What the Department Has Said About Teachers – It’s Worth a Listen

Much like America’s teachers, the U.S. Department of Education sometimes gets a bad rap.

You know the drill. So many times, the stories of frustrated teachers or bad apples get bigger play on social media and in the news than the stories of the millions of American teachers who, like my friends and colleagues, change lives every day. Meanwhile, federal policymakers get blamed for not being omnipotent, as many think they should be, or for not talking to real teachers. However, since the start of this school year, my Teaching Ambassador Fellow colleagues and I have spoken with literally thousands of teachers around the country and brought back to ED what we’ve heard.

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Listening to Teachers: Why It’s Important We Hear Your Voices

“Teachers have made a huge difference in my life. Among my key priorities this year is lifting up our nation’s teachers and the education profession. The Teaching Ambassador Fellowship and Teach to Lead are great steps in this direction. I am eager to work with the Fellows to do even more to support educators as they work to expand educational equity and excellence each day.” – Secretary (and high school social studies teacher) John King on the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship website.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Teaching Ambassador Fellows (TAF) are expected to learn about federal education policy, reach out to teachers and schools and reflect with Department of Education staff what they hear. As a Washington-based TAF, on leave from my school for the year, I have had the unique honor of bringing the voices of teachers I meet across the country directly into discussions at the Department of Education. One way we have done this recently is through monthly meetings we call Tea with Teachers.

Secretary King engages with teachers during a Tea with Teachers session in February. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Secretary King engages with teachers during a Tea with Teachers session in February. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

During Tea with Teachers, educators from across the United States are invited to come share their unique experiences with Secretary King and other staff members on key topics like teacher retention, challenges faced by Native American youth, meeting the needs of students who are refugees, creating safe learning spaces free from discrimination, and the unique problems faced by students who are undocumented.

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Enlisting Educators’ Wisdom to Implement the Every Student Succeeds Act

ED has held several listening sessions about the ESSA this year. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

ED has held several listening sessions about the ESSA this year. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Since President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law, I have seen Department of Education staff have to work quickly through minute details to figure out how to help make this new law work best for 50 million students in 100,000 schools around the country. It has been gratifying however, to also see these staff members pause to take the time it requires to go directly to hear from those who will implement the law. In doing so, our leaders turned to the Department’s resident educators – Teaching and Principal Ambassador and Leadership for Educational Equity Fellows – to organize listening sessions and school visits for them with nearly 1,000 teachers, principals, superintendents and administrators, parents, and community representatives from all manner of rural, suburban and urban settings in 16 states thus far and more sessions still to come.

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Everything You Need to Know About Financial Aid Resources for Teachers

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We know that preparing to become a teacher can be expensive. Sometimes it’s tough to pay all of the bills on time, including student loans. But there are resources and programs out there that teachers can take advantage of and we’ve gathered them all here in one place just for you.

Under certain circumstances, you can get your federal student loans forgiven or even canceled.

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Our Most Popular Resources for Educators

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Here at ED, one of our top priorities this year is to support teachers and elevate the teaching profession. To do so, we are working to make sure that the right information reaches teachers all across the country. Here are a few of our most popular resources to help support you in your classroom:

If You’re Currently in the Classroom

Check out our Teacher’s Edition newsletter. We’d love for you to sign up — and tell your friends! This weekly bulletin gathers the latest news and info for educators – and includes resources for teachers, by teachers. We’d also invite you to learn more about the Teach to Lead initiative and our Teaching Ambassador Fellowships and Principal Ambassador Fellowships.

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5 Must DOs Before Repaying Your Student Loans

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Almost time to start paying back your student loans?  Contrary to popular belief, your student loan payments don’t have to stop you from living your life. You just have to weigh your options and find a strategy that works within your budget. Here are some steps to get you started.

1. Compare monthly payment amounts

The amount you pay each month toward your student loans will depend on the repayment plan you choose. If you take no action, you will be automatically enrolled in the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan. If you don’t think you can afford that amount or you want a lower monthly payment, consider switching to an income-driven repayment plan, where your monthly payment could be as low as $0 per month. Just know that when you make payments based on your income your monthly payment amount may be lower, but you will likely pay more in total over a longer period of time.

