Teaching in North Dakota

One of the last unspoiled areas of the United States, North Dakota is one of the best places to live in the nation. The state boasts the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, along with the third-best GDP growth, best job growth, lowest default rate on credit, and one of the lowest crime rates.

North Dakota is a largely rural state; nearly 90 percent of its 185 school districts have less than 600 students. This means that the challenges these schools face are rather different than the challenges faced by urban (and suburban) schools throughout the rest of the country, and often require different solutions. Tackling these challenges is a fantastic career opportunity for many teachers, both new and veteran.

What’s the education climate in North Dakota?

In 2006 the state established the North Dakota Commission on Education Improvement. This body examines public education in the state and issues recommendations to the legislature every other year (the legislature is only in session on alternate years in North Dakota) regarding both how to improve the system and how to allocate state funds. In 2007 the state enacted almost all of the commission’s recommendations; by 2009, the state had satisfied all the issues that had led to the creation of the commission. However, the state continues to rely upon the commission to help them improve the quality of public education.

Average Salaries for North Dakota Teachers
  • Primary School: $40,140
  • Secondary School: $42,630
  • All North Dakota jobs: $38,870

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

North Dakota believes that high-quality educators are key to student success. In 2009, the legislature implemented a Commission on Education Improvement recommendation, requiring that 70 percent of education-funds growth should be applied to teacher compensation. Additionally, the state increased the number of tutors and counselors it hires, as well as provided funds for additional training for counselors. In the same year, the state provided for additional time in the school year for teacher development and collaboration, and expanded funding for teachers’ professional development. Also expanded was the state’s mentorship program to assist new teachers; three new programs were started for modeling instructional coaching.

North Dakota makes sure that teachers and students in rural areas are not short-changed, by either state or federal programs. The state’s Rural Education Achievement Program (REAP), established in 2002, helps small rural schools at a disadvantage in competing for federal grants. By combining smaller schools into larger groups, REAP enables rural schools to share resources and qualify for additional funds for teacher training and recruiting, implementation of technology, and innovative programs.

North Dakota teachers’ right to work was supported by a unanimous state Supreme Court decision that established teachers’ unions do not have a monopoly over bargaining for teacher salaries. Prior to the 2005 decision, unions prevented North Dakota schools from offering additional pay to teachers for hard-to-fill positions. Today, teachers with particular high-demand skill sets and expertise are being valued for the investments they’ve made in their own education and professional development.

How’s the job outlook for North Dakota teachers?

Unlike most states in the nation, North Dakota has actually reported overall job growth during the national recession, particularly in mining and energy production. As people flock to the state to take advantage of these jobs, they bring families with them—and this means more school enrollment, and more jobs for teachers. For the 2008-2009 school year, the state employed 8,010 full-time teachers; by 2010-2011, that number was up to 8,320.

In 2012, primary schools ranked 10th in the state in terms of most projected job openings, resulting from both growth and replacement. Secondary schools rank a little lower, at 32nd. Both are considered high-demand occupations through 2018. Hard-to-fill teaching jobs, such as advanced math and science or certain special education positions, may offer additional compensation in order to attract qualified teachers to those positions.

What benefits do North Dakota teachers have?

North Dakota’s low cost of living makes it appear that their teachers are paid less than teachers in other states—the National Education Association reports North and South Dakota as the 49th and 50th lowest-paying states in the nation. However, a $40,000 teacher salary in one of the most expensive districts in North Dakota still has the buying power of $67,500 in Los Angeles, California—which is slightly higher than what the average California teacher earns.

In addition to base salary, North Dakota teachers’ total compensation includes health, dental, vision, disability, and life insurance, as well as an employer contribution to retirement. The average value of these benefits adds about $17,000 to a teacher’s base salary. Teachers in North Dakota are also enrolled in the state’s Teachers’ Fund for Retirement (TFFR). The retirement age for teachers is 65, or 60 with 30 years of service. Early retirement with a reduced benefit is also available to teachers as early as age 55, at an eight-percent-per-year reduction.

Several organizations in North Dakota (see North Dakota Teacher Organizations) are devoted to teacher development, and to providing educational resources to North Dakota teachers. These organizations often publish and discuss research on teaching programs and techniques, and often offer classroom activities or curriculum supplements for teachers improvement.

What are the credentialing requirements in North Dakota?

In order to be licensed to teach in North Dakota, you must complete an approved teacher preparation program as part of your bachelor’s degree, with at least a 2.5 GPA, and with either a major or a minor in your content area. Candidates for teaching elementary school must complete at least 34 semester units of education studies; those teaching high school must complete at least 26 education-studies credits, as they’re expected to complete a greater number of units in their content area. After graduation, applicants must pass both the Praxis I examination (demonstrating general skills in reading, writing, and mathematics) and the Praxis II examination appropriate to their grade level or subject.

The first teaching license obtained will be the initial teaching license, valid for two years. After teaching for 18 months, one may obtain a professional teaching license, which must be renewed every five years until the teacher has taught for 30 years. After 30 years’ teaching experience, teachers may obtain a life license, which does not need to be renewed.

Additional information on North Dakota’s certification requirements can be found at the North Dakota Teaching Certification website.