Nov 29, 2023

Teacher Talk with Jennifer Rubin

NGPF Verified Changemaker Jennifer Rubin was “called” into the teaching profession. After two years of applying her marketing degree in her first job, it just didn’t “feel right.” She quit and returned to school for education courses and student teaching and hasn’t looked back. Her inquisitive nature and outgoing personality come through in her teaching. She draws on her marketing background in her approach to teaching. Her passion for teaching Personal Finance is evident when former students stop her in town (even Dominos isn’t safe) and excitedly relay how they have applied what they learned in her class. Jennifer can’t get enough of her students–she even leads them on international tours every other summer.  Here is more about Jen, mostly in her own words. Her students’ favorite projects may be something you want to consider trying with your students.


Tell us about you:


Where/how were you first exposed to personal finance lessons in your life?

I vividly remember my first time earning real money was down the street at a driving range. The neighborhood kids would go over with these bag plungers and pick up the balls for a fee per ball. My competitive nature loved this! I would race ahead to try and beat everyone else! 

My first time learning about the power of investing came as a young teacher. I have a business degree, but I don’t feel that I really learned about Personal Finance through that education. I discovered a financial advisor's card in the teachers’ lounge. My husband and I thought this would be a good idea. We had begun investing in basic retirement plans, but really nothing beyond that. After sitting down with this financial advisor, I was hooked! He is a true educator at heart and came into our home and EDUCATED us about the options that were available. I also began reading various financial books including Rich Dad, Poor Dad and The Millionaire Next Door. I was eating up this newfound knowledge and was eagerly sharing it with my colleagues. Little did I know that five years later I would be teaching Personal Finance!


What makes you so passionate about financial education?

I truly believe that Personal Financial education can change a person's entire life. While some of my students still make mistakes with money, they are at least thinking about how their decisions could impact their futures. I also try to present content in a way that is meaningful to them and what they are going through. They need to see how their decisions today can make an impact far into their future. 


Do you ever share personal finance anecdotes from your own experience with your students? If so, care to share one that seems to make an impression on them with your fellow educators?

Yes, all the time! I will frequently share things that are happening or have happened in my life both good and bad. 

I collect credit card offers for our unit on credit and share with students how credit cards are a huge responsibility. I explain that when I was a freshman in college, representatives from various institutions set up tables with freebies to get us to sign up for a credit card. (This lesson is one example of where Jennifer incorporates a marketing angle.

Just last week, we were discussing the need for emergency funds and I share the story of how three years ago, we were tearing out carpet in our basement and discovered water was seeping in behind a retaining wall, resulting in water being trapped between the brick and the house. Layer-by-layer of our house we discovered that mold was seeping through and we could see daylight! A teacher next door to me just shared this past week about how her emergency fund was tapped twice last month--her furnace went out and she had water in her basement. These stories really resonated with students.


Tell us about your school:


Please describe your school for us (location/size/community).

Houghton High School is located in the remote Keweenaw Peninsula of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Houghton is an incredible community that thrives on outdoor recreation. We have a ski hill right in town, snowmobiling, mountain biking, etc. We pride ourselves on being hearty and are often called “Yoopers”. We have amazing summers and our winters are epic with over 200 inches of snow in a season. Our roads are plowed with road graders and front end loaders every day! You need to love snow to live here. Our population is right around 7,500. When students from Michigan Tech (~7,000 students) are in town our population doubles!

Jennifer explained that Houghton High School is a choice school, and it attracts students from surrounding communities. This explains how, despite the modest population, the school’s graduating classes are between 100 and 125 students.  


What class(es) do you teach, and what age are your students?

    • Personal Finance - currently a full-year elective class for Seniors only.
    • Digital Publishing - grades 9-12
    • Microsoft Office Certification - grades 9-12


What are your students’ favorite classroom activities?

My students love a project that I call “Spendster Videos.” They create a video based on a spending habit that they or someone else that they know has. They need to calculate how much money they spend on this habit weekly, monthly, yearly, and total. I also have them plug that into an investment calculator to see what this could turn into in 40 years! It is truly an eye-opening experience. They have a blast creating these.

Jennifer shared two of the most recent batch of these videos. Check them out!  

Liv - Musical Instrument Spending

Lily - Streaming Services Habit


They also love the home buying activity where they start with a budget based on a future salary for a career that they are interested in. They select a city, and begin looking for a home and neighborhood that would fit their needs. From there, they start to calculate monthly mortgage payments, utilities, etc. They complete the project by creating a poster with all of the information.

My students also love all of the NGPF games! Those are always their favorite days! I try to make it a class competition to see who can get the most points.

Tell us about your experience with NGPF:


Which professional development opportunities have you participated in? (I know you are a Distinguished Educator.)

    • LOTS of NGPF online courses - these are AWESOME!
    • NGPF Changemaker Summit 2019 
    • Jump$tart National Educator Conference
    • One day NGPF in-person PD


Can you fill us in on an example of how you have incorporated something you learned from a PD session into your lesson plans?

I came back from the NGPF Changemaker Summit and totally revamped my Personal Finance curriculum mostly using the Semester Course and building out from there. I realized that what I was teaching was fine, but I could see how much better I could be doing it! I like to mix it up, get my students moving, talking, and interacting with one another. I also try to incorporate a larger project for each unit.


Please tell us about your advocacy efforts. 


How did you first get started? 

    • I began teaching Personal Finance as an elective course for seniors nine years ago.
    • NGPF Changemaker Summit in 2019 really began my drive to require Personal Finance.  (She decided to apply for the Gold Standard Grant)
    • I consulted with my administration and put together a proposal for a requirement. Everything was on hold during COVID and the administration turned over during this time. Once that happened, I immediately met with my new Superintendent and High School Principal. They were thrilled with the proposal and saw it as a great opportunity. 
    • I used a lot of the resources and materials that are on the NGPF website. 


Please fill us in on what you have been fighting for and share your successes.

Prior to Michigan requiring Personal Finance, my school saw the need for it. New administrators and a drive to expand access were the keys! In my case, it was all about getting the important players to see the value of a Personal Finance education. I consulted with many parents, fellow teachers, and students and asked for a short statement of why they feel this is important. This was a huge part of my proposal and very meaningful.


Jennifer explained that the state will require a semester-long Personal Finance, but she will lobby to keep her year-long class, since the additional content is also required by the state, including preparing for college and career exploration.  Jen did win that Gold Standard Grant and is meticulously researching how best to spend it.  So far, it has enabled her to attend the past November’s Jump$tart Conference.  I’m sure the NGPF nation has good ideas for her!

About the Author

Beth Tallman

Beth Tallman entered the working world armed with an MBA in finance and thoroughly enjoyed her first career working in manufacturing and telecommunications, including a stint overseas. She took advantage of an involuntary separation to try teaching high school math, something she had always dreamed of doing. When fate stepped in once again, Beth jumped on the opportunity to combine her passion for numbers, money, and education to develop curriculum and teach personal finance at Oberlin College. Beth now spends her time writing on personal finance and financial education, conducts student workshops, and develops finance curricula and educational content. She is also the Treasurer of Ohio Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy.

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