How Much Does Coffee Really Cost?

About 15 years ago I was in a bookstore and found a book called Start Late, Finish Rich by David Bach. I was intrigued by the title and description on the inside cover, so I bought the book. This book started my interest in personal finance.

I want to be clear, I am not a certified financial planner, a CPA, or an other licensed money manager. Over the last 15 years, however, I’ve spent a great deal of time learning more about personal finance.

How does all this impact the teaching profession? One of the best things we can do is make sure we take care of ourselves. If we are in a better place physically, emotionally, and mentally, we can take better care of our students. There have been a lot of conversations lately about teacher wellbeing. I’m glad to see those conversations starting but rarely see much talk about financial wellbeing for teachers.

There’s basically two main factors of personal finance: money coming in and going out. In Start Late, Finish Rich, David Bach talks about the latte factor. Let’s assume that you buy a latte (or whatever kind of coffee you drink in the morning) and it costs $5 for each cup. That’s $25 each week and $100 each month. All of a sudden, that latte starts to add up. If you forgo your daily coffee, you can find some extra money in your budget.

A CNBC published an article yesterday shares seven other ways to save money. They reminded me of latte-factor-style savings.

  1. Eating out
  2. Phone upgrades
  3. Clothing and apparel
  4. Lottery tickets
  5. Extended warranties
  6. Cable TV
  7. Impulse purchases.

If you take a look where you’re spending your money, there’s a good chance you will find a latte-like way to save. It might not seem like much at first, but those little savings add up over time.

What Color Suit Did Barack Obama Wear?

One of my favorite movies is The Shawshank Redemption. In one scene, the main character wears dress shoes in prison, but nobody notices he’s not wearing his prison-issued shoes. It makes the point that people rarely pay attention to the details of a person’s clothing.

I’m reminded of that scene whenever I think of a productivity technique I first heard about with President Obama. (Disclaimer: This is not a political post and will not become one.) Regardless of your politics, you’ve probably seen at least one of President Obama’s speeches. Here’s a question for you: What color suit was he wearing? The answer: blue or gray.

That’s because President Obama only wears blue and gray suits. His reasoning has to do with something called decision fatigue. I first heard of this phenomenon from an article about the former president and his choice of clothing. When you’re the leader of the free world, you have a lot of decisions to make. The color of your suit isn’t nearly as important as world trade agreements and international markets. So, Mr. Obama limited his clothing decisions and spent some of that energy worrying about other things like foreign and domestic policy.

I thought the idea was intriguing, so I started to do it on a smaller scale. I wear mostly the same thing to work every day: khakis and a polo or long sleeve shirt. Most of the colors I pick are interchangeable – almost every shirt will match with either beige or blue khakis. This makes my morning run much more smoothly and frees up mental energy for the 1,500 decisions I’ll have to make in my classroom that day.

Peekaboo Breathing

Children are experiencing greater levels of stress and anxiety. This is happening in and out of school. While we can’t always eliminate the factors causing stress, we can help students learn strategies to help manage stress.

This year, I’ve incorporated more meditation and mindfulness into my classroom. We regularly review the importance of taking a deep breath when we are stressed or anxious. This might be before a test, a project, or another situation in or out of school.

Earlier this year, I taught my students “peekaboo breathing.” This is a wonderful idea I learned in the book Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom.

Students lie on their back and place a small stuffed animal on their stomach. They breathe slowly and deeply and watch the stuffed animal rise and fall with their breath. After they inhale, they hold the breath for a moment and see the stuffed animal pause. At this point, students can say “peekaboo.” The animal gives students a great visual to “see” their breathing.

Students placed small stuffed animal on their stomach to practice deep breathing.

We did this the first time right before a quiz. I asked students to think about their stress level. We completed a few cycles of the peekaboo breathing, and then they thought about how their stress level changed. Every student said they felt better after completing the breathing.

This is a fantastic way to help younger students learn to breath slowly and deeply. Seeing the stuffed animal rise and fall with their breath helps them control their breathing and gives them a great visual to practice the exercise. While the standards we teach students are important, it is also critical that we help students learn habits which will promote good mental health as they move through school. This strategy is a great tool to help improve mental health.

Mindful Eating

After dropping my students off at lunch, I think about three emails I need to send before the end of the school day. There’s also a stack of quizzes on my desk I told myself would be graded and returned to students today. So, during my lunch I sit at my desk and fire off emails, grade quizzes, and shovel lunch into my mouth. I would love to say that days like this were outliers, but that wouldn’t be the truth. They were more the norm than the exception.

