When a colleague in the financial services industry told Michael Morrow he would be a great teacher, he didn’t let it go as a passing comment. It changed his life, figuring into his decision to leave the corporate world for the classroom to teach financial literacy.
Today, he teaches personal finance and business management to 120 juniors and seniors each year at Smyrna High School in Tennessee. His strategy to connecting with students, some of whom come from disadvantaged communities, is to make it personal.
“It is a personal finance class and I make it personal by making it real for them. We talk about saving for a car, for college, for a down payment on a home in the future,” says Morrow, who began teaching at Smryna in 2008, the first year financial literacy became a state-mandated course for students to graduate. His course meets 2–3 times each week for 90-minute sessions, during which he instructs 40–60 students.
The core goal of his financial literacy class is to challenge students to set up a savings account at the school or a local bank. He requires students to open their new accounts with a $5 deposit. Eighty percent of his students succeed in setting up their new accounts, which they monitor with quarterly annual statements so they can observe how much interest they gain from that initial deposit. Morrow encourages them to add to their accounts and watch them grow, simply by adding any leftover lunch money. By researching the benefits of savings accounts, his students learn about the concept of compound interest, delayed gratification and saving for emergencies.
“To help them take more responsibility, I tell them no one takes better care of you than you. I tell them not to always look for Mom and Dad or government programs (for financial assistance). All of that assistance is just temporary to help them get back on their feet if they need it.”
Adding a real life element to his classes, Morrow invites former students and graduates to speak to current students at the school. One student recently contacted Morrow to tell him the savings account she started in high school helped her pay for her first car in cash. Another graduate told him how he was using the savings account, along with a part-time job, to help pay off college loans each semester while still in school.
“The lessons they learn about saving, spending and investing apply to their own lives when they leave high school. These kids are going home and interacting with family members about what they learn in financial literacy class,” says Morrow. Many of Morrow’s students who started the habit of saving in high school have carried it over to their adult lives and have built larger savings accounts. His current students are creating their own “savings campaigns” via posters and video content that they display on campus to inform students and educators about the importance of saving.
Morrow’s commitment to financial literacy education does not stop at his high school. He has been a Family Economics and Financial Education National Master Educator since 2009. FEFE is a program of the Take Charge America Institute for Consumer Financial Education and Research at The University of Arizona. The project is centered around the idea that a university-based financial education outreach program, built on cutting-edge research, can strengthen and extend the ability of schools and community organizations to raise the personal financial capabilities of young adults. When The State of Tennessee received a $1.7 million grant to develop new curricula in 2010, they selected Morrow to be an advisor for the program.
In addition to his instructional responsibilities at Smryna, he teaches a financial literacy night class at Holloway High School in a neighboring town, Murfreesboro, TN. “I love teaching financial literacy and personal finance,” says Morrow. “It’s my passion.”
Practical Money Skills commends Michael Morrow on his efforts and commitment to financial literacy education at Smyrna High School in Smryna, TN.