Working in education is not a consistent experience across individuals. Some will struggle to find jobs in states that offer their teachers great compensation and benefit packages.
Others will pour their heart into their work, refusing to leave an underserved district even as their colleagues walk in and out of the revolving door of low-income public education.
Some educational subjects have plenty of teachers, making it more difficult to find a job in some regions of the country, while other fields like special education and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) could use more up-and-coming talented educators.
As you prepare to go to college for your teaching degree, it’s important to keep these things in mind. If you are interested in working in a high-need field like special education or STEAM and are willing to do so in a low-income school district, it’s also important to know the federal government has money waiting for you — to the tune of up to $4,000/year.
What Are TEACH Grants?
In order to encourage future teachers towards high-need fields and employment in low-income school districts, the federal government issues TEACH grants. The max grant is about $4,000/year, but fluctuates slightly depending on the federal budget.
TEACH grants are slightly a little different than your typical grant, which requires little more of you than going to class and passing. TEACH grants come with a service requirement.
Sure, you may say you want to work in a high-need field in a low-income school district now, but will you actually follow through?
To ensure you will, you must agree to a four-year service obligation in a low-income school district while teaching in a high-need field. You’ll still be earning a salary, but the government needs you to provide quality education to the children you promised to serve, making this “service obligation” mandatory.
It must happen within the first eight years following your graduation or the date you dropped out of school. If you don’t certify that the past year of employment has either fulfilled or not fulfilled, the service requirements on October 31 of every year, your grants will be turned into Direct Unsubsidized Loans.
On top of having your grants converted to loans, you will be charged back interest. So it’s in your best interest to complete your service obligation if you take the college money.
How Do I Apply for a TEACH Grant?
The first step to obtaining a TEACH grant is filling out your FAFSA—even if you don’t think you’re going to get any financial aid. Without a completed FAFSA, you are not eligible for the TEACH grant.
From there, you will need to find out if your school participates in TEACH grants. If you’re using TEACH grants as an integral part of your education funding, you will want to ensure your school participates before deciding which school to attend.
You will also have to make sure that you are participating in a TEACH program at your school. While your school may participate in TEACH, if you’re not in the right major, you won’t be eligible. You can find all this information by getting in touch with your school’s financial aid office.
They’re also the ones who will provide you with the paperwork necessary to apply for a grant. This paperwork includes required counseling about how a TEACH grant will affect your financial future and a service agreement which you must sign.
What Are High-Need Fields?
If you’re going to work in a high-need field, you’ll presumably want to study it while you’re at college. While the designation of high-need fields may change, for the time being you can work in one of the qualifying fields:
- English as a Second Language (ESL)
- Foreign languages
- Reading specialist
- Special Education
These are the national needs, but different areas around the country may have shortages in other areas. You can get a full list of high-need fields based on location here.
What Qualifies As a Low-Income School?
While you can work in traditional, public K-12 settings for the TEACH grant, years served at eligible educational agencies count, as well. To get a full list of areas which qualify as low-income, check out the Teacher Cancellation Low-Income Directory.
Your work will also qualify if you are employed with the Bureau of Indian Education.
Should I Take Out a TEACH Grant?
Grants are free money. You should almost always take free money when it comes to funding your college education.
But because TEACH grants come with conditions, it’s extremely important to be absolutely certain that education is the career field for you. It’s also imperative to be honest with yourself about your willingness to relocate to a position that will meet TEACH grant requirements, whether you are considering constraints on your location or your field of expertise.
If you’re certain that teaching is the right career path for you, though, and you have no problem relocating to find an eligible job, the TEACH grant can be a great way to knock off up to $16,000 off your tuition bill over the course of your studies.
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This post was written by Brynne Conroy, the owner and creator of Femme Frugality–an award-nominated Women’s Finance site. She is also the author of The Feminist Financial Handbook, in which she tackles the concept of going to college for free with grants, scholarships, smart financial planning and zero student loans.