I have to admit, didn’t really know what mindfulness was a few years ago. Yes, I knew that it meant paying attention to what you were doing throughout your daily routine, but I didn’t really understand what that looked like. After I learned more about mindfulness, I realized one of the areas were I was really struggling was eating. I would eat regularly in front of the television, a computer, or some other device.

It never occurred to me that this was a problem until I was in a professional development last year about mindfulness. One of the sessions discussed mindful eating and the dangers of multitasking while you eat – watching television, working on your computer, etc.

According to a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, when you are distracted you eat more food. This is because your mind sends signals to tell you’re full and should stop eating. These signals can start about 20 minutes after you start eating. If you’re not paying attention to your meal, the signals your mind sends to the rest of your body might not be noticed. When you’re distracted, it is easier to miss these signals.

In addition to being more mindful, there are other strategies to help decrease the amount of food you eat before your mind sends the “I’m full” signal. Here are some great suggestions from Harvard Medical School:

  • Set a timer to 20 minutes.
  • Eat with your non-dominant hand.
  • Use chopsticks if you don’t normally use them.
  • Eat silently for five minutes, thinking about what it took to produce that meal, from the sun’s rays to the farmer to the grocer to the cook.
  • Take small bites and chew well.
  • Before opening the fridge or cabinet, take a breath and ask yourself, “Am I really hungry?”
  • Do something else, like reading or going on a short walk.

Since I learned more about mindfulness, I eat almost every day in the faculty room with a colleague. My computer is in my classroom, and I try to keep my cell phone in my pocket. It has helped the amount I consume, and I’ve found it helps me reset my body and mind for the afternoon. One of these day, though, I might break out some chopsticks and give that a shot too.

Types of Anxiety in Children

You’re in the middle of a lesson and a student named Jonathan approaches you. He complains of a stomach ache. It’s the middle of cold and flu season, so you send him to the nurse’s office. He comes back a few minutes later with a note saying there is no fever and no other symptoms. What is causing Jonathan’s stomach pain? There’s a chance it could be anxiety.

Anxiety is a growing concern for children in and out of school. According to the National Institute of Mental Health anxiety disorders affect almost 1 in 3 children. Females are affected more than males.

  • An estimated 31.9% of adolescents had any anxiety disorder.
  • 8.3% of those children had a “severe” impairment.
  • The prevalence of any anxiety disorder is higher for females (38.0%) than for males (26.1%).

A growing number of adolescents are experiencing anxiety disorders, but what exactly is making students anxious? Here are some examples of anxiety disorders provided by the CDC:

  • Separation anxiety – Fear of being away from a loved one, especially a parent;
  • Phobias – Extreme fear, such as fear of dogs;
  • Social anxiety – Fear of being in places where there are people;
  • General anxiety – Worrying about the future and what could go wrong;
  • Panic disorder – Sudden, unexpected, intense fear with heart pounding; having trouble breathing, or feeling dizzy, shaky, or sweaty.

With nearly one third of children having some anxiety symptoms, it’s important for educators to know what symptoms look like. Not all children will present anxiety in the same way, but the following list outlines some symptoms to look for in anxious students:

  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Inattention, poor focus
  • Somatic symptoms like headaches or stomachaches
  • Avoidance
  • Tantrums
  • Crying
  • Refusing to go to school
  • Meltdowns before school about clothing, hair, shoes, socks
  • Meltdowns after school about homework
  • Difficulties with transitions within school, and between school and an activity/sport
  • Difficulty settling down for bed
  • Having high expectations for school work, homework and sports performance

So, it is a good possibility that Jonathan does have the cold or flu. He could be worried about being away from his parents or suffering from social anxiety.


A few years ago I was having some pretty significant hip pain. It was to the point where I could barely walk, and my orthopedic surgeon was talking about a hip replacement – in my mid-30s. There was rest (I didn’t run for almost three years), physical therapy, pain medication, and even cortisone shots under X-ray, but nothing would ease the pain.

Then I tried yoga. Within a months, my symptoms decreased exponentially. About six months later, I felt almost 100% again. At first, I was doing a half-hour yoga routine on a DVD I purchased. I liked the convenience of doing this in my living room.

