Sunday, September 11, 2022

Welcome to the 2022-2023 school year!

Welcome to the 2022-2023 school year! I can't believe, and I'm sure you're with me on this one, how quickly summer went! I'm scratching my head here, still trying to figure it out. Perhaps even more perplexing for me is that we're in the year 2022, quickly headed into 2023. I'll be turning the big 4-0 later on this year. Time sure does fly. I remember the 1999-2000 school year like it was yesterday. I was a junior in high school, and I remember all the fear and anxiety across the globe about machines, ATMs, clocks, calendars, etc. possibly not working when we reached the year 2000. Now here we are, nearly 23 years later. Wow.

Oh, well. In any case, here we are. A new school year. A new start of sorts.

Aaron Robertson Wisconsin substitute teacher
First day of school of 2022-2023 for me, September 1. Celebrating with my very first Yeti for hot, industrial-strength coffee all day! Who’s ready to learn and grow?! Let’s do this! Cheers, all!
 

My summer went well. Back in late June, I took a stroll through my church's cemetery for the very first time, and I was genuinely amazed at the centuries-old history and the scenic beauty that is present there.

In early August, I went on a trip to Door County, Wisconsin with my parents for a few days. I can't even remember the last time I was up there, it had been so long. We stayed at the Open Hearth Lodge in Sister Bay. A very nice place. We really enjoyed our stay there. For those of you not very familiar with Door County, it's that "left thumb" of Wisconsin on the map. It runs along Lake Michigan. It's about 2.5 hours or so from the Milwaukee area. Door County's economy is heavily dependent on tourism and the manufacturing and marketing of specialty foods and beverages. Beautiful state parks, county parks, beaches, shops, restaurants, wineries, farms, and other tourist attractions dot the county. While Door County is home to a diverse variety of farming and agricultural goods, it is perhaps most famous for its cherries. Door County's famous cherries are put into anything and everything from pies and other baked goods, to jams, salsas, wines, even coffees and liquors. We came home with bags of gourmet munchies and coffees.

Alpacas at Wisconsin State Fair
Here's a picture of an alpaca I took at the Wisconsin State Fair, which takes place each year in early August. I love both alpacas and the Wisconsin State Fair. Usually, I'll go to the Fair multiple times per year. I'll usually buy advanced tickets at a discount, and I love to just walk the grounds, people watch, and check out some of the bands and vendor booths without any particular agenda. This year, however, I only made it to the Fair twice. You can check out more alpaca pictures at my Instagram page.

Also in August, I spent a good amount of time building out some new pages on this blog to offer even more personal finance resources for students and teachers. It was a fun project to work on, and it's a subject I'm particularly passionate about.

Near the end of August, I went up to Appleton with my mom for a cousin's wedding. We stayed at the Hilton Appleton Paper Valley hotel, located in the heart of downtown, for two nights. I can't remember the last time I was up to Appleton, either. What a happening college town. A lot to see and do at any given time. On Friday night, local car enthusiasts and car clubs cruised downtown in front of our hotel in their classic, muscle, hot rod, and modified cars. That was fun to see. On Saturday morning, we checked out a large farmers market taking place downtown in front of our hotel. It stretched for blocks, and they closed the streets for it. A lot of variety, anything from produce and baked goods to coffee and specialty foods. And then of course, there was the wedding, the very reason why we were up there! That was a lot of fun. I hadn't seen my cousins and other family in a number of years. It was a good time to reconnect and recommit, and we all vowed to keep in touch and see each other more often. On Sunday morning, I went to Mass at St. Joseph Parish, right next door to our hotel. A beautiful church, it was built in 1867. The church also has a prayer garden with a statue of Blessed Solanus Casey, and I appreciated the opportunity to pray there for a while, as well.

Throughout the summer, I spent a little time here and there building my baseball card collection. The sports card market is back on fire, and I'm feeling like a kid in a candy store after having visited some card shows and shops this summer. I'm having a blast reliving my days collecting as a kid!

Finally, I continued throughout the summer working on both my Ph.D. dissertation studies and my spiritual life since rediscovering my Roman Catholic faith back in December after nearly 20 years.

Before I forget, here are a couple silly breaking news headlines I created through a fun tool at ClassTools.net over the summer.

Make your own silly breaking news headlines tool


Make your own silly breaking news headlines tool

Well, here's to another successful school year! Wishing you all the very best! Don't squander this precious opportunity, this precious time you have right now to truly learn, grow, and develop. Here's to you. Happy 2022-2023!

How was your summer? Did you go on any fun trips? Did you learn anything new? How is the new school year treating you so far? I'd love to hear all about it, so feel free to share in the comments section below!

Monday, August 29, 2022

How to be a substitute teacher or paraprofessional

By Aaron S. Robertson

Introduction

In this post, I offer advice, insights, general strategies, resources, and draw from my own experiences for those interested in serving as substitute teachers and/or substitute paraprofessionals. Back in mid-February (2022), I left my full-time, direct-hire position of 2.5 years as a special education paraprofessional at a middle/high school in a public school district to venture back into the world of subbing. I work as both a sub teacher and a sub paraprofessional covering the full gamut of K-12.

Throughout this post, for those of you who may not be familiar with all the vocabulary used in education, I have shortened the word paraprofessional to para, or aide. When I use the word permanent in an employment context, I am referring to full-time, direct-hire employees of a school or district.

My intended audience assumes that you, the reader, are interested in working as a substitute educator, but you have no prior experience working in education. For those of you who already have prior experience and full teaching licenses, some of the info presented here may not apply to you.

My credentials

The 2022-2023 school year will mark my fifth school year in K-12 education, after spending my working career in business and industry into 2018. In addition to working as a permanent special education paraprofessional and occasional substitute teacher during these past four years, my experience in K-12 education so far also includes proctoring one practice and one live ACT test; providing both general classroom support and 1:1 assistance during one summer school session and one summer STEM camp session; co-teaching a junior English class; tutoring middle and high school students in a variety of subjects, primarily in the social studies, ELA, and business realms; and chaperoning a prom and several other dances.

The competition for subs is really heating up

The 2021-2022 school year was a rough year across the board in K-12 education. I’ve been chatting with teachers, paras, and even administrators all over, and they’re saying the same thing about this past year.

It’s a strange climate in education right now, that’s for sure, and there are major staffing shortages on both fronts – permanent and substitutes. Many permanent staff are leaving their schools and even the profession altogether, and there simply aren’t enough subs and new grads to fill the voids out there. As a result, subs are treated like gold right now. It’s like we ride into town as heroes, treated like royalty. I kid you not. It’s a nice feeling, but it can be overwhelming at times, too. I’m simply trying to make a living like everyone else, and I genuinely want to be there for the kids. Many school districts are upping their daily pay rates for subs. Some are getting creative in other ways, like offering bonuses after so many shifts/days worked, or even free hot lunch.

After subbing for a while, I don’t know if I ever want to go back to working in a permanent capacity ever again

After spending the last four months or so of the 2021-2022 school year subbing, I really don’t know if I ever want to go back to working in a permanent status. I genuinely find myself on the fence regarding this question. I’ve already turned down a number of unsolicited job offers by school and district leaders. I’m loving the freedom and variety.

As I stated earlier, subs really are treated like gold right now in these strange times for K-12 education. Because of huge staffing shortages on both sides – substitutes and those directly hired by schools/districts – subs really do receive a hero’s welcome and have an upper hand in today’s climate. There’s no shortage of work, variety, and opportunity right now for those willing to serve multiple schools/districts and try out multiple roles. Pay, along with other perks, is really getting competitive between districts and schools. And subs generally don’t have to worry about taking any work – and other baggage – home with them.

