Change Your Mindset
Flexibility is one of the hallmark characteristics of successful teachers. It’s time we make our minds flexible.
When I tell acquaintances I’m a public school teacher and the sole provider for my family of five, they immediately reach in their pockets to donate money. When I explain that I live quite comfortably and don’t need their money, they insist there’s no shame in accepting charity. Then they plead with me to swallow my pride and take the money, if not for myself, for my kids.
Many teachers thrive economically. We are not doomed to welfare lines and bankruptcy. Our children do not have to do without. It is not our destiny to be the feature story in news magazines about the struggling middle class. Teachers possess the two most important wealth generating resources available: a mind capable of intelligent thought, and time—lots of time, time in the summer, time over the holidays, time in the afternoon.
Isn’t it time we use it more effectively?
Change Your Money Blueprint
Our outer circumstances are a by-product of our inner beliefs. If you struggle financially because you’re a teacher, it’s because you believe teacher’s struggle financially. Teachers are constantly bombarded with negative financial messages, that we’re somehow better than other people because we sacrifice financial stability to help children. I switched schools recently and in my new classroom was a computer mouse with one of those cheesy teacher expressions. The philosophy was it didn’t matter what was in my bank account as long as I helped a child. I threw it away immediately. It does matter what’s in my bank account .
Why can’t I help children AND have a lot of money? As long as we believe the nonsense that teachers are somehow better because they’re poor, the longer we’ll be poor. One of the characteristics of successful teachers is their ability to instill belief in young people. Let’s start by believing in ourselves and our ability to thrive financially.
Change How You View Yourself
The most important characteristic of a successful teacher is self confidence.
You’ll never become wealthy until you believe you’re worth it. Teaching is the world’s greatest profession. Teachers perform a valuable service. It’s time you recognize it. Tune out the negative media and talk show hosts who constantly deride the profession. Tune out Mr. Negativity down the hall and Mrs. Complainsalot in the teacher’s lounge.
When your self-image improves, your bank account will improve; your students will improve, and your life will improve.
Manage Money Like the Wealthy
One of the characteristics of successful teachers is their ability to relate new learning to the real world. It’s time we learn real world money management while we’re at it.
I often hear, “I’d start managing my money better if I had more of it.” I often reply, “If you started managing your money better, you’d have more to manage.” A simple money management system involves setting aside 10% of your pay for fun, 10% for long-term savings, 10% for charity, 10% for education, 10% for retirement, and 50% for necessities.
I didn’t invent the system, but I know it works. It has helped me keep a balance between saving and spending, having fun and being responsible, and living for the now and living for the future.The secret to changing your mindset rests in changing your behavior and changing what you know.
Get a Basic Financial Education
The reason many Americans live paycheck to paycheck with little or no savings is they’re intimidated by the financial world. They need not be. It’s time we stop telling our children how important education is and start showing them the value of it through personal example. Let’s begin this personal example with personal finance. After you finish reading this article series, go to any of the major financial websites and learn about money. Whatever you look at, make sure you’re getting independent advice. Many insurance companies and other financial institutions are more than happy to steer you into expensive, commission-producing products. If Internet research isn’t your thing (ironic, considering you’re on the Internet right now), go into any reputable bookstore, walk to the business/finance section and peruse hundreds of books on the subject. You can also combine the convenience of the Internet with the selection of a bookstore and go to the Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Powell’s online store. For a brief preview of what every book is going to tell you, just keep reading.
The foundation of successful personal finance begins with the following:
Pay yourself first. Live within your means. Avoid credit card debt. Make a budget. Have a reserve fund. Why is it we think good advice only applies to plumbers, doctors, and social workers? For as little as $25 per month, you can begin saving for retirement. If you haven’t started, try Fidelity, Vanguard, Scottrade, Primerica, T. Rowe Price or any other reputable broker.
Once you’ve begun, it’s easy to increase your contribution amount, especially the week before your raise kicks in. Instead of spending that pay increase on a fancy toaster oven with low monthly payments, fill out some paperwork and increase your savings.
Most school districts provide a pension. Find out how your pension works, preferably before you retire. Although it seems daunting at first, getting a basic financial education, building a cash reserve and investing for a comfortable retirement are really quite simple once you get started.
Increasing Your Salary
How much money can you expect to earn as a teacher? That depends on how much education you get. You don’t have to work long hours just to earn some extra money; instead, maximize your salary. Even the most optimistic teachers agree the system is flawed. When I stopped trying to change it and began to work with it, my stress decreased and my wealth increased.
