Posts Tagged ‘high school’

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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Much to the chagrin of kids everywhere, schools across the country are dusting off marker-boards, straightening out rows of scissors and rulers, and setting up disgustingly saccharine displays with scalloped, corrugated, border trim depicting ancient blackboards and apples. Parents are flocking to discount stores to buy paper and notebooks, malls to buy the newest fashion for their little models, and electronic stores to buy data sticks, tablet pc’s and the newest “i-device” from Apple.

As much fun as all that is, and I personally love the smell of new school supplies, what students need, almost more than new shoes with lights and skate-wheels in them, are strong study skills. I’m all for studying and study skills, but I think a lot of adults need them just as much when it comes to personal finances as their kids do. The following is a list of skills that will work just as well for students of history and math as they will for people looking increase their own financial literacy.  Advice for students is in red, while advice for personal finance is in blue. 

1. Tape a copy of study guides for classes somewhere that you will see it often. Maybe the inside of your locker, or even to the cover of the book for that class. Also put up copies near your computer at home, or in other places that you are sure to see them. Doing this helps you to study without making it a chore. You have the ability to read a few lines while you are doing normal, everyday things. Repetition of information is the best way to learn it.

1. Keep pictures of things that you want to have near your modes of spending. Saving up for a new motorcycle? Wrap a picture of your dream bike around your credit card. Want to be out of debt completely, try keeping a copy of your latest credit card statement, with the balance owed circled in red where you can see it. Don’t think of it as shaming yourself into not spending, but think of it as providing a visual incentive to make better spending choices.

2. Make an appointment to study. With soccer practice, football games, church meetings and whatever else goes on in life, (like ditching all that stuff to hang out at the mall with the hot person you want to be seen with by everyone but your parents), it’s easy to forget to make time for actual studying. Make an appointment so you make sure you have time to study. Of course, that’s only half the battle. The other half is for you to actually meet your appointment.

2. Just like students, you need to make an appointment to reconcile your statements, plan your budgets, and pay your bills. Mrs. Finance For Youth has a schedule where she wakes up on Saturday morning, boots up the computer, makes a cup of coffee, and proceeds to pay any bills that came in during the week, reconcile any spending that we have done, and makes plans for the next week (like writing rent checks to be delivered on time, or checks to the gardener, or even allowances for herself and yours truly). Having a set time takes away a lot of stress and uncertainty because she can focus what is truly important and not worry about it again throughout the rest of the week.

3. Start your study sessions with your most difficult subject first. When I was in school, there were some classes that came easy to me. Like almost anything but math. It made no sense to start by studying for P.E. (which basically meant playing outside anyways), or even English (which I was really good at for some reason), when I had a subject that was so much more difficult and therefore demanded more time from me. I never learned this trick in school, but I do suggest you start with that hard class and use studying for your favorite classes as a reward later on.

3. Start paying that ugliest bill first. Maybe it’s the one with the highest balance, or maybe it’s the one with the highest interest rate. It might even be the one you are furthest behind in paying. Whichever it is, try to knock it out first, so that you can see easier bills in the future.

4. This one should be a no-brainer, but show up to school every day. All the studying in the world is only going to get you so far. When you show up to class, you will get information that might not be in the study material. You also get the benefit of learning the information that the teacher is going to test you on. Personally, I frequently use the phrase, “So, if you see a question on the test that says…,” which I follow by giving the students the answer that I’m looking for.

4. Show up to work! In general, you get paid when and only when you work. Some people have time off for vacation for which they get paid, and sometimes you are just too sick to be any good, but for the most part, work=pay! Think long term. Maybe you can get away with not being at work every day right now, but when you are looking for that promotion, your boss will take your attendance into consideration. It may be that the difference between you and another employee is that you are known to show up to work and the other person is known to slack off.

5. Don’t try to cram! Okay, we’ve all done it, but it almost never works out well. Instead of pulling one all-nighter on Sunday, just before a huge test, block out an hour or two every day to study throughout the week. Doing so will increase the likelihood that you will retain important information, cause less harmful stress to your body and health, and ultimately put you in a more relaxed state where success is more attainable.

