Empowering Students with Essential Financial
Why I teach financial literacy
I was finally on my own, and it was time to be a real adult. A recent graduate with my first real job as a middle school math teacher and excited to impart all of my knowledge onto my students. I was teaching my students how to find the area of an irregular polygon, solve quadratic equations and find the mode. Yet, I personally was trying to figure out my own personal finances. How do credit cards work? Can I afford a car? How do I apply for a loan? Can I afford this phone and cell phone plan? How can I make the best of a savings and checking account? How can I live off a teacher's salary?
The truth of the matter was that I was teaching the required standards to my students, yet I was unprepared to handle the math-related realities of real life. While I thought my parents did a good job of preparing me for real life, I was sadly overwhelmed with how much I didn't know. I had to make my own financial mistakes to learn how it all works.
It was then that I was committed to preparing my students not just for the standardized test at the end of the year, but for real life! Otherwise, what is the point of what we are doing?
Most students don't have the financial literacy needed to be successful as an adult. I know that I didn't. However, many have seen their own families struggle through the costly nature of making it in America.
So I took upon myself to teach my students the skills that they needed to be successful as they transition into the real world. I looked high and low for quality financial literacy curriculum that taught the essentials to my students. Unfortunately, I found things that were either underwhelming in terms of their practicality, too complex, too expensive or too simple. Some curriculums focused too much on students using arithmetic and missed the objective of how real-life finances work.
When students start to learn how finances work, they become more conscious of not only what they are buying but what they ask their parents for. I have had students tell me that they no longer beg their parents for so many presents at Christmas because they know how much it actually costs.
Fit it into your curriculum. Find the time!
I get it. When do you have the time to do this when you are already pressed to just cover the basic standards? Where there's a will, there's a way. If your school doesn't allow the flexibility, then consider teaching it in an elective. Is after school an option? Lunch time group? I assure you that kids are interested in learning this because whether they are in 5th grade or in 12th grade, they understand that this prepares them for the adulting.
Get parents involved
Each time I do a financial literacy project, I always include a portion with a parent interview. I have done this for two reasons. First, it forces parents to discuss finances with their students. These are discussions that parents too often avoid with students because they want them to "just be kids" and not have to worry about money. How will we ever create responsible consumers if we don't actually talk about it? Secondly, I want my students to share their new knowledge with their parents. I am amazed by how many parents are financially illiterate and don't understand how credit cards work, how to shop for a loan or the importance of savings accounts. While I have seen many of my students' parents impart great knowledge to the students, I have also seen how parents have much to learn as well. Let them join in the learning!
It prepares my students for the real world
It is so cliché, but knowledge is power. When students know what questions to ask, what pitfalls to avoid and how to be responsible, it gives them confidence. They are proud when they understand what APR means when they see a car commercial or when other friends they know don't understand the difference between a credit and debit card. Let's empower our students!
It’s never too early
I have only taught middle and high school math, so that is where I have started my lessons. I have had colleagues who think it's too early for middle school students to need to understand how to use a credit card. Why? I have never been given a good response. Show students the power of math.
Do you teach elementary students? Start with a savings project. Needs versus wants is the basis for a solid foundation in responsible personal finances. It's never too early!
Use your position to make a difference
I know so many people who are dealing with stress, relationship problems and aren't able to enjoy their lives fully due to financial problems. This isn't a problem of not making enough money, but rather ones of debt and poor choices. If you are reading this, it's more than likely that you are a teacher or parent interested in teaching personal finance. Use your position to make a difference for these students so that they don't end up the same way. This is a chance to make a difference in the future of your students lives. That may sound dramatic, but it's the truth. Why wait? I took out all of the leg work and have created resources that are straightforward, engaging and fun. Start now!