Ever since she watched an inner-city teacher change the lives of his calculus students in the movie "Stand and Deliver", Rita Soledad Fernandez knew she wanted to be a math teacher. "I see education as a way of social change," Fernandez said in an interview with WalletPop. "I wanted to teach low-income students and provide them with the same high-quality education that the students that come from money usually receive."
Deciding to become a teacher was a no-brainer. Paying for the education she needed to teach her students? Well, that was a tougher problem to solve, until Fernandez found Math For America, a nonprofit that recruits and trains excellent math students to be teachers in the New York City public schools and offers teaching scholarships.
Many students want to be teachers but are drawn to other professions by high salaries and bonuses. Fernandez, who just completed her master's degree as a Math for America fellow, says teaching scholarships like Math for America's can help retain excellent teachers.
"I had options because I did well in school, I had work experience and good test results," she says. "It was hard, but I was really committed to the idea that if I'm really this good, then I really needed to help the students who need it the most. Math for America helped me do that."
Math For America is one of the many teaching scholarship programs for students who are interested in becoming teachers. National, state and local teaching scholarships can help education students pay for their undergraduate or graduate degrees.
Some teaching scholarships are small, like Straightforward Media's $500 teaching scholarships. They have an easy online application and are given out four times a year. Others, like Braintrack and the Applegate/Jackson/Parks Future Teacher Award, base teaching scholarships on written essays.
Other foundations, like the James Madison Fellowship Foundation or the American Association of Physics Teachers offer teaching scholarships based on the subject taught. Organizations that support teachers, such as the nonprofit Teachers Count, often provide lists of nationwide education scholarships as well as resources for current teachers.
In addition to traditional teaching scholarships, many programs also offer debt forgiveness for students who commit to teaching in a certain school district or a particular student demographic. The American Federation of Teachers offers a loan forgiveness database for students seeking help with their education loans.
Fernandez suggests students think about pursuing the major they want to teach in, rather than an education program, and then seek out a loan forgiveness and teacher training program after they finished their degree. Other teaching scholarship programs, like the Stafford Loan Forgiveness Program for Teachers, may defer a student's college loans for several years.
Fernandez will start teaching 7th grade math at a city charter school in the fall. She can't wait to be in a classroom, encouraging her students and seeing their potential.
"Every day, you see development. Every day, you see growth. You see the students change, learn and transform. You see that change is possible," she says.
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