Podcast

TnT 80 Teachers drowning in student loan debt can save so much money by doing this

Student loan debt is no joke, and it creates so much anxiety for just about everyone, ESPECIALLY newer teachers. Programs like Teacher Loan Forgiveness promise to help with this burden, but it barely helps to bring down the tens of thousands of dollars in debt that teachers have. And misinformation about the best way to pay back these loans results in teachers losing thousands of dollars. Why doesn’t anyone tell us about this? Why is it so complicated? In this second part of my conversation with Travis Hornsby from the Student Loan Planner, we get down to the details, and he goes as far as to crunch some numbers so that you can get a really clear idea of just how much you can save.

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Thank you so much for joining me today, I really appreciate it. I’m super excited for this second part of my interview with Travis. As I mentioned in the introduction, Travis is from studentloanplanner.com and the Student Loan Planner podcast. I can’t wait for you to learn more about how you can get out from under the burden of student loan debt.

Travis founded Student Loan Planner after helping his physician wife navigate ridiculously complex student loan repayment decisions. To date, he’s consulted on almost $500 million in student debt personally, more than anyone else in the country. He is a Chartered Financial Analyst and brings his background as a former bond trader trading billions of dollars.

Before we get into part 2, I wanted remind you guys know about an upcoming conference JUST for new teachers. It’s called the New Educator Weekend, and it’s being held in two locations: in San Diego from December 6-8 and Santa Clara, CA from February 21-23. These conferences have everything that you need to be successful in your first few years of teaching with sessions covering topics like classroom management, IEPs, working with colleagues, admin, and parents, common core and state standards, and how to build your teaching career. SO MUCH good stuff you guys, and you KNOW you need it!

As a bonus, I’ll be at both of those conferences both as a presenter and exhibitor for this podcast, so I definitely encourage you to sign up. I’d LOVELOVELOVE to meet you and hear about how your first years are going! So if you DO plan on going, be sure to message me on Instagram or email me so that I can look out for you and we can meet up!

For more information and to sign up, head over to teachersneedteachers.com/conference, where you’ll see information about both the southern on in San Diego and northern one in Santa Clara.


Thank you so much for joining me today, I really appreciate it. I’m super excited for this second part of my interview with Travis. As I mentioned in the introduction, Travis is from studentloanplanner.com and the Student Loan Planner podcast. I can’t wait for you to learn more about how you can get out from under the burden of student loan debt.

Travis founded Student Loan Planner after helping his physician wife navigate ridiculously complex student loan repayment decisions. To date, he’s consulted on almost $500 million in student debt personally, more than anyone else in the country. He is a Chartered Financial Analyst and brings his background as a former bond trader trading billions of dollars.

Before we get into part 2, I wanted to remind you guys about an upcoming conference JUST for new teachers. It’s called the New Educator Weekend, and it’s being held in two locations: in San Diego from December 6-8 and Santa Clara, CA from February 21-23. These conferences have everything that you need to be successful in your first few years of teaching with sessions covering topics like classroom management, IEPs, working with colleagues, admin, and parents, common core and state standards, and how to build your teaching career. SO MUCH good stuff you guys, and you KNOW you need it!

As a bonus, I’ll be at both of those conferences both as a presenter and exhibitor for this podcast, so I definitely encourage you to sign up. I’d LOVELOVELOVE to meet you and hear about how your first years are going! So if you DO plan on going, be sure to message me on Instagram or email me so that I can look out for you and we can meet up!

For more information and to sign up, head over to teachersneedteachers.com/conference, where you’ll see information about both the southern on in San Diego and northern one in Santa Clara.

Kim  

There’s so much like going on in my mind when I’m thinking about this. I’m still kind of reeling from the fact that it doesn’t have to be a title one school, because I’m sure there are other teachers like myself, who were like, We didn’t even think about it or tribe and paying all this time. And it could have been forgiven by now.

Travis  

Pretty upsetting, right? Well, this is my point with the NEA like messing up, right? Like the NEA is supposed to help teachers out. And instead of educating people, they’re just making these like statements just like they’re not informed, you know about, you know, what’s going on? 

Like, I mean, you can say that PSLF might not happen for future borrowers like that haven’t taken that out yet. That’s absolutely a fair statement. Like if you don’t have the debt in your name yet. Like, because you haven’t started a graduate program. Right? Yeah, like there’s a risk that it could go away because it’s not in your promissory note. 

So like, one thing that you can look for is when you sign up for debt, like they give you a contract, right. And that contract basically gives you the rules and stipulations behind what you’re signing up for. If you look at any of your contracts that have been issued, since 2010, of what you signed up for, it literally says that you have the right to do PSLF in that contract.

Kim  

 

What is the turnaround time when you start filing that paperwork?

Travis  

That takes about two months to move your loans over to the new place, usually, right. So that’s how long it takes to move it over. And then they come back to you with your qualified payment count. 

And this is really where it gets really, really bad. So the backlog right now, for, you know, qualified payment certifications is one year. So in other words, they are one year behind certifying people’s like payment counts when they’re inaccurate. So I would say probably like the majority of the time, they’re not accurate. 

Because what for whatever reason, the loan servicers, there are four big ones, they don’t really communicate very well with each other. So you know, like, maybe it will hold on to its data, and fed loan won’t be able to read it when they transfer over for PSLF. And so then fed loan will like just make up a payment count. That’s not accurate. And so if you know, you’ve been paying on your loans for like, three years, and you know, okay, I should have 36 months of credit, do you have to file an appeal, and it’s pretty easy to do, you just literally call them and say, put my loans into the appeal process. It’s not like you have to have a formal thing or anything. 

But I want to tell your listeners a hack that I’ve learned. So. So if you call your congressperson and senators and ask their constituent services office, all you need to do is call that constituents Services Office, which you just asked for it, you just call their general number and ask for that. And literally say, I’m a teacher, and fed loan, told me that my payment count is this many months, and it shouldn’t be that it should be more, all you have to do is say that and then say like, will you help me? Okay. 

I can tell you that I have seen cases where somebody has this appeal process, it’s supposed to take a year and it takes two weeks because they called their Congresspersons office. Okay, so depending on how powerful your senators are, this can be even faster. 

So for example, I had some people like, you know, like Senator Elizabeth Warren, or like Senator Tim Kaine, or, you know, even some, like senior Republican senators, like, the more powerful your senator is like, the fist the faster, they’re, like afraid, and they change it, you know, to what it should be. So, that’s, that’s a little hot tip for anybody that’s submitting their forms. 

So I can really sympathize with somebody that doesn’t feel like they have the time for this, but just know that you are in a, you know, you’re important, like, you know, like anyone listening to this, like your future is worth this. So, you know, like, they’re already curtailing pensions, like they’re making retirement benefits, not as good as they used to be right now. 

And it’s, like, really frustrated when it comes back. Like, you know, it’s like, I should have five years, not one year, you know, yeah, that’s, that’s the trick to us to get your payments certified. But I think that the, you know, the reality is that, you know, you can really get a lot forgiven if you are intentional about this, and you pay attention, which, you know, most teachers obviously have a lot more things you have to worry about, right that like, yeah, managing the classroom, all the, you know, grades, and they have to do all of the lesson plans they have to put together. 

And so like, if you’re not doing this, then you’re literally like throwing away thousands of dollars, which, like, if you think about it, like imagine a teacher who has 50,000 student loans, like they might literally be able to pay like five to $10,000, over 10 years. So that means that like, the value of loan forgiveness for them could like be like five to $10,000 per year, something like that, like if you include all the principal and interest and everything. And then that’s like, so that can be like two or three months a year of work. 

So like, if you don’t, you know, so if you want to give away like two or three months, a year of going into your school, like for free, then don’t pay attention to this stuff. Basically, every school in America should give their new teachers a little piece of paper, when they sign up to work with them, that says, send this format to fed loan, sign up for the page, we’re in plan and track your progress once a year towards loan forgiveness. Every single school in America should do that. 

But the problem is, is Congress made this bill really complicated, they made PSLS very complicated. And so we actually my wife, and I got kind of screwed over and lost a lot of money, based off of getting bad advice around our student loans, which was why I founded student loan player to make sure that didn’t happen to other people.

Kim  

I can imagine that there are people like me who are pretty feeling pretty bad about this, because, you know, it seems like the only option is to just keep paying it.

We get bombarded with all of these, like, student loan debt consolidation pieces of mail. And I’m really skeptical of all of that.

I know that they are just are going to charge me more interest, my payments going to be higher, I don’t see how I’m going to benefit.

Travis  

Yeah, I mean, like those, those places are absolute scams, I mean, so basically, what these places are trying to do is tell you that the solution to everything is consolidating your student loans, which might act might actually be really bad for you. 

For example, if you’ve been paying for a qualifying plan for five years, and you have directed loans, if you consolidate, you wipe away all five years worth of that credit, you start over from payments, zero, right. And so these consolidation groups just like charge you like $1,000 to do the paperwork. And then they’ll try to charge you like 500, or you know, or 50 a month or 100 a month to say that they’re doing like recertification for you. 

When in reality, these are basically like things, people in Southern California and southern Florida like startup because they want to get rich quickly, right. And they funnel all the money offshore and like this one guy, like pumped out, like $16 million, I think in a year with a bunch of shell corporations, like into offshore bank accounts, like these people don’t care at all about people like they’re just greedy criminals. You know what I mean? 

So I mean, I would say that most of those consolidation, things that send up his letter in the mail, they design those to look like federal programs. Right? Have you seen some of those things like that? All? 

Kim  

lt looks really official. 

Travis  

Yeah, it looks super official. Yeah, it’s because you know, these people are just jerks, like trying to prey on people. So I mean, you know, what’s the difference between something that’s like, charges too much, and something that’s a scam? 

I mean, the scam tries to play itself off as if it’s something that it’s not right. So consolidation, doesn’t wipe away your loans. It does do anything like shocking, you know, it doesn’t give you a loan forgiveness, which gives you a loan forgiveness is that you actually pay attention. And you actually fill out all the paperwork, and you have your loans set up in the right repayment plan and that kind of thing. 

So is there like a little example, like maybe you could pick on like a friend of yours that has student loan debt, like, you know, anonymously, that we could like, model and see like, how much money they could save?

Kim  

Oh, yeah, a lot of my teacher friends have student loan debt, one of them right now. She’s said, I’m going to be paying off forever. But the problem is she took the extended plan. So you can pay it over 30 years or something like that.

Travis  

Right. Did she have direct loans? Or is it FFEL?

Kim  

Yeah, now she had, it was all grad school. So she got it in the last eight or nine years.

Travis  

So then she’s got direct loans. So you know, what she needs to do is switch to an income-driven plan right now. And then as soon as she hits the 10-year mark, she needs to apply for PSLF and get rejected. And then she needs to send an email to that tepslf@fedloan.org place. And she could get all of her ones wiped away with like one or two more years of payments.

Kim  

Why does she have to get rejected?

Travis  

It’s the way they made the program? It’s a great question. That’s a wonderful question. But that’s the way that they made the program was that you first have to apply for PSLF and get rejected, and then you can apply for the expanded PSLF. It’s stupid, but that’s the way they’ve done it.

Kim  

So then technically, what I’ve been reading is correct, that they’re getting rejected, but they don’t know that they have to appeal it.

Travis  

Yeah, you have to appeal it specifically by sending an email to this specific email at this loan servicer.

Kim  

To show how bad you want it.

Travis  

Yeah, it’s basically and there’s $350 million that Congress set aside for this. And when that runs out, it’s gone. So I think that that will probably last us another year or two, and then that money will be gone. 

So but the fact that she was on the extended plan, that means that she probably was making payments, at least of what they would have been if she was on an income-based plan. But let’s pretend that you that friend like it’s starting over fresh, just for fun. Right? So like, how much does this friend have in debt?

Kim  

They this is their first year teaching. Right now, let’s say they went to a state school that costs about 22,000 a year for four years.

Travis  

Okay, well, you probably didn’t get all federal debt for that, you know, you probably just maxed out your Stafford loans. 

Kim  

How much do you think they would have in eligible loans at that point?

Travis  

Without any graduate school? Let’s say 40. Okay, you know, so we’ll do like an undergrad teacher. So you said 30K is like a typical starting salary. So for this teacher will assume they’re single. So this person could pay about $100 a month as a single person. So yeah, because remember, I said that $20,000 deduction approximately. 

So 30,000 minus 20,000 is 10,000. 10,000 times 10 percent is 1000. Divide that by 12. Right? The deduction is not exactly 20,000, which is why it works out to them paying 100 a month, but it’s approximately that. So they’re paying $100 a month, over 10 years, this teacher would pay $13,516 and she would have $54,484 forgiven tax-free.

Kim  

Are you guys listening to that? That’s amazing.