5. People sometimes try to cram personal finance knowledge too. It doesn’t work here either. If you are already in debt up to your ass (assuming you own livestock), or higher, you aren’t going to get out of it instantly. Set out a plan that allows you to survive, but that still attacks the problem. You need to give yourself space to be able to succeed, but you need to also build in room for the occasional, inevitable setback. What happens too often is that people try to cram in “smart” financial decisions to such an extent that they are bound to give up and fail.

For many parents, this is the first year that they are dealing with the whole school thing. For others, back to school just means another haircut and a picture of your little one standing outside the front door, dressed and ready to go to school. Try instead to share some great strategies with your children on how to be successful, whether by my tips above, or others that you might know from other places. Let them know that you are also going to start something new and exciting to help the family. Make school and personal finances whole family events where you all share the journey and the rewards. Your kid gets good reports for a month and you pay off one credit card bill? Go for a round of miniature golf or something that the whole family can enjoy!

Nothing says back to school like this video.  Enjoy!

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For some readers, this is the most important time of their lives until they get married, buy a house, have a kid, or some other really big milestone.  For some, this is a stressful time when we struggle to find the best, most appropriate gift that has a deeper meaning than “here, take this”.  This post is for the parents and families of graduates.

Okay, in my family, I have people graduating from Pre-School, Kindergarten, High School, and College.  I’m sure there are some graduating from obedience school as well.  This is huge for them.  They’ve worked hard, in some cases harder than they ever have in the past or ever will work again in the future.  You want to give them something to celebrate, but you aren’t sure what.  There are plenty of ideas out there, but I thought I would share a few with you.

Pre-School/Kindergarten:  Okay, I admit that I’m a little skeptical of calling this a graduation.  I mean, it’s freaken’ Pre-School, or Kindergarten.  That been said, I can acknowledge that this is definitely a developmental landmark for children.  This is a time when kids have learned some basic skills, and for many, the first time when they are away from their parents socializing and learning with peers of the same age.  So in that light, why not give a gift.

The important thing here is managing future expectations.  On one side, you don’t want to start down a path where you have to buy increasingly more expensive gifts too early.  You don’t want this “graduation” gift to be seen as comparing with graduation from high school or college.  On the other side, you don’t want to make this the same type of gift that kids get for not crying at the store.  You can also manage expectations by giving gifts that accentuate that they are starting a voyage into education that can last a lifetime!

Marker Board/ magnetic letter board


Magnetic Chalk board/ Dry-erase board:  This item, available at Target for $16.99 is a great way to integrate some of the same experiences that children will find in school.  On one side, there is a marker board.  Since this is the norm at almost all schools, kids can play school, practice writing skills, work out math problems, or draw silly marker pictures.  On the other side is a chalk board for that old-school feeling.  Both sides are magnetic.


Johnny Appleseed by Patricia Brennan Demuth: Book CoverBooks!  Sacajawea by Joyce Milton: Book CoverEither of these books, or thousands of others are a great gift.  Many of these books might be on the reading list for your child’s next school, so you can teach young children about the value of preparation and reading ahead.  Even if a particular book isn’t on a teacher’s list, I guarantee that reading almost any book is going to help young people throughout their lives.  Pictured are two historical books that open the door to children learning American history.  Okay, I admit that as a history teacher, I’m partial to making sure kids learn history, but there are other types of books out there.

One thing about books:  As parents, especially of children this age, YOU have to read all the books you expect your children to read before they read them.  You want to make sure that the book is appropriate to your child’s age level, reading ability (you want it to challenge them, but not be so difficult as they get frustrated and give up), and your morals and values.  For example, everybody loves Charlotte’s Web.  But let’s face it, there are some sad scenes in this book that might be too much for overly sensitive kids.  Do you really want to have to sit and deal with your crying child who now hates reading because he read a book that was sad?  Other books might not jibe with the values you want to teach your children.  The only way to know this ahead of time is for you to read the books ahead of time.

Educational toys:

Toys are fine, but when kids are young you have the opportunity to show them that toys and games can be both fun and educational.  Websites like and specialize in games and toys that are both fun and educational.


