In 2018, 23-year-old Yale graduate Israel Tovar had just earned his master’s degree in education from Stanford University. He had also just landed his first full-time job in education: teaching United States history at a college in Nashville, Tennessee. That was what he had trained for – or so he had thought. He resigned within two months.
“I was working in a school that was incredibly difficult for me,” says Israel Entrepreneur. “I perceived it as a prison. I felt really exhausted and overwhelmed, and my anxiety was at its height – partly because of this job, but also partly because I bought a house at that time. I had no financial literacy.”
Israel’s older sister, Sunem Tovar, who was getting her master’s degree in finance at the time, advised her brother against buying the property. But Israel believed this was its only path to generational wealth. As first-generation Latina siblings who had grown up in poverty in the face of systemic racism, this was not something they had ever had.
“I was like, It doesn’t matter that I went to Yale and Stanford ’cause I ain’t got generational wealth“Israel says. “I have those degrees, and I went to very well-funded schools that had access to a lot of resources, and I took advantage of that. But at the end of the day, I was still a first-generation college graduate who had no generational wealth or social capital.”
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Israel and Shunem were determined to secure this kind of wealth, and they are building it today: Together they have amassed more than $350,000 by saving and investing in the stock market. Meanwhile, they’re helping others do the same with The Dream Teacher Project, the organization they co-founded to empower teachers of color by helping them “find their money right and secure the bag.”
“We, as teachers of color in particular, are overworked and underpaid.”
The wheels started turning for Sunem while Israel was still in his first teaching job. She had recently embarked on her personal finance journey, which began when she graduated from college with $42,000 in debt and a $20,000 salary to pay it off — plus payments on a new car.
Committed to achieving financial freedom, she began learning everything she could, and she began coaching Israel, who was unfamiliar with investing at the time, to make smart money moves. .
“That’s when the idea [for The Dream Teacher Project] came,” Sunem said. “I was like, oh, I’m a money nerd. I love talking about personal finance. I love teaching women of color about personal finance because it’s really important when you’re a woman to have your own money.”
Sunem became debt free in 2019, and over the next two years the siblings’ project began to take shape. After leaving his first full-time teaching job, Israel worked many side jobs and eventually returned to teaching for another four years before leaving to focus on the project full-time. But what he witnessed, particularly in the throes of the Covid-19 pandemic, reconfirmed the need to equip teachers of color with financial literacy.
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“We, as teachers of color in particular, are overworked and underpaid,” Israel says. “There is a plethora of research that explains the specific factors that push us out of the classroom.”
At the root of it all are systemic issues, say the Tovar siblings. That doesn’t mean the solutions don’t exist – in fact, many do. But they demand action from those in power, and teachers have no time to waste.
“Last year alone, teachers quit left and right,” Israel says. “And they had no financial security, no financial plan. So Covid made it even more urgent for us to keep pushing for this work because people were hurting financially, especially teachers of color who are at the intersection of all these different systems.
“As a former history teacher, [I know] it takes a lot for systemic change to happen,” he continues. “We need to get our agency back because we have the power to deepen our financial literacy, get our money back, and organize our money in a way that gives us financial peace.
“Making this transition can be very, very difficult, especially for teachers of color.”
Israel and Sunem aren’t waiting for systemic change: With The Dream Teacher Project, they’re showing teachers how to leverage their money to build the life they deserve, whether they hope to stay in education or leave the field altogether . .
What does it look like, exactly?
Whatever a teacher’s plans, financial well-being starts with a budget. “A lot of people think that budgeting limits your spending, but it’s just a way to organize your money,” says Sunem. “If you know where your money is going, you can achieve your financial goals.”
Then it pays to organize any debt. You need to know how much you owe to get out of debt, says Sunem.
And don’t skimp on an emergency fund, either. “If you want to leave to go to a better school that doesn’t harm your mental health, you have this emergency fund to support you,” says Sunem.
Finally, for teachers who are sure they want to leave the classroom, having a sabbatical fund is an important extra step. “It’s basically a savings account that you put money into in case you want to take a break from your career or change jobs,” says Sunem, noting that saving three to six months of living expenses is a good rule of thumb.
When it comes to tackling the search for a new job, Israel cautions against an all-do-it-yourself approach: “Making this transition can be very, very difficult, especially for teachers of color, because that [we’ve developed] a mindset of scarcity in the sense of, Oh, we don’t have enough skills to make the transition to a corporate job or another environment. “Teachers leaving the classroom should consider investing in a career coach or lessons,” he says.
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“Working on your financial mindset is as important, if not more important, than building wealth.”
But neither Shunem nor Israel seek to discourage teachers from entering the profession. To those who feel the vocation, the siblings suggest having a realistic sense of the profession and knowing its limits.
Any additional tips for teachers (or anyone) looking for financial security? Start investing as soon as possible and work on your relationship with money.
“If you grew up in a paycheck-to-paycheck-to-paycheck household and are able to build a million-dollar investment portfolio [and you don’t] work on your relationship with money, you will always feel like you don’t have enough,” Israel says. “You may feel like you’re going to lose all that money the next day. What’s the point of having all of this when you still don’t have financial peace? Working on your financial mindset is as important, if not more important, than building wealth.”