Posts Tagged ‘Teacher’

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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“I don’t get it. I should have gotten the promotion. I’m better than he is.”

“She never notices all I do for the company, she sucks as a boss!”

“It’s not like it was my fault! WTF was she doing checking up on me?”

“He got me written up for being late a bunch of times.”

I used to hear stuff like this all the time when I was in banking and dealing with so-called “adults“. To be honest, it was mostly the younger adults, but not always. Now that I’m out of the business of dealing with adults, I hear a lot of complaints from kids that sound eerily familiar and worry me about the future.

“She got me in trouble for dress code violation!”

“I got yelled at because I had my phone out during a test. I was just checking the time!”

“He gave me Friday Detention because I didn’t turn in my homework on Tuesday.”

“Stupid Principal, called my parents because I didn’t go to school yesterday, now I’m in trouble at home too.”

What are all these people really saying? Really, they are expressing their own disappointment in their jobs or in their performance at school. The adults know, however deep-down, that their setbacks are not the fault of the other person. They know that their own behavior led to the situations about which they are reacting. It just feels better to bitch about who wronged you were. They know that there are probably reasons why one person will get a promotion over another. Sometimes these decisions are unfair, but most of the time they are justified. They know that bosses have a lot on their plates, and sometimes don’t have the ability to see everything they should. They know that part of their bosses’ responsibilities might be to make sure that they are doing the job they are paid to do. They know that they are held accountable to be at work on time every time.

My kids at school are at a precipice. I want to believe that they also know that they can’t blame Teacher X or Principal Y for their own misfortune. I want to believe that they really understand that they chose to violate the dress code. I want to believe that they know that they can’t pull out their cells during a test without opening themselves up to the possibility of being accused of cheating. I hope they understand that there are consequences for actions, and in the case of not doing homework, for inaction. I want to believe that they understand that cutting class is a big deal, and parents get a little pissed about these kinds of things.

But should I?

It wasn’t until fairly recently that I put it together in my head that the parents of the kids that complain about the world being against them are the same people who are complaining about how the world is against them! This is a learned behavior.

So how do we fight back?

It starts with me: If you are a parent, or like me, a teacher, or any other kind of role model, you need to let it start with you. We all have bad days at work, bad months even. We need to be honest with ourselves to recognize that sometimes stuff just happens. Sometimes we contribute to the problem by our reactions, and sometimes we create the problems. We need to act and react in a proper way so that those watching us with little eyes can learn the correct way to handle adversity.

Take control early: All of the above statements share one thing. They are all statements of reaction. Too often, we get busy, or bogged down in day-to-day details to think about proactively attacking situation. If my boss isn’t prone to notice the contributions I make to the company, maybe I should take some time to point out, in a respectful way, how valuable I am to the company before I get frustrated.

Be your best you: I get that it can become tough and monotonous to come in to work every day and give your absolute best. That’s what vacations are for. That’s what time off (weekends or just time between shifts) is for. I’m sorry, and I know full well how hard it is for me as well, but you have to be the best you possible whenever you go to work. Not just because your boss will like it, not because it is your job to do your best, but because doing so can motivate others around you to up their game as well.

These are just three of hundreds of things that you can do to deal with many of the setbacks that seem to creep up when least expected and least wanted. I’m sure there are more ideas, and I look forward to hearing what your ideas might be.

Of course we don’t just try to shift blame when it comes to work. Dylan wrote this song, but I firmly believe Mr. Cash did it best.  Enjoy!


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I was talking with a co-worker the other day about teaching kids about money. She mentioned that she had problems getting her child to save money. In her experience, getting her child to save worked only when she and her child would fight. Her child wouldn’t save on its own, money given was almost instantly money spent, and her child had even lied to her about how much money her child would earn or be given. She was frustrated that she, a teacher, wasn’t able to teach her children the importance of smart money management. So she threw the question at me:

How do I make my kids save money?

Before we get to the answer, let’s look at what we are dealing with. First, let me say that I’m not talking about EVERY person in EVERY situation, but many people in this particular situation. If this isn’t you, congratulations! You are ahead of many of your friends. If this is you, don’t feel too bad about it, most of your friends who deny that this is them are lying to themselves anyway.

Any parent will tell you that you can’t make your child do anything. They’ll tell you stories going back in their children’s history about toilet training (or housebreaking, as I like to think of it- not a breeder), or getting their children to eat the right foods, or even about sleep patterns. These parents, after fighting for almost half a decade just to get their children to the point where they can function at school, often give up trying to teach about money and hope their children will pick up money skills somewhere else.

