A teacher’s perspective: Helping teachers with student loan debt, fees and financial literacy can help them afford to work in even the most expensive cities


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California Governor Newsom recently invested nearly $3 billion in the state budget to increase teacher preparation to recruit and retain qualified educators. Why was it necessary? Because California’s ongoing teacher shortage has only worsened as the state grapples with classroom vacancies that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Newsom’s injection of resources is a step in the right direction. But how to perpetuate the path towards teaching?

Paying teachers more may seem like a simple answer, and it’s a good start. It is not enough.

Without giving people a fundamental understanding of how to use the money they earn, the benefits won’t stick. Education needs to take inspiration from the corporate world and think about how to eliminate debt and provide ongoing, responsive support for teachers.

At Teach For America Bay Area, we’ve found that recruiting talented teachers isn’t easy in an area of ​​the country where dollars have to go further than in other areas. I fell victim to it – I quit teaching, a job I loved, because of finances.

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I became a kindergarten teacher in West Contra Costa in 2010, when a two-bedroom apartment in Oakland was renting for $1,750 a month. Today, the price of that same unit has doubled. During my three years of teaching, my rent skyrocketed while my school lost hundreds of thousands of dollars after our school improvement scholarship ended. With funds dwindling and my cost of living rising, I left the classroom for fear that I would not be able to pursue my interests and dreams on a teacher’s salary. I know many other talented educators have made the same decision.

But with help, support and training, teachers can learn to manage their finances and stay. In my current role, my job is to help current and future teachers access resources to help them stay comfortably in the classroom. From this experience and the best practices of others in the field, here are some suggestions for improving the financial well-being of teachers:

Provide resources to teach financial literacy. People who don’t learn financial literacy from their family often don’t learn it at all. It is only recently that policy makers and schools have taken financial literacy education seriously. But a myriad of resources are available. Teacher preparation programs can step in to provide financial literacy resources to incoming teachers. For example, TFA partners with Spring to provide teachers with one-on-one financial planning coaching and support, seminars, and budgeting tools. This helps teachers manage their finances so they can afford the Bay Area’s high cost of living.

Reduce teacher debt from the start. More than 43 million people have federal student loans, so it’s no wonder they’re flocking to companies that promise to help them pay off that debt. The typical teacher racks up $37,750 in debt during graduate school alone, and most early-career teachers earn only $45,000 to $50,000 a year. The average TFA Bay Area teacher receives $5,000 directly from TFA before they even set foot in a classroom. This financial assistance includes a combination of grants and interest-free loans to pay for living expenses.

The lowering of financial barriers to the teaching profession is gaining ground. For example, Aspire Public Schools has a Grow-Your-Own program that identifies talented staff members and helps them transition into special education teaching positions. Aspire provides a first-year teacher salary to program participants, offers one-on-one mentoring and coaching, and foots the bill for accreditation.

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Make resources known. Resources can only help when they are used. The California Legislature has allocated $24 million to help cover the cost of accrediting prospective teachers. It could have been a valuable resource to cover the expensive cost of entering the profession – if teachers had known. But the Office of Legislative Analysts released a report which found 10,000 teachers were unaware that a fee waiver was available.

Teachers are called to educate and empower students, but first they must also feel empowered to care for themselves. With the understanding to manage their finances and debt relief on the way to the classroom, future teachers – especially educators of color – will have the agency and confidence to choose and persist in a career which may not make them a lot of money, but will match their values. This is the way to ensure that exceptional teachers will stay in the classroom.

Dorian Barrero-Dominguez is Senior General Manager and Program Manager at Teach For America Bay Area

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