My Afternoon as a Middle School Math Teacher

Marginal Tax Rates to the Rescue!
Marginal Tax Rates to the Rescue!

Last Friday I had the privilege of temporarily joining the Middle School Math Department at Trinity School. After much planning, I set out to the Upper West Side to (hopefully) enlighten the seventh grade on the exciting and engaging topic of marginal tax rates.

The seventh graders are starting a project focusing on income inequality, and part of the project involves planning an after-tax budget for a hypothetical taxpayer generated using US census data, and you can’t know your after-tax income without first knowing how to calculate your tax using marginal tax rates.

I was selected to educate the younger generation on this important topic after much rigorous screening – surely more closely related to my August 2016 blog post on Marginal Tax Rates than to the fact that my wife, Jessica, is a Middle School Math teacher at Trinity. Either way, upon my inauguration as a staff member, I was greeted by nearly 70 seventh grade faces, all ready to learn and with questions (and answers) lined up on everything from taxes (Why do we have them? What are they used for?) and income (What are some examples of sources of income?) to the tax code (How are tax brackets and rates selected?) and politics (Can a US President change the tax code?).

Visual Aids from Tax Bracket Buckets
Pitchers of water representing taxable income flowed from cup to cup, each cup representing a different tax bracket.

We even had visual aids (cups for tax brackets and pitchers of water representing taxable income) to help us understand how taxable income flows from bracket to bracket instead of all being taxed at the taxpayer’s highest rate (which is a common misunderstanding).

While we all know that any seventh grader would have jumped at the opportunity to spend all day learning about taxes, alas, we were limited to only 45 short minutes to learn about this important and engaging topic. That said, I can only hope that our 45 minutes together helped start them off on their project with a solid foundation and a concrete understanding of marginal tax rates. I’m optimistic because, at the end of our class, all 70 middle-schoolers were in agreement: no one would want to make more money if it meant they got to to take home less money (marginal tax rates to the rescue!).

Maybe I have a second career in my future after all.

A special thanks to Trinity Middle School’s Math Department for having me for a great afternoon!