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Edward Flannery, Economics & Financial Literacy Teacher in Vernon Township, NJ Interview

Welcome to the third episode of The High School Business & Personal Finance Teachers Podcast hosted by Knowledge Matters. This third episode of the podcast features an interview with Edward Flannery, economics and financial literacy teacher at Vernon Township High School in Vernon Township, New Jersey. See below for a transcript of the interview.

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The High School Business & Personal Finance Teachers Podcast hosted by Knowledge Matters is designed to interview teachers about how they got started teaching, tips and tricks for teaching business, marketing, and personal finance to high school students, and how teachers use Virtual Business simulations in their classrooms.

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Transcript of Episode 3 of the High School Business and Personal Finance Teachers Podcast

Host: Welcome to the third episode of the High School Business and Personal Finance Teachers podcast hosted by Knowledge Matters.

Stay tuned for our interview with Edward Flannery who teaches economics and financial literacy as a social studies teacher at Vernon Township High School in Vernon Township, New Jersey. Stay tuned for the interview.

Virtual Business simulations are the leading cloud based educational simulations for teaching business personal finance and marketing at the high school level.

There are currently eight different virtual business simulations available: retail, hotel, restaurant, management, personal finance, accounting, sports and entertainment marketing, and fashion. Virtual Business simulations are used in one third of the high schools in the US. You can learn more about Virtual Business simulations at

Welcome back to the Knowledge Matter podcast – the podcast where we talk to high school business and personal finance teachers about how they got started teaching and teaching tips and tricks they may have for teaching business or financial literacy to high school students

I want to welcome our latest guest Edward Flannery. Ed teaches economics and financial literacy as a social studies teacher at Vernon Township High School in Vernon Township New Jersey. Ed welcome to the podcast.

Ed: Hi thanks for having me.

Host: Sure. So can you tell us what classes you’re currently teaching that fall under financial literacy.

Ed: Yes. Right now I teach economics as a semester course and then in the spring that spills over into a financial literacy course.

Host:: How did you first get into teaching.

Ed: It was something I knew I wanted to do when I was a sophomore in high school. I had a few fantastic teachers at school in Sussex County – a school called Pope John. I had an opportunity to actually run a lesson for English class when I was a sophomore and just thought it was the most fun thing in the world. I just knew that I wanted to teach and have that experience.

Host: When you went to college did you know that you wanted to be a social studies teacher or did that kind of come later.

Ed: As a sophomore, I took sociology. It fit into my schedule so I took it. I thought that that was the most amazing class I’d ever taken because you would have a question and when you got to the answer it produced two more questions.

I just thought that was so fun. I knew I wanted to major in sociology and that would lead me towards teaching history and other social studies courses. So when I went to Montclair State and when I went and I went and declared as a sociology major pursuing education certification.

Host: Have you always taught social studies and sociology when you started teaching high school or was there other classes you taught?

Ed: Well when I was hired to teach in 2000 as a 23-year-old right out of college I was hired to teach world history and U.S. 1. Over the years, I’ve taught World History for 11 years. I’ve taught U.S. 2. Our school has a US 3 course. I taught a sociology of sports course. I’ve taught cultural geography and world religions.

About five or six years ago, the person that was teaching economics here was retiring, and I had just finished that summer reading Freakonomics and thought it was the most mind blowing fun thing I’d ever read. As he was on his way out, I asked the supervisor if I could get a shot at economics. He gave me a shot and I think it’s just so much fun to teach.

Host: That’s great. And so you fit financial literacy into that as well as economics. How’s that work for you?

Ed: I think it’s great because I think economics gives students a philosophical overview of supply and demand, microeconomics, and macroeconomics. Then in financial literacy, instead of going a mile wide, we go a mile deep. And we start to say, how do you interact with all this. How do you manage your money? I think it’s great that we get the the overview. We learn the rules of the game and then we talk about the position the students play in that game.

I think that’s a really really good partnership that we’ve built here at Vernon with those two course.

Host: Do you find in terms of the financial literacy part that most high school students are aware when they start the financial literacy section of how everything fits together? Whether it’s wages and buying insurance, etc. What’s the knowledge coming in do you find?

