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Getting Black and Latino Teachers To The Head of the Class

A Comprehensive Guide for Black and Latino Students Pursuing Careers in Teaching

Reviewed by Jon Konen, District Superintendent

As America becomes more diverse, statistics show we are also becoming more educated.

According to Pew Research, Gen Z is entering adulthood with higher levels of education, higher educational goals, and more racial and ethnic diversity than any generation before them. They have a lower high school dropout rate and higher college enrollment rate, and 48 percent of them have minority status… 14 percent are Black and 25 percent are Hispanic.

This probably isn’t news to you if we’re talking about you and your generation, but you probably noticed something that stood out about your teachers as you came up through the school system along the way: most of them didn’t look much like you and your friends.

That’s because only about 18 percent of public school teachers are teachers of color. Even in California, the most diverse of all American mixing pots where students of color make up 73 percent of public school enrollment, the same can only be said of 29 percent of the teachers. And at the district level, the disparity can be even more lop-sided: in the Santa Ana Unified School District, 93 percent of students are Hispanic… but only 26 percent of the faces at the front of the classroom are.

Both anecdotes and evidence show how much of a problem that is for both students and society. The Tennessee STAR Project was designed to test for the effects of small class size on educational achievement, but unexpectedly, it demonstrated something else along the way… while students and teachers in participating schools were being randomly matched to set up control groups for the project, students who ended up in classrooms with teachers of the same race as themselves achieved math and reading scores three to four percent higher than those in classrooms taught by a teacher of a different race.

There’s a lot of debate about the reasons for this disparity, ranging from white teachers not placing equal expectations on minority students to a lack of role models for students of color, but there’s no argument about the best solution: we need more Black and Latino teachers standing up in front of America’s classrooms.

The Road to Becoming a Teacher Starts with a Solid Plan

Getting your teaching license as a Latino or Black student means breaking a few molds. In a lot of ways, you’re fighting the same forces in the system that you eventually want to overcome by being a teacher: inequity in everything from kindergarten preparedness to college access and bachelor’s completion rates.

The roots of educational disparity run deep for Black and Latino students in America. As one of them, you are less likely to have access to programs such as Running Start designed to prepare you for college, more likely to attend a school with newer teachers and less resources overall.

It’s a lot to overcome, but you will overcome it, because becoming an educator in the United States means getting a strong education yourself, you just have to know where to look for the information and resources you need along the way, and that’s where this guide comes in.

The basic steps to become a teacher will always involve:

  1. Earning at least a bachelor’s degree that includes college credits in the subject areas you plan to teach
  2. Going through an approved set of courses and student teaching experiences as part of an Initial Teacher Preparation (ITP) program, which is often built-in to bachelor’s programs specifically designed to prepare teachers
  3. Pass state-approved exams that certify you are qualified to teach in general, and in the specific subject you plan to teach

It can seem like a long path to get to your own classroom, but you tackle it just like any other challenge – one step at a time.

That means making a plan, and like any good plan, that starts with getting your hands on every bit of information you can.

The Past Belongs to Those Who Came Before You, But You Own Your Future

The lack of diversity among teachers is having a real impact on America’s students. Once upon a time, there were plenty of Black teachers educating Black students in America. Unfortunately, it was for all the wrong reasons; in the Jim Crow south, before desegregation, at a time when there were such things as all-Black schools.

Brown vs Board of Education changed all that, ending explicit racial segregation in American schools across the country in 1954.

This huge victory for equality came at a cost that hadn’t been anticipated: in most cases, those all-Black schools were closed when the more affluent, better-equipped, exclusively white schools were finally integrated. And when those all-Black schools closed, most of the educators, principals, and other staff were let go. By the late 1960s, more than 35,000 Black teachers had lost their jobs, further increasing the disparity in teachers who could serve as role models for Black and brown students… a disparity that continues to this day.

Many minority students heading into ITP programs face a challenge beyond coming up with the tuition dollars it takes to get a degree: they lack a strong, knowledgeable support system to offer encouragement and practical advice to get through the hard parts. In a lot of cases, you might be the first person in your family to even go to college, and maybe one of the first in your social circle too. That’s something to be proud of, but it’s also intimidating.

The Department of Education found that only 11 percent of Black collegians and 9 percent of Hispanics have a parent who graduated college… but those are just statistics and say nothing about your ability to earn a degree yourself. This is your opportunity to do for yourself and your community, to empower and prove yourself in the face of adversity; to set new precedents for the 21st century. What takes place today may have roots in the past, but it is not rooted in the past. Now it’s your turn to set things right – the future belongs to anybody who dreams big and plans accordingly.