Working as a permanent employee can expose the employee to the abuses of office and system politics and agendas. It’s my educated guess, based on what I’ve been hearing in the news, along with the personal conversations I’ve had with many in education, that this is the primary reason why so many are calling it quits. Subs are often shielded from a lot of this by the sheer nature of their employment status. For those who just want to be there for the kids, sharing their gifts and talents without the politics and agendas, subbing is an attractive, while increasingly lucrative, option.

Who is subbing for?

Subbing is ideal for a variety of people and for a variety of reasons, depending on factors like career goals, family and other commitments, your need for scheduling flexibility, and so on. For the most part, you can choose to work as often or as little as you’d like, depending on your needs and goals.

I know education majors (college students studying to become teachers) who work from time to time as sub paras around their class schedules. Because they don’t yet have their college degrees, they can’t serve as sub teachers, at least here in Wisconsin. But for them, it’s a wonderful opportunity to gain some initial exposure and practical experience working with students in a live school setting.

I know retired teachers that sub. I know education majors that recently graduated, but they haven’t landed a full-time teaching job yet. There are also plenty of folks that are transitioning into education as a second full-time career, and so subbing offers that initial exposure and practical experience that we just discussed. There are many working-age teachers that have left the full-time game for whatever reason, or they’re looking to land somewhere else eventually, so subbing helps them in this capacity.

Subbing is great for moms; for grandparents whose grandkids are in the schools they serve; for recent college grads of any major who haven’t landed anywhere else yet; and certainly, for anyone wanting to work with children and young adults as coaches, mentors, advisors, and so on.

Looking back on it, knowing what I know now, I wish I would have discovered my current path of subbing/working as a permanent special ed para right away after college. I graduated in 2007, right around the beginning of the housing market crash/recession. As a result, the job market wasn’t the best, either, and for a while there after graduating, I found myself stringing together some odd jobs to make ends meet. It would have also been nice to begin working in K-12 education that early to gain some solid resume experience for getting into college-level teaching later down the road, which I’ll get into in more detail shortly.

So you’re interested in working as a substitute teacher and/or paraprofessional. Where to start?

I would recommend that you begin by calling the local schools in your area. Office staff should be able to provide you with some general information and get you headed in the right direction. You’ll need to secure licensing through your state’s department of education. Here in Wisconsin, our state department is called the Department of Public Instruction (DPI). While you’re on the phone with someone at your local school(s), find out if they hire their subs directly, or if they use a staffing service, like Teachers On Call (TOC) or Edustaff. This will be helpful to know for later down the road.

To work as a substitute teacher in Wisconsin, you’ll need at least an associate’s degree, along with a clean background check and the completion of a brief, state-approved substitute teacher training program to secure a three-year short-term substitute teaching license. This license allows you to serve in any K-12 sub teaching role through 45 consecutive days at a time. I recently learned that private schools can waive the 45-day consecutive day maximum. Additionally, this sub teaching license automatically allows you to work as a special education paraprofessional or other aide, with no limit on the number of consecutive days in the same role.

There is a standalone special education aide license issued by the Wisconsin DPI, as well. This license is good for five years and only allows you to work as a special ed para or other aide, so you can’t sub teach with this license. For this license, you’ll need a high school diploma, clean background check, and usually the endorsement of a hiring school district that is agreeing to sign off on the license application to the state certifying there is a need for you.

Looking for hidden gems

These days, substitute services like Teachers On Call (TOC) and Edustaff have made subbing simple and streamlined for both subs and districts/schools. Many districts and private/religious/charter schools contract with these services to ensure a stable, efficient pool of qualified, trained, and dependable substitute teachers, paras, and other aides. Yet, there are many schools and districts that aren’t currently filling their sub needs through one of these services, and that’s why I suggested earlier you may want to begin by reaching out to your area schools directly. Many Catholic, Lutheran, and other religious and private schools, as well as plenty of public school districts and charter schools still hire their subs directly, as opposed to contracting with a service like TOC and Edustaff. This makes these off-the-radar schools and districts hidden gems that you’ll have to seek out yourself.

Endless variety – finding your niche(s) as a substitute

Should I work with elementary students? Middle school? High school? Should I work in special ed or regular ed? If I’m qualified to work as either, should I just work as a sub teacher, or should I take work as a sub para/aide, as well? If I’m working with middle school and/or high school students, what subjects should I fill in for? Should I only work in public schools, the religious/private/charter realm, or both? These are all good, solid questions you may be asking yourself right now, and I’m willing to bet you have more. Let’s dive into a lot of these and hopefully ease your mind.

The short answer to all these questions is, “It’s really up to you.” Don’t be afraid to experiment here. Try working with different age groups and grade levels, subjects, special ed (we’ll discuss special ed more a little later), etc. for a while, and you’ll eventually begin to discover one or more niche areas that you’re passionate about and would like to specialize in.

I know this may sound somewhat vague and hence not very reassuring and comforting, so I’ll share with you my own background in more detail here, and how I came to find my niche areas that I’m very much passionate about. They’re quite diverse, and they all revolve around my unique interests, formal education, past work experiences, talents and skill sets, and even my faith.

To begin, when it comes to age groups/grade levels, I primarily work with middle and high school students. For me, I love the higher-level conversations I can have with these students because of their ages. With my business background, I really enjoy discussing, offering advice on, and researching with students, the college application process, college majors and career tracks, gaining practical and meaningful work experiences, networking opportunities, personal finance subjects, marketing and entrepreneurship, creating resumes and cover letters, and making real-world work and career connections to the subjects they are learning in school.

I also have a working background in journalism, local news reporting, and professional communications. Combined with my love for the social sciences (my bachelor’s degree is in political science with minors in sociology and philosophy, and my Ph.D. dissertation interests are in the political science and leadership realms with a focus on China), and I really enjoy, and feel knowledgeable and comfortable working in, both the ELA and social studies realms, as well. I love helping students craft essays and other writing assignments. I can discuss and help research history, political and economic theories, and so on. I can assist with reading and note-taking strategies.

Although I much prefer the middle and high school settings, lately, I’ve been taking more and more elementary school gigs to broaden my horizons and see what and how kids are learning at this level these days. I’m deeply concerned that elementary students are learning to read the wrong way these days, and this certainly affects them down the line as they grow older.

When it comes to subjects, I serve at all grade levels as both a special ed teacher and special ed para when I’m subbing. At the high school level, specifically, as I already alluded to, I like to fill in for business, English, and social studies teachers. In the elementary realm, I’ll occasionally fill in as a lead regular ed classroom teacher in addition to special ed roles. When it comes to the middle school setting, I’ve primarily stuck to special ed, but I’ll venture out into content-specific areas from time to time. I’ve done math, social studies, foreign languages, and physical education.

Finally, I love serving as a sub in Catholic schools, as well. I rediscovered my Roman Catholic faith back in December 2021 after nearly 20 years in the dark wilderness. That’s another, standalone, epic story/blog post for another time. But in short here, I love contributing to the faith life of Catholic youngsters whenever I can. This has also led me to inquire with my parish about teaching Sunday catechism, which I will soon be doing. As a sub teacher, I’ve taught K-8 faith formation lessons, and I’ve led elementary classrooms to Mass and even a Stations of the Cross prayer session during this past Lenten season.

The point I’m trying to make here with all this background info about myself is that it’s my background that has largely shaped and informed my interests and strengths when it comes to subbing. What is your background? What’s your story? What are your own unique experiences, talents and skillsets, etc. that you can bring to the table to benefit students in ways that are meaningful and impactful for both the students and you? Really reflect on these questions, because the answers to them will help you figure out what you’re truly called to teach.

