So today was a bad day. Well, most of it was actually wonderful, but one little thing was enough to throw everything into a horrible, tear-filled melancholy.
Here’s the thing: I worked really damned hard to get through college. I worked full-time at one job and part-time at a different one. I lived in my van for a total of 6 months. I, like many others, was the master at surviving on ramen noodles and peanut butter (not at the same time). During my Junior and Senior years I had to work out a sleeping schedule where I never even went to bed on Wednesday nights and I got 4 hours the rest of the week. It was hard, and sometimes scary, and I passed out twice my Senior year, but I always made it work. And I always tried really, really hard to never complain.
Now, jump to today: I know that I’ll need copies of my transcripts when I apply for future jobs, but I don’t have any, so I called my college to find out why. It turns out that I can’t get my transcripts because I have an additional loan still out that didn’t get consolidated with the others 2 years ago. So now I’ve got another $14,000 that I owe that I didn’t know about and that I don’t know how to pay. I know that I’ll need a copy of my transcripts if I want to keep working in my field, but I’m already $4,000 behind in payments on just this one loan, and I didn’t even realize it. That doesn’t even include the much larger cloud of student loan debt that always hangs over my head, darkening ominously with every propane bill or strange rattle from my car’s engine. I suppose I could try to pay it off in small payments and wait to get my transcripts until after it’s all done, but then I might not be able to teach in the meantime, and being a teacher was the entire point of accruing the debt in the first place.
I know that this is just going to make me sound like an self-entitled Millennial, but I kind of thought that if I worked my butt off during school, then things would eventually work out and I’d be able to teach comfortably afterward. I knew I wouldn’t ever be wealthy (teachers aren’t known for their huge paychecks), but I thought I’d at least be able to get by. But now I keep thinking about how even if I never have children or try to live better than I am now, there is still a very real possibility that I will die in debt. Actually, that’s probably exactly what’s going to happen, because I did the math, and on my current budget with my current loan interest, I’ll be 147 before I finish paying off my college tuition. 147. And that’s assuming I never have a medical emergency or a dependable car or a master’s degree. I never thought that this would worry me at 25. All I ever wanted to do was teach people. So I guess I just kind of thought karma would watch out for me, you know?
Now, I know that some of you are saying “it’s kind of your fault. You should have payed closer attention or gone to a cheaper college.” Here’s the deal: YOU ARE 100% CORRECT. You are. I can’t even deny it. I shouldn’t have missed this, and it WAS 100% my choice to go to a private college. I even remember the conversation I had with my high school English teacher, who suggested I go to a state college rather than the one I picked. He kept telling me that I should try for something more affordable. And you know what I said? It’s laughable now, but I remember shaking my head and pointing out:
“This is America. I shouldn’t have to give up on my dreams because I’m poor.”
Goddamn, looking back I’m so surprised I actually believed that. I never really thought of myself as naive. I still think that everyone has the right to an education, but sometimes I have students that say they don’t want to go to college because they can’t afford it, and all I want to do is give them a world where their potential is not lessened by their circumstances. I want to tell them that there’s help available and that everyone deserves an education, but I don’t know if I could ever wish this pain and uncertainty on anyone. Finances terrify me, but I try every day to show my students how amazing our world is and that their dreams are worth it. And they believe me.
The problem is, I believed me too when I was their age.
Shit. This post was depressing as hell. Why don’t you look at Why I Still Love Teaching (Despite the Flaws). Or, if you liked the post up above and want to know why else teachers need your support, check out The Three Biggest Issues in Education.