Then we send our children off to school where many teachers do their absolute best to get their charges to learn the absolute basics needed to move on to the next level. This is where I currently come into the picture. Let me give you a little picture of what kids are dealing with today.

Kids are given a worksheet for “Cornell Notes” that is pre-printed with much of the information they need to know already filled in.
The rest of the notes are displayed on an overhead projector with the teacher telling kids “Write down where your notes say subtopic that calls for random bullet point>.”

In English and History classes, kids are no longer required to READ FROM THE BOOK!! That was so big it deserved two exclamation points. When many parents were in school, you had to read from the book. Now, textbook publishers include .mp3 files or cd’s with all the reading so a teacher can just play the file and the kids just sit and read.

In many districts and schools, teachers are required to teach a specified list of topics by the state, leaving little to no room for financial topics.
Many teachers would love to teach many different topics. For several reasons, whether it’s about money, time, experience of the teacher in different skill-sets, or whatever else, we too often run out of time with your children before we run out of mandated education topics.

At the end of the 12 years of mandated education, we are lucky if we did our job and created an adult that is ready to function in society at large, hold down a job, and maybe even move on to higher education (if we’re lucky)!

Still not hearing solutions, Stanton!

This is where it gets a little more difficult. The key to making financial education for kids easy is catching them when they are young. My friend had a kid that was a little older, so she has to come up with other solutions. Here are a few. Some are going to be more difficult than others, and some are going to seem too far outside of your parenting philosophy. Hey! I’ve never claimed to have the only answers. If you have something that works better, or even something different that also works, feel free to chime-in in the comments.

Don’t give them a choice!  Remember that you are the parent, and should be able to set the rules for how money is handled in your house. If teaching your children to save for long-term goals is important to you, then your children are going to save for the long-term, because they won’t know that there is another option. If tithing is important, then your child will tithe because that is all they will know. If they start fighting you, trying to avoid your priorities, or making your life difficult, take whatever money they might have and put it in a savings account for when they are mature enough to follow the rules.

Start as early as possible!  The earlier you start your children down the path of learning financial responsibility, the harder it will be to break the habits you instill in them.

Reinforcement, reinforcement, reinforcement!  Both positive and negative reinforcement has their places here. Let’s say you do the three piggy-bank thing that is the current flavor of the month when it comes to teaching young people about money. When your child puts money in each bank accordingly, without being prompted, make a big deal out of it! Tell them how proud you are that they are becoming more mature and responsible. Kids have a need to please adults. On the flip side, when they do something inappropriate with their money, there has to be a consequence. If your child raids their “bicycle” savings account to buy a Selena Gomez poster, you need to temporarily take away their ability to access that money and maybe even the poster until they have replaced the money.

Communicate openly and honestly!  Talk with your children about the importance of learning to manage their finances. Make sure you keep the conversation at a level that their individual development can handle, but make sure you communicate. Be honest with them about difficulties you might have had or setbacks you might have had in the past and your desire to make sure they don’t repeat your mistakes. Also communicate the feelings you have had when you have experienced success with money issues. Finally, talk to your children about the way they might meet financial challenges, and work your way through the hypothetical. You want to make your children comfortable about talking with you about financial issues so they will still feel comfortable when they are older and might need your advice.

Feed their curiosity, even if it isn’t as deep as you want it to be!  Expose your children to as many possible views on money management as you feel comfortable exposing them to. Find blogs like this one, or others that you might read, and read them with your children. Make it a thing. For example, I post on Fridays. I do this so people have a whole weekend to peruse my posts and not interfere with their weekday schedule. Maybe you and your children can read and discuss my latest post on Saturday, over breakfast. You spend some great quality time with your kid, they get to learn something, and you both have something in common to discuss. Warning! Sometimes the language here gets a little saucy. I try to keep it PG-13, but every once in a while it gets worse. I try to let you know when that is going to happen ahead of time, sometimes what I consider PG-13 and what you might consider could be different.

While we’re at it, find a book by someone who can teach your kids about finance and have a “book club” within your family.  Find times to read and discuss the book.  If I might make a suggestion as to which book…,


Whatever you do, don’t give in to the frustration that comes with trying to teach some kids anything!  I get it.  It’s frustrating, but once they get it, everything is magical!  Teach them well (sounds like an intro to a song!)  Enjoy!

