The power of one good teacher…

“I was never cool in school, I’m sure you don’t remember me …”

That’s not only the opening line to one of my favourite songs, it also nicely sums up my 13 years of schooling.

The fact is, it’s only old codgers (north of 30) who believe that school is the best time of your life.

Everyone else knows it sucks.

When I was at school I envied the smart kids, the sporty kids, the cool kids. They were the winners, the ones who were destined to live in posh suburbs, drive European cars, and go on skiing holidays. The rest of us had as much promise as a tube of Clearasil on a bulging zit the night before the school social.

It was only when I got older that I realised that looks, smarts or athletic ability weren’t the deciding factor for achieving future financial freedom. Instead, what you learn about money (and work) when you’re young has a direct correlation to the house you now call home, the car you’re currently driving, and where you’re going on holidays this year.

As I discussed last week, if you’re unlucky you probably got signed up to the CBA’s Dollarmite program — arguably one of the most successful advertising campaigns in Australian history. The CBA picks off kids for $5 a pop, opens them a passbook account paying bugger all interest, and adds them to its marketing database for future credit card campaigns. (Commbank’s CEO sees this as one of his greatest opportunities. I see it as the equivalent of letting Ronald McDonald teach your kids nutrition).

I’m also fairly sure that last week’s column has blacklisted me from CBA’s corporate box at the footy.

Oh well.

But if you’re lucky, you might have got a teacher like Rita.

The Power of One Good Teacher

What do you do when the biggest employer in your little rural town goes bust?

What about when the train stops running, and the local post office shuts up shop?

Well, if you’re Rita O’Brien, the principal of the tiny Mypolonga public primary school on the Murray River, you seize opportunity.

The deserted post office became the home to her primary school’s arts and craft shop, which opens every Friday to sell their wares to tourists who stop off on the Proud Mary paddleboat (though the post office has since been sold, so they’ve moved the shop to the school grounds).

The children run the business, with the older kids mentoring the younger ones. And make no mistake, this is a business.

“In a real shop you need to be open when the market demands it, and for us that’s every Friday, no matter what … even in school holidays”, says Rita.

The kids understand, and they voluntarily come in on their holidays. In fact, Rita tells me she’s had Year 9 boys dress up in the their old primary school clothes just so they can continue working at the shop.

Every aspect of the shop has assessment criteria, and on successful completion the kids get a certificate in financial management.

Dangerously Politically Incorrect

“Our motto is okay isn’t excellent”, Rita tells me, unapologetically.

“Because okay doesn’t cut it in the real world. You have to be excellent … at customer service, at counting the money, at balancing the books.”

That’s so dangerously politically incorrect, it’d cause some helicopter parents to go into a tailspin.


And here’s the thing … it’s working.

“Since NAPLAN has started, our numeracy is absolutely off the charts”, Rita says proudly.

Remember, this isn’t a private, well-to-do school, chock full of hard-working Asian kids.

It’s a tiny public country school.

In fact, some of Rita’s students have learning difficulties — and the positive affirmation they receive from dealing with customers, mentoring other students and making a sale has had a life-changing effect on their self-confidence.

Rita’s school is a textbook case of why I’m so insanely passionate about working with Aussie teachers, helping them integrate financial education into their schools. Forget about balancing a cheque book — Rita’s kids are getting a certificate in core life skills, building their confidence, their resilience and their work ethic.

And word has got around. This little country public school (with no school bus) currently has a waiting list all the way to 2020. Best of all, Rita has created an award-winning, community-building program without having to resort to taking a sleazy marketing kickback from the Commonwealth Bank. In fact, the shop is so successful, it makes the school a $6,000-a-year profit.

That’s pocket change for the CBA — but positive, lasting change for the kids.

Tread Your Own Path!

Barefoot Ugandans!

Every now and again, I get sent a letter that genuinely shocks me.

A few weeks ago I received a letter, with pictures, all the way from Uganda.

“I just wanted to touch base with you to let you know that, even though you haven’t realised it, you have been helping to inspire a group of students in Uganda.”

Fair dinkum?

I’m not sure how long it takes the paperboy to deliver the newspaper to Africa (maybe he just has a very good throwing arm?), but I was intrigued.

It turns out that the students had been sent my newspaper column by an Aussie aid worker. They read with interest an article I wrote earlier this year on a young entrepreneur named Josh who’d built a thriving business — Josh’s Eggs — and learned great life lessons.

Inspired, the Ugandan kids have followed suit and started their own egg business. Yet their motivation isn’t earning extra pocket money — their chooks are actually paying for their education.

Now that’s something to cluck about!