Travis  

Um, this is a little bit crazy. But just for fun. So you know, you can put money into retirement accounts, right, like you have a 403(b). So you wouldn’t do this if you’re single, because you can’t max out 403(b) like, on $30,000. Now, say that you were, you know, like, maybe married to another teacher that maybe doesn’t have any student loan debt because they’re lucky. So now let’s say that you file married filing separately, and you decide to put all of your savings in like your 403(b) right? And so what that does is that lowers your taxable income, which lowers your student loan payment. So instead of $30,000, the government thinks you’re making $11,000. Does that make sense?

Kim  

Yeah, all that pre-tax stuff.

Travis  

Yeah, if you do that you’re paying your student loans goes to zero. You have qualifying payments for 10 years of zero dollars a month. And instead of 54,000, forgiven tax-free, you have 68,000 forgiven tax-free, and you have 19,000 a year contributed for retirement. So you contributed $190,000 for retirement. And you that probably grew to like 300, or something like that. So you’re like a rich teacher with no student debt. 

Can we do on like a graduate school?

Kim  

So I have grad school loans. And that was 30,000.

Travis  

For just grad school, right?

Kim  

Yeah. Just for my master’s.

Travis  

Yeah. So you probably let’s just layer that on to like an undergrad amount. Right. So your typical person $40,000 of undergrad, and we’re going to layer on 30,000 from grad school and will say that there was like interest that built up while you were in school, right. So we’ll save 30 plus 40 from undergrad grew into likes at you know, when you started teaching, right? So now you’ve got $80,000 that you’ve got, and then you probably get a higher wage because you went to masters program, right? So what’s the wage after your masters for a Teacher?

Kim  

I’m just gonna make up a number we’ll say 50.

Travis  

Think up a number. That’s good. So $50,000 Yeah, so, so $50,000 Okay, so 80,000 of debt $50,000 of income, your payment is $265 a month, $265 a month, if you paid it back on the standard 10-year plan, you’re paying 810 a month. 

Okay, if you’re paying it back on your friend’s extended plan, then you’re paying $565 a month. So in other words, you’re paying more than double to pay it back over 30 years compared to what you can be paying to pay back over 10 years, and having a free event tax free. So $265 a month, the same thing holds true if you maxed out your 403(b) instead of paying $265 a month, you’d be paying about 100 a month, right? Because it’s taxable income about 30,000, which is what it was for the non-master’s degree person, but we’ll say 50 will say 50,000 a year of income for 80,000 forgiven debt. 

And so then the total payments over 10 years on your 80,000 would be $36,444. That would be your total payments as a 50,000 a year teacher, and then your remaining balance that’d be forgiven would be 99,556 is forgiven tax-free. 

If you did the teacher loan forgiveness program, five 5000 will be forgiven text for after five years. And you know, so congratulations, you have another 10 years to make payments. And and you got super screwed over. Right? Yeah. If you listen to like the refinancing commercials on TV, then. So this is like the standard 10-year plan with the government. So with $80,000 you’d pay back a total of principal and interest of $111,464. Okay, so that’s like 30,000 of interest. 

Okay, if you refinanced because you saw this like commercial while you were like hanging out, like with friends, you know, and like it said, refinance your student loans. Really, Oh, that sounds responsible. And so you do it. And let’s say you get like a 4% rate, which is so good. Right? That sounds amazing. Yeah. Yeah. 

So your principal and interest that you would pay would be 97,000. Okay. So yeah, you save money, like, you save like 20,000 or 15,000 compared to paying the government back, like the standard tinea route. But the problem is you cost yourself 60,000 compared to optimizing your situation for PSLF. And if you like factor in saving for retirement, then you cost yourself probably like 70, or even $80,000 if you refinance your student loans. So like, imagine you’re watching like your favorite TV program, right? And you see this ad to refinance student loans that adjust cost you $70,000

Kim  

But it made THEM how much?

Travis  

Yeah, well, I mean, I mean, you know, that Yeah, made them make profits, right. And so that’s the thing is the refinancing companies like they have their place. Like if you had private loans from undergrad that were like a super high rate, then you would want to refinance those, you would want to get those on a lower interest rate, you know, um, but the problem is, is like, did you know that every website in the world like makes commissions when you like, see things about refinancing? 

So like, we have that same situation, except like, we do cashback bonuses. So we’ll give like a big portion of what the commission is back to the reader. So like, $500, like for refinancing instead of zero. So everybody else does zero. 

But the thing that scares me is like, even though that’s like, nice, like, I always try to put those disclaimers, like, if you’re a 501c or government job, do not press this link, they do not do this, like this is only for people in the private sector, you know, that are, you know, that have private loans already, like there and, you know, be eligible, right? 

But I just think that’s so interesting that, you know, so so the worst-case scenario is you cost yourself like 60 $70,000, if you if you don’t do PSLF, and if it doesn’t happen, then you only gain like 15,000. Right, right. So all these people are like, Oh, I don’t want to lose my 15,000 I don’t want to pay the government an extra 15,000 of interest, right? But they’re not thinking about the chance that they could lose 60 or 70 grand if this thing works out, like the way we expect it to. 

So like, if you just set like, like, say it’s like a coin flip, right? Would you like say you could afford to take a bet that’s like 15,000, like, you know, heads like 60,000 tails, like, right, you know what I mean? Like, you know, like, if you lose 15, you gain 60. Like, that’s, that’s like, awesome, that that’s an amazing bet. Like, that’s assuming that you don’t have like any promises at all. 

But like I said, it’s in your contract. It’s literally in the loan documents. So people just are not aware of this. And they’re just like, costing themselves tons of money. And like, That stinks. Because teachers work really freaking hard. I have two of them, that are cousins. And like my dad, like I said, was a teacher for 40 years. So like, if anything, teachers deserve this loan forgiveness program, you know, I mean, I like to think that, you know, obviously, physicians work hard to but like, Teachers work super hard, you know, and don’t make a lot of money. And so like you deserve, you know, to invest in this, and, like, understand these rules to get forgiveness.

Kim  

What if I have private loans? Is there a situation where I shouldn’t do PSLF? Or I can’t?

Travis  

Yeah, like, if you don’t want to be a teacher for 10 years? You know, I mean, like, seriously, like, if you are like, you know, I’d prefer to, like go into the private sector. You know, I want to, you know, I want to make money. Yeah, you know, I mean, like, that would be a reason, like, that’d be a reason like to go out and like, just realize that you need to make like, if you’re making 40, as a teacher, you get two or three months off a year, and you get PSLF, which is probably worth like 10 to 15 K a year, if you have a lot of debt. 

So that means that you have to go out and probably make like 20 or 30 k more, just to be equivalent to what a teacher is earning, you know, so like, just make sure people are aware of that, right. 

But yeah, it’s like, so if you want to be in the private sector, you don’t want to do 10 years of teaching, that would be a reason. Another reason would be like private debt, like I mentioned, like, that’s not eligible for PSLF only direct federal stuff. 

And then if you owe a really small amount, so if you owe $10,000, the math is just not going to support you going through all this pain and suffering Ray, you know, $5,000 of loan forgiveness, I would just like do the teacher loan forgiveness program, you know, get five of it wiped, and then just like pay the rest off after the five years. So, you know, that would be who it’s not for, as people who are not playing and being Teachers long term or people that owe a very modest amount of debt.

Kim  

If I have private debt. Like you had mentioned, parents taking out that debt to supplement college, what should they do to help pay that back?

Travis  

Yeah, so there’s a couple of things you can do. So Parent PLUS loans are not eligible for PSLF. You know, basically, you have to have the parents actually be not for profit, or government employees for 10 years, you can’t transfer it. So that’s usually not really doable. Like by the time parents are like in their 60s, like they were ready to retire.

So what you can do is the parent can either refinance that in their name and try to get a lower interest rate, or you can take that over from your parents by refinancing it from your parents to you. So for example, like on our site, like two lenders that do this, or Laurel road and common bond, so on our site, they do like 300 to 500 something dollar bonuses for people to take over their Parent PLUS loans and put them in their name instead of the parents name. You know, so you can do that. And like the reward is usually cutting your interest rate from like, 7% to maybe like four or five?

Kim  

Oh, that’s worth it, for sure. Have about for those of us that are planning for our kids to be in college soon. How can we maximize? I mean, how can we make it so that we’re borrowing correctly? In case PSLF is still around?

Travis  

Like for like sending your kid to like undergrad? 

Kim  

Yes, yeah, sending for undergrad? Assuming we’re going to take out loans.

Travis  

Yeah, well, so my parents made a big mistake when they filled out the FAFSA, and they included that retirement savings on there, and the wrong like form. So they put like all of their, like retirement money, like as if it was like cash in the bank. 

And so it totally messed up my financial aid, because all the schools thought we were rich, but like retirement assets that they’re put in the right box are actually not counted. Okay, so. So I would just say like for Teachers, you know, use your 403(b) like, a lot of them are kind of junky and have high fees, like, it doesn’t count on the FAFSA. 

So you know, you want to try to put as much money into retirement as you can, because just that’s just shielded from the FAFSA, and the more money you have stashed away in retirement, like, you could be a pretty low income individuals, a teacher by putting a lot of money in your 403 B. And then you’ll qualify for more things like Pell Grants, maybe more like, you know, need based scholarships. 

So that’s kind of what I would suggest for and like you can do 529, things like that. But to be honest, like, if you’re kind of, if you have like a 16-year-olds, like, I think that it’s better to try to like, just focus on like, trying to get them into the cheapest and state school possible and try to get them scholarships, and make sure they do really well in their PSAT and their essay T and, you know, look at a lot of these scholarship, you know, websites to try to see if they could be eligible for something. 

So I mean, I would just say that, be wary of private loans, you know, if you’re going to take out private loans, you have to have like rock-solid finances, you have to have an emergency fund, you have to be in, you have a really good income. You know, this, the school that your kids going to is got to be just like, you know, so important for them to go to compared to another program. Right?

Kim  

Okay. That’s good to know, I’m about five years away.

Travis  

Five years away, I’d probably start putting some money into a 529. Perhaps, I mean, the only caveat to that is, like I said, they do count 529 money and they don’t count 403(b) money, in terms of your assets for determining how much they’re going to give your kid. So I think it’s generally better for parents to put the money in retirement instead of 529. Because, you know, the schools will usually give you better aid that way.

Kim  

That’s good to know. So you have a service that actually helps put people on the right track for getting their student loans repaid or forgiven? Can you tell us more about that? Because you’ve mentioned it a few times?

Travis  

Yeah, sure. So it’s, um, it’s a few hundred bucks service. So it’s not like thousand dollars or something, it’s, it’s going to be the price is actually going to be changing at the end of November, it’s going to be like 400 to 600, depending on how much that you have right now, the most teachers would be the $300 range, we’re kind of bumping the price up, and we’re making a cheaper option for people that just want to do it themselves. That’s more like, affordable for people to pay on, like a monthly basis. 

So basically, there’s that easy button, right? Like, so if you hear this and you’re like, Okay, I’m convinced that there could be like major loan forgiveness for my situation, I want to make sure that it’s done, right, I don’t want to mess it up, then you know, you can hire somebody like us to figure it out for you. So our folks are CF ps, CFA is and we’re trying to hire a CPA now, too. So you try to make sure it’s professionals, and not just like random people. People go through rigorous training for this with our team. 

So yeah, so if you if you’re interested in that, you want to learn more student loanplanner.com/help, you can read how that works. And, you know, like I said, also, there’s, we also have a top 40 tips for PSLF article on our site. So that’s in the sidebar, in the blog section that you can read. 

And I’ve got, like, you know, like, so sounds 40 tips that you can use, and implement yourself. So and we also have a, like I said, a bunch of stealing player podcast episodes you can listen to, so don’t feel like you need to pay us. But if you do want that help, you know, we’ve made thousands of plans for people, and yet, we’re trying to be like the Starbucks or the student loan world, you know, like, predictable, solid quality, you know, relentless focus on efficiency to make it a really good process, that experience for everyone. So that’s, that’s what we’re trying to do. 

Kim  

And so it sounds like from our conversation, it’s better for people to come in earlier in the repayment process, and not after 10 years have gone by. 

Travis  

Absolutely. But don’t feel like if you’ve already waited, that you’re screwed. If you’re already five years in, or you’re eight years and like your friend is like had spent on the extended plan, like there’s a very specific set of instructions that could make like a mid to high five-figure difference for her, you know, for for the person that the very front end, like we can set it up in such a way that makes it way easier to manage, where you’re not going to have to like track down fed loan and like, appeal their decisions and like call your congressperson, like, there’s a very easy way to set it up in the beginning. 

If somebody has never made payments, I’ll just tell people like consolidate, if you’ve never made any payments at all, just go to studentloans.gov and consolidate it and send it to fed loan, get it signed up for that page, we’re in plan and check the box that you’re doing it for the public service program. And that’s all you have to do if you’re just starting out. 

