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Importance of Teacher Training

September 16, 2020

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How can we support financial education teachers in teaching this complicated subject?

In popular discourse about education, there are many “chicken or egg” questions, one of which we as curriculum developers often grapple with in terms of financial education:

Do good curriculum materials promote good teaching, or do good teachers just use curriculum well?

For many educators, the answer to this question is simply, “Yes, both.” Or, perhaps more realistically, “It depends.” We think things are a little more complicated; in order to be good teachers of financial education, even the best teachers must receive both a good curriculum and the support they need in sharing it with students.

As authors of a financial education curriculum, we believe deeply in the power of curriculum as a lever for change. Good curriculum materials can incorporate new research on effective teaching and learning, draw attention to the most important aspects of a subject and reduce a teacher’s workload by taking the work of cobbling together lessons off her plate. Great curriculum materials also educate teachers in addition to students, explaining key information about a subject and the reasoning behind each lesson’s approach (Davis & Krajcik, 2005).

But give the same lesson to 3 different teachers, and you will likely get 3 very different experiences. This is the reality of the curriculum as it is enacted (Remillard & Heck, 2014), as teachers make adaptations to meet their students’ needs. Often, these adaptations are wonderful and imaginative, the secret sauce that only a skilled teacher can bring to a lesson. But if the teacher does not fully understand the subject matter or curriculum, these adaptations can be problematic (Weiss & Pasley, 2006).

We believe that all students should have access to great curriculum materials and great teaching. To ensure this, it is essential that financial educators are trained on financial content, pedagogical approaches and the specific curricula they use.

Why does training matters for financial education teachers?

There are two reasons teacher training is particularly important in financial education specifically.

First, research indicates that teacher training significantly impacts student results. In 2015, a study out of the Champlain College Center for Financial Literacy found that students taught personal finance by trained teachers had significant gains over the students of teachers who received no personal finance instruction. Going further, Urban et al. (2018) found that teacher training enhanced the positive effects of financial education.

Second, financial educators often lack the subject-area background, as most are first trained to be teachers of “core” school subjects like mathematics or English. This is because personal finance is only now gaining widespread adoption in schools and has no clear academic home within the school day.

For example, in our own work with teachers, we have found that financial education is taught within many different subject areas by teachers with a wide range of backgrounds. The table below shows the distribution of our finEDge teachers in Fall 2019.

Given that many of our teachers are primarily trained in non-economic fields, it is unsurprising that many express a need for support in teaching evolving and complicated financial topics such as investing and insurance.

Important focus areas

To appropriately support financial education, it is critical to focus on two areas:

(1) Improving teacher content knowledge and teachers’ confidence in their content knowledge around financial topics. Topics should include saving and spending, borrowing, earning, risk management, investing, and financial decision-making. While teachers may be more familiar with some topics than others, focusing on all domains can build confidence in what teachers already know and provide them with further knowledge in more unfamiliar domains.

(2) Helping teachers understand effective pedagogy in financial education. This includes an emphasis on practicing financial decision-making, not just gaining abstract knowledge. Financial educators need to see their work as similar to other long-term “behavioral change” fields like health, physical education and socio-emotional learning. The goal is not just to help students learn over the semester, but to change thought processes and habits that can help students over a lifetime.

Goal: impact student learning

In conclusion, good teachers need both high-quality materials and training. Teachers need the opportunity to develop and improve their practice in ways that positively impact student learning.