Millionaires: Shelby Lattimore went viral for charging her students rent. Now she’s showing other teachers how to do it.

By 03/14/2024
Millionaires: Shelby Lattimore went viral for charging her students rent. Now she’s showing other teachers how to do it.

Welcome to Millionaires, where we profile creators who have recently crossed the one million follower mark on platforms like YouTube, TikTok, and Twitch. There are creators crossing this threshold every week, and each of them has a story to tell about their success. Read previous installments here.

Shelby Lattimore is a third-grade teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina, and every month, she charges her students rent.

But let’s back up a moment. Lattimore is originally from Long Island; her family moved to North Carolina when she was young, and she wanted to come back to New York City after high school graduation, but “the price of living was just not in the cards for me or my family,” she says.


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She ended up going to UNC Charlotte for elementary education and special education, having been encouraged by one of her high school teachers who thought she had a natural aptitude for education. Still, Lattimore didn’t actually think she’d end up in a classroom. She hoped to get her master’s degree and then work in research.

Then, right after she graduated with her bachelor’s degree, COVID hit. “I was like, ‘Okay, I’ll teach for one or two years, three max,'” she says. She figured it would be just a job, something that would bring enough income to survive until lockdowns lifted and she could go back to school.

But, of course, that’s not what happened. She fell in love with teaching, and is now on her fourth year teaching third grade at the same school, with no plans to stop anytime soon.

Especially now that her classroom economy is helping other educators.

Lattimore says she used to record herself in college, and was a fan of YouTube, but she never really considered posting anything online. Her sister was the one who encouraged her to post on TikTok: a video where Lattimore, for the first time, was collecting “rent” from her students. Teachers have long used reward systems to encourage good behavior from students, and because Lattimore had learned to be financially literate as a kid, her biggest motivator when she was young was money–so, when designing her own reward system, money naturally became part of it. She started paying kids for their good behavior and for their “jobs” in the classroom, but realized pretty quickly that even when kids had money in their hands, they didn’t understand the value of it.

“[T]hey had no concept of the physical dollar,” she says. “They did not know how to count change, or they might know what 10 minus 7 is, but if I give a kid a $10 bill and tell them they need to pay me $7, they will literally tell you, ‘I don’t have $7,’ because they physically don’t see that within the $10 is $7.”

Lattimore’s video of her collecting rent from her kids (while being careful not to show their faces) ended up getting millions of views, and now, a year later, she has over a million followers tuning in for regular updates from her classroom. Because of that virality, she’s had hundreds of other educators reach out, asking how to implement her system in their classrooms, summer camps, and more.

We’ll let her tell you all about it below.

@shelby_thatsmee Hard Life Lessons in 3rd Grade, my students had to pay rent for the first time! Year Two of collecting classroom rent and it is still the best feeling ever! #rent #money #teacher ♬ original sound – Ms.L

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tubefilter: To start, imagine somebody is reading this and they don’t know anything about you, they haven’t seen any of the news stories, they haven’t seen your videos. Give me a little bit of introduction about you and where you’re from and how you got into teaching.

Shelby Lattimore: I’m Shelby Lattimore. I was born in Long Island, New York, and then me and my two sisters, mom and dad, moved to Raleigh, North Carolina. That is where I did all of my schooling from third grade to high school. I graduated, and I really wanted to go back to New York to go to college. Obviously, the price of living was just not in the cards for me or my family. I still wanted the city feel, so I went to UNC Charlotte. I majored in elementary education and special education, and I have been in Charlotte ever since, teaching. I have been at the same school teaching third grade math since I graduated.

Tubefilter: How many years have you been teaching?

Shelby Lattimore: This is my fourth year.

Tubefilter: Did you always want to be a teacher?

Shelby Lattimore: No! I honestly fought it up until I graduated high school. I didn’t come from a family of educators. I just spoke to one of my old professor’s classes last week, and I told them this exact same story. I had a high school teacher that pushed me into it because she saw how naturally it came. I took a class where we would go into special education classrooms and daycares and things like that with kids, and she was like, “You’re just a natural.” I only knew negatives about education, honestly. I just knew I wasn’t going to get paid, I was going to have long hours, and it was just going to be what it is.

