Is your child’s education at risk because of their teacher’s financial situation?

As part of my service to local schools in the Chicago-land area (and my marketing efforts), I have run seminars about how teachers can maximize their financial situation.

These sessions have been optional for teachers, and often held after school, with attendance ranging from 0 to over 35 people (the zero number did wonders for my self esteem!). As these sessions have brought in various numbers of attendees, I’ve often wondered why districts don’t do more to empower their employees with their own personal finances. Private sector employees get lots of education and assistance with this, but it is not the same for the other side.

And trust me, there is a need for this!

According to the Society of Human Resource Management, 80% of HR professionals believe that employees at their organizations are facing more financial challenges than they were five years ago. In addition, 83% of these HR professionals think that personal financial challenges have at least some impact on employees’ performance.

If a teacher’s job performance – their ability to educate students – can be affected by their personal financial situation, shouldn’t school districts be assisting in improving their teacher’s financial situation?

 

She's the calm amidst the storm

 

Financial education is lacking

As the husband of a teacher, I believe the answer is a resounding “Yes!”. I have worked in private companies where in-person financial education was part of the benefits package. My clients, those that are not teachers, also receive the same information at their place of work.

But the most I have seen from a school district is a booklet from the company who manages their benefits package. As a financial advisor, reading my wife’s booklet, I was struck by how much jargon was included and how technical some of the information became. This “helpful booklet” wasn’t helpful and was quite boring.

But what else is provided other than an annual booklet? In my conversations over the years, I’ve spoken with district administrators about the level of financial education they provide to their staff, only to be told that it is not offered.

The most disheartening answer I’ve heard: “That’s not our responsibility.”

If you take the premise that a teacher’s financial life can affect their job performance, I would say that this is EVERY district’s responsibility.

 

Education for students but not for teachers?

While researching this problem to see if any district was providing this support for their teachers, I couldn’t find much. However I did find lots of evidence that students were receiving financial literacy classes before they ventured off to college, or even had any responsibility with money.

This was encouraging, but what about financial literacy classes for teachers? While some material for students required that a teacher have some advanced personal finance knowledge, most classes just required a teacher to follow a curriculum.

Is there much value in this? Shouldn’t a teacher already understand everything they are teaching, and if the topic is an essential life application, be living by the rules of what they are teaching? If a teacher has a subprime mortgage, is engaged in payday loans and not saving for their future, should they be teaching students how to be fiscally responsible? I’m in the “No” camp for this one.

For those districts that are providing a curriculum for their students, I commend them. However, for each school that implements this curriculum but doesn’t provide the same training for their teachers, there is a missed opportunity.

 

 


Financial health versus physical health

In many of the districts where my clients work they have wellness budgets as part of their compensation package. This allows them to have medical co-pays reimbursed; receive reimbursements for medical treatment; take fitness classes and buy sports equipment at no cost (up to a defined limit). This is helping show teachers that staying healthy and leading an active lifestyle is important to doing a great job in the classroom.

But that’s not the only important aspect to a balanced life. While it’s important to stay healthy, no amount of regular exercise can alleviate the stress of an unbalanced personal financial situation.

So why aren’t districts and schools providing this financial guidance? I believe it’s for two reasons:

  1. Lack of available resources
  1. A “we’ve always done it this way” culture

 

Who’s going to help the teachers?

Currently, curriculum for students is available and is being optimized based on feedback. But there is nothing for teachers. School districts may want to provide support to their staff, but there is nowhere to turn. If this global initiative were supported, an education company could design a curriculum for teachers and be very successful in delivering to multiple districts.

But that issue is the smaller one of the two. When there are administrations that don’t show empathy towards their staff and their wellbeing, or have the “it’s not our responsibility” attitude, an initiative of this nature has minimal chance of success. What needs to change is the understanding that if a teacher has a healthy personal life both physically and financially, their performance at work could increase dramatically. The attitude of a happier teacher has an exponential effect when it comes into contact with a room of 25 students.

 

Administration has to be the driver for this assistance

So what if a district sees the potential in educating it’s staff in personal financial matters?

This type of initiative has to be driven by the district administration and be offered as a non-negotiable benefit. A short curriculum has to be developed for everyone to take part, with a longer one for those looking to get more detail.

There has to be outside resources for when teachers need to talk about their situation, and if possible, the district should be willing to provide a stipend to each teacher so they have no problem paying for this advice.

This education should be made fun. Personal finance can be a stale and sometimes stressful topic. Through exercises, and non-jargon-filled sessions, teachers should be able to learn without fear of exposing their personal situation to their peers. It should be delivered impartially so that teachers, and districts alike, can be sure there is no conflict of interest when it comes to choosing a provider. This means no pension board or investment / insurance company should be involved (or even fee-only planning companies like Finance for Teachers).

These sessions should be run on institute days, and perhaps on one day in particular so that teachers remain focused on the topic at hand. Homework should be easy to follow and broken down into steps so that everyone can make progress in their financial situation.

Most importantly, there should be some metrics taken before and after these sessions to see how teachers feel about their situation and job performance. If studies are correct, there should be a positive correlation between improving one’s financial situation and becoming a better teacher.

 

Who’s going to be the first district to jump on board?