Long before Leslie Kotyuk was a teacher, she was a waitress.
“I was in the hotel business and I worked my way up,” she says. “I started as a waitress, then was promoted to a supervisor, then a manager, then worked my way up to the executive team and became the director of sales."
Despite her impressive series of promotions, Leslie found herself wanting more time with her two young children. So she stayed home for a few years before becoming a teacher’s assistant. After several years helping in the classroom, she was ready for the next step. So in 2008, she went back to school.
By then, Leslie was going through a divorce, making only $10,000 a year as a teacher’s assistant and managing two teenagers at home. But thanks to her relentless work ethic and a positive attitude, she’s now living her dream as a certified business teacher at North Central High School in Indianapolis, IN.
Giving Kids A Head Start
To save money while she was gearing up to go back to school, Leslie shopped bargains, bought used and even found enough grant money to fund most of her education. Now, she’s teaching smart-money concepts to her students through Dave Ramsey’s high school curriculum, Foundations in Personal Finance.
Through Foundations, students are learning life-changing lessons like budgeting, saving for emergencies and graduating college without debt. That’s important, she says, because many teens simply don’t have a clue when it comes to handling money.
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“Finances are either very open in a family, or they’re just not discussed,” she says. “So there’s a big gap there.”
So far, Leslie (pictured at left with her daughter, Emma) has been able to fill that gap for about 300 students. And thanks to a generous sponsorship from Fifth Third Bank, all of the Foundations student textbooks and teacher materials are provided free of charge to the school.
Equipping Adults To Start Over
When she’s not helping high schoolers iron out their budgets, Leslie is helping adults update their computer skills through the local career and technical education center in her district.
Her adult education class is made up of mostly middle-aged women who have experienced a layoff or who are reentering the workplace for the first time in 20 or 30 years. Despite the challenges they’re facing, Leslie encourages them to persevere.
“I tell them you really can do anything you want to do—you can find a way,” she says. “Even if you can’t afford to go back to school, you can be the best employee you can be. I didn’t have hotel and hospitality management as my degree, but my experience and my job performance got me through.”
She also pulls from her high school Foundations materials—like the emergency fund lesson.
“There’s a lot of stress being a single parent, but when you have your emergency fund it really does remove so much worry,” she tells the moms in her class. “You have to save along the way because there’s nothing more depressing than feeling like you’re one paycheck away from losing everything. It takes so much stress away just knowing that you have something behind you.”
And that’s the ultimate lesson she wants to instill in all her students, adults or teens: Build up your emergency fund, stay out of debt, and chase down your dreams.
Because if she can do it, then they can too.