Use our repayment calculator to compare the different repayment options.

repayment estimator output

Calculate

TIP: If you’re interested in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, you should apply for an income-driven repayment plan and submit an Employment Certification Form.

2. Decide whether to consolidate

If you borrowed federal student loans before 2011, you may need to consolidate any FFEL loans into the Direct Loan program before you can qualify for the better income-driven repayment plans or Public Service Loan Forgiveness. You may also want to consolidate if you have multiple loans and/or servicers and want a single monthly payment. The application takes about 10 minutes.

Consolidate my Loans

3. Choose an affordable repayment plan

If you decide to consolidate, you will choose a repayment plan from within the consolidation application. If you’d like to choose an income-driven plan, choose the Pay As You Earn Plan. It’s the best plan available, and if you don’t qualify for it, your servicer will put you on the next best income-driven repayment plan.

If you aren’t going to consolidate and you’d like to enroll in one of the income-driven repayment plans, learn how to choose the right income-driven repayment plan and apply here. The application takes about 10 minutes.

Choose recommended option in IDR app

Apply for an income-driven repayment plan

If you’re interested in a plan other than the standard or one of the income-driven plans, contact your servicer to ask how to enroll.

 4. Set up your payments

You will never pay the U.S. Department of Education directly. In most cases, federal student loan borrowers will make payments to one of our loan servicers. Loan servicers work on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education to collect your payments and provide customer service. If you don’t know who your loan servicer is, find out here.

Your loan servicer will contact to let you know when your first payment is due and how to make a payment, so it’s very important that you provide your servicer with updated contact information.

TIP: To simplify the repayment process, consider enrolling in auto debit and your payments will be automatically taken from your bank account each month. As an added bonus, you get a 0.25% interest rate deduction when you enroll. Ask your servicer how to enroll.

5. Know who to contact if you need help with your student loans

Beware of student loan scams.  You never have to pay for help with your student loans. As you’re researching repayment and forgiveness options, make sure you’re getting information from trusted sources, like .gov websites or your servicer’s website. The government and your servicer will never charge application or maintenance fees, so if you’re asked to pay, walk away.

If you have questions or need help, contact your servicer.

TIP: Save your servicer’s contact information in your phone so you can access it when you need to.

Nicole Callahan is a Digital Engagement Strategist at the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Federal Student Aid.

Image by Getty Images

8 Student Loan Tips for the Class of 2016

8 student loan tips for the Class of 2016

Nothing says, “Welcome to adulthood” quite like getting your first student loan bill in the mail. If student loans are your reality, here are some tips that may help you (from someone who is going through this too).

1. Don’t ignore your student loans!

I think everyone can agree that student loans are no fun to pay back, but ignoring them can have serious consequences (and it won’t make them go away.) If you’re worried about your student loans or don’t think you can afford your payments, contact us for help. No matter what your financial situation is, we can help you find an affordable repayment option. For many, that could mean payments as low as $0 per month.

2. Set a budget.

Life after graduation gets real, real fast. To make a plan to tackle your student loans, you need to understand what money you have coming in, and what expenses you have going out. If you haven’t already, it’s important that you create a budget. This will help determine your repayment strategy. Here are some budgeting tips to help you get started.

3. Choose an affordable payment amount.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to paying back student loans. The key question you need to answer is: Do you want to get rid of your loans quickly or do you want to pay the lowest amount possible per month?

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Coming OUT for Safe Schools

Cross-posted from the Stopbullying Blog.

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School continues to be a dangerous place for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth.   A 2014 study by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) found that 65% of LGBT students heard homophobic remarks frequently or often, 56% of LGBT students reported personally experiencing LGBT-related discriminatory policies or practices at school, and 33% of LGBT students were physically harassed (e.g., pushed or shoved) in the past year because of their sexual orientation.

“Despite increased public acceptance of LGBT people in general, many school campuses remain toxic environments for LGBT students, contributing to higher rates of suicide, depression, homelessness and HIV infection,” said Los Angeles LGBT Center CEO Lorri L. Jean.