The special education setting – Easing your fears; a world offering plenty of variety and opportunity for the substitute teacher and/or paraprofessional

How I got into special education is, admittedly, a boring and uninspiring story. Being quite honest here, I didn’t feel some sort of special calling. There was no person, situation, incident, etc. in my life that particularly compelled me to dive into this realm. I merely saw it as an inroad to break into the realm of education. Back in 2018, as I was working on my Ph.D. (I’m still working on that…), I was interested in the idea of teaching college students someday, or at least having that option available to me. I was finding it difficult at the time to get hired at the college level with my master’s degree (in management) but with no formal teaching experience, so I began exploring the K-12 realm to hopefully lay some groundwork and proven experience on my resume. That’s why I mentioned earlier that, looking back on it, knowing what I know now, I wish I would have gotten into K-12 education right away after earning my bachelor’s degree in 2007 to lay that foundation.

Long story short, I investigated several possible pathways beginning in 2018 to earning full teaching certification in subjects I enjoyed and had some sort of background in, but they all required me to either go back to school taking undergrad courses, participating in a night school -type program, and/or going through the traditional, unpaid, student teaching route for a semester. None of this was practical or appealing to me, so I decided to pursue work as a permanent special ed para and occasional sub teacher. I would need a high school diploma for the former (check), and at least an associate’s degree for the latter here in Wisconsin (check), along with passing a background check (check), so this became my path.

Even though I didn’t feel some sort of special calling; even though there was no person, situation, incident, etc. in my life that particularly compelled me to dive into this realm, I’m so very thankful that this did indeed become my path. It’s been truly rewarding on many levels, and I hope you’ll discover the same for you. Getting in the door as a permanent special ed para also led to opportunities for me that I actively sought out in the regular ed environment, as well, like administering tests, tutoring, chaperoning, leading small group discussions and lessons, co-teaching, and so on.

Here’s the general gist about working in special education, either as a sub teacher or sub para: If you have fears, like whether you’re qualified, ready to take on the challenges, afraid of possible physical and other behavioral outbursts, push them out of your mind.

I’ve found when filling in as a substitute para that the permanent staff will almost always change their own schedules for the day to prevent you from working with the most challenging cases. This includes behavioral outbursts, toileting, lifting, etc. Permanent staff usually doesn’t expect you to have to work with these types of cases. They’re grateful you’re there to help, and they want you to return! And often, it’s in the best interests of the students, as well. They may be more prone to acting out and taking advantage of you because they know you don’t usually work with them, and/or it may be aggravating to them that their usual routine has been interrupted.

Similarly, I’ve found when filling in as a sub teacher in special ed, the permanent paras and other staff will often take care of everything for you. Trust them. Let them lead. They know and understand each student inside and out because they work with them every day.

Now, as a former permanent special ed para myself, I come into each special ed substitute gig, whether teaching or working as a para, mentally prepared and open for anything. I’ve done plenty of toileting, lifting, feeding, and so on in my time. I’m well-versed in Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs). I’m familiar and comfortable working with most assistive technologies, etc. So, I tell the permanent staff right away at the beginning of the day, “I’m one of you. I’m here to help in whatever way I can. I’m here to work.” But that’s me. That’s my comfort level. That’s my experience. Even though I offer that invite at the beginning of the day, though, permanent staff will still often decline it for the reasons just mentioned – the most challenging students may simply try to take advantage of the fact that I’m new, and/or it could genuinely aggravate them that they’re working with an unfamiliar face who is interrupting their routine.

As both a sub teacher and sub para in special ed, I’ve enjoyed so much variety and so many meaningful and impactful moments, with both students and staff. On a longer-term assignment I was on, working as a sub para at a high school, I had the opportunity to help a student make a how-to video in his automotive repair class, in which he performed several basic maintenance checks on a vehicle. In this same longer-term role, I worked 1:1 supporting a student in a personal finance class, which was a lot of fun for me, given my business background. I’ve assisted students in math, English, social studies, gym, music, and science classes. I’ve led small group reading lesson sessions. I've done skills testing. I helped a high school student develop a marketing plan for a food truck business he created for his marketing class. Again, a lot of fun for me. Working in special ed offers a lot of variety and opportunity, along with being intrinsically rewarding by its very nature. I’m about to begin the 2022-2023 school year in a long-term sub teaching role in special ed at the elementary level, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Different strategies you can use for subbing

There are several strategies you can employ for managing your work and overall experience as a substitute.

To book gigs in advance, or take it day-by-day?

I struggle with this one, often going back and forth debating in my mind. There are benefits and drawbacks to both. However, I usually fall on the side of booking in advance. I work in multiple school districts, and I need to work consistently for financial reasons. It’s comforting to know, then, that my calendar is booked solid far in advance. The downside to this, though, is that, by having gigs booked in advance, the booking system will not allow me to see what other opportunities might be available on any given day. Perhaps a higher-paying gig, and/or one closer to home, and/or a school I already know and like is available, but I won’t know this if I’m already booked in advance. This is where taking the day-by-day approach has its perks. The downside to taking one day at a time, however, is that you may not have an available gig to go to on any given day. If you need to work for the income, this can deliver a blow to your finances. You’ll also need to be up by 5:30am-6am every day to start checking the system and your phone. Only you can decide on the strategy that makes the most sense to you.

Many districts, or narrow it down to one or two?

This is another decision that only you can make, based on what you feel is best for you. Casting a wider net ensures that there is virtually no shortage of available work opportunities. On the other hand, if you’ve discovered a couple schools/districts that you really enjoy, then you may miss out on seeing gigs at those schools/in those districts. Narrowing the scope (the number of districts you’re open to) can help with this, but on the other hand, the pickings may become slim and dry spells (streaks with no available work) may occur.

When I started subbing again back in mid-February, I began with a wide net approach. I was opened to working in five or six districts. I soon began to realize, however, that I had discovered my “favorites” when it came to schools and districts, so I decided to cut that number in half by the end of April. I realized that there were schools and districts I wasn’t visiting at all. No offense to them. I just found some favorites I really enjoy working at. We’re creatures of habit, and it’s easy to stick to something that you already know is working for you and that you enjoy. I’m sure you will discover your own, too.

Finding your favorites and narrowing your focus also helps with building rapport and establishing networking connections if your goal is to eventually get hired directly by a school/district you enjoy. If you want to remain a sub, rather than getting hired by a school/district directly, then this relationship-building and familiarity with the school/district in question can help you secure preferred sub status – this is where teachers, paraprofessionals, and the school office may reach out to you first because they’ve gotten to know and trust you! I’ve been very blessed to find this happening more and more for me. I receive a lot of inquiries about my availability directly from teachers, paras, and school offices now.

Conclusion and helpful resources

These are indeed unusual times for K-12 education across the country right now. It’s a strange climate. There are major staffing shortages in both schools and among the substitute ranks, and so working subs currently have quite an advantage. This is a high-in-demand field to be in right now, one in which pay and other incentives among districts and schools are really starting to get competitive.

If you’re interested in learning more about subbing, start by contacting schools in your area to see what their hiring process is and to get some general direction on next steps, like the state licensing process. Look into whatever substitute staffing services, if any, service the schools in your area, like TOC and Edustaff. They can help you begin looking into the state licensing process and give you general direction on where to go next, as well. While you’re beginning to investigate all of this, begin reflecting on these key questions in mind that we raised earlier:

What is your background? What’s your story? What are your own unique experiences, talents and skillsets, etc. that you can bring to the table to benefit students in ways that are meaningful and impactful for both the students and you?

