Two Virginia students are on track to be teachers—thanks to this educator scholarship

Contributed photos of Amber Gillen (left) and Megan Scott

By Amie Knowles

December 20, 2023

Growing up in Bassett, Megan Scott was surrounded by a family of teachers. When she graduated from Bassett High School, attending Ferrum College to study elementary education felt right to her. But with Virginia’s teacher deficit demanding more from teachers than ever before, combined with the financial investments that come from studying to be a teacher, Scott—like so many others who want to work in education—had to look for ways to make the choice make sense.

“One of the obstacles in becoming a teacher has been the money that is involved,” she said. “Not only paying for college, but also paying for all the necessary tests we must take and pay for out of pocket in order to get our teaching license. This scholarship is one of many that I have worked hard to receive to help me pay for college, to make becoming a teacher possible.”

She’s talking about the Virginia Teaching Scholarship Loan (VTSLP), which is funded by the Virginia General Assembly. Good for up to $10,000 per student, it’s an incentive for people open to teaching in select “critical shortage” areas after graduation. To be eligible, students must be enrolled in an approved teacher education program, maintain a cumulative grade point average of at least 2.7, and be nominated by the college or university they attend. 

“When I become a teacher I hope to have a positive and supportive impact on my students,” Scott said. “Our students will come from all different lifestyles and cultures and it is my job to give them a constant safe place to come, learn, and grow where they feel welcome.”

Like Scott, fellow Ferrum College student Amber Gillen is on track to become a teacher in Virginia. A graduate of Prince Edward County High School, Gillem is double-majoring in Secondary Education and Agricultural Sciences—and she said the VTSLP is helping her choose to work in education. 

“I’m excited to go into teaching, but finances are always a challenge so knowing that this scholarship is going to limit my overall academic debt is going to allow me to stress less on my finances and focus more on my teaching ability,” Gillem said.

Gillen was motivated to study education after having impactful teachers in high school. She said she hopes she’ll inspire her future students in the same ways her teachers empowered her. 

“I hope to be a helpful resource for students so that I can help them in school, but also help prepare them for the real world—especially in the high school setting,” Gillen said. “I want my future students to know that if they are willing to put in the hard work, I will go over and beyond to help make sure they succeed and meet their desired goals.”

Financial Aid for Virginia’s Future Teachers

When’s the last time your profession was understaffed by thousands? In Virginia’s public schools, there were more than 3,500 unfilled Virginia teaching positions in the 2022-23 school year—and nearly half of those openings were for pre-K through sixth grade educators. 

While it’s difficult to come to terms with those numbers, there is hope on the horizon: A multitude of financial aid options exist for Virginians who want to become teachers. 

In addition to the VTSLP, there’s also the TEACH Grant, short for Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education, which provides up to $4,000. The federal grant requires that eligible awardees complete a teaching service obligation. Otherwise, the “grant” becomes a loan that the individual pays back. 

Special education is one of the areas experiencing the most need for teachers. In fact, there were more than 700 openings in the 2022-23 school year for special education professionals in Virginia classrooms. There are a handful of financial aid options available especially for individuals seeking positions in special education. 

The Virginia Consortium for Teacher Training in Early Childhood Special Education consists of a partnership among Radford University, Lynchburg College, and the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). The funds primarily assist current teachers in early childhood special education (ECSE) with provisional licensure, helping them complete required courses for ECSE endorsement.  

For current special education teachers seeking a Ph.D. in special education—which would allow them to teach tomorrow’s teachers—the four-year SEEDS program at the University of Virginia offers up to $38,000 in an annual stipend, free tuition, travel support, and health benefits, thanks to federal funding from the Office of Special Education Programs.

There are also funds available through other sources, like the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant Program (VTAG). This program isn’t just for prospective teachers, but education students may certainly apply. The grant assists Virginia residents who attend accredited private, nonprofit colleges and universities in the commonwealth. While many majors and programs are eligible under this grant, religious training and theological education are not.

To learn more about financial aid options throughout the commonwealth, visit the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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