Think of a teacher who helped make you the person you are today. Everyone has at least one or two who spring to mind. One reason our teachers are so memorable is that growing up, we spend so much of our time in school, being taught by professionals dedicated to improving our lives and the lives of our friends.
Now, imagine a student who returns each night to a home where adults are absent, where food is not always available, and where her goals, talents and dreams may take a back seat to matters of daily survival. In this situation, the value and role of the teacher is dramatically increased. As the only reliable adult around, the teacher takes on much more than just teaching.
So when teachers are attacked — as they are with the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act, the House Republicans’ plan to rewrite higher education policy and end Public Service Loan Forgiveness, a crucial program that lets teachers and other public workers stay in jobs they love instead of chasing high paychecks — students, and especially high-need students, pay the price.
I am proud to teach at a Boston public school called Dearborn STEM Academy. Dearborn is in “turnaround” status because of low scores on our statewide exam. Teaching at Dearborn is tough, but it’s a challenge I relish. I love my students, and I see immense amounts of potential in all of them.
I have $34,707 in outstanding college loans. By combining Public Service Loan Forgiveness with another repayment plan, Pay As You Earn, I’ll be able to pay back $26,200 and have $28,800 of unpaid principal and interest forgiven. That makes a huge difference in my ability to focus on teaching without the need to find another job or scrimp to get by.
America’s schools are starkly segregated by race and socioeconomic status. One of the only ways for underprivileged students to break these barriers and become financially stable is through education. It is the job of teachers like me to help these students recognize their intelligence and aptitude, to envision themselves in college and in careers they might have never pursued for themselves.
But if Public Service Loan Forgiveness is cut, the ability of a school such as Dearborn to recruit and retain the best teacher candidates will be sorely diminished.
Students in high-need schools often cannot develop vital relationships with teachers because turnover is high. Some teachers leave for better-paid positions in more stable districts, and some leave teaching altogether. Getting rid of the loan forgiveness program will hit teachers in schools such as Dearborn the most, especially in my own hard-to-staff subject of math.
Without Public Service Loan Forgiveness, I also worry about the number of bright college students whose economic ability to embrace the challenge of working in a school will diminish. The relentless emotional commitment is draining and difficult, but it’s one we decided to take on, knowing this program was in place to ease the load.
The loan forgiveness program has made it possible for tens of thousands of teachers to take their places in classrooms today, dedicating themselves to their students’ educational, physical and emotional well-being. This is good for our children and for society. The PROSPER Act is callously hard-hearted to many of our neediest young people and to the professionals who strive, not to enrich themselves, but to educate and enrich others.
The PROSPER Act must be resisted. If this bill becomes law, the well-being of the next generation of students, and their teachers, will be at even greater risk.
Gina Sheehan is a high school math teacher at Dearborn STEM Academy in Boston.