Her passion for business education, finance helped build a solid retirement so she could travel.
Kathy Cuevas taught everything from typing to special education and economics, but her real passion was teaching finance.
“I’m proudest of helping students who came from a low-income families, who wanted to listen, to improve their living situation. I was most proud of giving them the knowledge to do it on their own. It’s nice to hear the effort you put in panned out. I would do it for free.”
Retired in 2021, Cuevas is still helping people with their money, including someone at her church. “Anyone who asks, I will help them. If they don’t know how to do something, I’ll show them how or direct them to professional help,” she said.
Beginning of her career
Cuevas got her start as a substitute, then her first contract job teaching typing—on typewriters.
She also taught special education in elementary and middle schools, though she had her eye on high school. “I loved that age. I finally did get a high school job. I was there almost 20 years, starting when it was a brand-new high school,” Cuevas said.
As a business teacher at Kaiser High School in Fontana, she taught economics and even web design. “The kids actually figured it out and helped me go through it. I finally got to teach personal finance for 10 years. I loved budgeting. I loved teaching students everything to make them financially literate.”
She learned about disability insurance while teaching personal finance. “I knew I needed it now that my husband had passed. Had I had a disabling accident, I needed income to continue raising my girls. You're more likely to have a disability lasting several months rather than die.”
Three years before retirement, Cuevas started teaching an advanced finance class, with her students working with staff members, helping them to budget and find a supplemental retirement plan. “I was so proud of how my students handled themselves. My kids were so smart and professional in their interactions with staff.”
Her pride in her students continues. “I taught in a low-income area, and that’s one class the kids needed to help them. One of them opened a factory in India. One kid bought a house. One kid started a business.”
Cuevas even came back as a guest speaker the first year after she retired, teaching different financial lessons and activities and showing teachers a stock market game they could do with students.
What’s one thing you would do differently?
“If I could go back and do it again, I would start putting money in my retirement account sooner. I only really started saving in the last 15 years of my career. I was eventually, slowly able to max out my contributions. I had a goal. I wanted to get a million in my retirement account. But the market took a turn,” Cuevas said. “Save early and save as much as you can. Don’t do as I did and pinch every penny toward the end.”
Why did you become a teacher?
A friend encouraged Cuevas to get into education. At the time she was unhappy as a loan officer and in between jobs. “My friend said you would be a good teacher. She kept pushing me. Her husband was a teacher. She’s someone who pushed me in that direction, and I’m thanking her for it every day. She saw something in me I didn't see. I never wanted to be a teacher.”
How did you get into special education?
Cuevas had a business credential and was hired as a business teacher but other positions were hard to find at the time. She went back to school to get a special education credential. “I loved it when I was there, but my passion was always business. I got the high school job and got to teach economics and all the business classes I taught.”
Did you have a favorite teacher?
Cuevas admired her high school typing teacher, who taught when typewriters were still manual and an exercise of strength. Cuevas taught typing a little later on, when typewriters were electric. “She used to be a legal secretary. She was amazing and sweet, and she played the radio.”
She also mentioned the teacher who taught algebra and geometry. “He was the best math teacher, and he just explained it until you got it.”
What’s one thing you’re proud of doing as a teacher?
“I had a girl who was in special education because she only had one arm. She was probably in second grade, and I taught her how to tie her shoes with one hand in a couple of days and exited her from special education as she had no learning disability. She was so happy, and her mother thanked me as well.. I also told her there’s two pro baseball players with one arm.”
Teaching herself and others how to save money and build wealth was rewarding. “I’m proudest of helping people who came from a poor background. … I put it in a way they could understand. My students knew I was real with them. I’m also Hispanic, born to a Mexican mother. I told my seniors, ‘Once you graduate, you can friend me on Facebook. You find me and ask questions. I will teach you how to fish. I won’t give you a fish. I am teaching you how to be independent.”
Life in retirement
Cuevas is finally enjoying her retirement. Her goal is to take a vacation once a month, and she’s back on track after the pandemic derailed her first planned trip, a cruise.
“It depends on each person,” Cuevas said. “Some people are hermits. My mom never took a vacation. She was happy at home. But people have to plan accordingly. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. If you don’t have a map, taking a trip to Florida, you’ll never get where you’re going. You have to have a plan.”
What’s one fun thing about you?
“I love scuba diving and traveling and investing in the stock market. Since I was a kid, I loved playing Monopoly. Now I know what that’s about, I have three rental properties, and I’m thinking about buying another one, or a self-storage facility or opening a salon suite.”
Tell us about your family
In addition to her husband, Cuevas has two daughters and four grandchildren. She enjoyed babysitting the youngest grandchild. “I loved watching her grow up.” Her oldest grandson graduated high school this year.
What’s the first thing you did when you retired?
Each year, Cuevas has a formal Christmas party at her house and just before her retirement, her house had a banner that said, “The legend has retired.”
“I still had another week to work. But after, I set my alarm to go off at 7:20 instead of 5:30 or 6:30 a.m. I don’t want to be wasting my daylight hours. I’m out of bed early in the summer so I can be out gardening. I do whatever I want, when I want.”
Her husband retired a year later, also in December, and his job keeps trying to get him to return. “He doesn’t want to be bored, so he’s finding part-time gigs to keep him busy. I tell him ‘You won’t be bored, trust me.’ He hasn’t been.”
Teacher Talk is a series of profiles on California teachers and other educators. To be considered for a future profile, please email Communications@CalSTRS.com, with Teacher Talk in the subject line.