Although President Joe Biden’s recent announcement extending the pause on student loan payments until May 1 provides temporary financial relief for teachers, loan cancellation is still the ultimate goal. Even when teachers are eligible for forgiveness, the application process to get those loans forgiven is so tedious and difficult that many hardworking, deserving teachers give up in despair.
All I have to say is this: The struggle to get student loan forgiveness is real! It took me YEARS of multiple rejections, disappointing phone calls, and straight hustlin' to ultimately get my loans forgiven. If that process taught me anything, it is that the U.S government really has no love for teachers.
And for that reason, I want to drop some gems of information for those of you going through the struggle right now or preparing to start the loan forgiveness application. I learned so many lessons through my ordeal that it would be a crime to keep them all to myself.
1) MAKE SURE YOUR LICENSE PAPERWORK MATCHES THE JOB YOU HOLD
In other words, if you’re applying as an elementary teacher, your teaching license should indicate that you’re certified at the elementary level. If you’re applying as a secondary teacher, your teaching license title should include keywords such as secondary, middle school, high school, or a specific grade level between sixth and 12th grade.
This step is so crucial, especially for middle-school teachers! If I had done this, it would not have taken me YEARS to get my loans forgiven. To give more context, I taught in Pennsylvania as a sixth-grade teacher during my first four years of teaching and possessed an Elementary Education K-6 teaching license. Shortly before my fifth year, I moved to Massachusetts, where I taught as a middle school math teacher under a Middle School Mathematics teaching license.
When it came time to apply for loan forgiveness, I was so hyped because I thought I had checked all the boxes. I taught at a Title 1 school as a secondary level teacher for five consecutive years and I had all the paperwork to prove it.
Sadly, my loan provider thought otherwise. According to my provider, I couldn’t receive credit for my first four years of teaching because I was classified as an elementary teacher in the state of Pennsylvania. Even though sixth grade is considered a secondary grade in most grades, the state of Pennsylvania didn’t recognize it as such. Therefore, I only received credit for my fifth year because my Massachusetts teaching license clearly stated “Middle School” in the title. Because of this technicality, I had to teach for four extra years before I could reapply for loan forgiveness.
2) COLLECT ‘PROOF OF EMPLOYMENT’ LETTERS
Make sure you collect letters from EACH and EVERY school in which you were employed within the five-year window. The letters should be on official school letterhead, indicate your specific role in the school, and specify the start and end dates of your employment. In my case, I taught in three different schools during my first five years of teaching, which meant that I had to secure three ‘proof of employment’ letters to accompany my application.
To make your life easier, I strongly recommend that you secure these letters the moment you end your tenure at a particular school. The longer you wait to do this task, the more challenging it could become because of administrator turnover. At one of my former schools, it took months to secure a letter, because all of my former administrators had moved on. No one from the new regime could confirm my years of employment at the school.
3) DIGITIZE ALL YOUR DOCUMENTATION
Make electronic copies of all your documentation: teaching certificate, proof of employment letters from principals/CEOs, college degrees, etc. You can keep them in a cloud storage system like Google Drive, iCloud, or Dropbox.
4) PROOFREAD YOUR APPLICATION
Be sure that the information on your application is consistent with your teaching certificate and the content in your proof of employment letters. Sweat the smallest stuff. For instance, if your principal’s name or signature on the proof of employment letter is the least bit different from what is on your application, your application will be rejected. If your dates of employment don’t match what you indicate in your application, that will also lead to an automatic rejection. These loan providers are sticklers when it comes to those details, so please proofread everything!
5) TAKE NOTES DURING YOUR CALLS WITH YOUR LOAN PROVIDER
Every time you call your loan provider, record the names of the customer service representatives and their employee numbers. At the end of the call, ask the representatives to read back the notes they took during the call. This step is especially important because every time you make a call, you will more than likely end up speaking with a different representative. Just because these representatives are employed by the same loan provider doesn’t mean that they follow up or consult with each other about their customer calls. By keeping track of what each customer service representative you speak with says, you’ll save yourself from a lot of headaches and frustration.
6) DUST YOURSELF OFF AND TRY AGAIN!
A rejection is not a dead end, it's an opportunity for redemption! Save your rejection letters and past applications. The rejection letters will tell you exactly what steps you need to take in order to successfully complete your application.
For the record, I think it’s highly insulting and absolute bullshit that we, as teachers, have to work so hard to get our student loans forgiven. Given the integral role that we play within the American economy and society as a whole, we should receive so much more respect than what we’ve been given. We produce millionaires, billionaires and presidents. We even taught those elected officials who push problematic legislation that harms our profession more than it actually supports it.
If our government publicly proclaims that teacher diversity and retention are top priorities, then loan forgiveness must be non-negotiable and should be granted from the minute a teacher first enters the profession. What better way to incentivize individuals who decide to pursue a career in teaching than to cancel all of their loans?
Public acclaim and verbal praise are great and all, but those things don’t communicate love and respect in the same way that student loan forgiveness does. Nothing short of cancellation of student loans for teachers really shows us full respect.