Rob Phelan: Equipping students with tools for life
Updated: Apr 14, 2022
Rob Phelan of Middletown High is a teacher who’s on a mission to equip his students with the tools they need to feel confident with money and successfully manage their finances.
Rob Phelan didn’t plan on becoming a math teacher. In fact, when studying for his undergraduate degree, he took on math rather unwillingly after his college told him he couldn’t just study physical education. Yet, it turned out to be the best decision he ever made and set him on the path to finding his true passion: teaching financial literacy through a combination of math and personal finance. He’s now been teaching math and personal finance in Frederick County for the last eight years. On top of that, he’s also a Certified Financial Education Instructor, children’s author and owner of The Simple StartUp, a business that provides 10 to 18 year-olds with guidance on starting their own businesses.
Rob said that since becoming a teacher, one thing has become clear: learning is a lifelong process. “It’s a classic case of the more you know, the less you know, and I’m always curious to learn new things,” he said. This same curious mindset is something that he nurtures in his students and he teaches them that learning doesn’t stop when you finish high school.
When Covid hit, Rob said he was in the fortunate position of being tech-savvy and teaching a less conceptual area of math. He explained this enabled him to continue to find innovative ways to engage his students. One particularly effective activity was a ‘virtual book club’ of sorts, where students would independently review a blog, Youtube video, or podcast episode, and come back to the class with their thoughts. “I found there were alternative ways of sharing and assessing knowledge,” said Rob.
When it comes to math, the challenge is finding ways to get students to relate to the content. However, Rob has found that framing math as an exercise in problem-solving and logic helps students get excited. Rob explained that problem-solving is one of the most valuable skills for employers today, and said that it’s important that when faced with a challenge, students are able to identify ways to solve it, and make a system for avoiding that problem in the future.
Ensuring students are equipped with the tools they need for life is a big focus of Rob’s teaching, and he makes sure to emphasize to students who struggle academically that with financial literacy, they can still have successful lives and thrive. “That really resonates with a lot of our students who have felt left out by the traditional education system.”
Photos courtesy of Rob Phelan