Even in college when my classmates would talk about paying and taking their state tests and licensures, I didn’t take any of that because I just thought after graduation I was going to stay in education, but I was going to get my master’s and go into the background of education, if that makes sense. I just knew I was not stepping foot in the classroom. Then I graduated in 2020, height of COVID, and that was like– I was not about to go back to New York where my family was and be in the midst of that. I was like, “Okay, I’ll teach for one or two years, three max.”

My third year, which is last year, I posted my first video about my class economy, and that blew up. I was like, “Oh, my goodness, this is amazing.” The reach that I’ve had, the amount of people that have contacted me and impact, so I stayed here and I’ve been here since.

Tubefilter: That’s so wild. You decided you were going to pick up a teaching position. Did you have to go through and do a crash course of all the certifications to get that job?

Shelby Lattimore: I honestly did. I had my licensure. You get your licensure, but you have to pass certain Board tests and things like that. Yes, I actually had to take all of them in my first year of teaching so that I was a qualified and certified teacher, which is hilarious. Yes, I did have to take all of those the first year.

Tubefilter: How did the whole idea of a class economy come to you in general?

Shelby Lattimore: Honestly, it didn’t start as a class economy. It just came as a motivator/behavior type of thing. A lot of teachers use candy, stickers, or some sort of point system. You can get creative with how you want to motivate kids because even when I was a kid, kids need motivators. They need something. When I was a kid, my biggest motivator was money. That’s how I started. I had the money already here in the classroom, so I was like, “Why go out and buy some system when I have the tools here?”

Then once I started paying them for their jobs and them buying rewards, I started realizing they had no concept of the physical dollar. They did not know how to count change, or they might know what 10 minus 7 is, but if I give a kid a $10 bill and tell them they need to pay me $7, they will literally tell you, “I don’t have $7,” because they physically don’t see that within the $10 is $7, if that makes sense. A lot of these kids nowadays, they know apps, they know cards, they know digital money, they do not know the physical dollar. That’s really how that started, and then it just developed into what it is now.

@shelby_thatsmee Replying to @Ms.L Pt.2 I never thought I’d have to brush my teeth in front of my entire class but we are here…. #hygieneproducts #teeth #teacher ♬ original sound – Ms.L

Tubefilter: How did the video part come into it?

Shelby Lattimore: Even when I was in college, videoing myself was not an odd thing. I’m more of a visual person. When I make adjustments to what I’m doing, I like to video myself and watch it back. I’ve always videoed myself, but if there was something funny that happened or whatever, I would send to my mom or my dad or my sisters, maybe my friends. I never took the time to edit it or whatever.

Then there was the one video of me collecting rent, and it was the first time I had to collect rent from my kids. Mind you, we had been doing this system of me paying them and them buying rewards since August, but I gave them two months before they have to pay me rent. I took a video of it. I sent it to my family group chat with my mom, my dad, and my sisters, and my little sister was like, “Put it on TikTok.” I literally never used TikTok.

Tubefilter: This is all her fault. I see.

Shelby Lattimore: [laughs] I posted it one morning. I went and I was welcoming my class, and I came back to my desk and on my desk, my phone was blowing up. I was like, “Did I do something wrong?” I wasn’t able to check it at first, but people loved it. There were so many questions because people thought I was really charging them real money, which would be weird, but I guess nowadays we can’t really be shocked about certain things we see. I had to clarify that multiple times, but people didn’t see the beginning of it. They didn’t see everything we had been doing for two months before then, so there were so many questions with that.

Tubefilter: You said you recorded yourself before, did you ever consider posting on other social media platforms? Instagram, YouTube?

Shelby Lattimore: Honestly, I remember when I was in my high school and college, YouTube couples were a thing. That was the whole scene. I had people I still follow to this day that they would post their hair tutorials, and that’s how I became really into my hair and taking care of my hair with YouTube. There was always conversation with my friends. We’d be like, “We’re so hilarious we should make our own YouTube,” but I never tried it. I never started a channel. That just was not in my bag of tricks.

Really me posting that first video just shoved me out there into the social media world to where now I have over 1 million on TikTok. I just checked a YouTube I just made and just started being consistent with, has over 3,000. My Instagram has over 170,000. It’s really quick in a matter of little over a year.

Tubefilter: To be clear, you don’t have to answer this if it’s a sensitive topic, but do you have to talk to your school administration about this kind of stuff? 