When he graduated from high school in Lexington in 1961, Ted DeLaney planned to attend Morehouse College, a historically Black university in Atlanta. But his mother worried about violence in the midst of the Civil Rights movement and prevented him from going. Instead, DeLaney got a job as a custodian at Washington and Lee… and turned it into an opportunity to attend to his education.

When the school began allowing Black students, he began to attend night classes after work. He graduated cum laude in 1985… and, after earning a doctorate and teaching at a private school, returned as a professor to the very halls he used to clean—and later as chairman of the history department, teaching at a school named for two slaveholders and a champion of the Confederacy, setting the record straight for new generations of American students.

Take Full Advantage of the Resources Available to You Today

But just because you might be forging new ground in your own circles doesn’t mean you are alone. Not only can you pull strength and inspiration from those who preceded you, today you exist at the center of a confluence of trends that offer you a lot of options to turn to for support:

Black and Latino Students

National Black Student Union (NBSU) Many colleges have an on-campus Black Student Union or similar organization for Black students to represent their interests to the school administration, provide a social meeting place with fellow students, and offer mutual support and assistance with school-related challenges. The NBSU hosts conferences as a way to bring Black voices in academia together, creating a space to learn and share ideas. You can find more information on the NBSU Facebook page, but you should also check with any school you might be interested in attending to connect with the local chapter.

National Association of Black School Educators (NABSE) As a future schoolteacher, NABSE is an organization that you definitely want to become familiar with. It’s an organization that you can rely on to foster leadership development, conduct research, and provide learning support for you throughout your career. And with NABSE student membership, you can tap into the organization early on for mentorship, assistance, and networking as you work your way through school.

Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU)HACU exists to champion Hispanic success in higher education, and it does so today with more than 500 member colleges. HACU drives funding and advocacy for predominantly Hispanic universities and through internships, scholarships, and college retention and advancement support, together with pre-college and career development services.

National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO) NAFEO bills itself as The Voice for Blacks in higher education and operates as the umbrella organization for historically Black colleges and universities and predominantly Black institutions. Their mission is to champion the interests of those schools and to advocate for Black people in higher education everywhere—including you.

ASPIRA ASPIRA exists to empower Puerto Rican and Latino students to develop their educational and leadership capacity. They work at the grassroots level, coordinating local and regional programs that help Hispanic students stay in school and prepare them for success in higher education.

First Generation College Students

I’m First A national non-profit that helps you connect with other first-generation students and graduates and allows you to give back by contributing your own stories. I’m First offers free mentoring and a platform to help you find colleges that have special programs and support for first-gen students.

America Needs You Another organization that offers support for first-generation college students by identifying and connecting them with mentors, with an additional helping of career development assistance.

First Generation Foundation The First Generation Foundation connects first-gen students with colleges and universities and other local and regional organizations designed to help students in the same position, including through financial supports.

Center for First-Generation Student Success The National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) is an organization that is plugged-in to the beat of the national body of college students, and they are well aware of the difficulties facing first-generation college students. The Center for First-Generation Student Success is their effort to smooth the path for you, offering tips for preparing for your first-gen pathway starting in high school, and helping direct you to additional first-gen students resources on your campus and in your area.

For All College Students Becoming Teachers

National Education Association The largest education advocacy group in the country with more than 3 million members and affiliates in every state, the NEA plays a big role in education policy and training for both current and future teachers. If you are enrolled in a post-secondary ITP program, their Aspiring Educator Membership option is a great way to get plugged into a network of resources and meet local teachers that can help make your transition into the profession smooth. A commitment to diversity makes this a great choice for minority students even though the organization itself is not majority Black and Latino.

Association of American Educators Another major national group representing teacher’s interests, AAE has student memberships available at $25 per year, with chapters in six states in addition to the national organization. With a student-centric focus, the organization is committed to improving education across the board for American students… something you probably want to be a part of as you set off on a career as a teacher.

National Association for Bilingual Education The shifting demographics of America also means there are more and more demands for fluent speakers of languages other than English in the classroom. Many Latino students enter the workforce with a real advantage for these positions and NABE can give you a boost in leveraging that into educational excellence and equity as a student teacher, and ultimately, as a certified teacher.