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Last week, I was called in to teach a group of kids that are more difficult to teach than most. Many have already graduated from school, but are still forced to go because of their age. Many will never see the outside world as free men or women. Very few of them care about school at all. In short, they have nothing to lose by missing school, and not much to gain by going. The teacher that I was replacing had given a stock lesson in writing a specific kind of poetry.


Pointless wasted

Sucking, wasting, boring

Punks dorks teachers bitches

Sitting sleeping learning


That’s an actual example (near as I can remember from reading it) of what the students turned in. I can see why the other teacher didn’t want to deal with this class anymore.

When I found out that I was teaching this class, I knew I had to do something that would catch their interest, but that would still be educational and appropriate for them. I worked for most of the day and evening to come up with a kick-ass lesson that would be entertaining and educational. I had hundreds of pages to print out so that the kids could actually complete the assignment. Not wanting to waste my personal printer ink, I saved everything to DROPBOX so that I could print it out at work the next morning (by the way, if you don’t already have a Dropbox account, and you ever save any kind of file, you need one. Click on the link and you’ll get extra space when you sign up for an account. In fairness, I’ll also get a little free space, but I’d use the service regardless).

When I got to work, I learned that for some reason, my district’s internet security policy blocks Dropbox access. No worries, I could use my phone and print remotely to a printer. No dice there either, since the printers wouldn’t accept a connection to print from my phone. I was getting a little worried, since I realized that I was well and truly screwed.

By the time I got to class, I had about two minutes to think of something, or face the very real possibility of a minor riot on my watch. Luckily, I try to have a backup plan for whenever my first two (or three, but whatever) ideas crap out. I learned this by virtue of being caught many times with no plan, and having to pay the consequences. To make a long story end, my backup worked, possibly better than my original plan would have, and I was told by the sheriffs’ staff that I was one of the best teachers to have dealt with these kids.

I told you that for a couple of reasons. Number one, I was really impressed with myself and I wanted to brag a little. Number two, and more importantly, I did it because the lesson I learned and demonstrated has real-world application when it comes to personal finance.

Everybody tells you to keep a small, liquid fund to use in case of an emergency. Most people will say six months worth of expenses should cover you. But what happens if your emergency keeps you away from the bank or safe-deposit box, or wherever you keep it for a few days? What do you do then? One quick way you can protect yourself is by also keeping a small (very, very small) stash of cash within easy access. When I say small, which is the operative word here, I mean just enough to help you survive for a weekend or a few days until you can access your emergency fund if needed.

While we’re talking about emergency funds, what happens when you have exhausted your emergency fund completely? In today’s economy, being out of work more than six months is more the norm than the exception. If the worst ever happens, and you have exhausted your emergency fund, you will still need money. I suggest planning ahead. While you are building your emergency fund, you are putting some money towards it every pay-period. Let’s assume that an emergency doesn’t happen right away. Transfer one month of your emergency fund into something a little longer in term, with a higher interest rate. Keep making your contributions till you have replenished it. As you do this, you are building a bubble for when you run out of emergency “cushion”. If you have a problem with saving, you are also building a painless nest-egg for the future.

At work, you like your job, but what happens if you were the last hired, and your company needs to lay someone off (hint: In most cases, you are screwed). While you are working, in addition to saving your emergency fund, as we’ve discussed above, start building skill sets that will help you to be able to find a job sooner. This may mean formal schooling, or this may mean polishing your resume’ so that your skills and abilities are properly showcased.

At home, stock up on non-perishable foods and water in case of a natural disaster. With the summer we just had, with earthquakes in the east, hurricanes in the south, and floods everywhere, stores are running out of basic supplies. Those people who are prepared, are able to “weather the storm”. But what if something happens to your stored food? Maybe this is a good time for you and your community or your family to work out a plan where everybody contributes for a larger group to survive.

Look, I’m not trying to scare you, but shit happens. Sometimes, you are prepared and you bring your umbrella. Sometimes, your umbrella breaks as soon as you open it. When this happens, you will be glad when you put a change of clothes in a bag for just such a situation. Are you going to be prepared for everything? Not even close, and I don’t recommend that you even try. Sometimes, even the best prepared still lose in the end. I can’t stop that, but you can limit your exposure to losing by having a few backup plans ready should they be needed.