Shelby Lattimore: Yes. After that first video blew up, again, I’ve been at the school for a while, so my admin, they know me. I let them know. I was like, “Hey, just to let you know, this video is getting close to 1 million views, whatever.” They know. I’ve kept them in the loop. It’s not something I hide. My parents know, the kids know, so it’s not anything secretive of that sort.

I also don’t show any of their faces. That’s a sensitive thing where I would never put a minor up there, I’m not their parent, I’m not their guardian. But my admin is very much so aware. With the recent publications and stuff, they’ve sent it out in our school newsletters. They’re very supportive in a sense because they also know I’m being responsible with it. Yes, I’ve had no problems with them.

Tubefilter: It’s really interesting to me, how you’re introducing financial literacy so young. I remember when I was a senior in high school, I had one teacher sit us down and explain how to fill out a paper check. I’d never gotten any education about it previously. And what you said, the physical understanding of dollar amounts, is so important.

Shelby Lattimore: Yes. I try to explain it to a lot of people is with anything in life, there’s building blocks. For example, I can’t teach a kid how to add three-digit numbers if they don’t know how to add one-digit numbers. The concept of even just understanding the dollar is a building block. Understanding where money comes from is a building block to then being an adult. Like you said, filing taxes, talking about investments, talking about a 401(k), all of that, we were thrown into to where now there’s real-life consequences if I don’t pay rent. If I’m late, there’s fines, there’s things of that sort, where now they’re learning in a safer environment, at least the basic concept.

@shelby_thatsmee Fun Fact: not all kids enjoy days away from school #school #noschool #kids ♬ original sound – Ms.L

Tubefilter: You mentioned homework passes. What other rewards can kids earn?

Shelby Lattimore: They have the homework pass. They can buy a piece of candy. They can eat lunch with a friend or eat lunch with me. They can decide to eat lunch outside, or they can take my chair, the teacher’s chair. They can even buy to take someone’s job for the day. Our biggest reward right now at $30 is be the teacher, so they’re the teacher for the entire day.

Tubefilter: I wanted to ask about the responses you’ve gotten to your videos. Certainly the internet is full of positive and negative comments. Do you engage with comments on your videos, or do you sort of post and move on?

Shelby Lattimore: No, I definitely I will say, like you said, I don’t engage in all types of comments, of course, because I know. As long as I’m good, my kids are good and their family is good, to explain myself to really anybody else that really doesn’t know what’s going on in the classroom, it just seems like a waste, in my opinion.

Because so many people want to take this and incorporate this and things of that sort, I definitely try to take the time as much as I can, within the amount of hours that I have in a day, to respond. You can see the following the engagement that I have on every video. Every video that I post at this point is doing crazy numbers. People are interested. They’re engaged. They’re learning. They’re even learning some of their names just based off me talking, which is hilarious. I definitely take the time to make them feel they’re a part of it as well, because they are. That’s the reason why I’m posting it, to put information out there. It’s not just for entertainment. So many teachers are taking this and turning this into their own class economies. They’re using it at home for their kids, or in summer camps in just different ways. I’m definitely here to answer any questions, even down to, “Where did you get that shirt or those earrings, the Apple Watch?” If I see it and I have the time to respond, I’m definitely responding.

Tubefilter: One of the things I did notice about your videos, which you mentioned earlier, is that you really take care not to show any kids’ faces. I wanted to give you the floor to talk more about why it’s so important for you to safeguard your kids that way.

Shelby Lattimore: I think from the beginning, I never put their faces out there just because there needs to be, in my opinion, there should be a level of security. Even when I first started, a lot of my kids would comment and they would say things under my pictures. I would tell them my two rules are, they can follow me, but they cannot make themselves seen, they cannot comment, because the thing is I can protect myself as an adult. If someone comes up to me in public and they know me, I’m an adult. I can handle that. There’s certain safeguards that I have.

Let’s say they’re just playing in the neighborhood. You know what I’m saying? I’m not their parent, so I cannot make that call. Their parent, their guardian, may put certain safeguards up for social media, may put certain safeguards just in general, and I can’t make that call. Some of my videos are seen by 20 million, 10 million, 5 million people, hundreds of thousands of people. I don’t know who those people are. I don’t know if they’re all here for the right reasons or good reasons. Because it’s not 100% that I can keep them safe, I’m not going to show their faces.

