Posts Tagged ‘Educators’

Let me start by apologizing for this being a longer post. I’ll try to keep it short, but I am covering like 30 years of history, so I beg a little grace from my awesome readers!


When I was young, from a very early age, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I knew I was GOING TO BE A TEACHER. This might come as a bit of a surprise to many of the teachers when I was in school, but I knew that someday I would be among them as a peer, and not as a student. Because I liked to read, was good at writing, spelling, and grammar, I was sure I would be an English teacher. Like I said, my teachers didn’t have as much faith in my ability to become a teacher as I did, but more interestingly, my parents would frequently throw out alternatives to try and tempt me away from following my dreams. My dad was an X-ray technician who transitioned into being one of the very early MRI technicians when the technology was just becoming available. My mom would encourage me to follow in his footsteps, regardless of how loudly or excitedly I would protest that I wanted to forge my own path. I guess old habits are hard to break, because it was only in the last 4 or so years, when it was obvious that I was actually, no-kidding around, for reals, becoming a teacher, that she stopped with her brand of “encouragement”.

When I left high school, I was a little disillusioned about higher education or the prospect of being a teacher. I figured it would happen, but I was young and I wanted to take a little time to enjoy being outside of a classroom before I committed myself to being inside one again for the rest of my life. So I went into the exciting world of finance. I took a brief (15 or so year) sabbatical from my childhood dream, and I kind of dug it for a while, until I didn’t. Then I went back to school and was convinced that I was going to be a teacher again.

A strange thing happened during those 15 years. I got to enjoy other subjects. I was into economics of course, but tied in with that was government and history. I still say that each of those three have to be taught in tandem in order to be taught correctly. Currently our school system teaches one at a time, and almost in a vacuum, which has a chilling effect on the interest levels of students. But that’s another argument for another time. I decided that I didn’t really want to teach English after all. I decided that I was going to teach economics.

Over the past three years, I’ve had some very interesting teaching assignments. I’ve been able to teach incarcerated youth; I’ve taught in regular schools; I’ve even taught at some alternative schools that would break most peoples’ hearts (mine included). I’ve taught every subject, including subjects that I wasn’t able to pass when I was in school. I wound up avoiding those classes in favor of teaching subjects that I was good at.

Except one.

Never in my own academic career was I good certain subjects. I sucked at Woodshop, a fact that those who know me well understand. But worse than my ineptitude with carpentry was my absolute idiocy when it came to math. I could not do math. It was my worst subject ever. People used to ask me when I was in banking how I could do that job and still be bad at math. Luckily, there is this thing on top of most desks, called a computer, that does the math for me. Once, by pure luck, I was assigned to teach a math class at a school. Apparently, I did something right, because teachers at that school and others in the district have been passing my name around as a great math teacher because of the way I teach. It has gotten to the point where many people in the district think that I actually am a math teacher, and not a history, economics, government, or whatever teacher like my credential says. So I’ve made the decision to do what I need to do to actually become a math teacher.

I told my story because I hear from people every day who tell me that they are in situations that they never thought they would be in. They had a view of what their lives would be like when they grew up that wound up not matching reality.

I also see people with their noses stuck in books written by some very intelligent financial advice sales people. They make all their decisions based on what they believe this writer or that TV personality would suggest. They do all this to the exclusion of everything else that is going on in their lives. For some, it works as they hoped. For others, like those who try fad diets, fad financial advice is a round trip proposition. You get yourself into the position you planned on getting yourself into, only to relax back into your old habits. This leads to you getting into a deeper hole than the one you started in.

The answer is to be open to different paths while still keeping your eye on your overarching goal.

Is your goal to be able to send your kids to a college you couldn’t afford for yourself?

How about to be able to retire and live out your remaining years in a bungalow in Disney World?

Maybe your goal is as simple as being able to pay off your credit card and possibly taking your kids to Disneyland during spring break. It is important to have a plan, but when something comes around that messes with that plan, you have to be able to reevaluate your plan from the new point of reference instead of the original, where you started.