Subject-Specific National Organizations – There are many other teaching organizations that are organized around the kind of teacher that you want to become, all of which have a sincere interest in getting student teachers through school and into their ranks. Those include:

What if You Are an Undocumented Immigrant Who Wants to Earn a Degree to Become Certified to Teach?

Some minority students have yet another hurdle to clear on their path to becoming teachers: they may be undocumented immigrants, without a social security number or legal status in the country.

The good news is that this doesn’t need to impact your education as a teacher… at least up to certain point. Many schools are happy to accept students regardless of their status. In fact, some states make a point to offer additional assistance to undocumented students, such as the University of California system, which offers free legal assistance to such students. In other cases, such as Alabama, you may be barred from attending public universities entirely, however… so it pays to do your homework.

You will also be unable to apply for or receive federal student aid, but may be eligible for state assistance or various scholarships. And under FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, your status will remain private, even if you have disclosed it to the school, so you can feel secure attending class.

Where you will run into problems is when you get to the point of student teaching. The background checks required for actually teaching in a classroom will expose you to risks and in many states you won’t pass because of your status.

DACA Can Offer a Path to the Classroom For First Generation Students

But there is still hope: through DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, there are paths to the classroom in some states for certain qualified individuals who hit all the eligibility requirements:

  • Be under 31 years of age and in the United States since at least June 15, 2012
  • Have arrived in the U.S. before your 16th birthday
  • Have stayed in the country for at least 5 years continuously
  • Not have a lawful immigration status
  • Have graduated high school, earned a GED, or received an honorable discharge from the military
  • Have not been convinced of felonies or significant misdemeanors

If you qualify, not only can you register for a special DACA status (a two-year, renewable exemption from immigration enforcement actions), but you can become a teacher in many different parts of the country. In fact, the Teach For America program sets out to recruit DACA candidates for classroom jobs.

Although, as you are probably well aware, DACA remains a political football that is has been up in the air, but as the Biden/Harris administration transitions to the White House, there is renewed hope that those DREAMs will be realized!

Vasthy Lamadrid didn’t have any choices when it came to coming to the United States—she was only five when her family crossed the border from Mexico and settled in Arizona. In school, she scored high in standardized testing, and particularly in mathematics… a valuable attribute for teachers in an age where STEM skills are prized.

But her immigration status ruled out financial aid from the federal government when it came time to go to school. And despite living in Arizona for most of her life, when she enrolled at ASU she had to pay out-of-state tuition rates because of her residency status.

With the internet and crowd-funding, though, Vasthy managed to make the payments and made the Dean’s List in her very first semester. She’s on track to earn her teaching certificate and give back to the community once she graduates… and hopefully to have her contributions recognized will full citizenship someday.

Initial Teacher Preparation Programs Build the Foundation for Future Teachers

The most common route to becoming a teacher involves combining most of the steps in a single program: a bachelor’s level ITP program with a concentration in the subject areas you plan to teach. Most teaching colleges offer exactly this combination, usually designed specifically to qualify you for a teaching license in your state.

It’s also possible to find alternate paths into teaching, though, that are designed for students who already hold a bachelor’s degree that didn’t include the all-important ITP component, or who are coming in from the professional world with some years of experience behind them before making the decision once and for all that teaching is the only job for them.

Bachelor’s Level Initial Teacher Preparation Programs

Bachelor’s-level ITP programs are the most common path to becoming a certified teacher, combining a four-year bachelor’s degree in education with specialist studies in specific subject areas. With the ITP component consisting of the state-required teacher training courses and student teaching necessary for licensure adding about another year, you’re looking at about five years from start to finish.

In some cases with teachers going for middle grades and high school endorsements, the degree itself may be offered in the subject specialty area they will be teaching, like English or Mathematics, with the concentration being offered in education.

Either way, you’ll get the exact types of student teaching experiences and courses in classroom management, curriculum development, and pedagogical theory that the state requires for licensure, while at the same time developing expertise in your teaching content area.

What Kind of Subjects do you Study in Teacher Preparation Programs?

The common core courses in most teacher preparation programs give you a broad spectrum of training in general pedagogy: the methods and practices of teaching.