You know, there’s there’s like complicated stuff with this. Like, if you’re married, like I mentioned, the tax filing stuff, like, there’s definitely things that we could get into that are just super minutia that I don’t want to lose people over. But you can do this on your own, it’s just like, it’s kind of complicated. So a lot of people are probably not going to want to for like, you know, the price that we charge,

Kim  

I mean, when you consider the peace of mind and knowing that you set yourself on the right track, and that you didn’t screw yourself over. And now you’re going to have to pay an extra X number of years, I think that’s definitely worth it in the long run, especially how much when you consider how much you’re actually saving your clients.

Travis  

We have a teacher scholarship that ends in September too. So go to studentloanplanner.com/scholarship, we actually have a category for teachers. Okay, and we’re like giving away $500, and RM so free courses, and potentially like a free console too. So if anybody is like super cash strapped, you know, go ahead and give it a give that a shot.

Kim  

That’s awesome.

Travis  

Yeah, so we tried it, we try to get back like, my like, kind of theory is like, we try to give back a certain percentage of revenue of the company back to like the people who are struggling, you know, because I know that not everybody can afford, you know, a few hundred bucks for free getting a custom plan. But, but I think that at the same time, like it will make you huge difference. 

Like we don’t generally like taking on a client unless we think we can get them a 10 x return on what they’re spending long term, you know, in a projected basis. So, you know, we’re trying to be, you know, in a world of scammers and sketch balls, trying to be the most ethical company out there. At least that’s what I like to think of, you know, so it’s my dad would be really angry. If I was taking advantage of a bunch of Teachers, he tried to kick my butt or something.

Kim  

I’m sure. Just to drive the picture home here. What is the typical amount of debt that your clients have? And are most people having at least like five-figure numbers forgiven? or?

Travis  

Yeah, so I mean, so a lot of teachers actually, like, our average teacher probably has low six figures, because they went to like, the Columbia Teachers College, right. Or they went, yeah, like, they went to a really expensive master’s program. And like, they didn’t get it covered. And like, they made a bunch of forbearance mistakes, and they capitalize their interest. And it comes did and then like they like, you know, maybe even like when delinquent for a couple of months, because like they’re focused on other things. 

And like, and, you know, I mean, I remember one teacher client that we had early on, like, she was just so ashamed that she had defaulted. Like she didn’t even want to think about it, you know. And that was really tough, because, you know, she could have been paying $200 a month and getting credit for forgiveness. And instead, she had just been compounding her her debt for like, five years, you know. 

So it’s just, it’s really important that if you’re listening, just do something. Like don’t just like, listen to this, and just be like, Oh, great, I’m going to go get back on the treadmill, and like, finish my like, you know, my 30 minute run or something, right? Like, go do something, even if it’s as simple as just like, you know, like typing PSLF in Google. Like, you know, I mean, even if it’s that simple, like do that at least. But you know, just know that there’s help out there if you have like 50,000 or 30,000. Or if you have like 200,000 or something like no matter how much you have. I’ve yet to see somebody that’s beyond help.

Kim  

Okay, that’s good to know. So, you had mentioned student loan planner, calm? Where else can my audience find you if they have more questions?

Travis  

Yes. So you can actually just click on the Contact Us button on the site like so you’ll see that in the bottom right-hand corner if you’re on like a laptop or desktop computer, or even on your mobile, you’ll see that so just use that contact button. And then, you know, you can also find us you can find that steel on planter podcast to we have a lot of like ways to contact us through that and people can ask free questions and things like that. So I think the best link is probably studentloanplanner.com/help.

Kim  

Perfect. Well, thank you so much, Travis for taking the time to explain this. I know that I got a lot out of this. I have a lot to think about. And thank you so much for sharing it.

Travis  

Thanks for having me on Kim.


Key takeaways:

 

First, a lot of the agencies in charge of the loan aren’t necessarily keeping accurate records or certifying how many payments you’ve made. It’s up to you to be sure to know that number and file an appeal to correct it. Travis gave us a really good hack on how to get this done faster! You want to make sure the count is accurate when you’re finally ready to get your loan forgiven.

Next, the student loan consolidation programs you get in the mail are scams. Run, don’t walk, away from those! If you consolidate, you basically negate all of those years you’ve spent paying off your loans and make it harder to get any of the loans forgiven.

Finally, Travis crunched some numbers and showed us how by us the income-based payment to pay back student loans, you could actually be paying significantly less than the extended 30-year repayment plan. This blew my mind and really made things a lot clearer!

Travis and the Student Loan Planner team offer reasonably-priced services to help you figure all of this out for YOUR personal situation. If you DON’T want to mess this up and if you’re even a little bit sure that you qualify, I would definitely recommend contacting them to see what they can do for you.

You can try to do this for free by Googling it or listening to the Student Loan Planner podcast. But when you’re ready to get serious so that these loans can be paid off once and for all, head on over to studentloanplanner.com.

If you have student loans, I know that you got a LOT out of this conversation. If you know of another teacher that’s strapped with student loan debt, please do them a favor and share this episode with them! It’s so easy with any podcast player, and they will forever be grateful to you!

Thank you, as always, for hanging out with me today. I hope you have a fabulous week!

TnT 79 The best and least expensive way to pay off your student loans

The large majority of new teachers have some form of student loan debt are probably trying to figure out how they’re going to pay it off with their new salary. What if I told you that some of you could pay as little as $100 a month AND have all of your debt taken care of in 10 years? Sounds too good to be true, right? In this episode, Travis Hornsby from the Student Loan Planner tells us not only why we’re entitled to do this but also how we can save tens of thousands of dollars on our debt. 

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I’m so happy you joined me today since I have a seriously valuable episode that you definitely want to stick around until the end for. As I mentioned in the introduction, Travis Hornsby from studentloanplanner.com and the Student Loan Planner podcast is with me to discuss how teachers can get out from under the burden of student loan debt.

Travis founded Student Loan Planner after helping his physician wife navigate ridiculously complex student loan repayment decisions. To date, he’s consulted on almost $500 million in student debt personally, more than anyone else in the country. He is a Chartered Financial Analyst and brings his background as a former bond trader trading billions of dollars.

Before we dive into the interview, I wanted to let you guys know about an upcoming conference JUST for new teachers. It’s called the New Educator Weekend, and it’s being held in two locations: in San Diego from December 6-8 and Santa Clara, CA from February 21-23. These conferences have everything that you need to be successful in your first few years of teaching with sessions covering topics like classroom management, IEPs, working with colleagues, admin, and parents, common core and state standards, and how to build your teaching career.

I’ll be at both of those conferences both as a presenter and exhibitor for this podcast, so I definitely encourage you to sign up. I’d LOVELOVELOVE to meet you and hear about how your first years are going!

For more information and to sign up, head over to teachersneedteachers.com/conference, where you’ll see information about both the southern on in San Diego and northern one in Santa Clara.

 


Kim
Well, thank you, Travis for being on the podcast.

I really appreciate it.

Travis
Thanks for having me, Kim excited.

Kim
Now, I thought your story about helping your wife figure out how to pay her six figure student loan debt was really cute. And I’m pretty sure that every person who listens to my podcast has student loan debt. So they’re definitely going to be interested in hearing about how they can get out from under this just heavy burden of debt.

But just some background for so why were student loan forgiveness programs created in the first place?

Travis
Well it was to incentivize people to do jobs that pay less than other opportunities Right. I mean, that’s kind of the the main goal is to give somebody a little bit of, you know, debt forgiveness where they don’t have to go out and feel like they have to make $80,000 a year, you know, being a salesperson or working in tech or, you know, because we need Teachers, right.

And the problem is, is that people that graduate have the same bachelor’s degree debt, regardless if if you pursuit engineering or teaching, you know, and so that’s clearly a problem. If you’re making 30, or 40, or $45,000, depending on what part of the country you’re in starting out, you know, to pay back 30 or $40,000, on that kind of income is way tougher than to pay it back on, you know, a higher income.

So that’s kind of the original reason for having some sort of forgiveness programs at all in the first place. I’m talking about kind of way back in the day before any of this sort of modern forgiveness programs came into play. So if you’re going to go to graduate school, or med school or anything like that, you’re going to be in debt forever. Just because you make six figures as like a physician doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy to pay back those loans. Right.

And you mentioned mass, you know, graduate degree or master’s degrees, like that’s where we see Teachers with the big debts, you know, like the the Teachers that just have the bachelor’s degrees, they have the kind of the same debts that everybody else has. And so it’s not really like a super unusual strategy for most people if you have 30 or 40,000 in debt. Although you can still save a lot more money than then you would think using some of these loan forgiveness programs.

Kim

There are some student loan forgiveness programs that are actually for teachers. Can you explain how those are unique?

Travis
Yeah, I mean, there’s a bazillion like state specific programs or programs like specific to your local district, you know, but then there, the main one at the federal level is called teacher loan forgiveness. So this is administered, you know, by basically the loan servicer says, Do you have five years of service as a highly qualified teacher.

And basically, most teachers can get that serving in any capacity for about $5,000 worth of loan forgiveness. And then the teachers that are highly qualified for special education, and they’re at the elementary or secondary level, they can get that for, they can get that $17,500 level, which is a lot higher. So actually, I have a cousin that’s a special ed teacher pursuing that 17,500 version. And then if you’re a secondary math or science teacher, then you can also get that $17,500 number.

So the number the number of teachers that can get teacher loan forgiveness for that almost 20 grand figure is actually relatively small, because obviously like there’s not, you know, I mean, there’s a small piece of the pie of all Teachers, you know, like highly qualified, secondary math, science and special ed. And then, you know, most teachers could get that $5,000 level of forgiveness.

But the problem is, is that even though it’s called teacher loan forgiveness, it’s actually often, like more often than not, it’s actually the worst repayment preeminence.

Kim
Oh, wow. Yeah. And I was thinking when I heard that there was even one for teachers, that is kind of too good to be true.

What are the pros and cons of using that teacher, that teacher one? Are there any tax implications if your loans are forgiven?

Travis
No, not really. I mean, not for the public and federal programs, you know, so for the like, if you work in the private sector, then there are tax implications. But if you’re in a not for profit or government world, then there’s not there’s also like some Teachers which I’m not quite as familiar with is the forgiveness programs.

But there was a big scandal where these grants got converted into loans because of some like silly, silly paperwork error that, you know, there’s still one servicer messed up. And so, you know, it’s just kind of amazing to me that the programs that are specifically created for teachers are absolute abject failure. You know, I mean, we have a lot of people, you know, emailing us all the time, like, we have pretty good data on this stuff like that the teacher forgiveness programs are unnecessarily complicated. They’re not very generous at all compared to the programs that exist for people like physicians.

So you know, you’ve got situations where you know, these forgiveness programs, they’re designed for physicians, you can get $400,000 forgiven and meanwhile, a teacher is just scraping by trying to get $5,000 forgiven for working at a title one school, you know, I mean, that’s, yeah, totally, patently poorly designed. You know, whoever the people were that wrote these bills currently didn’t care a lot about Teachers where they just had no clue what they were doing,

Kim
Especially when you’re starting out is it A lot of teachers start out Upper 20s, low 30s. And now, you know, they have to pay back how many 10s of thousands of debt, and they can barely pay their bills. So yeah, it is a little bit unfair to, to just give us at most I mean, I would still be grateful for that. 17,000 but at the same time, I’d still have another, you know, 40 or so thousand ago.

Are there any alternatives to the teacher loan forgiveness program that I can qualify for?

Travis
Yeah, I mean, so basically, anybody that’s got more than $20,000 probably needs to not do teacher loan forgiveness. So here’s the reason why. So for example, you’re eligible for something called Pay As You earn. So pay as you earn is probably the best option for somebody pursuing public service loan forgiveness.

So what that means is you’re going to pay 10% of your income after a deduction for like how big your family is, right? So if you’re single deductions, about 20 grand, you know, you can add about $5,000 for every person in your family in terms of how big that deduction is.

So for example, most teachers that make 20 or $30,000 a year, under the pays room plan, they’re going to be paying 10% of like their income minus that, like 20 k deduction. So that could literally be like 50 or hundred dollars a month, right? Like we’re talking like a really small payment.

Now, here’s where it gets tricky. If you sign up for that teacher loan forgiveness program. Did you know that those five years do not count towards the 10 years needed for public service loan forgiveness? I didn’t know that. So a lot of teachers get screwed over big time this way. They sign up for the $5,000 teacher loan forgiveness, which is like $1,000 per year for five years. Right? Right. You know, and so they commit to that they get the $5,000 forgiven, so they’re 40 goes to 35.

And then they find out that all that time, they could have been just paying like 50 to 100 bucks a month. And they would only have needed five more years and all 40,000 could have been forgiven instead of just five. I’ve never heard of that. Pretty crazy, right? Yeah.

And then what they do is they do that five year period and they find out that their payments don’t count towards PSLF because they were pursuing teacher loan forgiveness, and then they’re stuck, like doing an extra 10 years to get their loans white. And that’s like not I guess the worst thing in the world if you’re a, you know, career teacher, but like, I mean, but it’s super unfair regardless.

