Oct 02, 2023

Teacher Talk with Phoebe Swank

Distinguished Educator Phoebe Swank discovered her love of learning at a critical time in her young life. She credits a friend for suggesting she fill out a FAFSA as a young, single mom struggling to make ends meet on her factory salary, and it changed the trajectory of her life and that of her family. Her journey eventually brought her to teaching personal finance, and her own life experience adds an invaluable quality to the education she brings to her students.  


What follows are Phoebe’s answers to the interview questions, along with some additional information gleaned from a conversation and my commentary. Enjoy getting to know her better! Her story may just inspire you to go ahead and sign up for more NGPF PD.


Tell us about you:


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

My first exposure to personal finance was from my father. As a child he always made me split my money three ways, 10% to savings, 10% to charity, and the rest I was allowed to spend, save or donate as I saw fit. 


  • What makes you so passionate about financial education?

My passion for personal finance education really developed while teaching in a rural low income school district. It became extremely obvious that the lack of financial education in the area was stifling individuals from having the quality of life that they desired. 


  • 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?

I absolutely share my life stories with my students. I have had a pretty adventurous, unique life journey. I always say the FAFSA saved my life. At the age of 22 I found myself living in rural Appalachia, raising a child alone, and struggling to survive on my factory salary. I was feeling so hopeless and then someone told me that I could go to college for free and maybe even get a refund check if I filled out the FAFSA. So, I did just that and now I have three degrees and teach at both the high school and collegiate level. The FAFSA literally changed my life path. 


Phoebe is being modest here. Her first degree was in computer information systems, and her first job after graduation was running the college bookstore. This experience put her in contact with lots of students, and she realized through helping them with their work that she really wanted to teach. So she got a second degree, a masters that enabled her to teach business. Phoebe recently completed an MBA recently, ten years after starting it, motivated to do so after taking a couple of the NGPF certification courses! 


Regarding that first FAFSA she filled out, Phoebe was eligible for a Pell Grant. This also made her eligible for low income housing and food stamps, enabling her to afford to go to school and raise her young child.


Tell us about your school:


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

Dixie Heights High School, Edgewood KY (Northern KY/Cincinnati, OH), 1,800+/-, Mostly upper middle class caucasian but, the population is shifting rapidly to middle class with a large population of ELL students. I enjoy watching our population become more and more diverse each year. It definitely creates some challenges in the classroom but it also facilitates my growth as an educator.  


Phoebe’s first teaching job was at an alternative school in a rural, low-income area of Kentucky. She tried a different school district and even left teaching for a while before ending up in her current school district and school.


  • What class(es) do you teach, and what age are your students?
    • Introduction to Personal Finance-Seniors
    • Advanced Personal Finance-Seniors
    • Foundations of Financial Literacy(FLC-101) through Northern Kentucky University- College  students and Dual-Credit juniors and seniors in high school.
    • Introduction to Business Management through Thomas More University - Dual-credit juniors and seniors in high school
    • Entrepreneurship - 10-12th


There are so many students taking these classes at her school that there is a class offered every period and they had to add a second teacher to satisfy the demand.


  • What are your students’ favorite classroom activities?
    • FinCap Fridays
    • Move Activities. Most recently, we did the “It Costs How Much?!” It was awesome, the kids were so engaged and competitive. We all had so much fun and learned a lot!


  • When/how do you know you have gotten an important concept through to your students? Would you like to give an example?

I know that I have really reached my kids when they stop me in the halls or even in public to tell about how they have implemented a concept in their daily lives.  For example: I had a student come find me in April to tell me that he had a credit score of 620, he was so proud of himself. He was in my Advanced Personal Finance course in the fall when he didn’t have a credit score at all. He had purchased renter’s insurance, and started taking and paying back the “stand by cash” though his bank after our unit on credit…proud teacher moment :)


Tell us about your experience with NGPF:


  • Which professional development opportunities have you participated in?
    • Certification Courses (all)
    • On-Demand Modules
    • Speaker Series
    • Online Camp FinLit
    • In-Person Camp FinLit Ohio
    • I presented for NGPF at the Kentucky CTE Conference

Phoebe also completed a course offered by Arizona State University, FIN 594: Investment Management for Educators and will be starting Risk Management for Educators thanks to sponsorship from NGPF.

  • 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 use the knowledge that I gained from my PD’s everyday. Five years ago I was scared to teach investing, now I love teaching it thanks to the confidence I gained by taking the Investing certification courses. Additionally, I now use a Move activity in every unit thanks to Amanda’s awesome cheat sheet and the experience I had at FinLit Camp Ohio this summer. 

  • What NGPF resources are your favorites/do you rely on the most for your lesson planning?
    • I love all of the resources because they are awesome and I can customize them for my students!
    • FinCap Friday’s! My students love them, they are such a great opportunity for competition, relevancy, current events, and connecting content. Also, my students all love Yanely!
    • I also try to pull a move activity every unit, they are becoming my new favorite.


Phoebe’s advocacy work has been at the local/state level. She developed a Personal Finance course or courses at three of the schools that I have worked at throughout her career. She went to the state to argue that Personal Finance should qualify as a senior math class (and succeeded.) At Dixie Heights she was able to add three separate courses, including a Dual-Credit course through Thomas More Univeristy and another one that she teaches at both her high school and at Northern Kentucky University.

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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