  • Social and Historical Background – You’ll get a general overview of how teaching has evolved, from Ancient Greece to present day, and what the general social perspectives on teachers and education have been over the years.
  • Culturally Responsive Teaching – Most ITP programs have a strong focus on both the importance of diversity and how to handle diverse classrooms in appropriate and sensitive ways.
  • Public School Curriculum Development – You’ll learn a bit about how the curriculum that you will be expected to teach is developed and approved for public schools, including the role of public input and feedback.
  • Methods of Teaching – These courses get down to brass tacks, showing you how to present subjects in the classroom to learners of different levels and styles.
  • Ethics in Education – Finally, you will learn about your responsibilities to students and parents and the ethical behavior required of teachers in all schools.

Should You Get a Degree in Arts or Sciences? What is The Difference?

A bachelor’s degree also brings a different kind of education along with it… a series of general education requirements you’ll need to fulfill in addition to the classes that specifically apply to teaching or your core study area. This is known as a liberal arts education, offering credits in the sciences, foreign languages, or literature and arts as a way to prime you to become a life-long learner and to apply your critical-thinking skills to any topic at any age.

Electives allow you to select the areas from the course catalog that you’re most interested in, and your graduation requirements clearly spell out where you can fill in those credit blocks to design the education plan that gets you through the program having learned about the things that matter most to you.

This is where degree types come in. The major difference between a Bachelor of Science (BS) and other Bachelor of Arts (BA) is in the number of credits that are required in liberal arts versus the core subject: science degrees focus more on the degree topic itself instead of general studies.

This means you come away with a more focused and in-depth education in that topic, which is often appropriate and necessary for the hard sciences. On the other hand, you miss out on some of that well-rounded and more experiential education that arts graduates develop. One or the other will suite you disposition better, and in many cases the choice is yours as many schools offer the same major in both BS and BA formats.

Post-Bachelor’s ITP Programs

If you’ve already earned a bachelor’s degree, you may find that the same schools that offer bachelor’s ITP programs also offer post-baccalaureate certificates that fill in the state-required courses you need to become a teacher. They also give you the student teaching time and the specific subject-matter courses you need to earn teaching endorsements.

These programs are a lot faster and less expensive, since they cut out all of the general education elements of the degree and just give you the core instruction in teaching and your endorsement area. On the other hand, you’ll have to take them on top of the time you already put into your existing bachelor’s degree, so this is usually a path taken by people who either have a very specialized bachelor’s degree (in a hard science field, for example) or have only decided to get into teaching after entering the workforce.

Alternate Teacher Certification Paths

With a significant shortage of qualified teachers, many states are exploring non-traditional ways to get people with some work and life experience into the classroom. These programs are designed for professionals who have been working in other fields, particularly STEM fields, providing a path to becoming a teacher without going back to school for more training.

For example, California allows an internship-style path to becoming a teacher, allowing you to begin working in a classroom almost immediately while taking the state-mandated courses for teacher training outside traditional ITP programs.

Master’s ITP Programs

The final option is the most challenging—earning a master’s degree in education with an ITP included. A master’s is a two-year degree that is only available to people who already hold a bachelor’s degree, and usually have some practical experience in the field as well. Most teachers will go on to master’s programs at some point, since they fill continuing education requirements and often lead to higher salary levels, but it’s less common to earn one before becoming a teacher.

You’ll probably only take this route if you are coming in to teaching after a number of years out working in the real world. It can make sense to pursue a master’s in education with ITP in order to boost your qualifications and start off at higher salary levels.

Student Teaching Can Be a Unique Experience for Black and Latino Students

Student teaching is arguably the most important part of any ITP program… actually putting you into a classroom where you can test your theoretical knowledge of teaching out in the real world with a classroom full of kids ready to absolutely shred you. But you won’t be thrown in the ring to fend for yourself alone, you’ll have experienced teachers standing by your side to help you when the going gets rough, and to make sure you really absorb the lessons to be learned from the experience.

Most ITP programs make an effort to rotate you through different kinds of classroom environments so you are exposed to a lot of different styles of teaching, from rural to urban classrooms and with different demographics and subjects.

Studies show that minority students have more favorable perceptions of minority teachers…and that does give you an edge in both discipline and outreach if your student teaching assignment happens to place you in classrooms in communities where Black and Latino people aren’t considered a minority.

There’s nothing magical that makes you a better teacher and classroom manager—you still have to be taught and learn those skills. But a shared perspective can mean being a strong mentor and role model, as well as a more effective persuader and disciplinarian, so it’s worth your while to embrace it and confidently step into that role.

Earning Endorsements to Teach in Specific Subject Areas

Learning how to teach is just one aspect of becoming a teacher. All the classes you’ll take on curriculum development, learning styles and classroom management are valuable for giving you the skills you need to lead a class… but you still need to prove that you actually have mastery over the subjects you’re going to teach.