High School:  This is probably the big one that most people will buy the best gifts for.  This is where it can also be expensive.  At the risk of pissing of a lot of the young people that I write for and teach, you don’t have to spend a ton of money to make graduation from high school special.

Oh, the Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss: Book Cover

Oh, the Places You’ll Go!:  This has been a classic for graduation for 20 years.  It’s whimsical, it’s fun, it gives good life lessons.  Warning:  If you read this book while thinking of your graduate, you may cry.  Make sure you don’t get tears on the book!

This book allows young adults to focus a little more on the young and less on the adult for a while.  We all might know that once you are out of high school, you become an “adult”, and in many cases, have to leave behind a lot of the safety and security that comes with being a child.

This version is a hard-cover deluxe edition.  It is slightly nicer than the regular cover, but both books are excellent for a graduation gift.

Is your kid going to continue on to college, or are they going to join the workforce?  Depending on which, other gift ideas can be pretty cool too.  For the student, you might get supplies, or even donate towards the student’s textbook fund.  Textbooks are expensive.  Even if you can find discounts, they are way overpriced.  For the worker, you can look at things like alarm clocks, watches, pens, or other items.

Experiences:  If at all possible, try sharing in an experience with your graduate.  It could be a family trip somewhere the graduate wants to go, or it could be as simple as a day with the graduate where you reminisce and share conversation.  A time when they are the focus.  If you plan one of these, consider leaving the electronics at home.  Too often they get in the way of communication, and this may be, for many the last time where they can have good communication with the children we love so much.

Again, at the risk of angering some, while a car is a nice thing, it is just a thing.  Unless that car is a junker bought so you and your graduate can work on together, there are other times for a car.

College:  This is a big one.  Even more than high school, when someone graduates from college, they are on their own.  You have done everything you can to raise the precious little one that once slept on your arm into the man or woman who is now ready to take on the world.  You’ve taught them right from wrong.  You’ve taught them as much as possible about money and finance, and ready or not world, here they come!

Housewares:  This is probably the best idea.  If your children went away for college, let’s face it, they had crap!  They scrounged to repurpose furniture.  They probably have stains (you don’t want to know), on every item they own, including furniture and housewares.

A nice watch:  Depending on what they are now doing for a living, very few items say, “You’ve made it!” as much as a stylish watch.  Make sure the watch is practical for what they do.  Your teacher daughter might love a Rolex, but probably wouldn’t be able to wear it to work.  Your lawyer son probably won’t appreciate a novelty watch as much as another, more professional  model.

There are a lot of other great ideas out there as well.  You know your kids better than I do.  You know what they want, need, and would like.  Be creative, and try to get them something that means something to them.


Your graduate is important to you.  They worked hard to get to where they are.  Personally, for parents, I’m not a big fan of cash.  But that is only my opinion.  I know that a lot of kids want the cash, and would actually appreciate it more than any other gift.  If that’s the case, fine.  I think parents have the unique advantage of knowing their kids better than anybody else, and can use that knowledge to give a gift with meaning.  Use that gift that tells your graduate that you recognize everything they’ve gone through to graduate.  Use it to create an even stronger bond between you and your graduate.

Of course, for high school and even college, my suggestions are for “almost as good” gifts.  The best gift you can give to your child graduating from high school or college is FINANCE FOR YOUTH:  THE BOOK!  This is a book that will help them with any of those issues where you might not have been able to cover to your satisfaction. 

Many of the same topics are covered here as are covered in the book, but the book has completely different content.  We talk about getting a job, keeping a job, making decisions about financial institutions, balancing a checkbook, and even a lot of information about buying a car and other topics.  Check out a limited preview on my FACEBOOK  group.  In addition to the Table of Contents and Introduction, I’ve also included the first page of every chapter so you can get a feel for what you will be reading.  Buy a few copies, one for your graduate, one for you, and a third one (at least) for all those graduates you know that you want to get a gift for, but aren’t sure what to get.

Now, for something a little different:  Since the year 2000, this song has been the second most popular song for High School and Middle school graduation ceremonies.  As a teacher, I’m sure I’ll be tired of this song before the month is over, but for now, enjoy!

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