seekers need to be careful when assessing salaries on offer outside their home region. Those numbers are not always what they seem.

In second place is Sacramento, the state capital, which was identified by Indeed as one of the best cities in the U.S. for job seekers earlier this year. Here, teachers have an average adjusted salary of $55,785. Meanwhile, Seattle, WA, Richmond, VA, and San Antonio, TX round out the top five spots.

Interestingly, San Jose, the unofficial capital of Silicon Valley, places sixth, while San Francisco lands just outside the top 10 in eleventh place. Considering the notoriously high cost of living in these cities, these are surprisingly strong results. A teacher’s salary still goes relatively far in these cities, compared to some others in the U.S.  

That said, we don’t always see such a good deal for teachers working in high cost areas. For instance, New York ranks 23rd with an average adjusted salary of $40,233 — more than $10,000 lower than San Jose and $18,000 lower than Riverside.

The teaching shortage is not a "one size fits all" problem

So if teachers want to have a rewarding career and get paid more and enjoy sunny weather the solution is obvious — they should pack their bags and head west, right?

After all, according to media reports, the Sunshine State is still experiencing shortages, with many districts still hiring even as the new year begins. And if California isn’t your cup of tea, then there are comparatively high high salaries to be had in other sunny states, including Texas, Florida and Tennessee, which are also experiencing shortages.

Not so fast: despite the headlines, the reality is more nuanced. The teacher shortage is spread across the United States, but the effect is especially pronounced in specific subjects and localities.

According to a recent report from the Brookings Institution, STEM subjects, special education and schools where a majority of students live in poverty are hardest hit.

But that’s not all. Let's say a school wants to recruit fresh talent from outside their state, or teachers in one state do decide to move across country to find a new job — there is a major hurdle to overcome.

Have certificate, can’t travel 

Unlike people in most other professions, teachers can’t just up sticks and move if they want to work in a different state. It’s simple enough to move between cities and towns, but any educator who crosses state lines will need to be certified to teach in that new state.

In short, just like lawyers, teachers have to deal with a lot of red tape and to pass exams if they are to practice their profession anywhere other than where they originally qualified. If that sounds inconvenient, then many educators would agree with you.

For instance, in a recent article in Education Week, education policy consultant Arthur E. Wise, called for the establishment of a National Board for Teacher Licensing to develop agreed upon standards and work with state licensing boards to make the process of taking up a new job elsewhere easier. The authors of the Brookings Institution report also suggested a similar solution.

But change takes time. Meanwhile, barriers to mobility remain in place, the teaching shortage persists and some teachers  are at continued risk of burnout. So what to do?

What this means for employers and educators

Of course, where possible school districts can raise salaries to attract more qualified candidates, although this is not always possible due to rules, regulations or budget restrictions in certain areas. Fast track courses provide individuals with a quicker route to the classroom, though these are not without their critics.

Some other solutions rely on policymakers changing the rules at a state or national level. One thing that does not require a complicated bureaucratic solution however is to place an emphasis on the social value of teaching when recruiting. Many studies have shown that millennials are highly motivated by a sense of purpose and place a strong emphasis on on values in the workplace.

After all, few jobs have more social value than teaching. And as Malcolm Gladwell observed at this year's Indeed Interactive teaching is in many ways a model profession of the 21st century: "You need to have great leadership skills, social skills, you must be adaptable, must have great cognitive skills, you must be constantly learning new bodies of knowledge."

We agree. So as the school year starts up again, we wish all teachers everywhere a fulfilling 2017-2018 school year!