States verify this by requiring certifications or endorsements in the areas in which you will teach. For Pre-K and elementary educators, this means a general grade-range competency assessment for an ECE (early childhood education) or elementary educator endorsement that reflects the core subjects and more basic set of general skills taught at that level, while for student teachers being licensed for middle and high school classrooms, this means getting an endorsement in your particular content area.

What’s really cool is that no matter what grades you’ll be teaching, most states allow you to qualify by exam for secondary endorsements in critical areas like Reading and Literacy, Special Education, and of course, ELL/Bilingual for those who plan to teach in mixed language or primarily ESL classrooms.

Different states use different terms for primary and secondary teaching specialties, with some calling them endorsements and others going with the term certifications, but it all means the same thing: That you have demonstrated you know the subject well enough to be able to effectively teach to those types of students and from those unique perspectives.

It’s not impossible to teach outside your endorsement area, and you will probably be asked to do so at some point… with major shortages of qualified educators, particularly in STEM fields, teachers from outside the subject specialization are sometimes asked to step up. This is usually allowed by the state licensing boards, but everyone would agree that you and your students are better off when you are well-qualified in the subjects you plan to teach.

Different states also have different standards for earning endorsements, but all offer some variation of these two routes:

Test for it – Testing for your endorsement is the standard end-step for anybody who completes a traditional initial teacher prep program. It will involve passing a standardized, multiple-choice knowledge exam in the subject or grade range you will be teaching. The NES (National Evaluation Series) is accepted by many states, but not all, and is often a great option for teachers that want the freedom of mobility so they can take jobs throughout the country. State-specific tests like the WEST (Washington Educator Skills Test) in Washington state are standard for earning your endorsement through most state licensing boards, but even many states with a state-specific exam will accept the NES equivalent.

While all teachers take a content area exam for their primary endorsement after completing a degree that prepared them to teach that subject, a “test only” option is typically available to currently licensed teachers that already have a primary endorsement, allowing them to add secondary endorsements to teach other subjects without actually going back to school.

Become Board-Certified Through the NBPTS – Many states accept National Board Certification through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) as sufficient for an endorsement, but only when there is a direct equivalent between the certification areas NBPTS offers and the endorsement the state board offers. These certifications aren’t easy to earn but they come with a certain level of prestige and can really make your CV pop.

“This has kind of been my dream, to come back and teach here. This is a community that I grew up in—this is where I call home.”

~ Yehimi Adriana Cambrón Álvarez, art teacher, Cross Keys High School, Atlanta, DACA beneficiary

What Is a Minority-Friendly University and Should You Pick One For Your ITP Program?

Diversity is a big deal in education, so you’re not going to find a college in modern American that doesn’t at least claim that it is strongly in support of a diverse and welcoming student body. But you’ve heard that tune before. There’s a difference between schools that put lip service into supporting minority students and those that really take the hard steps necessary to make it work.

While you will find independent evaluators like U.S. News & World Reports that rank American colleges by their levels of ethnic diversity, they tend to focus strictly on student population counts and don’t do a deep dive into more meaningful information on student success rates and support networks that might be present at the school.

One sure sign that a school is making an honest attempt to support minority student populations is whether or not they are willing to publish their enrollment and graduation rates for those groups, which is something you should have no trouble finding on their websites along with other information for new students.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Hispanic Serving Institutions

In the wake of the Civil War, there was a thirst for education among newly freed African Americans. All across the American South, new colleges were established to help fill that need. And despite the terrors and oppression of the Jim Crow era, many of those institutions have survived through to the current day, now categorized officially by the Department of Education as being among the Minority-Serving Institutions (MSI) of the United States.

That category also comprises Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) and Predominantly Black Institutions (PBI), which are universities that don’t meet the pre-Civil Rights Act requirements of HBCUs but serve similar majority-minority and low income populations. Perhaps surprisingly, some HBCUs today have actual minority attendance that is lower than some of their non-designated counterparts, but the core identity and services of those schools remain closely connected with Black identity and achievement.

Because of the federal designation as well as the large minority student bodies at these schools, you might find yourself easily finding common ground and shared experiences with both students and professors.

But today you have many options, and many other schools without MSI status continue to make serving minority student teachers a priority, so every program should be evaluated on its own merits.

The role model effect seems to show that having one teacher of the same race is enough to give a student the ambition to achieve.