Here are a couple of my takeaways from my experience with yoga. First, it is not as easy as it looks. When I watch videos online, most of the yogis make it look so easy and effortless. When I first started practicing yoga, I spent most of my time trying to catch my balance. That improve over time. Second, it does get easier. The first time I tried the half-hour routine, I made it through about five minutes. The next time I made it a few minutes more. Eventually, I was able to complete the entire 30 minute routine. Finally, this is one of the best workouts I’ve ever done. It is a great full-body workout and helps release mental stress. I was very reluctant to try it at first because it was way out of my comfort zone. I grew up playing basketball, baseball, and soccer. This wasn’t macho enough for me. I was completely wrong. This is a real workout.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, a healthy teacher is better able to take care of students. My Friday posts have, accidentally, become centered on health and wellness. Today I had to drive about three hours away. My muscles were extremely stiff when I got out of the car, and the only thing I wanted to do was a couple yoga poses. If you’re limited on time, I think the best yoga pose for the time is Downward Dog. It helps stretch out your hamstrings and strengthen your core. Here’s a quick video of how it works. Hope it helps!


Regardless of the content or grade level, every teacher gets frustrated from time to time in the classroom. Research has shown that teachers make about 1,500 decisions in the course of a day. Add to that unexpected changes in the day, a student having a tough emotional day, the teacher feeling under the weather, or a dispute between students which needs to be addressed. It can all become the perfect storm for an overly stressed teacher. I know, because I’ve been there.

A few years ago I started reading more about yoga and meditation. My wife actually introduced me to both. Yoga and meditation had an enormous impact on my mood and physical wellbeing. Eventually, I started reading and listening Dr. Weil who practices integrated medicine.

One idea I heard from Dr. Weil, which has been incredibly useful, is the 4-7-8 breathing technique. It’s an exercise based off of yoga practice.

  • Exhale through your mouth;
  • Close your mouth;
  • Breathe in through your mouth to a count of 4;
  • Hold your breath for a count of 7;
  • Blow air out through your mouth to a count of 8.

This process is repeated for four breath cycles. The process takes only about 30 seconds and can be done sitting, standing, or lying down. (Not that I recommend lying down in the middle of your classroom.)

I tried the 4-7-8 breathing exercise about a year go for the first time. As Dr. Weil mentions in this video, it is a process that takes time to develop. Over time, it did become more natural and extremely relaxing.

The next time you are feeling stressed in the middle of a lesson, take 30 seconds and give the 4-7-8 breathing exercise a try. It take so little time that your students won’t even notice. It’s a win-win for everybody!

Smartphones and Anxiety

A couple days ago my daughter was playing the piano for her grandparents. They love listening to her play songs she’s learning or old recital numbers. At least twice a week she’s playing for them after dinner. What makes this a really remarkable feat is that my in-laws live six hours away in New England. They’re able to watch and listen to my daughter play because of FaceTime.

Do I worry about the impact smartphones and other devices will have on my daughter as she gets older? Sure, I do. I’m a parent, so I pretty much worry about everything. It’s part of the job. But I also know that there are some amazing things this technology can do for my ten-year-old daughter – playing the piano for her grandparents, virtual field trips, research at the tip of her finger.

Just this week I was involved in a discussion about the rise in student anxiety across zip codes, socio-economic status, gender, and race. The common consensus among those involved in the conversation was that technology was to blame.

New research, however, is challenging that line of thinking. The researchers, lead by Candice Odgers, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, believe that devices are not the sole culprit but are just shining a light on an underlying mental health problem a child would have even without smartphones.

After reviewing other studies and data available, the researchers stated, “The review highlights that most research to date has been correlational, focused on adults versus adolescents, and has generated a mix of often conflicting small positive, negative and null associations.” Correlation does not equal causation. Just because the increase in smartphones and mental health problems in the United States happened at the same time, doesn’t necessarily mean one causes the other.

Some evidence to support such a claim can be found across the Atlantic. Larger parts of Europe have seen an equal increase in smartphone use without an equal increase in anxiety and other mental health disorders. If the smartphone was the problem then these parts of Europe would see an increase in anxiety comparable to the United States.

According to the study, the United States has been an outlier in suicide rates worldwide. Every adolescent age group in the U.S. has seen a rise in suicide deaths from 1999 to 2017. The greatest increase has been among girls 10-14. This group has seen rates triple during that same time. Worldwide, suicide rates have dropped during this same time period.

So what, other than smartphones, could be contributing to an increase in anxiety and mental health concerns? Jeff Hancock, founder of the Stanford Social Media Lab, offered some other possibilities for what might be making our kids anxious: climate change, income inequality, or rising student debt.

“The current dominant discourse around phones and well-being is a lot of hype and a lot of fear,” Hancock said, according to the New York Times. “But if you compare the effects of your phone to eating properly or sleeping or smoking, it’s not even close.”

Are there drawbacks to an increase in technology at our kids’ fingertips? Sure. We obviously don’t want children so involved on their devices that they don’t go outside and get exercise or have healthy conversations with people. This research, however, argues that the smartphone might not be the real reason children are more anxious.