In 2013, the Los Angeles LGBT Center and Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) in coordination with other community partners, including the GSA Network, developed and launched OUT for Safe Schools™ to help make schools safer for LGBT students. More than 30,000 rainbow badges were provided to LAUSD teachers, administrators, and staff to wear voluntarily that proudly identify themselves as allies and protectors of students who are LGBT.

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Teachers Advocate for Removal of Barriers and Fear for Undocumented Students

Dominguez with students in her classroom. (Photo courtesy Alice Dominguez)

Dominguez with students in her classroom. (Photo courtesy Alice Dominguez)

Two words dominated the conversation at ED’s Tea with Teachers last week on the topic of supporting undocumented students: fear and hope. Educators balanced their concerns for their undocumented and mixed-status students, while acknowledging the hope that they ultimately deserve. During the tea, I couldn’t help but think of the student from my school district, who was sitting in a jail cell rather than a classroom, feeling those same emotions.

Wildin David Guillen Acosta was taken from his front yard on his way to his Durham, N.C., school in January, while his mother watched helplessly from their home. He would later join nine other students from North Carolina and Georgia whose parents and classmates also witnessed their arrests from bus stops, homes, and neighborhoods. While The Department of Homeland Security has designated schools with sanctuary status, teachers across the Southeast are arguing that ICE raids are threatening our students’ daily lives as their justifiable anxieties are occupying what could otherwise be devoted to their academic pursuits.

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So You Want to be an Intern at ED

Marina Kelly is an intern in the International Affairs Office at the U.S. Department of Education. (Photo: Department of Education)

Marina Kelly is an intern in the International Affairs Office at the U.S. Department of Education. (Photo: Department of Education)

Although it can seem a little daunting at first, interning in Washington, D.C. is one of the most formative experiences a student can have. After interning in both the private and public sector, I have found that some practices are best practices, no matter where you intern. Here are some tips to get the most out of your internship experience:

Ask Questions

I was somewhat bewildered my first week at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) by the unending acronyms used to describe everything from organization names, to standardized tests, to new laws. When it got to the point where there were whole sentences I could not understand, I realized I should start asking questions – and did!

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Thinking about the Meaning of ‘Green’ as We Recognize Schools, Districts, and Colleges this Earth Day

U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) began in 2011-2012, recognizing 78 green schools. In 2012-2013, ED added a District Sustainability Award and honored 64 schools and 14 districts. The 2013-2014 cycle had 48 school honorees and 9 district honorees. 2014-2015 brought 58 schools, 14 districts, and nine first-ever Postsecondary Sustainability Award recipients.

For the fifth consecutive year, to celebrate Earth Day, the U.S. Secretary of Education announced the 2016 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS), including District Sustainability Awardees and Postsecondary Sustainability Awardees. Joined by Managing Director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality Christy Goldfuss, Secretary King celebrated the 47 schools, 15 districts, and 11 postsecondary institutions chosen this year for their leadership in reducing environmental impact and utility costs, promoting better health for students and staff, and offering effective sustainability education.

As I think reflect on these first five years of our award, I sometimes wonder if “green” was the best choice of name, since it leads to occasional misinterpretation. To be clear, we define a “green” or “sustainable” school, as a healthy, efficient learning environment where school budgets are not drained by utility costs and students can use their very school building (whether older or new) as a learning tool.

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Nature-Based Curriculum a Hit with Students and Staff Alike

Students gather around a tree as part of the school's nature-based curriculum

Students gather around a tree as part of the school’s nature-based curriculum

Environmental education is an integral part of everyday life at Redtail Ridge Elementary School in Minnesota’s Prior Lake-Savage area school district. On any given day you could find: math students using trees to study circumference, students using their senses to reinforce a lesson on adjectives, kindergartners sorting man-made verses natural objects, writing nature poetry, and investigating positive and negative numbers by recording the daily temperature.  Embedding environmental education into our daily routine is a reflection of the community that fills the building, viewing the outdoors as an extension of our classroom, and a constant effort to replace existing lessons with an environmental focus.

From a supportive administrator, to our diligent custodial staff, willing classroom teachers, and tireless support staff, we are all working towards our philosophy of using the environment to educate children. The willingness to help each other and draw on each other’s strengths is what makes us unique. At any time you might see a fifth grade classroom taking a kindergarten class snowshoeing and then the next day going again with a group of second graders.

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