~ Nicholas Papageorge, assistant professor of Economics, Johns Hopkins

Other General Considerations When Looking for the Best College for You

There are many factors that go into choosing the best college to attend for your initial teacher preparation that have nothing to do with your experience as a Black or Latino American. Here’s the primary factors that every student has to consider when they are choosing an ITP program:

  • Location – Is the school close to friends and family, or is there a community of fellow students who share your perspectives, goals and interests?
  • Quality – Will you get the best possible education to become a future educator? Is the school home to experienced and well-respected instructors? Are the teachers who graduate here quickly snapped up by regional school districts?
  • Offering – Does the school have the right combination of coursework to get you the endorsements you need to launch your career?
  • Amenities – What kind of little extras are available to make your experience a memorable one… unique student teaching opportunities, overseas study options, a nationally-recognized research program?

Is CAEP Accreditation A Must?

Accreditation is something that every school you are considering almost certainly already holds, because colleges in America don’t get far without it. Independent, non-government agencies that have been recognized by the Department of Education and the independent Council for Higher Education Accreditation are responsible for handling the accreditation process. Evaluating the basic academic quality that a school can offer means looking at things like policies and procedures, academic standards, curriculum development, instructor hiring and disciplinary processes, and every other major and minor detail that shapes the college experience.

That’s part of the reason that American colleges are so well respected, and attract students from around the world.

But specialized areas of education can require specialized evaluation from experts in the subject matter, not just the institutional level. That’s why there are also specialty accreditors that look specifically at the curriculum of individual programs that prepare students to enter highly-regulated professions, and teaching is one of them.

The only accreditor currently recognized by the Department of Education and CHEA that deals specifically with teacher preparation programs is CAEP—the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. CAEP uses their expertise to look more deeply into teacher training programs to ensure that they meet the current needs of the American education system, with a deep dive into instructor qualifications, curriculum content, and a set of standards for initial training, all handled by a dedicated task force that regularly reviews the processes to keep them relevant and current. CAEP lists more than 230 currently accredited programs for initial teacher preparation.

Another organization, AAQEP, or the Association for Advancing Quality in Educator Preparation, was established in 2017 with similar standards, and is in the process of gaining CHEA recognition for the work it does. It’s a fledgling organization, but it’s gaining steam and a strong reputation for the work it does to establish high standards in teacher preparation.

But the reality is, this type of accreditation still represents a very small proportion of the thousands of schools out there offering teacher preparation programs. And keep in mind that it is a fully voluntary process that schools can choose to submit to if they want to gain the esteem that comes with being accredited. But there are no requirements, legal or otherwise, for schools to have their ITP programs accredited. As it stands, far more quality ITP programs have not gone through the multi-year process of receiving full accreditation than those that have. CAEP has accredited just over 230 programs, and AAQEP only 9.

This makes holding out for accreditation a bit of a toss-up currently. While you should view it as a plus if a school holds it, you don’t necessarily want to skip programs that don’t.

Finding Ways for Black and Latino College Students to Cover the Cost of a Teacher Prep Program

One of the biggest challenges for students is figuring out how to pay for college, and Black and Latino students are no exception. In fact, statistics show that it can be far more of a challenge. The economic disparity between white and non-white families in the United States is huge; in 2019, the Federal Reserve found that white families had a median net worth of nearly $200,000 while Black and Hispanic families each fell below $50,000.

With the average cost of a four-year degree in the country clocking in at $109,428 according to 2018 data from the National Center for Education Statistics, that puts paying for a bachelor’s ITP program out of savings completely out of reach for most families.

That disparity is even greater for students who are the first from their families to go to college… if your parents don’t have college degrees, chances are your household income and net worth is even lower.

It can be so overwhelming to think about the challenge of paying for school that many future teachers throw in the towel right there. But do yourself a favor: check out the many options that are available for both minority students specifically and teachers in general to get tuition assistance along the way.

Should You Use Student Loans To Pay for Your Bachelor’s ITP Program?

Student loans are an option that are available to all students, often through the Federal government, with low interest rates and generous repayment schedules. This is the standard starting point to figure out how to finance the costs, at which point you can start chipping away at that total with scholarships and other programs that could help you save a considerable sum. That’s not to say you can’t pursue scholarships first, but without your financing in order, you’ll find yourself working backwards in trying to figure out to get make those regular installments to start paying down the cost.

