Just a little under two years ago I started this blog as a means to keep myself accountable financially and also to hopefully educate others. One of the things that frustrates me about American culture and culture in general is our reluctance to talk about money. Americans are obsessed with money, spending, getting rich, debt, etc, but it is one of those topics you aren’t supposed to talk about. That is especially true for certain professions, particularly for teachers.
I am, as readers of this blog know, a college professor. My spouse is also a college professor. My best friends are either college professors or involved in education at some level. My brother and his wife are both teachers. So I have a lot of teachers in my life. However, it seems to be a universal rule that teachers aren’t supposed to talk about money. And I am not just talking about salary. I mean with most teachers you can probably find out what they make by looking on the internet (most public salaries are available in most states). I am talking about a whole host of subjects: student loan debt, pensions, investments, salary increases, health insurance, buying a house, whatever it maybe it seems like a taboo subject for teachers to talk about money.
Maybe one of the reasons is that many teachers consider their work to be a “life-calling.” The common refrain is I don’t do this job to get paid a high salary. Rather, I do it because I love working with students, changing people’s lives, working with others, etc. I love being a teacher. I think I have one of the best jobs on the planet. But that doesn’t mean I want to do it forever. There will come a time when I will want out. When I hope to step away. I have some colleagues that are still teaching well into their 70s and maybe longer. I don’t know when they will step away. And I am not sure why they stay, but for whatever reason we can’t talk about those items because, partly, of the subject of money. It seems to be taboo.
Perhaps another reason is the constant drumbeat in the public eye from taxpayers and others who think that teachers and educators, in general, have a cushy job and shouldn’t complain that much. The common refrain here is that teachers work 9 months out of the year. They get summers off, full benefits, a cushy pension after 30 years, and they have it great compared to the average American worker who doesn’t get vacation time, has to settle for a 401k plan, and has the constant threat of losing their job.
Personally, I get a little sick and tired of what seem to be the constant attack against teachers, particularly college professors. The refrain there is that professors have a really cushy gig. We only teach 1 or 2 classes a semester, we have tenure which is basically a job for live, we get a pension, we don’t really do any work and the people who do are graduate students. The truth is that most professors in the U.S. teach at minimum three courses per semester and most teach 4 or more (I teach at least 4 a semester), plus doing research, plus meeting, plus grading, plus all of those other items. But I digress. The point of this post was not necessarily to defend teachers and their workloads, which I think will involve another post down the line.
But my bigger concern is to try to get teachers to talk about money more, particularly my academic colleagues. And when I talk about money I am not talking about revealing your personal net worth, how much you have in investments, etc.
I am talking about more basic things like strategies for buying a house, different programs for student loan debt, principles surrounding investing (not necessarily how much one has invested themselves). Just yesterday I had a really nice conversation with two colleagues on the new REPAYE program for student loans that President Obama created in December of 2015. My two colleagues had never heard of it before.
Just the other week I had another wonderful conversation with someone about the basic principles of investing. We went back and forth with each other making suggestions, talking about basic principles, what our options were, etc. Unfortunately, these conversations are few and far between. Financial literacy, for whatever reason, among my teacher friends is not something they want to explore. And many don’t take the time to learn basic concepts. These are people with Ph.D.s who spend more time figuring out their summer vacation then they do something that will impact them later in life.
At some level I get it. I mean the financial world can be complicated. Understanding mutual funds, annuities, investments, etc can be complicated. We shouldn’t talk about money because it is a calling and we don’t do this job for the money.
All of that is true. But it is high time that teachers of all stripes have more conversations about money, particularly strategies for investing. A lot of my colleagues may not realize this but a lot of them have a one-legged stool for future financial independence. I know I do. And that is why I am so passionate (and I like doing it) about personal finance. We need to talk about it more. Even if it is uncomfortable.
I encourage colleagues of all stripes to potentially arrange conference panels on personal finance. Talk among your colleagues about these subjects. You don’t necessarily have to divulge specific details, but the more we discuss these issues the more solidarity we bring to the subject. The more strategies that we can have to fix problems.
For those looking for some personal finance blog inspiration (aside from this one I hope) check out these personal finance blogs all written by teachers: Millionaire Educator, Beards and Money, Dream Beyond Debt, and The Single Dollar. These are great blogs.
To my teacher friends what do you think we should do to talk about money more? Please leave comments. I would love to hear from you.