As for training and other learning opportunities, there are plenty of wonderful resources out there that can help you build new or strengthen existing skills. You can buy affordable courses on a variety of K-12 education subjects, including special education topics, on Udemy.com. I love Udemy, and you can read my review of this awesome learning platform here. I fulfilled my substitute teacher training course requirement as part of my state license application through STEDI.org. You can come across many different resources with a few simple YouTube and/or Google searches, like this article on ThoughtCo.com, “Ideas for Substitute Teachers With No Lesson Plans,” or this piece on WeAreTeachers.com, “50 Tips, Tricks, and Ideas for Substitute Teachers.” The substitute staffing agencies, if you end up working for them, offer a rich variety of both required and voluntary training videos, webinars, in-person workshops, and so on. But perhaps the best advice I can leave you with here when it comes to training, is that you simply need to dive in. Learn by doing. Ask questions, try out different grade levels, try out both reg ed and special ed, etc. Best of luck to you and thank you for wanting to serve our children, families, communities, and country in this very special way!

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Personal finance resources for students and teachers

Personal finance simulation games

The following links provide detailed descriptions and reviews of, along with discussion questions for, personal finance simulation games.

"Build Your Stax" personal finance game - You have 20 years to make as much money as you can through seven different types of investments. As the game goes on, you'll be confronted with unexpected expenses that pop up in real, everyday life, costs like home repairs, family emergencies, and speeding tickets. Sometimes, you might gain money unexpectedly, too, like winning a prize or contest, or finding money on the ground.

"Time for Payback" personal finance game - Your ultimate goal is to survive to the end of the game, meaning you graduated college, managed to juggle all your priorities, and found employment with a starting salary that adequately covers all the debt you accumulated during your college years through your various choices and decisions. Will you make it?

"PlaySpent.org" personal finance game - Can you survive financially for one month? This is a very eye-opening, thought-provoking simulation. The decisions you'll have to make, and the situations you'll encounter, mirror everyday real life for a lot of people. You'll learn a lot about yourself, including your spending habits, your goals and ambitions, how you reason through decisions, and what you're willing, or not willing, to sacrifice.

"Monopoly" as a personal finance game - On the surface, it may appear that Monopoly is an awesome game when it comes to teaching entrepreneurship, and it is, right? But Monopoly is also wonderful at teaching us some things about personal finance, if we dig a little deeper.

Essays and reflections on the benefits of living simply, saving, and strategizing

The Minimalists - Meet The Minimalists, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, who present a compelling case that getting rid of all the clutter in your life - the clothes you never wear; all the stuff in your basement, closets, and/or storage unit you're not using; the long hours you're working and mounds of debt you're taking on in order to keep up appearances and look "successful" to all your friends, neighbors, co-workers, and perhaps even family members ("Keeping up with the Joneses"), etc., etc. - can help you live a more meaningful, purposeful life. Learn a little bit about their personal journeys and how they, in turn, learned these valuable lessons in some pretty hard ways.

Dave Ramsey and The Minimalists - Learn how personal finance guru the legendary Dave Ramsey approaches the subject of money in comparison to The Minimalists. We'll discover that they arrive at the same conclusions, but perhaps just take slightly different perspectives to get there.

Building your own personal economy - Written in May 2020. If the coronavirus pandemic can teach us anything from a financial standpoint, it's that we each need to focus on building our own personal economies. We can't trust, or rely on, other people, politicians, or broken-down systems to do that for us.

Strategies for saving money

The envelope budgeting system - a timeless, classic strategy for easily paying the bills while paying yourself - if you're willing to cultivate and maintain a little discipline.

Browse our "Shopping" category - a collection of previous blog posts offering all sorts of tips and strategies on how to save money on groceries, dining out, car insurance, cell phone expenses, Christmas gifts, and a lot more!

30 Easy Ways to Save Up to $1,000 - presented by Dave Ramsey and his team

How to Save Money: 22 Simple Tips - presented by Dave Ramsey and his team

How to Save Money Fast - presented by Dave Ramsey and his team


Complete personal finance curriculum for your classroom
Personal finance vocabulary

Personal finance vocabulary list - a good starter list for high school students of common vocabulary terms, along with brief definitions and practical examples for each word.

Difference between stocks and bonds - a great blog post with easy-to-understand explanations about these two different forms of investments.

Living on your own, paying taxes, credit cards, understanding your paycheck, more

Getting Started Teaching Personal Finance - an awesome article written for Edutopia by Kailen Stover, a family and consumer sciences teacher in Colorado. From the article: "Lessons on credit and credit cards, taxes, and how to find an apartment and make the rent are invaluable for high school students. Here is a beginner’s guide to building hands-on and real-world opportunities into personal finance education."

Anatomy of a paycheck - a great video lesson, only a little over five minutes long, given by Sal Khan over at Khan Academy. In this video, Sal breaks down all the expenses and deductions that come with your paycheck. You may have heard of, or have already used, Khan Academy before. Launched by Sal himself, a Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) –educated former hedge fund analyst, the Khan Academy is a free online education platform. The Web site features an extensive variety of courses and tutorials in areas like math, science and engineering, computer programming, arts and humanities, economics and finance, test prep, career exploration, the college admissions process, and a lot more. Within the economics and finance course offerings, Khan has a subcategory devoted to entrepreneurship, featuring exclusive interviews and conversations he conducts with top entrepreneurs and business leaders.

If your school/district or home/family has a BrainPOP subscription, look these subjects up on BrainPOP for great video lessons, quizzes, games, and other learning activities:
  • Credit Cards
  • Taxes
  • Budgets
  • Comparing Prices
  • Mortgages
  • Debt
  • Banking
  • Interest

Friday, August 19, 2022

Lyndhurst STEM Club for Girls

Back in July, I received this very thoughtful e-mail from a Ms. Stacey Martin over at the Lyndhurst STEM Club for Girls. I replied to her a couple days later. This note from Ms. Martin and her students is just one reason why I started, and continue to keep going, this blog. This project has truly become a labor of love for me. It really means a lot to me when I hear from others about how my writing and research has helped them in some way. Of course, I happily fulfilled the request of adding the link they sent me. Check out the Lyndhurst STEM Club for Girls website when you find a few moments. The site features a lot of great information, ideas, statistics, and STEM resources for students, families, and educators. It's very well-organized and easy to navigate.

All the Best,

Aaron


Good afternoon Mr. Robertson!

I have a quick thank-you for you, from the girls in my Summer STEM club! We got some awesome resources thanks to the 'Fun Links & Learning Resources' you have on your website MrRobertsonscorner.com. Everyone was having a lot of fun with the science activities we found and I think it's going to be an excellent tool... They thought you might appreciate hearing how helpful your page was for our group =) So thank you!

One of the girls in our club (her names Kristie!) found this really good resource for Educational Science Games she wanted to share with you -- www.uscareerinstitute.edu/library/educational-science-games .

Kristie suggested we could include this in our note as a way of saying "thank you!" She was thinking it could be a good addition to your Fun links and Learning Resources, so I was wondering if you'd be able to add it? She would be so proud to see that her suggestion was useful, and it could help other people out there using your site this summer, like us...

Thanks again for your help, Mr. Robertson even if you didn't know LOL.. If you're able to use Kristie's science game link I can have her check out your page next week ! She'd be so proud to see it... Have a good weekend and enjoy the rest of the summer!

Sincerely,
Miss Martin (and Kristie L.)

Fight to save gifted and talented programs in schools

Aaron S. Robertson

Recently, I came across this article in the Wall Street Journal, "The Unclear Future for Gifted-and-Talented Education."

From the article:

"Controversy has ramped up around the longtime practice of providing accelerated classes for selected students. Racial-justice movements highlighted inequalities, prompting changes in districts across the nation. Lawsuits related to these programs are pending in states including Virginia, Missouri and New York.