So Teachers get I should, you know, call it like the teacher 15-year trick, because basically teachers get tricked by like government stupidity and bureaucracy, the way they name these things, they get tricked into signing up for especially teachers with larger debts than 20 K, you know, the teachers that have these larger debts than 20 K, they get suckered into signing up for teacher loan forgiveness because literally named after Teachers, so you would just have flood you had logical the sign up for the one name that for you, right.

And second, you know, there’s a lot of teachers that will be in the field, like 10 years, you know, or like 15 year like they won’t necessarily spend their entire career as an education professional. So, you know, I mean, that’s just kind of screw somebody over where like, they feel like they’re stuck even longer, which I don’t think that they thought through, you know that from it like, you know, even masterplan like the trap teachers in the profession. But that’s kind of what it does.

Kim
Well, and then you’re paying five more years than necessary.

Travis
Exactly, yeah, you just keep it around when it could have been out of your life. You know, like most teachers probably start, you know, right after graduating, right? So like early 20s. You could be free from your debt by your early 30s. Or if you make these mess ups like we see most people do, you’re afraid more like in your late 30s, because you’re probably doing a little bit of forbearance, you’re maybe on an eligible plan, that’s a big problem we see people do.

And then there’s like, more complicated stuff, like being on the wrong tax filing status. So for example, let’s say that, you know, you’re a teacher, you know, law teachers get married, right, that’s the thing. So, you know, you get married, let’s say you get married to somebody that doesn’t have any student loan debt, right. So you can file taxes, married filing separately and exclude their income from your payment calculation for your loans.

So what happens is a lot of people like they’re paying $50 to $100 a month, they’re single, and then they get married and that payment goes from like, 50 $100 a month to like 400 a month, which is their standard plan. You know, that’s the one that they have you pay off in 10 years, right? So instead of having to pay 400, you could file your taxes separately and keep that 50 $200 a month payment on the right repayment plan pays you were.

Kim

Which means that you’re actually going to pay down less and more will be forgiven in the long run. I don’t know why they don’t tell us this soon as well. It’s because they don’t tell anybody.

Travis
Well, it’s super complicated, right? So like, let’s kind of talk about how like Teachers kind of get screwed over. So we’re talking before we press the record, my dad’s a teacher was a teacher, he retired. He taught for 40 years. And this is the typical interaction with with financial professionals, right, some like high fee like, you know, commission salesperson comes to the teacher lounge, like during lunch and gives away free pizza.

And all the teachers like oh yeah, free stuff, like my favorite, you know, and so they try to put away yeah they tried to put you into like super high commission, you know, insurance products, and the insurance person makes like 10% commissions and whatever you put with them, you know,

So that’s like a typical, you know, arrangement for Teachers that they’re, you know, kind of, you know, susceptible to. And so, you know, sales people do not really understand that much about financial planning, usually, right, like, they understand about the product they sell, and they understand they have to sell this product to get paid. But they, you know, in most cases are not like, super well versed in, you know, financial planning topics, and just things like student debt repayment management, right?

So, so they’re, they’re going to, like, sit there and try to give you financial advice, like, oh, put your money here. And like, you’re not going to get that advice from financial professionals, because, you know, most of the financial planners want to work with the physicians and the attorneys and like the people that have the big incomes that can pay them a lot of money, right. So they’re going to play with, right, exactly.

It’s like that’s because they charge a flat fee for service and so the Teachers that you know, could potentially like be able to pay for help they’re not able to pay as much. And so what happens is you have these like product sales, people that are insurance driven, where they make big commissions. And so that kind of works out for them because they can give somebody advice.

And instead of having to get paid, you know, you know, a couple hundred dollars a year for like a long time, they can make a couple thousand dollars up front all at once, you know, and just be done with you. So that’s, that’s kind of the that’s kind of the model for like how Teachers, you know, like how financial professionals like Target Teachers. And I wouldn’t really call, I would say more financial sales people rather than financial professionals. But so that’s why you don’t hear about it from them. And then the second reason why you don’t hear about it is because like I just mentioned, like the stuff we just talked about, it’s a little bit complicated. You know, I mean, you have to really know this stuff about the conflict between teacher loan forgiveness and PS lF to be able to talk about it. And then you also have to know about how the rules would impact your average teacher that’s making, you know, 2030 40,000 a year in terms of how much that means that they’re going to have to pay and it actually gets like

Even more complicated than that. If you have like, if you’re married to somebody else with high income, and high student loan debt, for example, like there’s all kinds of stuff that can impact things, you know, like Perkins loans, you can get Perkins loans cancelled. Sometimes your loans are not all direct. So maybe only some of your loans are eligible for forgiveness, and some of them are not. So then, you know, there’s, there’s a lot to this, right. So yeah, so I’m excited to keep going through this stuff, try to get people as much free advice as we can.

Kim

To qualify for PSLF, you have to be you have to have had a Direct Loan, the correct repayment plan, work in the right job and make 120 on-time payments. Does that sound about right?

Travis
Right. So Perkins cancellation is a separate thing. So you know, the Perkins cancellation is like, just like a totally separate animal. So So if somebody has Perkins loans, I would contact like, your person that has the Perkins loans and tell them that you want their help setting it up for teacher Perkins forgiveness, okay.

So for the for the PSLF program, like this is kind of how it works. So basically, all loans after 2010 unless their private student loans were issued by the government. So anybody that like went to undergrad, you maxed out all your Stafford loans, and then your parent either took out Parent PLUS loans to cover the difference, or they took out private student loans your parents did to cover like that extra bit, right? And then let’s say you went to graduate school, almost surely all of those loans are in your name, and they’re all direct loans, if you took that debt after 2010 Okay.

So, so, so what happened before that is you had these loans called FFEL. So FFEL loans were before 2010, that was like the typical way that people had student loans from the government back then. And that stuff’s not eligible for PSFY is that it’s because it’s mostly held by banks. It’s like bank held guaranteed government, government guaranteed stuff. And so the banks are still getting profits off of that to this day. Right.

So and so the banks obviously do not want the government to forgive their debt. Right? That’s like an obvious thing, right? So they put this little loophole in the PSLF rules, that basically said, the only stuff that’s eligible for, you know, PSLF is direct loans. That’s the only thing that can be forgiven. So a lot of the people that had loans from before 2010 had these bank kind of type loans from the federal government, they were like, you know, kind of like, you know, like the big mortgage lenders kind of were like, sort of governmental kind of things, right. So it’s kind of like that, like before 2010.

And so all these people are getting denied, because they all have the wrong kind of loans that were carved out with this, like super weird loophole like so the banks can keep that on their profit balance sheet and everything. And so that’s why people are getting denied right now is because remember, I said before 2010, it was all screwed up. So what’s before 2000 10 plus 10 years? What date? Is that? Right? 2019? And before?

Kim
Yeah, my undergrad wouldn’t qualify for that either.

Travis
Well, it depends. It depends. So we actually so so I just interviewed somebody on our student and player podcast couple Teachers that not only, not just one of them, but both of them just got their loans forgiven tax free. They both they both had like 80 grand each of them. And both of them had their loans forgiven. And what how were they lucky enough to have that happen to them.

So in like the mid 2000s, like a really nice financial aid person just like happened to steer them towards like the really hard to get government loan, like the direct government loan that like was really difficult to access before 2010. And so, you know, a lot of the most ethical places like you had to be super ethical to put somebody in direct loans before 2010. So they just happen to get in those kind of loans.

And then they happen to be paying on like these payment programs that like so like income based repayment, IB are the kind of the first version of plan you have to be on for public service loan forgiveness, that actually didn’t exist until 2009. at all, you know, so if you had the right kind of loans, you weren’t even able to sign up for the right kind of plan that counted towards this program, until 2009.

So almost nobody had the right kind of loans for 2010, almost nobody had access to the right kind of repayment program before 2009. everybody’s like, super confused, because this thing is a big old mess. And so like, this is how all this train wreck happened when everybody started applying thinking that they like, works for 10 years, and they should get their loans forgiven.

Kim

Are there any loopholes to that in terms of all of the requirements?

Because we talked about how you had to have like the right payment plan work in the right job? And all of that? I mean, do you have to check every single box perfectly to qualify for psle?

Travis
Well, yes and no. So they passed the temporary expanded PSLF, about a year or so ago. And that made a several hundred million dollars available to help people there kind of screwed over by that process. So here’s, here’s the problem, right, you have to have had direct loans during during the period that you were serving in the public, or you know, not for profit or government employer, right. So that right away eliminates, like 80 90% of people, okay, because you had to have this like Heart of Gold financial aid person that put you in the right kind of loan before 2010 to potentially qualify for this.

So then what you have to do is apply to the PSF program and get denied. Okay, so once once you’re denied, then you send an email to TEPSLF fed loan org, I believe is the email saying, like, I got denied my PS left, I want my loans forgiven, because I’ve been making payments for 10 years on direct loans. Right. And so the couple that I’m interviewing on our podcast, like they took that route, and that’s how they got their loans forgiven, because, you know, they had these loans from mid 2000s. You know, they were on like the extended plan, which was more than what they would have had to have paid if IPR had existed at the time.

So that’s why they’re getting their loans forgiven under this kind of one shot, you know, temporary, expanded PS left, what’s going to happen though, is once people start hitting like 2020, once we start hitting that kind of date, you’re going to start seeing people that like, Did master’s degree programs, and like 2010 2011, like one year programs into your programs, it’s like 2020 2021 2022, this is when people are going to start ending up doing like, they’re getting loan forgiveness, like just because they had it all set up without having to have a PhD. And like all this bureaucratic nonsense, right?

So like, there’s this exponential curve, if you look at all of the approved applications for like the certificate certifications, repeated PSLF. So it’s like, it’s like small, medium, massive, you know, and so there’s this huge exponential wave that’s coming for loan forgiveness, based off of just how Congress structured the program 10 years ago.

Kim
Everything that I’ve been reading the National Educators Association, they’re like, Oh, it’s not a good idea to go for PLSF because so many people are being denied, and it’s too rigid. And one person said, You know, I, my employer didn’t put down the right phone number and I got denied.

Many teachers complain about being denied. So do you find that these are common experiences when you’re working with teachers? Or do you feel because you have knowledge of it, and the whole process that you’re able to steer them away from making those mistakes?

Travis
I mean, the clients that we’ve advised to not have these problems, because we kind of prepare them on, like how to fill out the forms and like what to do and had everything set up.

So I mean, I haven’t personally had anybody that’s used our service that’s gone through that. But I know, I know that, like, so the NEA like, this is a little unfortunate for them to take that position, because I think they’re going to cost their members billions of dollars in one forgiveness, because they’re just not experts in this program. Right. So like, the NEA is not your financial advisor. Right?

So, you know, I mean, like, they can make comments on like, what they think about, like legislative programs, but like, at the end of the day, like they’re not experts in this program at all, right? Like, the NEA is just taking sort of like a values based position on this, which is that teachers are getting denied, this isn’t right, it should change, right? What they’re, what they’re not doing is saying, like, this is why the PSLF program was broken. This is why it should work for anybody that’s, you know, got loans from after 2010. Right, this is how you can qualify, like they’re not doing any of the education piece, they’re just doing, like the lobbying piece, you know, which is important.

But like, it’s not accurate, even though because, like, again, like it’s very clear that if you have direct loans, you’re eligible for this, like, if you’re on an income based plan, it’s not 120 payments, by the way, that’s not even, like consecutive, that’s cumulative. So if you took time away to have kids or like you went part time and like or you missed payments, or like you went into forbearance, and that doesn’t reset the clock, yeah. Okay, you know, you literally just come right back where you left off.

So also like for summers, like summers count for Teachers, like towards those hundred 20 months of payments, as long as you keep the payments going, also maternity leave or paternity leave, like the three months a year maternity or paternity leave counts towards PSLF to you know, okay, so there’s, there’s, there’s a lot of stuff in there. I would say that any teacher with more than any teacher definitely with more than $20,000 in student loans, absolutely needs to look at this because it could I mean, I think that you would probably call yourself like a five figure sum by not optimizing this stuff. I’m not exaggerating there.

Kim

So then how can we make sure, so let’s say that a teacher listening to this episode, that they’re going to be approved, assuming they have a direct loan, and they made the consecutive payments?

Travis
I’ll tell you like the way to do it on your own. The way to do it on your own is to go to nslds.ed. gov. So that’s a website that you can log into, and you’re going to see a table of all your loans, and it’s going to list all of your loans on there. And if all of your loans say direct, then you’re in great shape, you don’t need to do anything to your loans, right?

If you go in there and you see that your loans say FFEL, then they’re not eligible, right? And anything that says FFEL is not eligible. So. So if you have, let’s pretend that you have all FFEL owns, you would need to consolidate them. So you could consolidate them by going to student loans.gov. Right. So so you know, you need to make sure you have the right kind of loans, that’s first.