I believe it was Robert Burns who said:

“The best laid schemes of Mice and Men

Oft go awry

And leave us nothing but grief and pain,

For promised joy!”

Given my students, and the lesson I just re-learned and related, I can think of no better message than to be prepared. 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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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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This is Jocelyn Lam. She is a fifth grade student at Camino Grove Elementary school in Arcadia, Ca. Arcadia is about 10-15 miles away from downtown Los Angeles, and one of many communities that is close to where I personally live. Jocelyn is a sweet, caring, generous young woman who should be looked to as an inspiration.

Here’s her story:

As is happening in public schools and districts across the country, influential teachers are “teaching” their students about the current budget issues in the state. Jocelyn’s teacher, Todd Weber, said something that caused Jocelyn to donate her entire life savings of $300.00 dollars. Incidentally, her brother also donated $177.00, and other students are also donating money to the school. Jocelyn included a letter with her donation:

Dear Super Indendant (sic) and Board Members,

Hi. My name is Jocelyn Lam. I’ve heard that 65 positions will be laid off and ten of them are from my school! This really breaks my heart. Those teachers had taught me a lot. They guided me to fifth grade. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be here right now writing this letter. They changed my life.

I save all this money I earned from chores and high grades. Now I want to donate all this money to save the teachers. I really hope this $300 will help save the teachers who are about to be laid off. I also hope that this is enough to save more than one teacher. PLEASE put this money to good use. I beg you! SAVE THE TEACHERS!


Jocelyn Lam

As a teacher, this act of kindness and charity from a student is inspirational. To think that this child is willing to give up every bit of money to her name in an effort to save the teachers she so obviously loves and treasures really pulls at the heart-strings. It is a reminder of why we do what we do. Quite honestly, if this doesn’t affect you, you are heartless. On the other hand, the adults involved remind me of why I personally do this blog, and why I personally teach the way I do, and why I stand against the unions that control many of the teachers. I’m left with many questions. Here are just a couple big ones.

Just what did Mr. Weber tell his students that motivated them to donate everything they have?    I’m not going to try to put words in Mr. Weber’s mouth here. I will say that I don’t teach the politics of the union, the teachers, or the school district to my kids. I will answer direct questions in an honest manner, making sure that I do not try to convince my students that my opinion is fact. I will give both sides of the argument, explain my position as well as the opposing position, and clearly tell the kids that both sides have merit. For example, if a student asked me about teacher lay-off’s, I would tell the student that the state is constitutionally required to spend certain percentages of revenues (taxes) on schools. Since the recent budgetary crisis, which started really impacting life about five years ago, the actual dollar amount that goes towards public schools has decreased. The districts have to adjust to the lesser income; much like many families have had to do, and make changes to how they spend the money they have, again like many families have done. Some of the possible solutions are unpleasant to certain groups involved in the decision-making process. The unions, the district, and the state government are all debating the best way to proceed. I don’t make a values judgment on either side. I think that any teacher who does otherwise is acting under a conflict of interests. These teachers need to understand that their job is to teach impressionable children first and only. The adult political stuff has no place in the classroom.

Did Mr. Weber use Jocelyn’s misguided generosity as a teachable moment for thrift, savings, and prudent investment?    Again, I don’t know what Mr. Weber said or did beyond what is in the news story. I can only say what I would do in his position. I would thank her for her donation, send or take it to the office, and have her money returned to her parents. Then I would talk about the importance of budgeting, living within that budget and establishing an emergency fund. Since Jocelyn provided the catalyst, we could have a great question on these issues that would be tailored to a fifth grade level. It appears that the school accepted the donation which opens up several cans of worms for them if they are perceived to be selling grades, favored status, or anything else of value to Jocelyn, or if they are indeed soliciting money from students by virtue of indoctrination and intimidation, which seems to be the case.

Look, at the end of all of this, Jocelyn’s $300.00 won’t even pay for the large pinky-ring of a union leader. It is a sweet gesture, and Jocelyn should be applauded, but the gesture was misguided. I know that many parents have talked about donating to their school to help protect the teachers’ jobs. I’ve heard parents talk about it. They ask me about it. I don’t think that’s the best way for parents to spend their money. Parents have a lot to spend their money on already, and this is not their responsibility. We all pay for public school already, the stakeholders just need to learn to work within the budget, just like you do, just like I do, and just like little Jocelyn will in a very short time.

And now, a few words on the reality of the situation from union member sean combs.


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