Whatever your goal is, life will sometimes get in your way.  Sometimes your own decisions will get in your way, and sometimes the decisions of others will be responsible.  Whether or not you make your goals depends in large part on how you react, on what decisions you make, and on your own ability to assess and deal with changes as they come up.

Whenever I think of my life, and all the twists and turns it has taken over the years, I think of a river.  Whenever I think of a river, I think of this song.  Because the original is somewhat sad and this is a weekend, I’ve also included a more up-beat version that always makes me laugh.  Enjoy!

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Every year since Finance For Youth: The Blog started, I put together an address to the graduating class of that year. Generally, I will give a list of pieces of advice for the graduates to keep in mind as they move forward into the next, most exciting stage of their lives. This year will have some advice, but I want to talk about a couple of lessons that I have learned since I started working with young people directly.

As a teacher, I’m supposed to be the one who gives you all lessons that will carry you from where you are now, through the rest of your life. That’s what I went to school for, and that is what you went to school for. But education is not a one-way exchange. A good teacher who is confident in their own abilities is able to talk about what you have taught us. I hope that I can be that person, because working with all of you has taught me so much both good and bad, that I will take with me forever, and I hope you can take some of it with you too.

You have to keep a thick skin (and a solid jaw)!

Earlier this year, I got punched right in the jaw by a student. It hurt, it hurt a lot. I wound up losing a tooth because of it. Teeth can quickly become a scarce resource. I got hit because a student had been thrown away by every adult they had ever met before me. I came in and presented a different point of view. I cared. Of course, when you spend a lifetime believing that nobody gives a damn about you, someone who shakes that belief becomes a target.

The Lesson:    The lesson I learned here, and one that I believe can serve you well is to take a minute (or even longer if needed) before you jump in with both feet. People generally have a set of beliefs that they will change, but not instantly. Young people are really good at being different and changing things, and sometimes that causes trouble with others. But you can’t walk timidly into every situation: Sometimes you have to take the hit to earn the reward. Do your best to only take the hit when you are sure the reward is worth it.

Sometimes Rock Stars can be quiet!

Over the past few years, I’ve had the fortune of having some colleagues offer me very high praise and very nice compliments. In past careers, I expected this, but I’ve never done anything as important as teaching. In past years, I walked around my office like I was the King, and dared people to challenge me. Now, I find that people respond just as well to someone who walks with confidence instead of arrogance.

The Lesson:    Nobody knows how good you are at what you do better than you do. You have some choices on how to let others know. On one hand, you can jump up on a pedestal and shout into your megaphone about how good you are. People will understand, but they may not always agree. On the other hand, you can take pride in doing your job well and other people will start picking up their own megaphones for you.

Many things are shades of grey, but not everything!

One thing I see daily is an erosion of what I learned about right and wrong. Due to the nature of my job, I’ve been able to see that erosion as it hits children at every stage of development. In Kindergarten, you learn about absolutes and how right is right and wrong is wrong. By sixth grade, you learn that everybody has their own moral compass, and it is wrong to judge others through your compass. By the tenth grade you learn that really right and wrong are subjective in every sense.

The Lesson:    Some of the most important lessons you have ever learned you learned in your earliest, formative years. Don’t be in a rush to supplant the values you learned back then for excuses that you learn today. The fact is that we educators have failed you, and continue to do so every time we help destroy what you have always known to be true.

There are many more lessons that I’ve learned from you, my students. Many of them were learned at a great personal cost to someone, and I try to honor that price paid by remembering and sharing the lessons daily. Some were learned while I was trying to learn something else entirely, and I stumbled upon a pot of gold that is wisdom. Those lessons I try to make available to others in as many places as possible, in the hopes that more people will stumble upon them and in turn share them with others. But one of the most important lessons I’ve learned from my students is that there is only so much education one can stand before you either fall asleep or try to escape. With that being said, congratulations to the class of 2011! You are all stars who have the unique ability to keep getting brighter without ever burning out. Enjoy the next stage as much or more as you have this stage, and look back only through the lenses of fond memory of a time when life was easier than it will ever be again, and only with the full knowledge that life has prepared you for anything you might face from here on out!



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