Special breaks for aspiring teachers

Scholarships, Grants, and Loan Forgiveness Programs

by Debra L. Karplus, MS, OTR/L

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You'll never forget your fifth grade teacher. Miss Grundy inspired you and motivated you to spring out of bed each morning to get to school; no longer did you arrive after the tardy bell. In her classroom, science was exciting, history was meaningful and came alive, and math seemed useful, practical, and fun. You used to avoid reading, but unlike your previous teachers, Miss Grundy was able to transform you into an avid reader. Because of Miss Grundy, recess was no longer your favorite school subject.

Since then, you've always wanted to become a teacher. Periodically, you've visited Miss Grundy, given your accolades, and she's provided you much encouragement to become an educator just like her. Miss Grundy plans to retire soon. Wouldn't it be serendipitous to become her successor and educate young children at your former school in your old classroom!

But college costs keep rising and it doesn't look like you can afford a master's degree or even the bachelor's degree that's required to become an elementary or secondary teacher. Today's troubled economy has challenged Mom and Dad's ability to help fund your schooling. Your high school guidance counselor indicated that there was free money available to aspiring teachers. So where is this money for education majors and how do you find it and pay for your college years?

College scholarships and grant programs are available for education majors and for new teachers from the federal government, from your state, and from other funding sources.

To receive any kind of financial assistance from the federal government, your first step is to complete a Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA). Your high school career counselors or college financial aid office should have the resources to help you get started. Information and the application can be found online also.

In 2001, President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. The Bush legislation budgeted more money to public education, including funds for teacher preparedness. The United States Department of Education has a helpful website that defines and explains these programs.

A variety of college scholarships are available each year. Scholarship Search websites can help you locate a scholarship that matches your eligibility qualifications. Your school can help you find scholarship money, as can your state's Board of Education website.

Though Pell Grants are available for college students in general who demonstrate financial need, there are specific grants for aspiring teachers. Since 1990, the Teach for America grant has helped finance college for graduates who've committed to teaching in designated rural or urban low income areas for two years. The Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) grant, the result of legislation from 2007, has been around a relatively short time. It finances up to $4000 annually for those who teach in specific low-income areas.

Federal loan forgiveness programs are targeted to teachers who serve in specific areas. Wouldn't it be terrific if you could reduce, defer, or even cancel college loan repayment? The loan forgiveness program allows for this. The Perkins Loan forgives up to 100% of the money borrowed by eligible teachers. The Stafford Loan has a maximum dollar amount that it forgives new teachers.

Federal loan forgiveness programs generally base eligibility on high demand teaching areas. Each loan program determines what and where these areas are. Schools with large low-income populations typically have difficulty attracting competent teachers and usually appear on loan forgiveness program lists. Specific subject areas, such as mathematics, science, foreign language and bilingual education, are also considered to be in high demand.

Special Education teachers work with other professionals like school psychologists, social workers, speech and language pathologists and occupational therapists to serve students who have physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral or learning disabilities. Sadly, a greater percentage of students receive special services each year. But perhaps the increasing number is that better trained school professionals are becoming precisely skilled at identifying students' special needs and services recommended. What this means for you, the aspiring teacher, is that you're likely to have your college loan forgiven, at least partially, and that you will always be able to find employment as a special educator. You'll be encouraged if you check the website of your local school district; you're likely to discover many open positions at any given time for special education or cross-categorical teachers.

There are several places to obtain information about financial aid programs specific to aspiring teachers. Start by talking to academic counselors and financial aid experts at your school. Peruse the websites of your state's Board of Education and your college or university. Money is available for resourceful education majors in elementary education, secondary education and special education and for newly graduated teachers. Invest time in searching and you can locate and receive funds that will ease the financial pain of attending college.

Debra is an occupational therapist, accountant, teacher and freelance writer. She is a writer for Advance for Occupational Therapy Practitioners. She also writes for Grand Magazine, has some items (fiction and non fiction) selling on Amazon.com (kindle), has written several travel articles for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and several articles for freelancewriting.com and volunteers as a money mentor for the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension money mentoring program. Learn more about her at DebraKarplus.blogspot.com.

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