Critics say gifted-and-talented classes lead to racial segregation and take resources away from other students who need them. Even some proponents say changes may be needed in methods for selecting students and in the names of these programs, which many brand as elitist."
I don't often editorialize here at this blog, but I must say this article troubled me. It's my sincere hope that we as a nation and as individual communities and school districts will choose to fall on the side of finding meaningful ways to sustain and expand these programs to include more students, rather than simply choosing to eliminate them altogether in the name of racial and income equality. Because it unfairly punishes each and every individual student either already deemed gifted and talented, or possessing as-of-yet unrecognized potential, following the latter approach will only continue to weaken us as a country and society on the collective level. It is unjust, therefore - indeed, it is immoral - on multiple levels, to pursue the latter path and intentionally hold back the education and development of young minds with these levels of talent and potential.

Now, there's no doubt that the state of American education, as a whole, is in a state of serious turmoil, and these gifted and talented programs are just one slice of the big pie that makes up K-12 education. I understand that. I primarily work in special education, and I'm as equally passionate about ensuring students with IEPs and 504s are receiving all the services and resources they need for success, too. The same with all the kids in the "middle" that are right on grade level and moving through the regular education environment. It's a big pie, no doubt, and there are always internal and external fights and competitions for funding and other valuable resources taking place between each slice.

But I'm particularly concerned and bothered by the arguments made by some educators, administrators, and others quoted or cited in this article. There seems to be a prevailing sense among many that gifted and talented programs should be eliminated outright because, again, they contend, there currently are not enough minorities and poorer kids represented in them. I think it's a weak argument for elimination, one that punishes these students specifically, and broader society and our country generally, by seeking to hold back their proven gifts and potential.

I have an interest in international relations (IR), and I'm a China observer. When we combine the elimination of these programs with the broader problem of 300,000 teacher and support staff vacancies across the U.S. right now, China, along with other countries around the world, really has to be laughing at - and learning from - us. Global competition and threats are real.

Let's focus on finding more ways to bring more students into the fold, rather than lowering standards of excellence across the board over perceived privilege. It's a very poor, and even dangerous, solution to the problem. Again, I state with clear conviction, that it is immoral to intentionally hold back the education and development of young minds with these levels of talent and potential. We need to educate them, nurture their gifts, and simultaneously help them develop virtue and character so that they truly come to understand and appreciate their gifts - and the responsibilities to themselves and to others that come with them.

No matter who you are - whether you're a student, parent, fellow educator, or simply a concerned citizen reading this - I invite and encourage you to get more involved if you're worried about the future of these gifted and talented programs in our country. Do further research and write letters to the editor for your local and state newspapers. Talk with your elected state and federal representatives. Talk with your school board members. Talk with teachers and administrators. If you have your own blog or website, use it to make your voice heard and contribute to the debate. Feel free to leave your thoughts, questions, ideas, concerns, research, and experiences right here at my blog, in the Comments section below.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Monopoly as a personal finance game

Here's an online version of Monopoly from Free Web Arcade. I really like this version. It's pretty slimmed down and streamlined, which is to say there aren't a lot of bells and whistles here. There's not even any background music or sounds, which is fine by me - I just open up YouTube in another tab and listen to some of my favorite tunes while playing.

On the surface, it may appear that Monopoly is an awesome game when it comes to teaching entrepreneurship, and it is, right? After all, you're trying to build your own little real estate empire and send your competitors to bankruptcy court. It's a great game in business education. It's actually quite brilliant, a testament to the game's longevity and the high number of versions and spinoffs that were spawned by the original. This game has it all - buying and selling, risk, chance, opportunity, choice, negotiation and deal making, and so on.

But Monopoly is also wonderful at teaching us some things about personal finance, if we dig a little deeper. And certainly, a lot of these lessons and strategies carry over into business. There's a lot of overlap here. Let's explore the personal finance perspective in more detail with these questions designed to get you thinking a bit more and really starting to dig below the surface.

Discussion and Reflection Questions

When you play the game, do you find yourself buying every property you land on (if it's for sale), or do you play with a specific strategy in mind while trying to balance your expenses/investments and available resources?

Do you think the highest-costing investment opportunities always provide the best return on your money? The most consistent return? Why or why not? Put another way, when thinking about this question when it comes to your own real-life spending habits, do the big name brands always pay off? Are they always worth it? Do you always need all the bells and whistles when you buy a product? Are there alternatives that may still serve your needs while saving you a little (or a lot) of money?

How is purchasing an individual property in the game like taking the same risk as investing in only a single stock in real life? What are some ways you can lower this risk and increase your chances of return?

Think about all the negotiations you conduct during the game - all the times and ways you try to strike a deal with other players when trying to buy or sell properties. Focus on the process of negotiating. How can this valuable skill be used to help you in real, everyday life? There are countless examples we can draw from.

How do the risks of not having enough cash on hand during the game reflect not having enough cash on hand in real life? What are the risks involved? Can you think of any specific situations that may come up?

If you found this post helpful, you may also enjoy browsing our "Personal finance" category for our full catalog of posts, ideas, tips and strategies, resources, reflections, and more simulation games.

PlaySpent.org personal finance game

PlaySpent.org, a game by Urban Ministries of Durham

You start with $1,000.00. You need to choose one from several job options, several different health insurance plans, and several housing options at the beginning of the game. Your goal is to survive the month without running out of money. Throughout the typical month, as in real life, a number of unexpected situations and expenses come up, and you'll be forced to make some very tough decisions. Expect the unexpected.

This is a very eye-opening, thought-provoking simulation. The decisions you'll have to make, and the situations you'll encounter, mirror everyday real life for a lot of people. You'll learn a lot about yourself, including your spending habits, your goals and ambitions, how you reason through decisions, and what you're willing, or not willing, to sacrifice. Along the way, you'll also learn a lot of real-life facts out there when it comes to paying for, and juggling, it all. The game does an awesome job of explaining the consequences, good and/or not-so-good, of all your decisions, all backed by real data. This game is great for any age, but if you're currently in high school, use this game to your advantage. Really study it. Time is on your side right now to figure a lot of this stuff out, before you end up in a real-world mess. If you are indeed still in high school, I highly recommend pairing this simulation with the Time for Payback game, which will help get you thinking about how you're going to manage the debt you'll accumulate during your college years, if you decide you'd like to pursue college.

Discussion and Reflection Questions

After playing the game, be totally honest with yourself when it comes to these questions, because this is how you'll truly learn. What did you learn about yourself? Would you say you tend to make decisions thoughtfully and carefully, or do you tend to make them more on a whim? Do you tend to pursue the easier-sounding path, whatever that is, or are you usually one that likes to (or at least willing to) put in more work and sacrifice up front? When it comes to your purchasing habits, do you usually find yourself needing all the bells and whistles, or do you try to find money-saving options that will still work for you? Do you have any kind of a savings plan/habit in place right now, no matter how small?

No matter your age, is there anything you'd like to change right now about your current journey to increase your chances of success in life, work and career, and wealth? If so, what changes do you need to make, starting right now? Put them in SMART goal format with this easy guide, "What are SMART goals?"

After playing this game, what do you want to learn more about? Scholarship opportunities? Career options? Choosing a college major? More personal finance subjects? Networking? Creating a resume? How can you make this learning possible - what are some resources you can consult, who can you talk to, etc.?