The second thing would be to send in the PSLF ECF form. So if you Google that term, PSLF ECF form, you’re going to get a PDF that you can literally send in to fed loan servicing, and it’s going to have the address on there, it’s going to be straightforward, you know, obviously, make sure the information is correct. On the on the application. I mean, usually, that’s like 40% of the reasons for denials is because like someone’s advisor forgot to sign it or like didn’t put the address for the employer on there. It’s silly, but like, you just need to double check the form, right?

And then when you send that in, wherever your loans are in the world, they’ll be transferred to federal servicing. Right? Okay, so they’ll get transferred over there. And then you’re going to be asked to like sign up for an income based plan when you’re at federal and servicing. So that’s the company that manages the PSLF program.

So for most teachers, if you can, I recommend pay as you earn because it gives you the most flexibility to exclude your spouse’s income if you’re married one day. So that’s like the best advice I can give.

But I’m sure there’s some listeners that are listening that are like that sounded like French, I have no idea what he just said. Right? No, hence the reason for groups like us existing is like, we will do it for somebody for except for the document preparation. Like we won’t do that, but we’ll explain exactly how to do it, we’ll make sure that it’s done. Right, we’ll make sure that you understand, like, you know which path is best.

But, but yeah, I think that like Teachers are probably missing out on like, probably, I would guess, 10s of billions of dollars in loan forgiveness right now. Because that there’s just like awareness, there’s lack of like having it set up the right way. Like people are paying stuff off and refinancing stuff when they should be going for forgiveness. Because basically, every teacher or almost every teacher is at a not for profit or government employer. Right. Right.

Like there’s like there’s, I guess, maybe there there’s some, like for profit, like charter schools or something like that, maybe. Private schools are not for profit, right? Like if you’re teaching it like a Catholic school or something like that, you know, like, you’re probably at a not for profit employer, you just have to be a 501 c three employer, or a government employer. Those are the two rules. So for example, like five, one, C three just means that like some rich person could give a million dollars and name the school after themselves, right. And deducted on their taxes. So that’s, that’s basically every private school anywhere, you know, with it.

Kim
It’s not just a title one school, then?

Travis
No, this is like, basically 95% of the teaching profession.

Kim

I was under the impression that because of the teacher, one, that you had to teach at a title one school.

Travis
That’s why the teacher loan forgiveness sucks. Yeah, I mean, you know, Excuse My French, but, you know, it’s lousy, especially if you have more than 20 grand in debt.

Because, you know, if you have 20 grand or less than maybe like that five K, or the 17,500 is like really awesome, you know, you can just do that plan, get most of it forgiven, pay off the rest when it’s gone. Right. But like, if you owe more than 20,000, at all, then you really need to pay attention to this stuff.

Because you know, you could really seriously get a lot of your of your debt forgiven. And, you know, the only thing that’s not eligible is private debt. So that’s like stuff that, you know, maybe your parents took out and undergrad, I very rarely see a teacher that did a master’s degree program where it’s not Stafford or PLUS loans. It’s almost always Stafford or PLUS loans. When somebody goes to grad school. for undergrad, like there’s, there’s limits, so much you can borrow.

So for grad school, there’s no limits, you can borrow as much as you want from the government. for undergrad, you can only borrow like, I think it’s like, you know, like five to 10,000 per year, you know, and so since schools typically cost more than that, like parents will often like, sign up for private loans that they co sign. So that’s the only situation for you know, when teachers should definitely pay something back as if it’s a private loan.


Here are my key takeaways from this episode:

 

First, the Teacher Loan Forgiveness isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. If you qualify by teaching in a Title I school for five consecutive years, then you can get $5,000 forgiven and up to $17,500 forgiven if you teach math, science, or special ed. While that seems like a nice chunk, it doesn’t really help if you have tens of thousands of student loans.

Next, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is THE best option for all teachers. You pay down your loans for ten years using the income-based plan, and after ten years, you can apply to have the rest forgiven. Travis gave us tips on different ways to lower our income base so that your monthly payment is less.

Finally, there’s a lot of misinformation out there about these types of loan forgiveness programs, or even worse, there’s a LACK of information. I’ve been teaching for 18 years now and I had no idea that this was even a possibility! So services like those provided at Student Loan Planner can definitely steer you in the right direction so that you can minimize the amount you pay and maximize the amount of debt that’s forgiven.

I didn’t want to overwhelm you guys with all of this information, so I decided to split this interview into two episodes. I highly recommend that you listen to this one again so that you can wrap your brain around all of the details about the PSLF program. Next week, Travis and I go into more detail about the program as well as calculate some different scenarios so that you can get a really good idea of just how much you can save.

If you want to read more about what Travis and I discussed today, just head on over to teachersneedteachers.com/studentloan.

And if you want to contact the Student Loan Planner, you can email help@studentloanplanner.com or head on over to the Student Loan Planner podcast.

Be sure to subscribe to this podcast so that you can automatically get next week’s episode where I continue the conversation with Travis. Just look at the device you’re on and hit that Subscribe or Follow button now!

And if you have a teacher bestie who would benefit from knowing how to have their student loans forgiven, please share this with them.

Thanks for hanging out with me today, and have a fabulous week!

TnT 78 What you need to understand about why teens to act the way they do in your classes

Educators that teach teenagers have a unique challenge: their students want the same type of love and praise as before, but now they also want more autonomy. This means that the typical model of teachers setting the rules and students complying becomes more complicated as teenagers begin to question and challenge their teachers. What can new teachers do to ensure that they’re respecting the needs of teenagers while still maintaining a positive learning environment? What should they do when their students begin to push back or become defiant? In today’s episode, Andy Earle from Talking to Teens and I dive into the core motivations of teenage students so that teachers can frame their thinking and policies in a way that doesn’t create more frustration and overwhelm for everyone.

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Today on episode 78, I’m talking to Andy Earle from talkingtoteens.com and the Talk to Teens podcast. Since I’ve already done a couple of episodes dedicated to elementary teachers, I wanted an expert for those of us who teach teenagers. As I’ve mentioned before, a lot of what we do in the classroom in terms of policies needs to be appropriate for where our students are developmentally and socially. So I decided to ask Andy to join us and help us frame our students’ actions with the research he’s done on adolescents and teens.

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this, but I currently have a teenager in my house. While I’ve always taught seventh graders who happen to be 12-13 year-olds, having my own has been…a journey.

As expected, there was a point where my daughter and I were butting heads. I was getting frustrated with her attitude, and she was annoyed with my bossiness and for being unreasonable. In a way, we were both right.

But I was concerned that we were going to be battling like this all the way through middle school and college, which I really dreaded. I’d been used to being the one person she could talk to, and if we kept on arguing like this, I knew our relationship would be damaged.

So I frantically searched for podcasts – which are my own professional and personal development – and stumbled upon Talking to Teens. You guys, it has been a GODSEND for me. I’ve taken a lot of the advice on the podcast and I have to say that I’ve been able to not only reframe how I perceive her actions but also communicate with my daughter more effectively.

So it dawned on me that I should have Andy come on the podcast to talk about teens. He’s a researcher who studies adolescent behavior and parent-teen communication. His award-winning academic work with Loyola Marymount University’s HeadsUp Research Lab focuses on how parents and educators can positively influence defiant and rebellious teenagers. Raise your hand if you have some of those in your classes!

His findings have been featured on hundreds of websites, TV news stations, and radio programs, including CNN, NPR, and The Huffington Post. He’s the Co-Founder of TalkingtoTeens.com and the host of the Talking to Teens podcast, where he speaks with leading experts from a variety of disciplines about the art and science of parenting teenagers. His widely-anticipated book, Parent Like A Badass, is due out this December. 

So now that you know a bit about Andy, here’s my conversation with him.


Kim  

Andy, I think it’s really interesting that you specialized in researching adolescents and teens. And I even saw that some of your recent research had to do with things like underage drinking. And of course, you know, like, I want to know more about that, because I have a 13 year old. So, just out of curiosity, what drew you to this focus?

Andy  

Well, that’s a good question. I, you know, I feel like, I’ve always been interested in parenting, and kind of, I’ve been really interested in like, how we become who we are, and how we kind of develop our identity. 

And so I guess that just, I feel like a lot of our identity kind of gets formed during adolescence. And as I kind of, you know, went through college and was studying developmental psychology, and kind of just trying to figure out what I wanted to do. There was this lab at our university heads up lab, that studies risk behavior among adolescents. And I just really kind of latched onto that. Because I’d done stuff with, you know, kids in kindergarten, and grade school and studying learning among younger kids, which, which is interesting, too. 

But for me, the period of adolescence specifically is just so interesting, because it’s like the time when so many new possibilities are opening, and your life can go in any direction, and you’re kind of kind of choosing the person that you’re going to be, or making choices that really affect kind of your identity and how you see yourself. So that was fascinating to me. And, you know, a big part of that is risk risk behaviors. And a big part of what we associate with adolescence is this propensity to get engaged in risky behaviors and to do drugs, and to experiment with drinking, and it’s kind of the time of your life, when you’re maybe, you know, thinking about experimenting with those things. 

And when you’re deciding, is that can be part of my identity, you know, am I going to be someone who drinks or someone who doesn’t drink, you know, someone who uses drugs, or someone who doesn’t use drugs, all of these things, kind of are, are forming during that time. So I guess it just like a happy coincidence of getting connected with this lab that happened to be studying those things, and be kind of at the same time realizing that, hey, this is really interesting to me, and how can we design programs that will reach kids, and they know help them to make better choices during this period of their life.

Kim  

To me, as a teacher is also really interesting, which is why I prefer seventh graders, they’re going through this transition from a lot of hand holding and sixth grade. And then in seventh grade, they’re seeming to, to pull away. And you know, a lot of my listeners, they teach at the secondary level. So, you know, dealing with teenagers is constant, and I feel this push and pull with them, in terms of they want their independence, but they still want us to, you know, like bail them out when they get in trouble or ease up on them with consequences. So I’m just curious, from what you’ve learned, what do teenagers want and need from adults?

Andy  

So this kind of goes hand in hand with what I was talking about with just this time of their life, where they’re developing their identity. I think that what they what they want, what they need is to be different, you know, to, to have some help, finding the ways that they’re different, and the ways that they’re unique, and to be affirmed in that. 

And one thing that we do here is kind of try and apply studies and research that happens in academia, to actual parenting, and you know, what you can actually say to adolescence, and so we have parents come to us here, we have this, this company called talking to teens. And they come and have a lot of questions about, hey, why is my teenager doing this? And why are they acting this way? And why are they acting that way. And so we do consulting with people. And we started keeping track of all of the things that that people came in with. And one of the most, the things that parents found most helpful was this article that I written that was based on some research that shows that one of the best things you can do when you’re communicating with a teenager, is figure out what their values are, and frame, whatever you’re saying, in terms of their values. 

And so we kind of just came up with all these different values that teenagers could hold. And we did some research and we looked at the literature, what are you know, just different values, that teenagers had different identities, different things that teenagers could kind of see, see as important or see as part of who they are. And we came up with this whole list of them. And then we started just like sending that list to parents that came in for consulting and having them look at and say, hey, what resonates with you? What do you think, on this list is something that your teenager values. 

And it was interesting, because there were, you know, 10 things on this list. But there were three that kept coming back to us over and over again, as the things that parents said, Oh, yeah, that’s my teenager. That’s what my teenager values. That’s what my teenager needs. And the three things were love, independence, and power. 

As so as we saw this, I kind of it was like too strong of a pattern to ignore Kim, it was like, everybody was saying the same things. And then we started noticing that there were differences between people who came in and they said, hey, my teenager is, you know, lying to me, and they’re sneaking at night. And there, they won’t listen, anything I say, tended to say independence. And people who came in and they said, Oh, my teenagers are manipulative, and we get in arguments all the time. And they really like will challenge me would say power. And people who would come in and say that, you know, they don’t have any problems with their teenager, they’re teenagers, pretty compliant, would say lot. 

And so we started to build out this model, at where every teenager, and really every person has these three kind of core needs, at the core of their being the need for love, the need for independence, and the need for power. But the way I see it is, we kind of all have a different balance of these needs. So some people tend to need independence more, some people need power more, and some people need love more. And, you know, I think it changes across the lifespan. 

So especially in the teenagers that need for independence, the need for power, really start to take over, you know, and as a parent, finding ways to help your teenager get those things, to give those things to your teenager, or to help your teenager find ways to use their, their talents, the things that they’re good at, to fill those needs. And to get the things that they want in life is is to me, one of the most helpful things that you can do.

Kim  

That gives me a lot to think about here. Because, you know, as a teacher, when I translate love, I think that is, you know, like, well, we love our students, but also it reminds me of things like praise. So you know, I know that kids really respond to lots and lots of praise. But sometimes I personally feel like when I praise a student, especially like in the middle school time, it embarrassing some of them, and I want to let them know that they’re doing a good job, and I appreciate what they’re doing without giving them unwanted attention. So what type of praise Do you think they need? And what’s the best way to deliver it when they’re super self-conscious?