Like all Federal government programs, though, there is a pile of paperwork to go along with it. You probably already know the program and the accompanying pile of paperwork by its acronym: FAFSA.

Here’s the key details and tips that will make the Free Application for Federal Student Aid process a little easier for you:

  • Can be completed online or through an app
  • Has over 100 questions about financial information for you and your family
  • Must be renewed each year you attend school and receive aid
  • Can be filled out in separate sessions so you don’t have to figure it all out at one time
  • Opens up both federal and state loan programs
  • Can use your existing IRS data (if you have previously filed taxes) to automatically fill in information

As it says on the label, the application process is completely free. All that is involved is your time in getting the necessary forms and information together. But it can be well worth your trouble: depending on your financial status and school year, you can receive as much as $12,500 per year and over $30,000 in total during your studies.

The most common type of loan is what is commonly referred to as a Stafford Loan, which are a 10-year, low-interest loan, either subsidized or unsubsidized:

  • Subsidized – If you qualify, through financial need, a subsidized loan has the interest covered by the government, so you need only repay the same amount as you borrow.
  • Unsubsidized – If you or your family has more money than the lower limits, an unsubsidized loan will require that you pay back both the amount you borrow and any interest—which was almost 3 percent as of 2021. Compare that to the interest rates you would get at a bank or other lender, and you’ll quickly realize that 3 percent isn’t too bad.

The other major kind of Federal loan is the PLUS Loan. This option is designed not for you, but for your parents—if you have maxed out on your financial aid through other routes, your parents can take out a loan through the PLUS program to offer you assistance directly. The borrowing power is big: parents can take out up to the total cost of attendance for the school you are going to. But the interest rates are higher for this kind of loan… the interest rate in 2021 is 5.3 percent, nearly double the Stafford Loan rate.

It’s also possible to get private loans for college, but this is almost always a bad choice—private lenders have much higher interest rates and more stringent re-payment requirements. There have also been instances of private companies overcharging for loans made to students planning to attend MSIs.

Re-Paying Loans or Looking for Loan Forgiveness

The bad news with loans always comes later… someday, you have to pay it all back. As long as you are in school, payments are deferred for most of these loans. But after graduation, the bills come due… and new teachers are not usually very high up on the pay scale.

But this is where your chosen profession can give you an edge: under the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program, if you complete five consecutive academic years teaching at a low-income school and are a highly-qualified teacher, up to $17,500 of your loan could be forgiven.

On top of that, as a teacher you may also be eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Rather than being based on your profession, this is based on your employer—if you work for a government organization at any level (which includes most public schools!) or a non-profit, you can have some portion of your loan forgiven after you have made at least 120 payments.

Stafford Loans qualify for this program, but others, such as PLUS Loans, may not… however, if you take advantage of the government’s Direct Consolidation Loan program, you can bundle all your different student loans and make them eligible for the loan consolidation program.

A Ton of Scholarships Are Available for Black and Latino Teaching Students

The problem of too few minority teachers and lower college attendance rates in these communities are well-documented. The good news is that many organizations are beginning to address the problem with scholarship programs that help make college more accessible.

Scholarships are grants that don’t have to be paid back. Many are available from the federal government and individual states, but you will also find colleges and many private and nonprofit organizations offering them as well.

Grants, like the federal Pell Grants or the FSEOG (Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants), are sometimes available strictly on the basis of economic need—anyone who can’t afford college can qualify.

Other grants are given for specific qualifying characteristics… such as your minority status, or simply the fact that you want to become a teacher. The Federal TEACH Grant program, for example, offers up to $4,000 annually for students willing to commit to teaching in high-demand fields like math and science and who will serve in a low-income school for at least four years after graduation.

Scholarships are just another kind of grant, awarded to individuals and often for fairly specific purposes. Because of this, they often have more qualifications and can be competitive—many organizations give out only a set dollar amount and limit the number of recipients. You may have to submit essays or recommendations for these in order to get the grant.

Scholarships For Minority Students – Your minority status opens up hundreds and hundreds of scholarship possibilities. Some of the major national award-granting organizations are listed here, but there are countless more local and school-specific options for you to explore too.