We should still allow our children and students to have access to devices, but we need to have conversations about using them appropriately. Like any technological advancement, there are benefits and drawbacks. We just need to make sure we truly understand both.

Three for the Week

Saturdays are my time to reflect on what I read, heard, and discussed throughout the week. It is my “exit ticket” for the last seven days. So here are three ideas that made me think this week. (They are not in any particular order.)

1 – The overall health of teachers is so important. We work in a very emotionally, physically, and mentally demanding field. It is critical that we take care of our bodies and minds in order to better take care of our students. So I was doing some digging for the best exercises and workouts. I love running but know that the impact is not great for your body. I found an interesting article which outlines exercises to do at every age group. For example, they recommend boot camp in your 20’s, high-intensity interval training in your 30’s, and running in your 40’s. Guess I don’t have to stop running quite yet!

2 – An article from The University of Virginia really caught my attention. It is a Q&A with NCTM President and UVA professor Dr. Samuel Braley Gray. He outlines what effective math teaching looks like in our schools, touches on some inequities in math education, and even talks about why children should use their fingers in math. (That last point alone got me wondering why we would encourage students to use printed ten frames, but discourage them from using their fingers – which are ten frames.) What really struck me was what Dr. Gray said about the effective ways to teach math. “These ideas are a shift from focusing on memorization. Mathematics is more than getting an answer quickly. Effective mathematics teaching engages students in explaining why their answers make sense and why the strategy they used is appropriate.” Well said, Dr. Gray!

3 – Last week I chose something lighthearted as my third point for the week. I’ll keep that trend going this week. Two ridiculously cute boys show up to a Canadian airport to pick up their grandmother. The boys decide to play a trick on grandma and dress up in full T-Rex costumes. Grandma, as grandmas always seem to do, was one step ahead of the boys. She appeared wearing… a full T-Rex costume of her own. The video is well worth the 2:29 of your time and will definitely put a smile on your face.

What Should We Eat?

What should we eat? That’s a question I never really seem to be able to answer. Usually I fall into paralysis by analysis and just eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. I’m pretty much a novice when it comes to understanding diet and nutrition. Honestly, in my early 20’s I would drink a Coca-Cola for breakfast on the way into work. Not in addition to anything of substance. A can of Coke was my entire breakfast. So clearly I had a lot to learn.

My father used to always tell me, “Wait until you turn 30. That wonderful metabolism will slow down in a hurry.” Thankfully, the turn wasn’t as dramatic as he implied, but I did start to pay more attention to how I was treating my body.

I started reading about nutrition and wellness a little more. The more I read, the more confused I became. It seemed like everything I read contradicted the last article. Eat this… no, that’s bad for you, eat this… no wait, that might be bad for you if you’re over thirty… you should eat meat with every meal… no, don’t eat meat at all… wait, you can eat meat, but only if it grass fed and free of antibiotics… on second thought, you can only eat chicken that listened to classical music and did pilates twice a week prior to the butcher… Ugh! It was utterly confusing.

Then somebody told me about Food Rules by Michael Pollan. It is an extremely quick read that tries to unpack some of the confusion around eating and nutrition. The first sentence of the introduction says, “Eating in our time has gotten complicated – needlessly so, in my opinion.” He was reading my mind!

Food Rules is broken into three parts: Part I- What should I eat? Part II – What kind of food should I eat? Part III – How should I eat it? In each section, Pollan gives very practical advice that is easy to understand. Each tip is accompanied by a brief, often one paragraph, explanation of the suggestion. Here are my ten favorites:

  1. Don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize.
  2. Avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human being would keep in their pantry. (Xanthan gum, anyone?)
  3. Avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce. (Boys and girls, can you say “Xanthan gum?”)
  4. Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle.
  5. Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
  6. Stop eating before you’re full.
  7. Eat when you’re hungry, not when you are bored.
  8. Buy smaller plates and glasses.
  9. Don’t get your fuel from the same place your car does. (No hotdogs off the rollers at the gas station. That would have been shocking to my twenty-year-old self.)
  10. Break the rules once in a while.

There are so many wonderful thoughts in this book, and Pollan presents them all in a way that is easy to understand and hard to forget. For a person like me, it was the perfect place to start thinking about what I was putting in my body.

Pollan shares seven words he believes are the answer to that incredibly complex questions of what to eat: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

I try to think about these seven words as much as possible. It’s hard, especially when I walk into the faculty room to a table overflowing with donuts and other baked goods. There’s got to be some Xanthan gum in something on that table. Sometimes I follow the rules; sometimes I break them. At least I’m thinking about food rules at all. That’s got to count for something, right?