Andy  

So how would you connect this to the three core needs? And I would say different, depending on what the kids strongest needed? For a lot of teenagers, you know, for me as a teenager independence, far and away was my strongest needs still is. And so, I will respond really well. If a teacher told me, wow, I had, I’ve been teaching this class for 20 years, I have never seen someone do it that way before that is so unique. And that’s really cool. You know, if they affirmed my independence in some way, and gave me praise, that would, you know, affirm how unique and different I am. Right? 

That would that to be, but to someone, you know, who wants love, it’s more like making them feel like they belong? Wow. I just want to say, the way you contributed that discussion today, was was so cool. And it’s so cool to see that you know, that you’re just diving right in and getting involved and being like a, an integral part of this group and being a part of this team, you know, and that’s really cool to see. Right. So that would be maybe praising them in terms of love. 

Or you could praise them in terms of power and say, Hey, wow, it was really cool to see you just take charge, you know, during that activity, and I’m really, really impressed at your leadership abilities. And kind of the way that I see the see the other kids kind of look up to you a lot. And I just wanted to let you let you know how cool that is.

Kim  

Okay, so reframing it. So I guess I’d have to get to know, I’d have to learn that about my students to and seeing what they really need and what they respond to. But I like how you’re, you’re responding. Based on what they’re doing. It sounds like for more like independence and power and, and for love, it sounds like on a deeper level, like you’re praising also who they are.

Andy  

And affirming that they belong, you know, affirming, that they kind of have a role and that they’re valued, and that they’re, you know, a part of the group, I think is that’s what, you know, we all want all these things. So I don’t make it sound like oh, some people only want independence. And some only want love, I mean, we’ll need to feel like we belong. But just for some people, it’s stronger. 

For some people, they would rather feel like they belong, then feel like they’re, you know, unique and don’t need anybody, right? Some people would rather feel like, Hey, I’m totally independent and cool. And then you know, they also want to belong to, but that’s kind of secondary. So I think if we can kind of tune if you know, as it as a teacher, as a parent, if you can just start to kind of like, pick up on those clues. 

And we have a quiz on our website. You know, it’s it’s free, and it gives you a whole report on you can figure out what your what your teenager’s core needs are, and what’s their strongest need, and what’s their weakest need. And you know, what takes a couple minutes to do. 

But as a, you know, as a parent, as a teacher, you can kind of start to just like, watch for clues, and see. And I think that once you kind of start thinking about this, then it starts to get obvious, you know, you can see like, I see this kids independence get Oh, this kid who’s always acting defined in class and like challenging me, that’s a power kid, right? These kids who kind of like sit in the background are kind of like, a little more like need want my approval and you know, don’t disrupt the class, because they don’t want to have me not approve of them. They’re more love kids, whatever. So you can kind of start to pick up on those clues, I think and then tie the praise into what you see as kind of them meeting.

Kim  

So speaking of power, though, because that kind of made me think about teachers and their need to develop classroom rules in order to maintain order. You know, with the younger kids in elementary, they’ll have rules like keep your hands to your or raise your hand when you need to use the restroom. But I can see how some teenagers could see rules as part of a power struggle. So I’m curious, what kind of classroom rules would work best with teens considering their desire for power or independence or maybe even being treated more like an adult?

Andy  

So this ties into the core needs. And also into all this research by Dan Ariely on the IKEA effect, which basically shows you know, when we feel like we’ve played a part in creating something, we value it a lot more. 

And so, you know, they do these studies with like origami, little folding little birds and stuff, right? And they asked people to kind of estimate how much this thing is worth. And people say, Oh, yeah, it’s worth 50 cents. And then they take another group of people, and they teach them how to fold it themselves, step by step, and the people fold the exact same thing. And then they asked me to estimate how much it’s worth missing. Oh, it’s worth $3 or $4, right? 

We value things way more, if we feel like we kind of contributed to them. And so we, in our research, on adolescent risk taking behaviors, we kind of took this idea. And we applied it to teenagers to giving them feedback on their risk taking behaviors. And what we found is if instead of just saying, Hey, we’re going to give you feedback on your alcohol use, here’s your feedback. If we kind of like had them submit questions and say, hey, what would you be curious about finding out there, they’re curious about how much other kids are drinking, they want to know that. So 30% of the questions that they submitted, were about that. 

So we gave, we were able to give them the exact same feedback, but just let them kind of run the show a little more, and let them kind of feel like it was coming from them. And what we found is, when we looked at the data, it was a lot more impactful, they change their behavior a lot more. And, you know, they paid off attention to the feedback. 

And what I think you could do to apply this in the classroom is, and again, a lot of this stuff is more work, you know, so it’s a lot easier to just say, here’s the rules, follow them, but a lot easier to just say, Hey, here’s the feedback. Here you go. That’s why all the other researchers had done it that way. But what we what we found was, it was a lot more impactful when we kind of did this whole scenario first, and we had them submit the questions and make them feel like they had kind of contributed to it. 

So I think as a teacher, you could do something similar to that. Right? You could have to take the first day of class, and work out the rules with your class. What do you guys want me to do? If someone does this during class? Or someone does that? or someone’s not raising their hand? Or do you even care about raising hands? Do we all just want to shout things out? Do you want to be graded based on participation? Like, I’m open? You know, I want to kind of create this classroom experience with you guys. Let’s have a discussion about it. What do you like about your other classes? What do you not like about your other classes? And how could we kind of create some rules together that we could all agree on? And we can all follow? At what what would you want from me? You know, and, and if we could kind of make those together, that IKEA effect is that if we if the kids feel like they have made the rules, then they’re going to be way more likely to follow them.

Kim  

You know, actually, a lot of teachers do that they have the kids come up with classroom rules. And while others, you know, we we have our own set of rules, but from what I’ve heard, when students develop the rules with the teacher, they kind of end up being the same ones, but they like you said, they kind of feel like there’s more buy in because they thought that they came up with it themselves.

Andy  

Yeah, especially if you talk through it. I mean, because it’s like, what, what positively Are you going to make the rules be that like, oh, everyone just does whatever they want? And that’s just not a productive class, right? I mean, like that, if you if you sit down with them and talk through? Well, so what would be the pros of having there will be that, oh, and what would be the cons? And what if the role was that, you know, you’ll arrive at basically the same general thing as you would have, if you just said, here’s the rules. But, you know, the classes going to feel much more like, Hey, this is ours, you know,

Kim  

On your podcast, you talk a lot about parents setting boundaries, with their, with their child with their teenager and and I started thinking about things like consequences in terms of what actually works, because there comes a point. And I’ve told a lot of teachers about this, if you’re just a mean teacher that yells all the time, then when you are actually upset, it doesn’t affect the students anymore. Because they’ve sort of become anesthetize to that, you know, they they’re just like, well, that’s just your talking voice. So then what I wonder is, how can we give consequences that actually matter? And I don’t mean punishments, but I mean, consequences when they break the rules?

Andy  

Yeah, I think that’s a great question. I would just, I mean, I’ll just tie it right back into, on that discussion that we have on the first day class at what, what should the consequences be? What should we do? If someone does x? Was we do someone knows? Why what should we do if someone’s, you know, being disruptive?

Kim 

And I wonder, though, if you’ve experienced anything like this, or had anyone talk to you about this, how do parents feel? Or how do students feel? Or is it effective when we call home? So if we say, you know, I got to call your parents, when they’re getting up into sophomore, junior senior year, is that even something that works for the students or, you know, to help them, I guess, comply or fall in line?

Andy  

Sure, you know, every student is different, I would go back to those core needs, and say, if they’re high in love, then that would maybe be possibly effective. If they’re high independence, that’s going to maybe backfire. If they’re high in power, then that might start a real argument and power struggle. 

In general, I think teens respond really well when you treat them like an adult. And you would never call an adults parents and say, Hey, this is a problem, you would just talk to them about it. Right. So it obviously in certain circumstances, you know, you have to I guess it depends on what the schools policy is. But yeah, I would, I would just always try to first address it with the kid and the teenager, and see, see what you can do you know, because once you call the parents, then that feels like, Hey, you went over my head and like, why don’t you just talk to me about it, and like, what we got to work this out. And then there’s going to be a lot of resentment there. And it’s really going to damage I think your relationship with that student,

Kim  

Something that a teacher who had switched from elementary to eighth grade, something that she had noticed was just how more unmotivated students seem to be in their teenage years. Can you explain that apathy and how we can address that?

Andy  

That’s one of the biggest comments we get from parents, too. My teenager is so lazy, and is checking out and doesn’t do their homework, I can’t get him to get a job, I can’t get him to stop playing video games, I can’t get him to get off the couch, they’re not engaged in anything, it’s driving me crazy, they won’t do your chores will help out on house. They’re completely unmotivated, what do we do? I know, it’s not going to happen for all teenagers. 

But I think this ties into the need for independence, what teenagers are trying to do is form their own identity. And if they feel like you’re trying to push a certain identity on them, and if they’re high independence, they’re going to fiercely resistant. And there’s a whole bunch of studies on this concept called psychological reactants, which is basically just reverse psychology. 

You know, it’s like, if you tell someone to do X, they’re going to resist that, if you if someone feels like their autonomy is being threatened by you, then they’re going to try to do the opposite of whatever you’re suggesting that they do. And for teenagers, it’s, it’s really, really strong, right? 

They’ve got that that need for independence, flares up really strong during the teenage years. And if you’re trying to suggest a certain identity for them, and well, maybe that’s not who I am, that’s not who I want to be right, they’re going to resist it. And so a lot of times that these parents that are, that are having problems with, you know, my teenagers lazy, are parents who are really gogo motivated, right, their parents, like their parents who just I just don’t get it, because in our family, you know, we’re everyone is so much and we’re so we’re such go getters and that’s what I always try to teach my team that you need to be is, you know, you need to be you to be rah, rah rah, go, go go. 

Well, of course, the teenager doesn’t want your identity, they want their own identity. So if the identity that you’re trying to push on them is motivated, motivated, rah, rah, rah, the only option for them is to do the opposite, that there’s no other way for them to differentiate and to become their own person and have their own identity, then to literally just do the opposite of what you’re pushing them to do. And especially if you’re their parent, it’s a really strong drive, right? So the more you say, hey, you’re unmotivated, you’re lazy. Be more like me, right? 

Essentially, the more they’re going to kick it, dig in their heels and kick their feet and say, no, that’s not who I am. You don’t get me, that’s not where I want to be. I don’t want to be you. I don’t want to do that. Right. And so I think the same thing happens with Teachers happens in the classroom.

Kim  

And what do you usually tell the parents in terms of, you know, reframing their mindset or ways that they talk to teenagers, when their own teenager is apathetic or pushing back for independence.

Andy  

I think you just got to stop making them feel like you’re pushing them towards a certain way, you need to make them feel like you really don’t care. You like, what you want most for them is to discover who they are. And for them to be the person that they’re becoming. And if that’s not the same as me, that is totally fine. If you decide you just want to sit on the couch all day and chill. Totally fine, right? You, you need to first teenagers need to feel like they’re completely accepted, and like you understand them, and you get why they want to be the way that they are.

And then you can start to slowly kind of steer them with natural consequences, I think it just comes down to natural consequences, where if they’re going to be lazy and sit on the couch, then they’re probably not gonna have money to do X, Y, Z, or they’re probably, you know, they’re not going to get other some other thing that they may be wanted, because they can’t afford it, or they didn’t hold up their end of the deal that you made, which was you know, if you get A’s, then you get whatever, right? 

I think completely accept them, and you give them love, but you, you know, are firm in whatever the consequences are. And if the consequence is that, you know, they don’t get something that they wanted, then they’re going to maybe learn a lesson. But you’re not going to be like, haha, told you so, you know, you’re gonna be like, Ah, it’s so hard. I hate it when I don’t get the things that I want, you know, I really sucks.

Kim  

So I can just look at a student sitting there. And if they’re not doing their work, they’re slouched in their seat, and I asked them do their work and they don’t, then that natural consequence could be something like, okay, you know, that’s fine. You don’t have to do the work right now. But just understand that you’re going to get a zero for this, but you’re making that choice.

Andy  

Yeah, totally. Hey, bud. I get it. Man. I used to man when I was your age, I used to hate these kind of assignments. Man, I get it. Right, I feel you on this one. And if you want to just sit this one out. Okay, no problem. And, you know, but we as a class member, we set the syllabus. And so this assignment is, you know, we decided as a classes, were going to be worth 5% your grade. 

I don’t care if we get zero for it. I don’t want to force you to do stuff you don’t want to do but I also don’t want to waste your time. Just giving them the autonomy to decide if they want to do it or not, and kind of empathizing with them. I think empathy is really big, if they understand if they feel like you understand how they feel, or they feel like you kind of see them, then they’re more likely to kind of go along, right?