If you found this post helpful, you may also enjoy browsing our "Personal finance" category for our full catalog of posts, ideas, tips and strategies, resources, reflections, and more simulation games.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Time for Payback personal finance game

TimeForPayback.com, a game by Next Gen Personal Finance

Start the game by applying for colleges. You enter your GPA, your level of extracurricular involvement, and your home state. Based on your answers to these, you may get anywhere from 1-4 acceptance letters. What kind of college will you attend, based on your eligibility - in-state public, out-of-state public, private school, or community college? What will you do during the summer before you start college - will you be a couch potato and take it easy, or will you work and earn money? What will you major in? Will you buy new, buy used, or rent your textbooks? Will you get a nothing-fancy laptop, or do you need one with all the bells and whistles? Will you work while going to school? How will you balance school, family, work, and a social life? Along the way throughout the game, other challenges and decision-making moments will come your way. As with real life, expect the unexpected.

Your ultimate goal is to survive to the end of the game, meaning you graduated college, managed to juggle all your priorities, and found employment with a starting salary that adequately covers all the debt you accumulated during your college years through your various choices and decisions. Will you make it?

This is a very fun (or not-so-fun, depending on your perspective) and educational game, and I'm happy to share it with all of you here. At the very least, fun or not (you decide), it's certainly eye-opening. You'll learn a lot - about yourself, your goals and ambitions, how you arrive at decisions, as well as learning a lot of real-life facts out there when it comes to paying for, and juggling, it all. The game does a great job of explaining the consequences, good and/or not-so-good, of all your decisions, all backed by real data. If you're currently in high school, use this game to your advantage. Time is on your side right now to figure a lot of this stuff out, before you end up in a real-world mess.

Discussion and Reflection Questions, more geared to high school students

Try playing this game twice, back-to-back. Be honest with your current GPA and your current level of extracurricular involvement (clubs, activities, and sports). Briefly compare the two games. Did you make it to the finish line in either game? Did you notice yourself making any changes in the second game compared to how you played the first? Be totally honest with yourself when it comes to these questions, because this is how you'll truly learn - What did you learn about yourself during the games? Would you say you tend to make decisions thoughtfully and carefully, or do you tend to make them more on a whim? Do you tend to choose the easier path, whatever that is, or are you usually one that likes to (or at least willing to) put in more work and sacrifice? When it comes to your purchasing habits, do you usually find yourself needing all the bells and whistles, or do you try to find money-saving options that will still work for you?

Is there anything you'd like to change right now about your current high school journey to increase your chances of success in college and career? If so, what changes do you need to make, starting right now? Put them in SMART goal format with this easy guide, "What are SMART goals?"

After playing this game, what do you want to learn more about? Scholarship opportunities? Career options? Choosing a college major? More personal finance subjects? How can you make this learning possible - what are some resources you can consult, who can you talk to, etc.?

If you found this post helpful, you may also enjoy browsing our "Personal finance" category for our full catalog of posts, ideas, tips and strategies, resources, reflections, and more simulation games.

Build Your Stax personal finance game

BuildYourStax.com, a game by Next Gen Personal Finance

You have 20 years. You can either play against other humans in a group, or you can play against the computer. Every six months, you'll receive $4,000 to invest any way you choose. The game calls this "pocket cash." Throughout the game, as time passes, you're eventually opened up to a total of seven different types of investments in which you can put your money to work. They are:
  • Savings account
  • Certificate of Deposit (CD)
  • Index fund
  • Individual stocks
  • Government bonds
  • Crop commodity
  • Gold
When each of these investment opportunities becomes available to you, the game provides you with a little background info and education about it, which is very helpful.

As the game goes on, you'll be confronted with unexpected expenses that pop up in real, everyday life, costs like home repairs, family emergencies, and speeding tickets. Sometimes, you might gain money unexpectedly, too, like winning a prize or contest, or finding money on the ground.

At the end of the game, you'll see stats like how much money in total you were given to invest, how much you gained or lost from various life events, how much you earned from your investments, and what your best and worst investment performers were. What's also really neat is that the game simulates a real 20-year period in market history. For example, I recently played this game twice in one sitting (I've played it quite a few times), and I learned at the end that I was playing with real data covering the periods 1991-2011, and then 1986-2006. The game also reveals at the end the names of the real-life individual stocks that the data was generated from. During the game, the individual stocks are given fake names.

A fun and highly-educational game! I really enjoy it, and I highly recommend it to middle school, high school, and even to college students and adults that want to learn or sharpen their skills and understanding of personal finance and investing.

Discussion and Reflection Questions

Try playing this game twice, back-to-back, either against other human players in a group game, or against the computer, your choice. Briefly compare the two games. Did you notice yourself making any changes in the second game compared to how you played the first? Would you say you had an intentional strategy you were testing, or would you say you were making decisions more on a whim? What did the other players/the computer maybe do differently compared to you? Whether you won against the other players/the computer or not, did you at least finish the second game with more money than you did after the first? What could you maybe take away from the other players/the computer - what did you learn from them and how they played?

What do you think are the safest investment opportunities in the game? Why? The riskiest opportunities in the game? Why?

Do you think the safest investment opportunities always provide the best return on your money? Why or why not?

What investment do you personally find most interesting? Why? The least interesting? Why?

What are the major risks involved in purchasing individual stocks? How does buying into an index fund help lower these big risks?

After playing this game, what do you want to learn more about? How can you make this learning possible - what are some resources you can consult, who can you talk to, etc.?

If you found this post helpful, you may also enjoy our previous post, "Difference between stocks and bonds." Feel free to browse our "Personal finance" category for our full catalog of posts, ideas, tips and strategies, resources, reflections, and more simulation games.

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Sports card market on fire

The sports card market appears to be coming back strong.

I've been seeing occasional articles and hearing things popping up in the news during the last year or so suggesting that the overall market for sports cards, which had largely been in the dumps for many years, is all of a sudden back on fire. I know I've been seeing a resurgence in card and memorabilia shows here in the Milwaukee area. The pandemic, apparently, has a lot to do with this sudden and exciting revival. Several factors are at play here, from what I've been hearing and reading: Older collectors are rediscovering the hobby, getting back to collecting players that they grew up with. Meanwhile, these older collectors are getting younger ones, today's kids, interested in collecting. And - the pandemic has caused the factories to produce less new cards, so values for cards that are coming out now are instantly surging because their print runs are much shorter.

In this post, I'll discuss some of the main trends and currents happening in the market at the moment, as well as offer some tips on how to be careful with your money. These are all based on both my own recent research and experiences in the marketplace, as well as on informal conversations I've been occasionally having with collectors, dealers, show organizers, and shop owners around the Milwaukee area. Fortunately, what I've been researching and experiencing myself seems to be largely in line with what's been coming up in these discussions with others, and vice-versa, so hopefully we can present a pretty accurate picture here for you of what's going on. I've been warmly embracing this renaissance of the hobby for the last few months, checking out a few shows here and there, along with a shop near my home. These are exciting times for the sports card market, indeed, and I've truly been like a kid in a candy store. It's all bringing back fun memories from my childhood.

What I don't address in this post is the subject of graded cards, which could easily take up a whole separate post of its own. That may be a future project here.

