In some ways, my tenth year teaching felt like my first. Reading a textbook at home. Googling terms I didn’t know. Obsessively trying to anticipate every possible student question. Combing though files upon files from other teachers. The technology was a little different–i.e. flash drives vs. Google Drive–but the process and goals stayed the same.
A subject no one else in my department wanted turned into “my baby.” Two semesters of Econ allowed me to not only teach financial literacy, but also emphasize current events and provide opportunities for students to discuss issues related to personal finance, economic inequality, US economic policy, and the global economy. I am incredibly lucky to work in a school with administrators who support teacher flexibility and independence.
Each school year presents its own challenges and teaching economics for the first time proved to be a difficult, but life-changing experience. Yes, I know that’s dramatic, but learning I would teach economics pushed me to realize of my own financial realities and goals. After I set myself on a path toward Financial Independence, I wanted to share my new knowledge with students who could potentially avoid some of the money mistakes of my past.
As I pack up my classroom during the last week of the year, I realize how far I’ve come in tackling economics curriculum for two semesters. I started with the state standards as an outline for the course, but added excerpts from my favorite personal finance books, articles about current events with national and international economic consequences, and chances for student discussion and growth.
Reflecting on some of the lessons I learned, I know what I want to continue to focus on and add for next year’s classes.
Lesson Number 1: Students like talking about money
Money is taboo for adults, right? Well, not for most teenagers. Students did not hesitate to raise their hands to ask a question about credit cards, retirement accounts, filing taxes, or anything related to personal finance. Teachers sometimes complain that students find their subjects “boring” or “irrelevant,” but I found that to be the opposite for Econ. Next year I will provide more opportunities for student questions and comments about all things money.
By sometimes pushing back due dates and assessments, we engaged in important dialogue. I felt like a taught a captive audience most of the time (of course 100% of students will not pay attention 100% of the time) as different students asked wonderful questions each day. Whenever I did not know the answer–and let’s face it, that happened quite a bit–we looked it up together.
I spoke about money and economic inequality more with my students than I do with my friends. Assuming some parents do not talk finances with their children, we covered the basics of financial literacy. The budgeting activity prompted students to research the expected amount of their desired degree, how much a down payment really is for a beach house in California, and the costs for necessities like insurance. It was eye opening for them. I distinctly remember one student lamenting the fact that it “costs so much to live.” 🙃
I felt energized by the questions, ideas, and perspectives of students. I appreciated their engagement and, as I told them this week, I hope they hear my voice in their heads when they open their first retirement or high-yield savings account.
Lesson Number 2: I take the “basics” for granted
On one of our tests about the global economy, I asked students to identify which multiple choice option was a consequence of outsourcing. One of the possible answers, “the decline of service sector jobs in the US,” gave students a hard time. As some students raised their hand to ask for help deciphering “service sector,” I realized how I take it for granted that I’ve taken economic geography courses at the college level and listened to economic stories on NPR for years.
To someone who has studied economics or reads/listens to economic news, the phrase “service sector” comes up often. However, for students with limited knowledge about economic trends, some terms are not automatically understood. I realized in class I went into depth about the decline of manufacturing jobs, but I did not explicitly explain the rise of service jobs as a result of economic transformations in recent US history.
I have to constantly remind myself that terms that are obvious to me are not always obvious to a group of 17-year-olds. When I asked if the demand for insulin is inelastic or elastic, blank stares from students made me realize I first had to explain what insulin was. This was particularly true for some of my ELL students (English Language Learners). Not only are some terms unrecognizable for students who grew up speaking English in the US, but context clues may not be there to help ELL students.
When I had students listen to current event stories on the Marketplace Morning Report, I was sure to include a section for student questions on their handout. (The 8ish-minute long Marketplace Morning Report is a fantastic resource to provide an overview of domestic and international economic news!) I allowed class time for groups to talk about their questions and find answers together. This served as a productive exercise for encouraging student creativity, analytical skills, collaboration, and research. Next year I will build more time in my lessons for student inquiry.
Lesson Number 3: Economics is hard for some students
In the same vein as Lesson Number 2, not only are some terms hard for students, but the economics concepts themselves are foreign to many kids. Despite some general economics ideas in past history classes, most students never really learned about things like opportunity cost, let alone how to draw supply and demand curves.
Students’ struggles became especially apparent when they missed school for extended periods of time. Yes, textbooks and summaries can help with definitions, but really understanding economics takes more work. Simply handing over my notes did not do the job for most students.
In the past I’ve implemented “flipped classroom” elements and I plan to create some videos this summer. A “flipped classroom” basically means that students get the traditional lecture outside of school (usually a video lecture posted online) and practice skills in the classroom — instead of a teacher lecturing for 45 minutes and assigning a worksheet for homework.
I’ve experienced success with short lectures for my past history classes to allow for more time to discuss in class. An added benefit, however, is that students can watch or rewatch lectures at home if they are absent or struggle with the content. Parents and special education teachers can also watch the lectures with the student to help. (I highly recommend teachers experiment with “flipping” no matter their content area.)
I’m not going to do a strict “flipped classroom” design for next year, but instead I’ll record lectures to make available for absent students or those who may need to hear it again (and pause me when I go to fast). A long-term goal may be to effectively employ flipping strategies for future classes if my Econ students benefit from that model.
One of my favorite things about my job is the “blank slate” I return to in August. This year when I makes copies of my Econ syllabus and hang my charts from the Federal Reserve on the walls, I will be confident in the knowledge I carry with me from this school year.
What is something you wish you learned in Econ class in high school? What did your most effective teachers do in the classroom?