Kim  

Is it the same thing with defiance to like, if you ask them to do something, and they kind of laugh it off with their friends. I’ve heard of teachers in, especially in some tougher classrooms where they’ll say, I need you to sit down, please. And that student will look at their friend across the room. And they all start laughing together and being more disruptive, or, you know, the pretend to stop, but then sneakily do it again? Is it just one of those things where you just have to give them the natural consequences? Or would you talk to them one on one, like, what are they vying for at that point when they’re having that struggle with the teacher?

Andy  

Okay, so what I would say to this is, yes, teenagers have these three core needs love, independence and power, but we also do to adults have them just as much as a teacher you have needs. And if you have a need for power, then you like to be in control of the classroom, and you like everyone to be doing things that they’re supposed to do, like you said, like, what the schedule is like, what this on task, right? 

So if you have a kid who’s high in power, also, then there’s going to be some really strong conflicts when we have a parent of a high power parent and a high power kid, or high power teacher and a high power kid, that is a recipe for some really explosive conflicts. I think you have to be honest with yourself, Why do you care that this student is doing what they’re doing? If they’re not disrupting anybody else? If they’re not, like, stopping other people from being able to learn, then maybe you just let it go, and maybe just, you know, let those natural consequences happen?

Kim  

And would you do the same thing, because with swearing because it’s something that even for me as a parent, like it’s an issue. In fact, my daughter even asked me, you know, how old do I have to be before I can start swimming? And I hear kids starting from seventh grade on, you know, starting to swear. And I’m wondering, what, what is that? Why, what can we as adults do to kind of curb that, especially because it’s obviously not appropriate at school? I kind of don’t care what happens when they leave the school. But you know, what’s, what’s going on with that?

Andy  

We need to come up with a real reason why we care if they’re swearing, and it can’t just be like, because we’re not supposed to. Teenagers just don’t like to go along with rules, if there’s no reason for them, or if they seem pointless. So there’s, I’m sure there’s good reason for not swearing. But if I’m a teenager, and it’s just like, the rule is we don’t swear, then I’m like, well, screw that. I’m aware, you know.

Kim  

So you have a blog, and a podcast, and two books right now. And then you have a third book coming out. So can you tell us more about that?

Andy  

We’ve been doing this podcast now for coming up on two years, is called Talking to Teens. And we interview parenting authors and experts about kind of their special strategies for dealing with teenagers. And then I kind of try and talk them through this stuff from their book, different situations, and really try to get like actionable like exactly what parents can do to handle different situations. 

Because what we found in helping parents out, is that kind of the most helpful thing that parents want, is scripts of just exactly what I could say, if my teenager is doing x, y, z, you know, what, what can I say? And just like, now, I can’t help it. Like, as we’ve been talking for the past hour, I’ve been giving, you know, scripts for Teachers, I would say, hey, you could sit down with a kid and say, This isn’t okay. Right. I’ve been receiving complaints from others. But I’ve been talking and scripts, because what we found is that parents far and away, say that’s the most helpful thing is just like examples of what you could say. 

So once we realized that, I also realized that during a lot of our interviews, there were scripts in there, the experts had said, examples of things you could say, just like we’ve been doing here on this podcast. So what I did was I went back through all of our previous interviews and pulled out everywhere in our hours and hours of interviews that we’ve done all of the different scripts, and I compiled them into a book. 

And so there’s over 200 pages of them every possible situation that you could possibly want to deal with a teenager. And there’s like word for word scripts, of exactly what you could say, different examples. And this is not me making it up. This is from all kinds of different experts all over the world. 

So that’s the first book, it’s, you know, the scripts book, you can find that on our website, talking to teens calm, then then the second one is exercise, because what we also found is, parents, a lot of times have the best intent to apply this stuff. But then they don’t follow through with it. It’s the hardest part is like actually implementing it. So we went through and we found all of the things that people we’re recommending that parents do, and we turn it into an exercise so that you write it down. And then you commit to a day, you know, when are you going to do this with your teenager, and what exactly you’re going to do, and you write that down, and kind of make a commitment to yourself, and then put it into your calendar to just kind of force you to actually follow through. So those books are both available on our website. 

And we have a membership program, which gets you access to the extended cuts of our interviews with parents and also gets you those books for half off. So you can check that out. And like I mentioned, there’s a quiz on our website that will let you kind of discover what your teenagers core needs are based on that coordinates thing. And we’ll give you a a nice little PDF that is all about your teenager and their needs. 

And the new book that’s coming out in December is going to be really excited about it. It’s where you can kind of learn the ins and outs of this core needs theory that I’ve been talking about the three knees and there’s a whole nother aspect to it, which is what your teenagers aptitudes or skills are. And what we found is what teenagers want to do is to fill their needs, using their skills. So once you can know what their needs are, and you can know where their skills are, and you can see where they’re misbehaving or were having problems, then what you can go ahead and do is just find better ways for them to fill their needs, using their skills. And it’s a really cool system, the book is going to be called parent like a badass, and it’s coming out in December.

Kim  

Nice. That sounds awesome kind of a way for parents to figure this out on their own without having to necessarily go to therapy. If they just could reframe it, reframe how their students or their child is behaving, then they could probably communicate better with them. Awesome. Now, if my listeners want to connect with you for more information, where can they find you?

Andy  

So you can find us on Instagram at talkingtoteenspodcast, and we love to hear from people and always I love to hear from parents go just email me Andy@talkingtoteens.com.

Kim  

Well thank you so much, Andy, for taking the time to do this. I really appreciate it.

Andy  

Thank you, Kim. This has been a blast. And you know, I hope that some teachers out there find it helpful. I feel like there’s some parallels. So I really hope that it wasn’t a it’s not a waste of people’s time.

Kim  

No, definitely parallels there. Thank you.


I definitely think that Andy’s tapped into a lot of insights about teens that teachers can benefit from. So here are my takeaways.

First, teenagers tend to fall within three categories: a need for love, independence, or power. Their specific need or desire will influence how they interact with adults. So teachers need to observe and try to read their students to figure out what that need is for each student, and they’ll be able to understand what’s motivating that student to behave that way.

Also, autonomy for teens equals buy-in. When you let teens feel like they’re part of the decision-making process or they have some say, they feel respected and more likely to be cooperative. They’re at that point in their lives when they don’t want to be babied and just told what to do because we’re the adults and they’re not.

Finally, treating teens like adults helps teachers maintain relationships with students. But having the freedom to act like an adult also means adult consequences. If they want more freedom, then they have to accept the fact that their teachers aren’t going to bail them out, make excuses for them, or give them multiple passes when they mess up. I can only imagine that the hardest part is letting them make mistakes or fail so that they can learn and grow. But in the long run, they’ll benefit from that experience.

I hope you found this episode useful, especially if you teach teens or have one of your own like I do. If you’re enjoying the show and want to support it, then head over to teachersneedteachers.com/support. For just $5 a month, you can help keep the show alive and running, and as a thank you I’ll give you a shoutout on a future podcast episode and social media, plus I’ll send you some swag.

Thanks again for hanging out with me today, and have a fabulous week!

TnT 77 How to plan so you’re teaching everything you’re supposed to

For many new teachers, lesson planning ALONE is a huge source of stress and anxiety. Not only is there a billion other things to do as a teacher, but there’s the tiny detail of knowing how and what to plan. Yes, you definitely learned about it and even did some practice lesson plans. But now that you’re faced with your own students (and possibly teaching a grade that you weren’t prepared for), it’s a whole new ballgame. In this episode, I don’t tell you how to plan – I explain the mindset and big-picture view of planning an entire year, then down to quarters, units, and daily lessons.

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Some of you may remember me mentioning this, but when I switched from teaching band to English, I had a friend, Deb, who gave me everything she ever used to teach 7th-grade English. She actually vouched for me when we were convincing my principal to let me switch over. Deb ended up switching to 8th grade English and I took her spot. And since she was such a strong teacher, I definitely wanted EVERYTHING so that I wouldn’t have to start from scratch.

I can’t express enough how helpful it was to have all of her materials. It gave me an idea of what I should be teaching, how to teach it, how long I should take, and what to expect from my 7th-grade students. Over time, I tweaked those lessons based on my teaching style and student population, and eventually, I stopped. But they were a really good basis for figuring out HOW to teach English.

What I didn’t get from the beginning was a big-picture view of where my students needed to go. Because of this, they could do random skills well, but not enough to put them together successfully and produce a quality product. So today I want to go over how to do that so that your lessons and planning don’t feel aimless and haphazard.

Map out the year by starting with the end in mind

Use a regular calendar that shows the days in each month, not a planner with daily pages.

Take out any curriculum or pacing guides that you MUST use plus a list of your content-level standards

On your calendar, write down holidays, breaks, and other non-student days

Also write down any finals, other assessments, and state testing

Decide which SKILLS the most important. Notice I didn’t say standards. That comes later. First, I want you to get really clear on what you want your students to be able to demonstrate knowledge of and skill in.

For me, I focus on writing and literary analysis standards. I want my students to be able to write a RACE paragraph, either for literature or nonfiction. I want them to have a solid topic sentence for each body paragraph, evidence that directly supports that topic sentence, and an explanation of how each piece of evidence supports and is relevant to the topic. I want them to write an introduction that contains a hook, a preview of the topic, and a thesis statement. Those are just my top writing skills, and there are obviously literature ones, but I won’t go into those.

In real life, I want my students to be able to communicate their thoughts effectively through writing. That means that I want them to write coherent sentences, stay away from too many cliches and idioms, support their thoughts and assertions with evidence, explain why the reader should care, use higher-level and content-specific vocabulary when necessary, and do all of this in a coherent way.

To me, if they can do that in a variety of situations (especially ones that aren’t in English class), then I’ve succeeded.

My point is that you need to write down what you want your students to be able to walk away doing well. When they leave your grade and move onto the next, what do you want the next teacher to marvel at what your students can do? What do they need to be able to do in order to be successful in the next grade?

As teachers, we continually pass the baton to the next teacher in our subject, so we have to be sure to properly prepare them for what’s next.

So really get your head around what your students should be able to do by the end of the year. Then think about how you want them to demonstrate that. Some kind of culminating project or summative assessment, and you’ll most likely want to do this multiple times a year. I like to have something once a quarter so that I can continually assess their progress.

Some of you may already be thinking that this task can be a multiple-guess test. I challenge you to think beyond that and choose something where students demonstrate thinking like a professional in your subject area. This means they can think like a historian and demonstrate it. Think like a scientist and demonstrate it. Think like someone who uses math every day and demonstrate it.

THEN you look at the standards and you hone in on the ones that are necessary to complete these culminating tasks. You and I know that not all are equally important. You want to choose the ones that you know need repeating and building throughout the year so that they can reach that ultimate goal before the end of the year.

Below each summative assignment, write down all of the necessary standards that you have to teach in order for your students to successfully complete the assignment.

The beautiful thing is that you’ll be repeating or spiraling certain standards, and hopefully those are the ones that are the most important to your subject area.

After you’ve done that, take a look at what’s leftover. I will be completely honest and admit that I don’t get to every standard, and many of my colleagues are in the same boat. It’s not that we’re lazy, it’s just that there are so many more important things that we want to teach in-depth rather than taking a tour of all of the standards. You can probably squeeze some of the other standards in a bell-ringer, something to do on a minimum day, or something similar.

For example, I really don’t have time to dive into affixes, but it’s a standard I need to cover. So once in a while, my students will see these in their warmups, and I’ll sneak in a quick mini-lesson. I in no way feel guilty about this, and neither should you!

What if you’re new and you have NO IDEA about what students should be able to do? Simple – just ask. Ask your colleagues in your department. Take to Twitter and social media and ask. Go on Teachers Pay Teachers and see what types of activities other teachers in your same grade and subject are doing. While you’ll get a variety of answers, this will at least give you some ideas.

I have colleagues who are very reading-heavy and spend the majority of the time studying novels. They write as needed to complete analysis, but writing happens instead of it being the focus. I, on the other hand, am very writing-focused, and the readings revolve around the writing. I prefer short stories so that students have opportunities to practice writing for different situations. I like the repetition of skills within the context and have personally found that there are fewer opportunities with class novels.

Breaking it down into units

The next part is figuring out how you’re going to teach those standards that lead to skills. So you’ll want to start with whole units of study.

For me, one short story will be a unit of study. I’ll decide within each story what I want them to be able to learn and demonstrate, and which previous skills will be repeated. So I slightly review something we’ve done before like writing with the RACE format, and add levels of complexity.

I was lucky to have my Deb’s resources, but If I were starting out teaching English this year, I would immediately take to TpT. Some of you feel compelled to create everything because you only have the boring worksheets from your curriculum, and it’s ridiculously stressful. Now, there are so many resources that you can supplement or eventually replace those.

