Teacher charges third graders ‘rent’ to teach them lessons in finance

A North Carolina third-grade teacher has been teaching her students finance by having them pay rent.

Teacher Shelby Lattimore has gone viral on social media for teaching her third graders financial literacy. And with over 25 million likes and 793,000 followers on TikTok, fans have loved tuning into her classroom antics. In her classroom, her students follow a system that requires them to pay rent for their classroom essentials, everything from pencils to their desks. They must “pay” $7 of fake money every week to rent their desk and chair.

“Just like I have to pay bills, they have to pay bills,” she told NBC News of the lesson plan.

After she goes through the daily announcements, Ms Lattimore has the “class banker” give all the students their wallets — little envelopes that are adorned with animals, stars, hearts, and cars filled with “Miss Lattimore Bucks” they’ve earned throughout the school year from their classroom jobs. Ms Lattimore explained: “We have a teacher assistant, line leader, door holder, recess basket, lunch basket. We have a cleanup crew.”

“All jobs do not get paid the same,” she added. “The jobs that are every day, like line leader and teacher assistant, like those jobs that you have to do something constantly, get paid more than jobs that are like every now and then or once in a while.”

The students get paid at the end of each week and are given the decision to either spend or save their money. They can use the money they’ve earned to buy rewards like candy for $2 or a homework pass for $3. They can also pay $5 for lunch with a friend, while lunch with Miss Lattimore is slightly higher at $7. The top prize is “being teacher for a day” for $30.

“They do have to budget for that one, but they love the responsibility of taking attendance, telling them when to get in line, when to get up, things of that sort,” Lattimore said, noting that the students are never allowed to spend more than they have. Through this exercise, Ms Lattimore says she’s trying to instill practical skills in her students. She said: “Watching my students now become appreciative of possibly what their guardians are going through, of course in a safer environment, just kind of gives them that responsibility to then move forward as they become adults.”

In the US, many adults are deficient in financial literacy - which consists of the ability to make smart budgeting, saving, investing, and other financial decisions. According to the 2023 TIAA Institute-GFLEC Personal Finance Index, a survey that tests financial knowledge, the average adult answered only 48 per cent of 28 questions correctly. That statistic was even lower among Black and hispanic adults, who on average had 34 per cent and 38 per cent respectively.

Ms Lattimore explained that as a Black educator teaching at a school with a predominantly Black and hispanic population, she hoped to give her students the foundation they need to become financially literate.

“Charlotte is known for generational poverty,” Ms Lattimore told the outlet. “A lot of my students of colour, Hispanic, Black, whatever it may be, they see their parents, they see their guardian, they see their grandmothers, grandfathers, whatever, may be living check to check. They see the money management of not thinking long term necessarily and the consequences of it.”

Her creative teaching methods have become a hit on TikTok, leading Ms Lattimore to collaborate with brands and monetise her videos through TikTok’s creator program. “This past year I made six figures, which is insane, because my teacher salary is not even half of that,” she said. As her account has grown in popularity, fans have sent her everything from school supplies, books, care packages, to snacks for her classroom.

However, at the end of the day, it isn’t about the money or the followers for the third grade teacher. She looks forward to working everyday for one reason only, “It’s going to sound so corny, but it’s them.”