Alan Stanfield, the assistant principal of Glacier High School, with his family in Kalispell, MT.

The Flathead Valley is a beautiful place to live, and I am privileged and grateful to be part of a strong and vibrant educational community here in Kalispell. However, we face a housing market and cost-of-living reality that makes it very difficult to attract new and qualified teachers because Montana’s starting annual teacher pay is among the lowest in the country.

We need to find ways that incentivize and attract the best and brightest of our college-age students to see the field of education as attainable and rewarding. If this does not happen in tangible ways, we will continue to struggle to fill all the vacancies that we face in the years ahead.

While the hiring struggle isn’t new, it has become much worse. In the wake of the pandemic and the burnout that many in education are experiencing, more than half of teachers are looking to leave education, with schools serving students experiencing poverty and students of color hit the hardest. For principals, it’s not much better. According to a nationally representative survey that NASSP released in August, half of school leaders claim their stress level is so high they are considering a career change or retirement.

As resignations pile up and applications drop off, our leaders in Washington must tackle the teacher shortage, which is now a full-blown crisis. Passing the Loan Forgiveness for Educators Act, recently introduced by Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) and Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-NM), would be a crucial first step in finally building a sustainable educator pipeline, especially where it’s needed most.

The act, which provides full student loan forgiveness to educators who teach for five years in high-need schools, will give prospective educators the necessary financial assistance to enter and stay in the classroom. Sky-high debt and extremely low pay are two of the main obstacles to maintaining an excellent teacher workforce. More than two-thirds of those who work in education take out between $20,000 and $50,000 in student loans, and they often earn salaries too low to cover the cost of repayment. Given that teachers earn 30% less by the middle of their careers than others with college degrees, thousands of hopeful educators have had to make the difficult choice between the job they love and one that pays the bills.

Two best friends from my certification program, who were just as passionate about teaching as I was (and still am), did the math and realized they could not afford to be teachers. Our program required that we teach during the day and take classes at night, making it all but impossible to work while studying. We had no choice but to take out loans to pay for our school—and our survival.

My friend who dreamed of being a history teacher realized what a life of perpetual debt would look like and decided to study an extra year to fulfill the credit requirements for a career in medicine. After a few happy years in the classroom, my other friend found he had to pursue another profession to give his family the life he thought they deserved. While their careers took many turns, they ultimately arrived in positions that allowed them to teach, one at a university and the other as a pastor. Both gifted teachers, they had to pursue their passions outside of the classroom to make ends meet. They have often cited their loans as the reason they had to leave their preferred vocations. 

For borrowers like me who stayed in education, the Loan Forgiveness for Educators Act would have allowed me to remain in a hard-to-staff school. I started my career in eastern Oregon, serving the children of ranchers and migrant workers. Everything that happens in a town like that is centered around the school, and I loved my role as a pillar of the community and working with students who had such a need and thirst for learning. (Being 30 minutes from the ski slopes didn’t hurt either.) Despite renting a small trailer to live in, my $33,000 salary didn’t stretch far. Eventually, I had to take a higher-paying teaching position in a city. Yet, despite my new job and because of my debt, my wife and I had to delay buying a home and having children, something we were only able to do with financial support from her family.

A career in education shouldn’t require a lifetime of sacrifice, driving talented teacher candidates into other fields and creating financial hardship for those who decide to stick it out to help our students. Experts know that loan forgiveness programs that cover all or most of the price tag for quality educator preparation are powerful tools to recruit diverse and talented teachers and principals. Our representatives must follow the research and listen to the calls from educators and pass the Loan Forgiveness for Educators Act now. Perhaps then school leaders like me can focus on supporting the teachers we already have rather than searching for new ones our students desperately need.

Alan Stanfield is the assistant principal of Glacier High School in Kalispell, MT.


National Education Association. (2022, February 1). NEA survey: Massive staff shortages in schools leading to educator burnout; alarming number of educators indicating they plan to leave the profession.

Podolsky, A. & Kini T. (2016, April 26). How effective are loan forgiveness and service scholarships for recruiting teachers? Learning Policy Institute.,that%20programs%20that%20provide%20small


Text NASSP to 52886 to send a prewritten message to your members of Congress urging them to pass the Loan Forgiveness for Educators Act! It only takes a moment to make the voices of school leaders heard on Capitol Hill. Join us!