If you like what’s provided for you, then definitely use those. DON’T TRY TO WRITE NEW LESSONS! This may be a controversial statement, but as I’ve mentioned before, when you’re starting out, you don’t know what works and what doesn’t. So use other people’s lessons, whether it’s with your textbook or from a colleague, and spend your energy focusing on delivering the lesson smoothly, on classroom management, on being engaging, on checking for understanding, on pacing…pretty much on giving the lesson.

After a couple of times using that lesson, you’ll be able to determine if the thinking and method behind it is sound, if it works for your population, and if you’ll need to tweak or scrap it. But I really recommend NOT creating everything from scratch your first few years. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, will judge you for using other people’s lessons and ideas.

So back to breaking it down into units. Remember that you have your big culminating activities, and before that, you need larger units with their own smaller culminating activity, and then lessons within those units to teach and practice the skill.

For me, we have a culminating activity in November where students have to write an informative essay. The essay needs to have an introduction, 2-3 body paragraphs, and a conclusion. So my PLC starts out with teaching how to write the body paragraphs, which involves teaching them the RACE format. Our students will first do a preassessment so that we can get a feel for their writing. Then we dive into reading both fiction and nonfiction texts where we practice answering questions and pulling out evidence to support our answers.

After practicing that, we teach them the RACE format so that they can see how it all goes together. We practice the RACE format for a while before moving on to writing introductions.

Do you see how we break up each part, going from simple to more complex? But in order to get to the daily lessons, I first had to work backwards. For each step, I had to ask, What do my students need to know and be able to do in order to successfully do this on their own? When I came up with skills, I asked the same question for each of those skills.

Then you find lessons to teach those. Some skills can be taught together, some need multiple lessons or days, while others are quick. This is why I suggest you use other people’s lessons that have been tested so that you can focus on pacing and checking for understanding.

Deciding how to teach the skill

You’re finally ready to break it down into what you do day by day. If you’re heeding my advice, you’re not creating these daily lessons but are instead using other people’s lessons.

You want to guesstimate how long each lesson will take and see what you can fit in. Since you’re just starting out, you want to over-plan each day with the intent of moving the last activity to the next day. OR you can add another activity on the same skill or a review of the previous skill. Either way, have more than what you think you need.

Also, decide when you’re going to give a formative or informal assessment. This is basically just checking to see if you can move on. It doesn’t have to be something that they’ve turned in, and I really don’t recommend putting this in the gradebook. Students shouldn’t be penalized for practicing a skill. Can you imagine if whether or not you win the Superbowl depends on how you did in practice? Or if your teacher pay was tied to the grades you got in your teacher prep program or undergrad in general?

When you’re deciding on which lessons to use, ask yourself whether or not the lesson actually gives students an opportunity to practice the skill. I’ve seen worksheets where students have to fill in the blank based on a textbook or presentation. While it may ensure that they’re paying attention, it’s kind of a waste of mental energy. Look for lessons where they can have some practice but then apply what they just practiced.

Also, you don’t have to have students do all of the exercises. If there are 20 questions and your students are getting it in 10, you don’t have to have them complete everything. Or maybe save the other 10 for them to do as a review later.

And decide which assignments will actually count toward the grade and are indications of learning versus just practice. Remember that in past episodes I’ve warned against grading EVERYTHING. Just assess over their shoulder during class time and practice, and grade the stuff that really has them demonstrate the skill on their own.

Before you teach the lesson, have at least two days’ worth of materials ready just in case they finish early.

During the lesson

Is lesson delivery part of lesson planning? You bet! You have to constantly assess throughout the lesson whether or not it’s going as planned, how your students are doing, if they’re staying engaged, whether or not the students can do some of the exercises independently, if it’s taking longer than you’d planned or if they’re flying through everything.

When you’re ready to teach the lesson, have an outline written down that you can refer to. Be aware of what students are struggling with or that they’re getting right away. If they’re struggling, slow down, reteach, add more I do, we do, you do. If their attention is lagging, add in more cooperative learning or a think-pair-share. If they’re getting frustrated, regroup and reteach. If they’re flying through it, don’t give them all of the exercises and move on (which you can do since you have the next day’s materials).

After each day, take a few minutes to write down what did and didn’t work. Another teacher taught me to write on a post-it what to keep and change for next time. That way when I’m planning the next year, I’ll know ahead of time and won’t make the same mistakes. I now do this in the Notes app if I’m teaching something new.

I know this was a lot to take in, but I think this is really important. You can beg, borrow, or buy lesson plans, but knowing how to put them together in a cohesive way is another monster. I really, really wish I’d known HOW to do this when I started out. And since I’m still encouraging you to use other people’s lessons, knowing how to put together the pieces to complete the puzzle is all that you need to focus on in the beginning.

As you teach and become comfortable with this or having your yearly mapping done, you can start to see what you need in your lessons based on your students and style of teaching. THEN you can start creating your own or using other people’s lessons as inspiration or a launching point. So if you get this big picture stuff down first, your ability to really improve your students’ knowledge and abilities in your class will improve greatly.

I’ll go over how to plan an individual lesson in a future episode, but for now, you can go to Episode 27 where I interview Laura Kebart and we discuss how to plan with differentiation in mind.

I hope that you found today’s packed episode useful, and don’t forget to complete the survey if you haven’t yet. It’s at teachersneedteachers.com/survey.

Thanks for making it to the end, and have a great week!

TnT 76 How to upgrade your group work strategy

Many teachers have students work in groups on assignments, but there are also quite a few that limit it. They don’t like the potential for chaos and bad behaviors, so for the most part, they avoid it. However, it’s impossible to keep students on-task and in silence for an entire class period. Those students may seem like they’re paying attention but are in fact playing the role of a student who’s working. They’re tuning out from the lack of opportunity to talk to their peers. This is where group work also helps!

In this episode, I discuss the pros and cons of cooperative learning, as well as my tips for how to make it not only just WORK in your classroom but increases student achievement.

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Today in episode 76, I’m discussing how to get students to successfully work cooperatively with their peers. This is just a fancy way of working in groups! Many teachers have students work in groups on assignments, but there are also quite a few that limit it. They don’t like the potential for chaos and bad behaviors, so for the most part, they avoid it. In this episode, I’ll discuss the pros and cons of cooperative learning, as well as my tips for how to make it not only just WORK in your classroom but increases student achievement.

I’m definitely excited to do this episode for you because I truly believe in the power of group work. I’ve even converted reluctant teachers who now have fully embraced it.

It’s impossible to keep students on-task and in silence for an entire class period. Those students may be playing the role of a student who’s working, but in reality, they’re tuning out from the lack of opportunity to talk to their peers.

BENEFITS OF COOPERATIVE LEARNING

  • Multiple brains are better than one. Students struggle through an activity and fill in each other’s gaps in knowledge
  • Teach each other. Students inadvertently teach each other and help clear up misunderstandings
  • Productive struggle. When students are trying to problem-solve together, there’s a sense of we’re in this together that helps them push through
  • Life skills. It’s obviously important to be able to work with other people. While there are solo jobs especially in a gig economy, everyone has to work with others at some point in their adult lives.
  • Tolerance. It can be hard to work with someone that you don’t get along with, but you have to learn how to compromise. Students learn this well in groups

CONS OF COOPERATIVE LEARNING

  • More assertive or alpha students take over. Even if that person is incorrect, they want to lead and have everyone follow them, even if it’s off a cliff
  • One person could end up doing all of the work, and not always by choice.
  • Depending on the grouping, a student could end up having to teach the content to everyone and not be stretched or challenged.
  • Can be difficult to manage. Some teachers are uncomfortable with the controlled chaos involved with any type of group work.
  • Not all students can handle it. For some students, the moment you have them do group work, they want to goof off.
  • Introverts don’t have a say. They often either secretly work alone or get pushed around in a group.

So you have to decide if a certain assignment would benefit from cooperative learning or not.

For me, when students are first learning a skill or concept, we do it together as a class, and then they work on it in groups. When everyone is fumbling around trying to work it out, it’s less threatening if they make a mistake. So a lot of class time is spent on working cooperatively in groups.

In terms of grouping, 3-5 work best. Fewer than 3 is just either a partner or working individually, and more than 5 is a mess. Someone always seems to be left behind and forgotten larger groups, so keep the size manageable.

In terms of how to group students, I’ve observed a few things.

First, I think it’s important to give introverts a choice with whom they work. It’s already exhausting for them to interact so much, but they’ll have an easier time speaking up if they’re friendly with their group members. In fact, there have time been times when I’ve grouped them together. It felt strange and I felt bad because everyone around them was talking excitedly while working. I thought they weren’t as engaged. But upon talking to them, they were really grateful to be able to have the headspace to work without a more gregarious group member taking over or talking endlessly.

Something else to consider is grouping students by ability. This is probably controversial and you’re thinking, seriously Kim? But hear me out. We’ve ALL been in a situation where there is a low, medium, and high student in each group. The higher-level students tend to take over and resent having to teach everything to or slow down for the other students. The lower students are too embarrassed to ask for help because of all of the students that “get it” and are taking the lead on the conversation.

But if you group by ability, you can differentiate accordingly. So if you have a lower group, you could do small group instruction or review and scaffold accordingly. If you have groups that excel, you can give them supplementary work to stretch them.

Regardless of which you choose, PLEASE don’t punish your conscientious students by putting a problem student next to them. It really sucks for them and they’ll resent you for it. The more studious student will also be stifled by the lower-level student. It makes sense though, since that higher student has to slow down and reexplain things. It probably seems like suicide to put more disruptive students with their disruptive peers, but you can still put them in a different group that 1) is more on their level, and 2) would be willing to advocate for themselves.

When it’s time for me to assess their progress, they work alone. I don’t grade group work, only work they do alone. This is so that a student doesn’t just copy what everyone else says and pass it off as their own. I need to see what their level of proficiency is, and that’s mainly what I put in my gradebook.

If you are going to have your students work in groups, know the difference between cooperative and collaborative work. If they’re working together but producing their own work on their own worksheet or device, then it’s cooperative. If all members are contributing to a final product together, then it’s collaborative.

If they’re doing collaborative work, how will you track who did what? What I love about using Google Classroom to disseminate assignments is you can track who edits. So if all students are working on a presentation in Google Slides, you can see who did what.

I also recommend having students put their name on the products that they create themselves or specifically worked on. So this would mean that if I worked on slides 3, 12, and 22, then those slides would have my name either directly on them or in the speaker notes.

You also want to check in with them every day to see who’s accomplishing what. Keep a clipboard or an online spreadsheet for keeping track. You could assign daily points if that makes it easier.

Plan out how the work will be divided. Students don’t naturally know how to do that, and either the alpha will take over or the students will waste time with indecisiveness. So split up the different tasks for them and then let them decide who is going to do what. A way of keeping everyone working is to have an individual part that all students must work on, a partner section, and then maybe checking/assessing somebody else’s. So each person contributes their own plus a collaborative effort.

Make it so that you can grade in a fair way. You might consider assigning an individual part, like a reflection, research, or analysis that you grade based on your standards or skills. Then have them apply that part to the group project, which can be worth less since you don’t really know who did it.

A lot of teachers like to assign roles in groups, such as a scribe, timekeeper, materials person, leader, etc. If you do go this route, assign roles that are meaningful. For example, if students are working on a collaborative project, a timekeeper can be handy, but a product checker is a boring job if they don’t get to do anything until the end. 

If you’re going to go this route, it helps to have visuals so that students can regularly refer back to what their role is. This means some kind of poster or handout that describes the role. You then want to check in regularly to be sure that students are following their roles. It takes some training, but students get the hang of it quickly.

My students mainly work cooperatively and are discussing together but working individually, so I don’t give out roles. I’ve tried using roles in collaborative groups, but I find that some students get stuck with a role because they spoke up last, or they forget that they have a role and just dive into the conversation. 

Whether or not students have roles, it’s important that they come up with norms. You can either do this as a class or have each group do it. Reminding them of these norms helps with accountability and staying on-task. Some good norms involve staying on task, contributing fully, or putting your full effort into your part of the assignment.

Just as teachers need norms when working together, so do our students. They too would rather socialize, doodle, or play games. Many teachers are on their phone, grading, or playing games during PD or staff meetings (you KNOW you’ve seen someone do it!). So teach students how to set norms and self-monitor to see if they’re following them.

If you have students that refuse to work with their group, deal with them individually. I actually find this a lot in my accelerated classes. Those students tend to like to work alone because they can get their work done faster. However, faster isn’t often better and those students make mistakes without knowing it. They only find out if we correct the assignment in class or in a week or two when I return the assignment. So talk to those individuals and not in front of their group.

You may find that you also have a student that demands to have their own way and won’t cooperative unless they get it. While I appreciate their passion for their opinion, these students might need to work individually on that assignment for certain parts. You also need to talk to them and coach them on how to be a good group member.