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Effective universal public education is critical to a strong economy, democratic society, and a just world. Effective education requires effective educators. Unfortunately, limited financial knowledge makes it challenging to recruit and retain the best.
I’ve seen first-hand the toll finances take on individual educators and the profession as a whole. In today’s post, I explain why we all benefit if teachers are provided career specific financial education in educator preparation programs.
We’ve all heard it. Teachers in our society are doomed to poverty. You choose teaching only if it’s a calling, not to get rich. In fact, people actively discourage their children from entering teaching for financial reasons. My parents thought I was crazy when I did an early-career switch.
That means we have fewer talented people choosing to be teachers on the front end.
Those who persevere and choose teaching anyway, suddenly find themselves confronted by money stresses. They receive no financial training or support as part of teacher training.
Related Post: Reasons Educators Aren’t Wealthy
They start new careers with significant student loan debt, relatively low pay in the early years, and an incredibly stressful job. They’re sent signals by society and colleagues that they will always struggle financially.
If they persist, and try paying into a retirement plan they may be treading water because of horrible fee-loaded options. These are offered by financial companies taking advantage of the profession’s low financial literacy. In some places, administrators may be aware enough to advocate for better. But, the reality is that administrators are mostly former teachers with the same level of financial literacy.
Educators constantly get negative financial messages. These are transmitted throughout the profession, modeled for students, and carried into administration.
I’ve seen too many times when the stress of the day-to-day, combined with the challenging economic realities and no hope for the future have led people to choose another path.
It’s no wonder that 44 percent of new teachers leave within five years. Or that we are facing a teacher shortage.
These facts have a real and lasting impact on our education system and our students.
A Proposed Solution
Currently, I’m working to ensure new teachers entering my district receive mentoring support that includes financial concepts. But an individual approach will never have the impact we need.
All teachers are required to complete educator preparation programs for licensure. Virtually none of these include any financial education (though they do contain all kinds of other topics.) We can change the profession and improve our service to students with this shift.
Let me be clear, I’m not proposing teachers be given a quick financially literacy overview. . You may recently have read that general financial literacy education hasn’t been shown to impact actual behavior that much.
Get Rich Slowly published an interesting post about this called “Why financial literacy fails (and what to do about it.)
In it, he makes a point that educators know well: in order for new learning to be applied, it has to include both knowledge and application. Moving from knowing to applying is much more likely if the knowledge is relevant and tied to desired outcomes.
If potential teachers were presented with job-specific financial concepts and financial goal-setting in the early stages of career training, it would be game-changing for individual educators and for the profession as a whole. The combination of career specificity and linking to a vision of the future matters.
Trust me, I’m not saying this solves all of the problems with teacher recruitment and retention. Nor does it solve many of the systemic education problems. We’ve got a lot of work to do – including increasing wages.
But, early career financial training will make a significant difference. Here are reasons why I feel so strongly about this.
Benefits of Adding Financial Education to Educator Preparation
More Relevant Than Many Required Courses
I’ll open with one that is obvious to anyone who has been through educator preparation.
Look, virtually every profession has some set of courses that are important and relevant, and some that are less-than-useful. If you talk to most teachers, they will tell you the bulk of their important learning came from student teaching and on-the-job training. If they are really lucky, they have a few quality methods courses that benefited them.
I’m not suggesting that teachers don’t receive job-specific training during educator preparation. But, I know time could be created for career-specific financial concepts.
And I believe that most educators would find them more relevant, and infinitely more beneficial, than at least some parts of current educator preparation programs.
I can only imagine how my life would have been different if I’d spent time early on setting a financial goal, understanding my earning options, and becoming aware of investment advantages like the 403b and 457b.
Benefits to Teachers
If teachers received financial training during their education they would directly benefit in many ways. Here are a few:
I’ve personally seen fellow teachers, particularly early in their careers, consumed by financial stress. This isn’t specific to teaching. But, as a profession that requires college education (and the resulting student loans) and starts out at low relative pay – it hits teaching hard.
Young teachers often feel financially hopeless. With no road map to dig out of the hole, the stress consumes and can lead to even worse financial decisions.
