We’re teachers and we know being an educator is hard work. It takes a lot of time to plan awesome lessons, teach with passion and provide quality feedback so our students can be the best humans that they’re capable of. While it sounds easy, it is not. Often times, teachers are overworked, underappreciated, and undervalued.
At TeachFI, we want to highlight and celebrate teachers. Every month, we will celebrate a teacher who is making a difference in their community.
So, let’s celebrate our Featured Teacher!
Mr. Matt Denure
Social Studies Teacher of 20 years at Portage School District in Wisconsin. He spent 3 years at the Middle School and then went to the High School for the last 17 years where he mainly teaches Global Studies and US History for 9th and 10th graders.
I chose teaching because of my college baseball coach Gordie Gillespie. He’s a Baseball Hall of Famer who until recently was the winningest coach in College baseball history. He was truly inspiring (which is why he was mentioned a few times in the movie Rudy), he made me believe in the power of inspiring others and leading them in a positive manner. While being quite demanding, he was never degrading and was very religious and had the highest moral standard of behavior. Next to my parents, he was the most influential person in my life.
What Do You Most Enjoy?
Every job has its own challenges but in general I’ve always felt that I’ve wanted to help young people like I was helped. Certainly there are academic components to this but in my lessons or interactions with students I try to keep the idea that school is the “practice” for the rest of their lives. Some students might be done with academics after high school and others might pursue 4-8 (or more) years of academic training. I’d like to think that even if students don’t particularly enjoy the content they feel that I’ve treated them well as a person and set a good example for them to hold themselves to a higher standard and maybe have a little fun here and there too.
When it comes to “moments” I try not to get too sentimental because if you look hard enough each day will have it’s own special moment so I try and live with that awareness. However, when former students take time to stop in to visit when they get leave from the military, or college, or take the time to email that is honestly quite special. To see that at some level I’ve impacted someone else’s life in a positive way is very powerful. These “moments” are irregular but quite powerful.
I know that test scores and grade level growth are what we are technically measured on as teachers but I’ll always feel that this personal connection will always be more important since I’ve seen it work in my life as a student and in the last 20 as a teacher. Students might remember a few lessons or even a project but they will remember how you treated them and others and I hope that I can keep that high standard in mind every day.
I was never a reader until we had children and were reading to them all the time so since 2003 I’ve been reading for fun rather than just because it was assigned in an academic setting. This question is very tough however because I have different types of books that I will read and reread again and again for religion, for sports, for inspiration, humor, and maybe even for entertainment.
If I was to choose however I would choose almost any book by John Wooden as he reminds me of my coach and everything he did combined high morals, hard work, and intense concentration. One of my favorites is “Wooden: A lifetime of Observations”. There are so many life lessons in there and I should just read a bit every day. I’ve given this as a gift to many people and have recommended it to many others.
My biggest challenge is balance. I basically take everything too seriously which is good I suppose to a point but once we had kids I really had to think about my time and emotions differently. I had seen hard work and intensity pay off for me in college with my academics and then being drafted by a MLB team but once the “real” world begins with a family I had to start all over again. I attempted to simply outwork and outcompete situations, but just because I was working really hard to prepare lessons, or read to get background knowledge, it was really hard for me to balance time with my wife, my faith, eating healthy, exercising, coaching, being truly present with our children and then keeping in touch with a few close friends.
For a long time I tried to do everything by simply sleeping less or “outworking” the situation but that was not healthy. I had to change my priorities, and that was difficult to do but it was the right call. I said “No” a lot more – even to good things. I stopped coaching, which consumes a great deal of time and emotional energy and tried to realize that I simply had to separate what my students produced academically with who I was. I had to realize that all I can do is give them the opportunity,in some cases many opportunities, but they had to make the best choice they could.
I certainly still feel that teaching is very important but I can only control how I prepare and how I treat the students when they are with me in class, beyond that there are so many other factors that I simply can’t control and I have to be aware of that and be sensitive to that fact.
In the past, financial planning to me was worse than going to the dentist. I consciously didn’t think about it much because I didn’t want to be an over-stressed “bean counter” or a person who worshipped the dollar. Recently my wife (also a teacher) have changed because we want to educate our children on some basic financial principles that we missed out on. We want them to know these and put them to use in their young adult life and not when they are in their mid 30’s. We have always been pretty frugal but I know we didn’t really plan as carefully early on as we should have.
