Student Debt: Sometimes it feels like an endless cycle

“If I could go back and talk to 18-year-old Todd, I’d give him some pointers.”

That’s how Todd Ratica puts it when he talks about his choice to take on student debt. When he was 18, he knew he wanted to go to a college where he could play baseball and get a great education. He ended up at a small private college where he majored in education. He received some scholarship money, but not enough to cover all his expenses , so he took on student loans.


It’s a common story in this country. Student debt owed by American households has tripled in the past 15 years. It has outpaced home, credit card and auto debt.

Todd wanted to be a teacher. It took some time. Graduating during the economic recession held back many millennial professionals like Todd. He returned to his hometown of Cleveland and worked at the lawn and garden department in a Walmart. Finally, a teaching job opened up.

“My starting salary as a teacher was $29,000,” Todd remembers. “After taxes, that was about $2,000 a month, and my student loans were $1,000 a month. It was hard to cover rent, groceries, other bills.”

That struggle has continued throughout his teaching career. Over the years, he’s been granted forbearance — like when his 10-year-old PT Cruiser broke down, or a brief respite while he tackled other financial crises — but then it’s back to loan payments. Sometimes it feels like an endless cycle to him. He watches his cost of living rise while his paycheck barely budges.

“I’m living paycheck to paycheck. It’s a struggle for me and other teachers. I don’t take vacations. I work three jobs.”

Todd is not just a social studies teacher. He also works security at a bar in Cleveland. In the springtime, he picks up a third job as a high school baseball coach.

“It seems backward that teachers make so little money but this job is so important,” Todd says in frustration. “Kids are our future. They’re the people who are going to be running our country someday. It hinders our country as a whole. By putting great teachers in classrooms and paying them competitive wages, it will help the kids and make our country successful.”

Todd was gracious enough to share his story because he knows it is not unique. If you struggle with student debt, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans are weighed down by this system. At the AFT, we believe that reclaiming the promise of higher education means making sure that a college education is accessible and affordable for all students.

Photo Caption: Todd (middle) with his assistant coaches

If you work in the public sector, you may be eligible for student debt forgiveness.

The AFT holds student debt clinics for our members. If you’re an AFT member, ask your union rep about setting up a debt clinic.

Todd Ratica is a member of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, and he has taught social studies for more than a decade. He lives in Ohio.

This blog post is re-published with permission from AFT Voices. Read the original post. To learn more about AFT's Schoolhouse Voices from PreK-12 public educators, visit: Follow on Twitter @rweingarten or on Facebook