Ed: Where I’m fortunate is that while offer financial literacy in several different areas in our school, the one that I teach is only open to juniors and seniors. So by the time the kids get to me most of them have had a job, most of them have been saving money for a car or have purchased a car. They understand what it means to work, and they have questions about what are all these deductions on my paycheck. They understand that when you buy a car that’s not the end. You still have to put gas in it, you have to maintain it, and you have to get insurance. So they start getting introduced to a lot of concepts, and then you know there’s a lot of room to build.

But because they’re juniors and seniors, they’ve dabbled in it a little bit which I think is really good and allows us to get so much done. Then there are other things like when we talk about retirement, or we talk about estate planning, and making a will. Or what it’s going to be like when you have to pay your own taxes.

They definitely get big eyes because they get a sense that there’s a lot more out there that they haven’t been exposed to. And I think that’s interesting to see you how they react, “Like oh my gosh I didn’t know that – insurance specifically. When we talk about life insurance and health insurance. What does it mean? What kind of a bet are you placing. They think it’s fascinating just like how how crazy it is or how it works out. And then they ask great questions. I think that’s one of the main things too, and of course I like this because it’s practical. They’re free to ask questions and explore and get the answers they’re looking for. But I’m very fortunate that I always have a basis first.

Host: With your class planning and preparation, do you do that looking out a semester ahead? Do you do it weeks ahead? What’s the process for you in terms of putting the class together – the curriculum and the lesson plan?

Ed: When the course was first mandated, because after the collapse of 2008 a bunch of states jumped on him and said you know we’ve got to teach kids how to handle money, I was in the meeting where we developed the course. I had a big hand writing the curriculum and kind of looked at it from what would be practical. What do I wish I knew before I started making money that would help me out? We organized our curriculum in units from understanding things between education and employment through managing your income and taxes, and we broke everything down into six to eight week blocks and then each six to eight week block would be broken down into two or three weeks sets.

When I did my lesson planning – I just started a unit today on income earned income and taxes. We look out and say, “Ok, what are the things we need to accomplish? Where do we want to get to? And then breaking it down over a two week based on the goal that I want the kids to achieve

Host: We’ll talk about the Knowledge Matters Virtual Business sims in a moment, but I wondered are there tips or tricks or things that you’ve kind of learned along the way that you use to engage your students in economics and financial literacy?

Ed: Yeah. The biggest thing and I don’t know if it’s a tip or a trick but I consider the strategy to just help them to understand that it has unbelievable practical value. Every kid has been in a class where at some point they’ve thought, “When am I ever going to need this?” Financial literacy just doesn’t have that. Because no kid is in there thinking when am I ever going to have to use money or when am I ever going to have to save for something like that. It’s just know that it’s real.

I try to give them so many opportunities to connect it to their own relationship with money. I find that I don’t really have to press them that hard to get the work done, because they understand the course’s intrinsic value. So it goes above, “I need to get a grade or it’s a graduation requirement,” and it gets to, “This is an opportunity for me to explore things that are actually important.”

Last week, we did a lesson where they looked up a job they might be interested in the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the – Bureau of Labor Statistic. And I had students offering to do two or three reports. I have a student in my class who’s just auditing the class who did the work because he was like, “Oh, this is a really good opportunity for me to look something up.”

When kids can understand the practical value and how it applies to them, you just get out of their way and watch them work. And they get so excited to do things. That’s an advantage I have over other subjects where it might not seem as real, but I think financial literacy, driver’s ed, first aid, they’re everything. You have to get them. When the kids understand that, they just go.

Host: I just wanted to clarify what you said earlier so. So all graduating seniors at your school have to take the financial literacy class.

Ed: You don’t have to take it as a senior but in order to graduate it is a requirement.

Host: So in that case, you don’t have to go out and sell or market your class as some business teachers have to do.

Ed: I don’t have to talk them into taking financial literacy because they need it to graduate. But it’s offered in a couple of different departments, so letting them know that it’s partnered with economics which is a college prep level course if you are going to end up taking economics in college.