Although I’ve attempted to replace memories of my first year teaching with more pleasant experiences, (such as racking my groin on my bike frame during a race in the sixth grade, or being forced to eat dirt at a football practice in middle school, or having the engine in my minivan catch fire at a busy intersection on the hottest day of the century), there’s one memory that has paid me thousands of dollars per year. While walking through the office, with the standard “Why on Earth did I choose to take my students to the courtyard fifth period on the Friday before Spring Break?” look, the principal pulled me aside. Hoping he was about to fire me, I listened patiently as he pointed out all the teachers in the school who worked half as hard as I did and got paid twice as much. He kindly patted me on the back, told me to get to the top of the pay scale, and walked away. I now give that same advice to you:
- Go back to school.
- Get a Masters Degree.
- Get to the top of the pay scale.
- Become a Better Teacher
We all had those teachers when we were in school: the one who showed movies every other day, the one who passed out worksheets and read Sports Illustrated during class, or the one, although no one could prove it, you suspected of having inappropriate relations. Bad teachers discredit the entire profession and destroy teacher credibility.
When you become a better teacher, you raise the stature of everyone at your school. Becoming an expert at your profession also gives you flexibility if you need to transfer. Instead of smuggling in a book, engaging in a tic-tac-toe tournament, or text messaging your college roommates, pay attention at the next teacher in-service day. If you don’t feel any of the sessions are worthwhile, then volunteer to conduct one. You’ll learn a lot more preparing and teaching than you will sitting there dreaming about hitting the lottery. In addition to taking advantage of the free training most districts offer, listen to CDs and read books on leadership, dealing with people, time management, and any other areas in which you need help.
Manage Your Time Wisely
Teacher success in the classroom is only a few time management tips away. Here’s how I used Stephen R. Covey’s time management matrix to excel.
Stephen R. Covey, in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, unveiled the time management matrix.
- Quadrant 1 time management includes items that are urgent and important.
- Quadrant 2 includes items that are important but not urgent. According to Covey, poor time management occurs when individuals spend most of their time in Quadrant 2.
- Quadrant 3 includes items that are urgent but not important.
- Quadrant 4 includes items that are neither urgent nor important.
- Teachers who never learn how to improve time management give up and turn to Quadrant 4.
It’s Not That Hard
I’ve got great news. Look at Quadrant 2. Is there a single thing in Quadrant 2 you are not capable of doing? I spent a great deal of time in Quadrant 1 my first few years teaching and I was miserable. Everyday presented a brand new emergency. I could never get ahead and I considered driving my car into the side of the school building every morning.
My solution was to stay after school longer, which is about the time I entered Quadrant 3. I became more miserable until I realized subconsciously that I really didn’t have to do anything, so I became a secret Quadrant 4 teacher. I hid it well. I talked like a Quadrant 1 and a Quadrant 3, but I preferred Quadrant 4, until I got called on it by my administrator, who didn’t agree that omitting lesson plans for a month was acceptable. The Breakthrough: I disliked that administrator. I disliked her so much I decided to write the best lesson plans ever.
Teaching became enjoyable. No more rushing to the copy machine to throw together some busy work. No more scrambling for an idea while driving to school. No more guilt for taking taxpayer money without actually earning it. I didn’t even care that the administrator never even returned to my room to follow up. I had discovered the joys of Quadrant 2. I now have my entire year mapped out. It took about 10 hours. I’ve used the map for three years.
I bring this up for two reasons: 1) I wanted to rub it in; 2) The reason most people don’t enter Quadrant 2 is the up front time investment. I’m Too Busy No you’re not. Begin Quadrant 2 activities today. Initially, you’ll have to let go of a Quadrant 3 or 4 activity, such as the Wednesday afternoon gossip session in Ms. Gabber’s room or changing the color of the desks on the computerized seating chart. Set aside 1/2 hour each day after school or during your free period for Quadrant 2. You’ll notice two things: 1) You can get a lot done in 1/2 hour if you’re focused; 2) Quadrant 1 incidents will decrease. For specific Quadrant 2 activities, click here.
So, What Do You Think?
I may have doled out some tough love here, and a lot of advice you may not agree with. Have you employed these principles in your own career? Do you still think you don’t get paid enough? I’d be interested to hear what you think in the comments section.
For Additional Reading on Wealth Management:
Jack Canfield: Maximizing Your Potential
T. Harv Eker: Secrets of the Millionaire Mind