Being able to analyze a contract, understand paths for increasing income, and key investing benefits won’t solve early-career financial stress, but can provide important optimism about the future. Understanding financial concepts, and having a concrete financial plan, will help many educators reduce financial stress.
Increased Job Satisfaction
This goes hand-in-hand with the reduced stress. Less financial stress means a greater ability to enjoy the positive aspects of the career. Most teachers will tell you that teaching has amazing positives, but it’s a constant weighing against the negatives. Reducing the financial stress can help one side of the balance.
Ability to Make the Best Decisions
Understanding your finances confers an incredible power.
I’ve written about this benefit for me personally. There is a great deal of political and public pressure on educators. Without a clear financial plan, it is easy to feel trapped and find yourself appeasing others for the sake of job security.
On the flip side, if you have a plan for financial independence (or even better, reach it) you give yourself options. Options give you control, and enable you to make the decisions you believe are best for students regardless of potential employment consequences.
I also happen to personally believe that people being willing to speak their mind makes for a better team and improved outcomes.
Benefit to Students
My priority is always ensuring that students have the best possible education. The education profession exists to ensure students have a better future. Ensuring quality financial education in teacher preparation helps support that in the following ways.
Teachers are important models for students. A teacher saying, “I’m just not good at math” is damaging to a student’s ability to learn math. (A teacher acknowledging their individual struggles and how they worked through them is empowering.)
Currently, most educators model exactly what society teaches. That is, they are either outwardly struggling financially or projecting consumerism.
Imagine if students consistently saw educators making strong financial choices and in control of their financial futures.
Higher Chance of Quality Financial Education for Students
Teachers who understand and are passionate about subjects transmit that learning to students even if they aren’t explicitly teaching it. A teacher who speaks Spanish is likely to transmit a love of languages to students, even when teaching science. Similarly, a teacher who understands and is passionate about financial topics can weave that passion and knowledge into other subjects.
Teachers can also be passionate advocates for course inclusion, particularly at the high-school level. A math teacher passionate about finance, could potentially create a math sequence based on financial concepts even if it wasn’t explicitly called for by the curriculum. Administrators (who are mostly former teachers) will more likely support these changes.
As a great example, I know My Economics Education will have a positive effect on the curriculum her students are exposed to. Both explicitly in the economics course and in any other course she teaches.
Higher Quality Teachers – Entering the Profession
Improved financial education for teachers will help ensure our students are served by better teachers.
The current concept that teachers are doomed to poverty keeps many capable people from entering the profession. I left a higher-paying career path to enter teaching because I believe in the power of public education. Yet, I heard from many that I was a fool for doing so and choosing poverty. One of the reasons I write is to help change that narrative.
If people understand that they can be financially successful while teaching, we’ll get more skilled passionate people supporting our students.
Higher Quality Teachers – Exiting the Profession
I’ve already mentioned how it will help recruit and retain quality teachers.
The flip side is enabling teachers to leave when they should. We all know teachers who have lost passion for the job and should not be in front of students. (This is a smaller number than is typically portrayed…but it is real.)
In my experience, these teachers have burned out for a number of reasons. Many were amazing teachers but haven’t kept up with the change in student needs. Or, they’ve undergone a life change that makes teaching no longer fulfilling. Yet, because of financial choices, they persist in the profession because they need to pay bills or are hanging on for pension benefits. They are not serving students, and are often frustrating for their peers.
No matter the reason, we’d all benefit if teachers who are no longer passionate about the job can choose to exit the profession because they made good financial choices. This supports students and the individual educator. And it requires quality financial education early in the career.
More Efficient Use of Money
All of this adds up to (hopefully) increased retention of quality educators in the profession. Experienced educators have a greater impact on student learning.
It also has a real financial impact. One study estimates that teacher attrition costs BILLIONS of dollars every year . Again, just providing financial training in educator preparation won’t eliminate turnover. But it will help. And every teacher that remains in the profession frees up dollars the can be spent on service directly to students.
By including financial training in required licensure courses we can provide teachers a stronger financial start. This will support better financial decisions and lead to higher career satisfaction, recruitment, and retention. Our students will benefit from strong financial models, increased financial education, and having teachers who are passionate about the profession.
Educators – what do you think? Am I wrong? Do you think this is a horrible idea?
Did I miss anything?