Some 1980s and 1990s card values are suddenly on the rise - I grew up in the 80s and 90s. I mostly collected baseball cards as a kid, and that's still true today. Baseball is my #1 love, but I also got into basketball and football cards to some extent, as well. The problem with all cards produced during this era is that there were far too many made. Even today, in 2022, you can walk into virtually any card shop, and you'll find tons of unopened packs, boxes, and sets of cards from this era, still factory sealed as if they came off the assembly line just yesterday (I wouldn't recommend testing out the 30+ year-old chewing gum, though). These shops can't give this stuff away, there's just so much of it. Don't get me wrong. They're still fun to open and pick through. I just bought a total of 30 packs between 1990 Fleer and 1990 Score baseball a couple weeks ago at a local shop near my home. I spent a total of $15.00, or just $0.50 per pack. I had a lot of fun going through them, and I found a good number of star cards to hold on to - Ryan, Ripken, Griffey Jr., Maddux, Glavine, Yount, Molitor, Bonds, Clemens, Biggio, Sandberg, Gwynn, Ozzie Smith, etc. They're not worth a whole lot, because there are so many copies out there, but they're still worth a few bucks. But something interesting is happening in the 80s/90s realm right now. Although the supply is enormous, there's a resurgence in demand, driven largely by collectors in my age group that grew up with this stuff. Additionally, more and more players from this era have been entering the Hall of Fame in recent years, further driving up overall values and interest.

Beware of the highly-volatile fluctuations in values of today's modern cards - I've heard this from many of the dealers, shop owners, and collectors I've been talking to. Today's kids and their parents, especially, should beware, since it's largely today's kids that are collecting today's newest cards. Makes sense. There's a lot of betting taking place on the values of today's cards, led largely by the efforts of Wall Street investors (literally - a lot of these guys are stock brokers or day traders) who have entered the hobby looking for the next big investment or business opportunity. As a result of their involvement in the hobby, there's a lot of speculation going on with these newer cards. And the average collector - the average kid and family - can easily find themselves stuck in the middle of this Wall Street -style pricing war, and find themselves out a lot of money in the end. These investor types are trying to bank on what they're betting will be tomorrow's new superstars. They're scarfing up as many cards as they can get their hands on, and they're willing to fork out big, big bucks for them. As a result, they're driving up values across the board, taking some of them to insane, unrealistic heights - thousands and thousands of dollars per card. There's no doubt that people are making some serious money on all of this, including the occasionally-lucky working class kid and family that just happens to be holding one or more of these cards. But many who have been in the hobby for years are seeing a bubble ready to pop. The problem is that these cards, whose values have been artificially driven up to tens of thousands of dollars in some cases, can easily sink down to nothing tomorrow with an injury, scandal, or lost championship.

If you're collecting newer cards, then, it's best to apply some old-fashioned investing principles, since you're likely going toe-to-toe with big Wall Street money on the other end of the deal. For starters, buy low and sell high. If a card is already priced unrealistically high and you don't own it yet, it's best to stay away from it at that price. Again, one injury, scandal, or lost championship can bring it down to zero in a blink of the eye. Also, always assume that your collection is worth nothing until you have actual cash in hand. Values on paper don't necessarily mean anything. And that goes for anything you may own - cars, homes, antiques, coins, etc. You need to find a buyer who's willing to pay for your item in order to turn it into cash.

For a much safer bet, true vintage (1970s and prior) continues to be where it's really at - Anything 1970s and older is usually a safe bet. These cards don't have the overproduction problems of the 80s and 90s, and they don't have the stock market -style speculation problems like the new stuff. Because these players are long retired, deceased, already in their sport's hall of fame, etc., their careers and stats are firmly set in stone, for all eternity. There's no fear of these athletes ending up on the injured list today, or losing a championship tomorrow. Everything they did or failed to do is fully known to us. For the ones still living, barring any future scandal or crime they may find themselves in, there's really nothing they can do now that will make their card values fluctuate. And barring any sudden surge in demand for a particular year/player (living or deceased), which would be pretty doubtful, these values are going to be consistently stable. Now, there's both an upside and a downside to these stable values. The upside is that we shouldn't have to worry about these values ever falling much. On the flip side, however, they're most likely not going to ever climb much, either. They're largely stuck for good in a kind of equilibrium. Therefore, those who are devoted to collecting vintage are usually in it for reasons other than pure investment/monetary gain. Perhaps they just want to be able to say they own cards of true, true legends of the game. Maybe they really enjoy the artwork and layout of certain cards and sets - there were some really beautiful, visually-appealing sets that came out in the 1950s, for example, and during the tobacco card era of the 1880s-1910s. Some of these collectors may be strictly into collecting vintage team sets and/or hometown favorites. And still some may have the goal of building complete sets from their own childhood years.

Do you collect sports cards? Is this post pretty accurate at the moment? Why or why not? What advice and resources would you offer our readers here? Feel free to weigh in with your thoughts, observations, tips, and experiences in the comments section below. We'd love to hear from you!

Monday, July 4, 2022

Advice for new high school graduates

A few weeks back, shortly before the school year ended, at a high school I had been subbing at frequently during the last several months, I came across a student I recognized in the hallway during passing time between classes. A senior getting ready to graduate, I had gotten to know him fairly well during these last few months in a variety of classes. A fine young man with a bright future ahead of him. I really appreciated the opportunity to build some rapport with him and learn from him.

We greeted each other, and then I asked him something along the lines of, "Are you excited to graduate? Here we are, bud, finally at the finish line!" He didn't seem too excited. He explained to me that there were mixed emotions, and that he was actually a little nervous - a little scared of what may lie ahead. The uncertainty of it all, he said. He told me he plans on working for at least a year, see what happens with that. College is off the table, for now, at least.

Here was my advice to him, with a few additional thoughts, if it's of any help to you or to a newly-minted high school graduate you may know:

Indeed, it can definitely be a little distressing, not being able to fully see or understand what lies ahead for you. Perhaps that's one of our flaws as human beings, at any age, at any stage in our lives. All too often, we want - we demand - to see all the puzzle pieces clearly laid out before us. We desire to be fully in control and fully aware of the immediate future, and when that doesn't happen, we get a little nervous, and yes, we get scared.

My young friend, at the time of our conversation, didn't quite know or understand what lies ahead for him beyond high school. He was getting ready to trade, in an instant, the certainty and stability of a clearly defined, regimented schedule and set of expectations he had known for his entire life up to this point - for the unknown.

Or was he? I explained to him, and I share with all of you here now, a different way of looking at this situation. Let's turn it on its head. He doesn't know what lies ahead, because he simply hasn't created it yet. He - along with every other high school graduate - has just been given a brand new, totally blank, spotless canvass. You're going to decide what goes on it. It doesn't matter if you're off to college right away, or the workforce, or the military. It doesn't matter if you have concrete goals at this moment, or if you're taking it more in stride. You have each been given this blank canvass.

You're going to create a masterpiece based on your goals, expectations, values, dreams, faith, work ethic, skills and talents, interests, and yes, a bit of the unknown. This masterpiece, of course, is you. It's not going to be created and completed overnight. It will be created, revised, and taken in new directions for the remainder of your life, however long that will be. There are going to be some unexpected personal and professional turns and bumps on the journey, but that's all part of the brilliant masterpiece in the end - you. You won't be able to clearly see all the puzzle pieces laid out before you. You won't be able to instantly - or perhaps ever - understand some of the situations that will come your way on the journey. There will be times when you step back to look at what you've done with this precious gift, and you're going to absolutely love it. There will be other times when you look at it, and you'll just want to scream. But through it all, hold strong to your faith and your values. Keep your nose to the grindstone, make use of your resources like your time and money wisely, and stay positive. You're about to start a truly one-of-a-kind work of art that no one else can duplicate, and no one else can fully understand or appreciate.

Best of luck to all of you freshly-minted high school graduates. Work hard, remember the things that are truly important in this life, develop your God-given talents and gifts for both yourself and others, use your resources wisely, and expect the unexpected. Now, get to work on that canvass.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

The rich history in my parish cemetery

Perhaps it's fitting in some way that I share this little story on the eve of the Fourth of July.

