When I was hired mid-year by the first district for which I taught, (Mid-Del) I took over for a retiring Girls’ P.E. teacher. Instead of donning some tennis shoes and a whistle, I switched places with the Head Girls’ Basketball Coach. She went to the gym and I took her slate of classes. That March the Coach won a state title, and I had the possibly even bigger win, as I first became aware of OCEE.
Having a previous career in non-profit leadership and business, I transitioned to education via an alternative pathway. Those first few days in the classroom stretched me professionally, but I quickly knew I had made the right decision. Admittedly, I knew very little about a couple of the subjects I taught that semester. The third course though, Personal Financial Literacy, that course made me fall in love with teaching. I have not had the privilege of teaching a standalone PFL course since then, but the two sections of Financial Literacy I taught during the Winter and Spring months of 2016 served to fully cement my professional shift and the connections that subject brought me has completely shaped my teaching career.
As a brand new alternatively certified teacher, my building administrators knew I needed any and all professional development opportunities I could find. To this end early that semester, my then academic principal (Ms. Manley) sent me information about an all-day workshop over Personal Financial Literacy hosted by the Oklahoma Council on Economic Education. I had never heard of OCEE before that day but that flyer and the subsequent signing up for and attending of the workshop changed everything for me.
The workshop itself was great. The content was easily transferrable to my classroom. The presenters were engaging and I connected with some really energetic and wise teachers from around the state. After the workshop, I signed up to get all of the information I could about OCEE. Through this, I learned about a curriculum writing conference they were hosting that upcoming summer, which I then applied for and was accepted to participate. Still being new to education, the lesson plan process I encountered at this conference changed my approach to my classroom. I learned how to prepare and structure to facilitate real learning with my students. During the conference, I continued to make connections and learn about other opportunities. I became aware of the Oklahoma Jump$tart Coalition, and the resources at the local branch office of the Federal Reserve Bank.
Later that same summer, knowing I was switching to teaching U.S. History, I attended a workshop about teaching economic concepts in the history classroom at the local Federal Reserve Bank. That session was led by a brilliant member of the Kansas City Fed staff (Dr. Ellsworth). I started to follow her via social media to continue to learn from her. This would prove to be quite vital to my continued growth.
A few months after the Federal Reserve workshop, I was given a scholarship from the Oklahoma Jump$tart Coalition to attend the Jump$tart National Educator Conference that fall where I came face to face with many great resources and software providers. One of the curriculum providers was an innovative company out of Silicon Valley – Next Gen Personal Finance. This also was a significant connection for my growth as an educator.
I was loving all the continual professional learning and the connections I was making through the process. I kept devouring newsletters, e-mails and social media posts in search of new innovative ideas and implementing all I could find within my classroom. One day, that following winter, while at home enjoying a winter weather day with my own children, I was scrolling through Twitter and came across a post from Dr. Ellsworth. It was about an application deadline for summer National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships. My children were napping after we had played in the snow that morning and so given the rare free time I had that moment, I clicked on the link. I encountered a vast menu of amazing opportunities and learning experiences, but one in particular caught my eye. I excitedly told my wife, who is a fellow educator, about it fully expecting her to say I could not be gone for an entire month in the summer. We discussed the pros and cons of the opportunity and she encouraged me to apply. I did. As I waited on the decision process, I continued to seek out all the learning opportunities I could find. One morning I saw an email from Next Gen about submitting lesson plans for a national innovative teacher contest. I had a lesson I had adapted from several sources over budgeting and the Great Depression and I sent it for consideration.
Late one Wednesday night, about a month before school was out that year, I received an email inviting me to accept a placement into the NEH research fellowship to which I had applied. The following Monday afternoon I had an email from Next Gen announcing I was a National Innovative Teacher winner for 2017.
I was still a month away from my completing the third semester in my new career and here I was already being nationally recognized with awards and prestigious fellowships. None of this would have been possible if not for OCEE.
In the nearly two years since then I have had the opportunity to do some self-reflection on my progression as an educator. I have grown from a deer in the headlight teacher attending an initial OCEE workshop in search of pedagogical activities to just survive to the educator before you today extolling the vast benefits of the Council. I have now written curriculum for OCEE and the Daily Oklahoman as part of a NIE project. I have been featured on an episode of a nation-wide PFL podcast. I have helped construct the new state standards for Economics and PFL. I am a member of the EEAC at the Federal Reserve Bank and am a board member of the Oklahoma Council for the Social Studies. I have led workshops of my own in both history and financial literacy/economics. I have won additional awards at the state and national levels. All of this, and the students’ lives that have been positively influenced through the process, has happened because I read an OCEE flyer that one of my assistant principals gave me. Being an educator is my passion and my life’s work. I owe it all to the efforts of OCEE.