What are your financial goals?
Currently our financial goals are to pay off braces for our youngest daughter and to help fund our oldest daughter’s class trip to Germany. She is in the German NHS society and really loves the culture so we are trying to balance “planning” with living. It’s so ironic because we should have done so much more at a young age and then when we had kids we were really focused on their activities.
Besides buying them sports gear, braces, and that normal stuff we have recently stopped contributing to a whole life plan (we had 3) and transferred everything else we had in mutual funds to Vanguard – which I had zero experience prior and was quite nervous.
We also are in the process of paying off our mortgage on a much more aggressive level. In the next 6 months we have committed to making the equivalent of 3 extra principal payments per year which would mean our mortgage would be paid off in about 7-8 years. This is a lofty goal but we have decided that this would be the surest way to Financial Independence and while we won’t be able to pay for all of our girls higher education costs (it is likely that they will go to college but we haven’t ordered them to do so) we could really help them out in other ways by becoming more independent ourselves.
Have you made any major financial mistakes?
Just this year we realized that we were buying more in life insurance “investment products” than we were contributing to our Roth IRA. I kept hearing from our advisor to not worry because we are teachers and have state retirement and I was blindly trusting to our agent whom I had known quite well. When we had a Financial Planner actually look at our front load costs, and fees etc. it was quite obvious that we were not coming close to maxing out our investment dollar which is why we stopped contributing to any whole life policies (they are still active but we’ll let them run without our additional contributions). We wished we had met with a Financial Planner when we first got married. That cost up front would have saved us thousands over the last 19 years so that might be our biggest mistake. In our defense, we were never really coached that way by either of our parents as we both came from small town families of small business owners. Managing money or investments was nothing we were familiar with at all.
What financial advice do you have for other educators?
I wished we would have met with an expert earlier, they could have explained this “secret” financial language to us. I know we should have researched and been more active in asking experts about Roth IRA vs. Term Life, vs. Whole Life plans and others. Even if we had started modestly we would have been in much better shape. We are still confident we can change course successfully but feel quite disappointed that we were buying product and paying such a high fees for so long. Even if you took a day to go through the Vanguard sites just to get an education it would literally be worth it because you could learn so much. I only mention Vanguard because that’s where we started and the agents I spoke to on the phone were just as helpful as the agents of a local small town bank.
What are some of the most influential resources that have shaped your money mindset?
The Vanguard site, and the TeachFI accounts on Twitter have really helped direct us towards a proper path. We have bought some of their recommended books and followed suggested links and other authors for some good financial perspective. I can say with confidence that personal finance (investing etc) was something I had no desire to do. I have been a very competitive person my whole life and just realized that I wanted to better equip and teach our children about this arena of life because it is never going away and they should not feel as intimidated about this “foreign language” as their mother and I were.
What strategies have you implemented in your to life to best set you up for financial success?
About 8 years ago I did start the auto debit into a savings account which really helped me “pay myself first”. That account started modestly but has grown and more importantly just took the money out of my hand and at least saved it. Now I’ve increased that amount to savings but have also set up a direct transfer to my Roth IRA to max out that each year. I’m proud to have set that up and look forward to enjoying the same lifestyle (which is pretty modest, (hiking at state parks, public golf courses, Culver’s for dinner etc). I do wish I had done this years before but I’m also very thankful for the path that has gotten us here.
Currently we are happy with our low spending levels, we have a very low entertainment budget so we are focusing on paying off our home equity loan we used to renovate 2 bathrooms in our 45 year old home. Paying off our first mortgage is another major goal as well as maxing out my annual Roth IRA contribution. We are happy that these are on track now, but this will take some time to accomplish.
Finish this sentence. “I wish…”:
I wish we had sought a professional for advice 20 years ago and not avoided the hard conversations about money. I wish we weren’t so intimidated by the inside language used by financial advisors working for bigger companies. I wish we had thought of investing a bit differently and started simply keeping a notebook about our spending and savings each month to see that amount in black and white and then project it out 20 years. That would have been very powerful but we weren’t even thinking about the compounding effects of money (even after learning about it with Econ classes).
Is there anything you’d like to get feedback on from our community?
Just want to express our thanks for helping us. Your writing and completely honest reporting about your own financial lives has truly inspired us to make a real change. Certainly each person has to do their own work but we appreciate your time and energy dedicated to helping others reach Financial Independence.