This is a good opportunity to get introduced to the field. Those are things that I do that I definitely have to get a message out about. And then next year we’re kind of switching around a little bit the way the courses are structured, and we’re introducing the ability to pursue college credits concurrently. Those are things I do make sure that I’m getting out and making sure students know is an option.

Some kids choose to take financial literacy online. I’ll just talk to them and say, “Yes that’s true. You may be able to get two and a half credits by taking this course online. This is your opportunity to have a knowledgeable adult who will talk to you and explain things to you and have conversations with you. And that might not be something you ever get again. You don’t want to skimp on that.” Those are those are conversations I definitely have to have with students.

Host: Do you remember how you first discovered or heard about the Knowledge Matters Virtual Business simulations?

Ed: We get promotional materials for different companies in our mailboxes. I had gotten one and another teacher in the business department who taught financial literacy had gotten them. We were talking about them. She ended up asking her business supervisor to order it so she could get a look at it. I signed on under her account just to test it out. And I thought it was so fun.

Host: Great. Can you tell me how you integrate the personal finance sim into your classes?

Ed: What I did was I took a look at all the different units which are excellent because they range from things like time management to getting insurance to retirement planning or buying a home. All practical things that people will experience during the course of their adult life.

And then I took a look at our curriculum and the way it was structured and there’s 18 units. And I was able to take the 18 units and reorganize them and line them up to fit with what I do. And then as we go through the chapters, when we finish the unit on education and advancement I’m able to use the education and advancement section. So in class I’ll say, “The homework for Friday is to go into the reading quiz in the simulation.”

So we use it as a supplement that they can work on at home, and there’s that quiz grade.

Host: That’s great. We run these Virtual Business Challenges in association with DECA and other CTOs such FCCLA. Do any of the students at your school participate in the Virtual Business Challenges that we run?

Ed: We haven’t done that yet but I’m kind of good friends with the tech advisor who is a business teacher over at another high school in our county and she had a student who participated in that challenge and actually went to the national competition. She said she thought it was great.

It was like a video game tournament you see on TV. She said it was outrageous to watch and fun. I’ve never been able to pull that off because of the semester nature of the course. Next year, as we transition to a full year model of economics with financial literacy threaded throughout the course. That would be something that I would love to do in the future especially after hearing another teacher talk about how valuable and awesome it was.

Host: That’s great. We’ll be doing we’ll the challenge in person at DECA ICDC in Anaheim in April so I know there are lots of students looking forward to doing that. Like you said, kind of like a videogame competition.

Ed: It’s definitely something I’m going to check out this year.

Host: Great. We we’re happy to hear that. That’s all of the questions that I had. Is there anything else that we didn’t discuss or any final words of wisdom that you would offer for other high school teachers who are teaching financial literacy or economics?

Ed: I just say that economics has had a reputation as the dismal science.

In the last couple of years, because of books like Freakonomics or The World Is Flat, or Planet Money there’s a lot of great podcasts out there where they talk about economics and relating it to the world. Students are really interested in it and they can they can turn onto it really quickly.

The number of students that I’ve had come in and say they want to major in science or English and then they end up throwing in a minor in economics because they see it as having almost a behavioral psychology feel to it. Economics can be so fun and so great.

Financial literacy – the opportunities that I’ve had to talk to kids and teach them how to do their taxes, and help them apply for colleges. You get an opportunity not just to teach a class where you help children develop a lifelong relationship and understanding of money – as a tool that you have to learn to work with.

You have the opportunity to get in there and have these teachable moments that spring off of it where you can really help kids achieve. It just lends itself to these fantastic opportunities for real teachable moments. Most teachers that’s why we got into it. We saw those movies in the 80s that inspired us and thought, “I want to do that.” And maybe we can’t figure out how to get it done on a day-to-day basis. When something as practical as financial literacy comes along, you really just get to dig in and have so much fun with it.

Host: Great. That sounds wonderful. Hopefully, that will be valuable to other teachers who might be listening. Again we’ve been speaking with Edward Flannery who teaches economics and financial literacy as a social studies teacher at Vernon Township High School in Vernon Township New Jersey. Ed, thanks for doing this interview.

Ed: Oh thank you so much. A lot of fun.