About a week ago, on Monday night, I took a ride to my church, St. Mary's in Hales Corners, Wisconsin, for Eucharistic Adoration. When I arrived, which was shortly after 8pm, I was told that Eucharistic Adoration ended early (it usually goes until 9pm) because of an unidentifiable burning smell throughout the church. Not wanting to go back home right away because I had already ventured this far, I decided to take a stroll through the parish cemetery, which I had not yet visited up to this point since joining the parish this past December. I'm so glad I did this.

St. Mary's, which is located in Hales Corners, Wisconsin and a part of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee, was founded in 1842. Its cemetery, which is still open to new burials, has at least one burial in it that dates back to that year. As I walked through this beautiful, peaceful space, the only living person in it, I noticed many burials dating back to the mid-nineteenth century. Now, many of these stones, which are naturally worn from 150+ years of exposure to the elements, don't list the person's birth year, only the year of his or her death. But the age of the person at the time of death is listed. Doing the simple math in my head, I quickly realize that some of the people laying before me were born at the end of the 1700s. How genuinely fascinating, that fact alone, was to me.

I also noticed that many of these people laid to rest in the mid-1800s were from Ireland, a testament to the parish's strong Irish roots. The parish's first priest, not surprisingly then, was Irish, as well. Many of these stones list the county in Ireland from which each person or family had come.

I was just in awe by all of this. As I continued to slowly make my way through the cemetery on this warm evening, the bright sun slowly fading with each passing minute, I couldn't help but reflect on both the individual lives laying before me here, and the collective history and heritage truly shared by all of us - a continuity that brings us all together, that unites all the ages, right on down to the present day. Who were these people, I wondered? What were their struggles and hopes? Their fears and dreams? What did they do for a living? What got them through that long and difficult journey across the Atlantic to settle here, starting completely over with nothing? How did they make it? What life lessons did they pass down to their children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews? If they could talk with us today, what life lessons would they share with us? Have any of their descendants or other relatives ever come into my life? If so, did they have an impact on my life, hopefully positive?

The plant life in this sacred place is as lush and beautiful as these original stones that each share a life's story with us in just a few simple words, a reminder that they were here. They existed. They lived. They hoped. They struggled. They worked. They succeeded. They sacrificed. They experienced immense joy and sorrow. They mattered. They are a part of us and our own stories. The trees are as old and as strong as the souls at rest here, towering over us like the individual and collective legacies they left behind.

And the words I saw written many years ago on a display devoted to the eternal realm and to all of those who have gone before us at a gallery night art show in downtown Milwaukee came to mind: "What you are, we used to be. What we are, you will be."

A safe, blessed, and Happy Fourth with friends, family, and neighbors!

If you enjoyed this post, you may enjoy my previous post on Myles Keogh, an Irish warrior that fought for the Pope in Italy and then came to the United States to fight for the Union in the Civil War (1861-65), including at Gettysburg. He met his death at just 36 years old in 1876 while fighting Sioux and Cheyenne warriors in Montana at what became famously known as Custer's Last Stand, and then had his remains shipped to New York for burial.


Saturday, June 11, 2022

Owning a business as a teenager

Being a teenage entrepreneur | Entrepreneurship for teenagers
Image via Pexels

 

Four things to think about before starting a business as a teenager

Launching your own business is challenging, but it has many rewards. Becoming an entrepreneur and starting your own company as a teenager has a unique set of difficulties, but it can set you up for a thriving career as an adult. Here are four things you should think about if you want to start a business as a teenager.

1. Benefits of being a teenage entrepreneur

Starting a business as a teenager is a great way to develop skills that will benefit you as an adult. One of the biggest benefits of being a teenage entrepreneur is having the opportunity to make money and learn how to manage it effectively. You'll learn how to put some of your profit back into your business to grow it, and you'll also get a chance to figure out how to balance a budget.

Another benefit of starting a company when you're a teenager is having a chance to be creative. You'll also hone your problem-solving skills so that you are better equipped to navigate the real world as an adult with a successful career.

2. Ideas for a company

You can turn many passions and hobbies into companies that you can work outside of school hours. If you have good study habits and enjoy helping others learn, start a tutoring business. Launch a pet-sitting company if you love animals. Turn a passion for artwork into a company. The options are endless, but it is crucial to select a job type that gives you flexible hours so that you can complete school.

3. Tools to make administrative tasks easier

Running any type of business requires you to spend a lot of time on administrative tasks. Technology has produced many tools that make administrative tasks easier to perform. One tool that is often helpful for company owners is invoicing software. Invoices make it easier for you to get paid in a timely manner. Invoices also help you keep track of the products and services you provide to your customers. Choosing your invoicing software right helps you keep accurate records so that you can run a successful business.

4. Techniques for marketing

People have to know that your business exists if you expect them to buy your products or services. Marketing is an essential element of any company, but it is especially important for teenage entrepreneurs who do not have huge business budgets to purchase flashy ads. There are many cost-efficient advertising strategies you can use to build your client base. Word-of-mouth marketing is a great option if you already have a few clients who are happy with what you have to offer.

You can also use social media advertising to grow your clientele. Create business accounts on popular social media pages and advertise your services to other users. You can reach a wide audience with minimal effort and no cost when you use this marketing technique.

Flyers listing your services have a greater upfront cost than the marketing tactics discussed above. However, handing out flyers can be a great way to network and make a name for yourself in your community.

With some hard work and dedication, you can start a successful business as a teenager. Make sure you think about these four things to ensure that launching a company is right for you.

If you found this post helpful, you may want to check out these previous posts, as well:

What is marketing?

What is professional development?

Being an entrepreneur in high school

Entrepreneurship

Pros and cons of entrepreneurship

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Balancing school and work

It can be hard to fulfill all your responsibilities when juggling both school and work. Fortunately, there are a few ways to make the struggle a little easier. Here are some tips for balancing your school and work responsibilities, so you don't end up falling behind in your studies.

1. Look for appropriate times at work to fit in your studies.

Are you most likely going to sit in the break room during your break(s)? If so, bring along one or two of your assigned readings (books, articles - whatever format they're in). Bring along one or two of your assigned written assignments, or at least a notebook and pen to jot down some thoughts and ideas for your written assignments that you can use later on when you have a larger block of study time available. You'd be surprised how much reading and/or writing you can get done during your 15-minute break(s) at work.

If you get a lunch break, consider splitting your time between eating and studying. A split lunch break could give you an extra 10-15 minutes or more of study time that might otherwise go unused.

The time spent traveling to and from work can also be used for studying if you have a long commute on public transit.

2. Ask for some leniency at work around exam time.

You are likely to be extra busy with school work in the weeks leading up to your exams. Consider asking your employer for reduced or more favorable work hours during this period to help you better cope with your increased school work. While some employers will be more accommodating than others, yours may be happy to offer some relief in such times.

3. Speak with your teachers if you're falling behind on critical projects.

Teachers are more likely to make allowances if they know you're balancing school and work, but open and honest communication on your part is the key here. It's your responsibility to approach your teachers on this. If there's no chance of you finishing particular projects or papers on time, speak with your teachers well before the due dates to see what your options are. By "well before the due dates," I mean at least several solid days before, not the night before or the morning of. Your teachers may offer deadline extensions or reduced penalties for late submissions. But again, it's all on you to initiate this important conversation.

There's no doubt it can be a struggle to balance both school and work. Because of this, it's not uncommon for workers to see some unpleasant results on their school assignments, tests, and exams. Hopefully, the preceding three tips can help ease your struggles, so you can continue to do well with your studies while fulfilling your responsibilities at work.

If you found this post helpful, you may want to check out these previous posts, as well:

How to properly prepare for tests and exams

High school students and stress

Better study habits

Be more productive, complete projects on time