When Alex Short was headed to college, nobody warned him about the dangers of student loans. Now, as a teacher of the Foundations in Personal Finance curriculum at St. Mary’s High School in St. Louis, Missouri, he gets to equip high schoolers every day with the knowledge they need to steer clear of all debt—including student loans.
So, how do these kids respond to the idea that you can actually get a college education without taking on a ton of student loan debt? “They say it’s impossible,” Alex laughs. “They say, ‘There’s no way—how can you do that?’ But the curriculum goes so in-depth on it that it really opens their eyes. It’s kind of fun to see where they stand at the beginning of the semester in terms of debt, and by the end of the semester, you can really see they’re going to make a different choice about college. And that’s what gets me out of bed in the morning.”
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To help illustrate the importance of making wise decisions with money, Alex always makes sure to use examples from his own life in order to get through to these kids. And he’s able to do that because the principles found in the curriculum have changed his own life too. Alex was first introduced to Dave Ramsey’s financial principles a couple years ago by a friend (thanks, Alex’s friend!), and ever since then, he’s been gazelle intense about paying off the student loans he took out for school. “I’m really honest with my students about how much debt I have and how it’s put a strain on my life. I think when you lay it all out and share your experience, it’s super impactful.”
Alex really does walk the walk in a way that his students can see. He has a wide variety of part-time jobs in addition to teaching full time, including coaching the lacrosse team. He’s cleaned office buildings, cuts grass during the summers, and also drives a beater car to work, which helps show his students that it really doesn’t matter what you drive as long as it’s safe and you pay for it with cash. “I don’t have a car payment, which I’m really proud of, and I think it helped change their minds about debt because they get to see me live it out.”
(Side note: We’re super thankful here at Ramsey Education for teachers who are so on board with the Foundations concepts that they apply them to their own lives every day. You guys are awesome.)
It’s great for students to see that cash-flow life in action, because not only was the idea of not taking out student loans hard for Alex’s students to get on board with at first, but the idea of not having a credit card and not needing a credit score has also blown their minds. “The kids are all talking about it around the school. It’s a polarizing issue, and you can hear the kids saying at the beginning of the semester: ‘I need a credit card!’ But then we go through the lesson, and when I explain to them about how much more you pay in the long run with plastic, it really sinks in with them. Without a doubt, this is life-changing stuff.”
And that’s one of the best parts about teaching Foundations: You’re able to see firsthand that students’ lives are being changed in a real way, and you know that those concepts will stay with them into adulthood. Alex told us, “I’ve had students come up to me after we’ve talked about saving and tell me ‘I saved my $500 emergency fund!’ I never thought of having an emergency fund until I was twenty-five years old. I always tell them, ‘I’m only 10 years older than you, and I’m not really that much smarter than you—I’m just a tad bit wiser. This might seem like old man advice, but when you’re in your late twenties, you’re going to say, ‘Mr. Short, you were right.’”
He also encourages them to watch the curriculum videos on their own time and listen to The Dave Ramsey Show, as well as content from Ramsey personalities like Rachel Cruze and Anthony ONeal, because being intentional about learning on their own will really help them out down the road. “I tell them that I’m only going to be able to teach them so much this year, and if they don’t have a hunger to learn more, they’re going to struggle. They have to want to learn this stuff on their own when they leave my class.” He knows that one day they’ll be glad they learned about personal finance while they were young, and that investment into the future is why teaching Foundations is like a gift for your students that just keeps on giving.
Speaking of giving, we asked Alex how his students responded to the idea of giving and being generous even when on a budget, and he was proud to say that they’re all about it. “Their mindset is ‘I want to give—that’s why I want to control my finances.’ I tell them that the whole point of all this is so that you can use your money wisely, so you can help people out.”
We wanted to know if he had any stories about crazy, over-the-top generosity to share—or if any of his students have done something outrageously generous for him—and he told us about a friend of his dad’s who’d been teaching for 40 years. When he retired, one of his seventh-grade students who knew that he’d always wanted to go to Europe started a GoFundMe campaign for him and was able to raise about $12,000 so he could take a much-deserved trip! (Students, take note.)
Alex is clearly way more interested in how he can give to his students than how they can give to him—the sign of a selfless teacher—but he did mention that a few students have said to him, “Mr. Short, when I get older, I’m going to buy you a new car!” Hopefully, his students will remember that when they eventually become everyday millionaires.
And just in case you were wondering if Alex has time to do anything fun in between his full-time teaching career and all his side hustles, he loves playing volleyball, snowboarding, and learning how to play the guitar (“I just want to be able to play one Kenny Chesney song!”). We believe in you, Alex.
Most important to him, though, is dedicating his time to teaching so he can keep impacting the lives of his students. In his own words: “I’m bought into being the best teacher I can be.”
Need some tips on talking with your class about giving? Check out this blog for some creative, practical ways your students can practice generosity!