  • United Negro College Fund – UNCF has helped more than half a million Black students earn their college degrees and is the nation’s largest scholarship provider to any minority group. They award more than $100 million each year nationwide through a wide variety of scholarship programs including one for STEM scholars.
  • National Association for the Advancement of Colored People – The great grandaddy of Black empowerment organization in the U.S., the NAACP has been around since 1909 supporting civil rights and education for African Americans. They offer a variety of scholarships to hundreds of students nationally, for amounts up to $3,000. Most scholarships require that you be a current member of the organization.
  • Hispanic Scholarship Fund – Each year, some 10,000 students are selected as HSF scholars. While not all of them receive scholarship funds, this program is unique in that even if you don’t win funding, you can still take advantage of support services that include college prep, financial aid guidance, and scholarly conferences with fellow Hispanic students.

Scholarships For Teachers – With teachers in the United States in short supply, many foundations and organizations are offering financial incentives to get more people into the field. What you’ll find here are national programs offering scholarships for teachers, but even more can be found at the state and local level. While most are generally available to teachers in any subject or grade level, you’ll also find some tailor made for specific content areas.

  • AFCEA International – Encouraging STEM and teaching studies, AFCEA has scholarships that are available to both STEM majors and STEM teachers, as well as diversity scholarships aimed at minority students. Grants range in the $2,000 to $3,000 range. The organization was originally founded to encourage service members to go to college, but not all scholarships require applicants to have a background in the armed forces.
  • Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program – This major scholarship program is focused on producing K-12 teachers with strong STEM content knowledge who will teach in high-need districts. Several different scholarship tracks are available, from full fellowships to traditional scholarships and stipends
  • Bright Horizons Bright Futures Scholarships – One of only a few awards that are designed specifically to subsidize early childhood education majors, the Bright Futures scholarship can net you between $250 and $1000 toward your tuition if you have at least a 3.0 GPA and strong references from multiple people about your potential to teach children under the age of 8.

Scholarships For Both – You are in a select group as a minority who is also seeking a teaching career; that means you will find a handful of scholarship programs that many other students won’t qualify for, which increases your chances of getting an award. These are most commonly found at the state level; here are a few examples.

  • UNCF K-12 Education Fellowship Program – A specialized scholarship run by UNCF, this is aimed squarely at African American students major that is aimed at education reform… including teaching degrees. You’ll need at least a 3.0 GPA, demonstrated leadership and community service experience, and have to attend an HBCU. The grants are only available to college students in their junior and senior year. The program assists more than 300 college juniors and seniors each year.
  • Florida Minority Teacher Education Scholarship – Floridian minority students who are enrolled in a state-approved teaching program are eligible for $4,000 toward their tuition if they win this scholarship award, selected on the basis of their potential to become good teachers, along with evidence of their commitment to American youth. On top of the award, the fund puts on an annual teacher recruitment and professional development symposium, which can help you land a job after graduation as well.
  • African American Teaching Fellows – AATF funds fellowships in Charlottesville and Albermarle Virginia. The organization provides financial support of up to $5,000 per year, along with both professional and social support to selected scholars. You’ll also connect with other Fellows, providing a peer support group as you study for your teaching license.

Learn more about the kind of scholarships you might be eligible for in our minority scholarship guide.

Getting Advice and Assistance With Your College Financing

This is all a lot of information to absorb and consider as you are planning out how to pay for your schooling, or even trying to figure out where to go to school in the first place.

Don’t try to do it all alone! This is exactly what counselors and mentors are for.

Many of the organizations that offer loans and scholarships also offer assistance in getting through the process. The Federal Student Aid website has a dedicated help center with options for getting assistance by phone, via email, or even through live chat sessions.

And don’t forget the various organizations listed above offering support for minority students, future teachers, and first-generation college students. Most of them are well-aware of the challenges of processing all this new information, and can help you walk through your choices step-by-step.

Finally, there are the colleges themselves. All of them have financial aid offices and counseling centers that are there expressly to help you out with all the difficult first-time decisions that you have to sort through and figure out as a new college student and future teacher. You’re not on this path alone; don’t hesitate to ask for help from the people who are there to help you through it.

One of the resources you might end up using soon to help you make sense of all the complicated steps involved in deciding on a college and managing your applications is a mobile app called CollegeConnect. The app is designed to help consolidate all the information about the schools, scholarships, and financing options you’re dealing with, allowing you to more systematically and effectively sort through it all and make informed decisions.

The app is the brainchild of Natasha Lopez, who designed it with the hopes of increasing enrollment in college and helping first-generation and low-income students get through the process with greater success. As a first-generation college graduate herself, Lopez holds a master’s degree in education.

CollegeConnect recently received third place at the Elations for Education Pitch competition, and may be coming to a phone near you soon!