On money, teaching and graduate school

10 Jun

I’m not happy. At all. I was happy – yesterday. But I’m not happy today. I was very close to getting an amazing two bed, two bath apartment I discovered yesterday in a wonderful community. I called on it again today to follow-up and ask a few more questions but was met with the unstilted words that it was rented as of this morning. Their next one won’t be available until July 2nd, and for someone who starts their first graduate class on Monday, June 14, that poses considerable difficulty. The only option that will potentially allow me a place to live by Monday is to go into a two bed, one bath place, with a six-month lease, with a girl whom I really don’t know anything about. But that’s okay. But really, I’m not extremely happy with things as my heart was set on my dream apartment that was stolen from me this morning. I will get there soon though.

I have a degree in English, essentially, and it’s as worthless a degree as ceramics. Ceramics, for all I know, might even be more worthwhile. So I decide, as any well-trained citizen would do, to apply to graduate school in an area I like. This happens to be teaching. This area, while I am creating happy, well educated citizens, also gives me some time to write. It seems a win-win.

Graduate school is utterly expensive. The numbers don’t add up to me. From browsing the list of open teaching positions, the base salary (for MT), aka starting, is approximately $24,000. Some positions are higher, others lower depending almost solely on location. But in order for me to be “qualified” to teach, I must complete two years of graduate school at roughly $3,500 a semester in tuition X four semesters. But for me, there are also three summer sessions at about $2,000. This is not including insurance or books. So let’s say I can get my actual masters for 20K. That’s not bad. Not too bad at all. Of course, we’re back to living. I’ve found that in order to live in a decent place I need to have a roommate and still spend 500 a month. Missoula is expensive. Twenty-four months times five hundred is twelve thousand dollars. Not including food or entertainment, as well as other expenditures such as gas and car repairs, I’m already past thirty thousand dollars. Remember the starting salary here in Montana? So in order to teach, a profession that seems to be something of a charity act already, I need to go into a debt of at least 32,000 dollars. But that’s not true. Regardless of wishful thinking, I am not that wealthy, so, bring on the student loans! Of course I’m hoping for subsidized, I don’t even want to think about unsubsidized loans, and by the time I graduate and have to start paying interest, things start really adding up. I am already working for over a year for free on the actual degree. So how long will I be chained to educational debt in order to pay on the interest of the near 30,000 student loan? This all seems absurd. Add to it, the fact that apartments do not reflect any actual value and in this economy. One would think there would be some reality inflicted into equations of rent. And why do almost all rental companies seem shady? Is it part of their business model? But I digress back to my main point: where’s the common sense in anything anymore? If one were to stop and think, one would quickly be saying, “This makes absolutely no sense.” I could rationalize a bit more the idea of going into debt for a law degree or medical, because the rates they charge seem to pay off loans rather quick. But teaching? Teaching elementary students in Montana?

It almost appears that quality teachers aren’t wanted. To this end, I propose something European. Here in Montana let’s say, we should have governmental grants or scholarships to financially help students with the career choice of teaching. The scholarship should be awarded almost automatically, with unequivocal force, to any student who declares to spend their life, or even part, teaching the state’s youth. Sure it should have some stipulations, such as, by receiving this grant, you agree to teach for a period of x years in Montana. If you don’t fulfill your teaching obligation, you have to return the grant. It’s simple and it’s something to get quality teachers in Montana without strapping them with needless debt in a profession where the ceiling barely touches 50-60K a year – and that’s after thirty years of recess duty; thirty years of shaping the future of this state, country and by extension, where this country will stand among the world. Teachers really do shape the world and we give them no incentive to do it effectively.

I find a bit of hypocrisy in the fact that almost, without waver, every would-be politician, as well as their elected counterparts, state education as one of their fundamental issues to address and change. Yet the only change that happens is the continuous loss of funds and further budget cuts. Perhaps those elected politicians who stated ‘the need for quality education’ as one of their issues while running can step up and begin to work toward that end, and this is the perfect beginning, for to get quality education you need quality educators. And frankly, because I have to go into the same amount of graduate debt regardless of chosen profession, I may consider going into law. The world needs another lawyer anyway, right?

But those politicians and CEOs of academia know something: a secret that I am about to divulge. Everyone who becomes a teacher doesn’t choose that career for the money. We do it for the fact that we can make a difference, for the fact that we can brighten a child’s life and illuminate it as well, and yes, there’s a difference in those. We become teachers in tacit protest of the world of greed; because we don’t need millions when we can connect with a child. Can a lawyer say that?


One Response to “On money, teaching and graduate school”

  1. J.H. Trumble 01/10/2011 at 3:45 pm #

    Well said (over a year ago) my new friend. I laughed through you entire post because I know of what you speak so well. The novel I’m working on right now involves a 24-year-old teacher with a master’s degree and a student loan debt that rivals the GNP of any number of small nations who loses his job and his career when he becomes involved with a student. So he goes back to school. My editor didn’t get that. Why go back to school? Um, because that’s what teachers do. LOL. I applaud your service.

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