Fourth grade teacher Seana Deas spent nearly $30,000 during her last year of college to become a teacher. Here, she’s in her class at Indian Creek Elementary School on Sept. 6, 2019, in Clarkston. JOHN AMIS
Photo: John Amis
Photo: John Amis

To become a teacher, many sacrifice time, thousands of dollars

Seana Deas spent nearly $30,000 during her last year of college to become a teacher.

That includes the money paid to Spelman College for 24 credit hours to spend a school year as a student-teacher, mandatory for anyone wishing to one day lead a classroom. There also are costs for classroom supplies as well as fees to take certification tests and tests for content proficiency, usually between about $200 and $500 apiece. The costs meant sacrificing some things, including 1eating out, hanging out with friends, making impulse purchases.

“There were moments where I did say: ‘This is too much,’ ” said Deas, who began teaching fourth-grade students at Clarkston’s Indian Creek Elementary School in January. “But it was so worth it.”

The battle rages on over teacher pay and respect, but the cost it takes to become a teacher — including the unpaid mandatory internships and certification test fees — is seldom mentioned in the debate over how teachers are compensated.

The National Education Association says the average starting salary for school teachers has decreased about 4.5 percent in the last decade, when the numbers are adjusted for inflation. For the 2017-2018 school year, the average salary was $39,249. It was less in Georgia, at $35,474.

Meanwhile, the cost of obtaining a college degree has risen. The College Board reported last year that the average yearly cost, tuition and room cost combined, for in-state students nationwide was nearly $21,000. A 2016 Georgia audit found a 77% increase in the cost of attending a state college or university in the prior 10 years. For future educators, other costs come on top of those expenses.

For students wanting to teach, a number of assessments have to be paid for, beginning in their sophomore year. That’s where many prospective teachers decide whether they will stick with the profession for the long haul, said Joyce Many, associate dean for undergraduate studies and teacher preparation at Georgia State University.

“People would come to information sessions … who were just thinking about the possibility,” she said. “They would say ‘I’m not going to have that kind of money,’ and go into other fields. You have to let them know up-front what to expect. When you lay it out (how much a person pays to become a teacher), it is daunting.”

Many said students pay about $50 for background checks before beginning any classroom observations, which are a prerequisite before entering the education program. Then, there is tort liability insurance, which covers expenses related to any civil suits brought against education students for incidents that can occur in a school. That can cost about $20 a month or can be obtained by joining a professional organization, whose annual student dues run between $15 and $18.

Then, Many said, there are entrance assessments, exit assessments, paying to access the assessment portal, content mastery and certification tests.

The required student-teaching residency hours are the same as those of a full-time teacher: arriving before the students and staying afterward for parent-teacher conferences and faculty meetings. That left Deas unable to work.

“It was definitely about managing what was important versus what I wanted,” she said.

DeKalb County Board of Education member Joyce Morley said she found herself finishing her education degree more than 40 years ago as a 20-year-old single parent. New York already had the Education Opportunity Program for aspiring teachers that awarded grants to assist students working toward their education degrees.

“I was going to school full time, working full time and I had a child,” she said. “I worked during the day as a student teacher, went to school at night. It’s a sacrifice you have to do to make it happen. Sometimes, I ask myself, ‘How in the world… ?’ Anything worth having is worth working hard for.”

Morley said there was more than a financial expense associated with the workload and focus needed to get throught the final year of an education program. She mentioned missing regular live events, opting to work instead or spend time with her child.

“All of it comes to bear,” she said. “The cost is more exorbitant than one could imagine.”

The isolated lifestye can affect some students mentally, Deas said. Fortunately, her roommate was also in the education program and understood the sacrifices being made.

“She understood the demand,” Deas said of her roommate.

As the costs of tuition and fees associated with becoming a teacher continue to climb, some programs have worked to make it easier for students to manage the workload without having to hold down a full-time job simultaneously. Some programs allow students to apply for Teacher Eduction Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants, which require students to take certain classes and work specific jobs to satisfy grant requirements. That could mean taking a teaching job for several years at a low-income school in a high-need position.

Georgia State also offers Panther Retention Grants for students to ease the financial load. The education program has also partnered with districts that offer grants and job guarantees to offset any potential job anxiety. Fulton County Schools, for example, pays a $3,000 stipend to students during their residency and early contracts, which students have been able to sign ahead of finishing their requirements.

“That’s really the best way to reduce some of that anxiety and give them some of the support they need to be effective,” Many said.

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