Tubefilter: Awesome. Clearly you have a very full schedule, so how does your video production time work? How does it fit into your life?

Shelby Lattimore: It’s a squeeze. [laughs] I’ll 100% be real with you, it is definitely a squeeze. I tutor after school, I coach after school, so I’m not leaving the building till 5:30, 6 every day. Then, I take the time for myself to go to the gym. Then I don’t leave the gym till maybe like 8, 7:30. I’m trying to go to bed at least before 10:00.

I got to go cook, I got to go eat, I got to go shower, I got to go get ready for the next day. Then I got to edit, and sometimes editing may take over an hour depending on what it is. It can definitely be a lot. I could not imagine if I had kids or family at this point. As of right now, it’s definitely a squeeze, but I get it done to where I’m still posting regularly.

Tubefilter: You’re a bit of a different situation because most creators I speak to are either, they’ve already gone full-time into content, or they’re looking at going full-time, but I feel like that’s probably not quite the situation with you.

Shelby Lattimore: No. To be honest, like you said, I had this conversation recently where the level I’m at is considered “content creator.” Literally not even this, content creator. Like you said, that is people’s full-time jobs, and you can understand, if you have ever stepped into content, why that is a full-time job. It’s literally a full-time job, especially now I’m trying to step into YouTube.

Tubefilter: That’s a whole other job.

Shelby Lattimore: Yes. That has become a thing too. Because now if I go into YouTube, I can only film, what, Saturday or Sunday? Really just Saturday, to edit Sunday. You get what I’m saying? Now I don’t even have one day off. On top of the fact that I’m a teacher, I’m a coach, I tutor, I mentor, I don’t even have just two jobs. I have a lot of jobs at this point. It’s getting done. There’s areas in my life that definitely take an impact, for sure. It’s getting done. I’m not complaining.

Tubefilter: No, totally. Just watching out for you and your time that you have. In general, do you have any plans or goals for yourself, for your content, for your teaching career, over the next couple of years?

Shelby Lattimore: Yes, 100%. At this point, I’m definitely in the works of creating two forms of my class economy so that it can be a step-by-step instructional manual type of thing for other teachers or parents or guardians, really anyone that can follow and adjust it based off age or whatever they are looking to do. That is my biggest plan as of right now that’s in works because so many people ask.

Last year, it was just in my head. I would answer questions, and it’s like, “Oh, we do this,” because you can’t just get all the details from a minute, two-minute, three-minute video. This year, I have been very purposeful in writing down steps and creating a manual so that it can be a physical thing that other adults can use for any kid that they come in contact with. Outside of that, I really would look forward to doing a lot of traveling to other states and school systems and things of that sort, to put my stamp and help however I can, because so many people reach out to me from interviews to emails to social media.

I physically can’t respond to everyone, so just trying to be a part of other events where maybe I can talk to principals, and then the principals talk to their teachers, or I can talk, so it is a trickle-down effect to where millions of teachers aren’t sending me the same email, but they’re getting it from their higher-ups would be my ideal goal.

Tubefilter: I was going to ask earlier if you’ve seen other teachers commenting on your videos saying, “Oh, I’m going to try this in my classroom”?

Shelby Lattimore: Yes. I even have so many parents, they’ll mention me and they’re like, “I’m charging my kids rent.” They pay their kids to do chores or whatever. When I was growing up, I didn’t get paid for chores, but I know some people got an allowance or whatever. Now it has changed. I know there’s a lot of parenting apps where they send money and things like that, but now parents are realizing they don’t know the physical dollar like I’m showing it, so now they’re starting to incorporate those things even at home, which is really cool.

I even got summer camps. Just, you would not even imagine how many different organizations and systems are wanting to include this because they’re realizing kids need to learn this in a safe environment before put out in the real world.

Tubefilter: What has been your favorite part of becoming a teacher?

Shelby Lattimore: Oh. Honestly, my favorite part of becoming a teacher is them, my kids. It’s hard to explain to other people who don’t have kids, the connection you can have with someone else’s kid. Legally, they’re not my kids, but the amount of nurturing that goes into kids and the amount of time and just the relationships that you’re able to build, they’re not just during the school year.

I have kids that are in fourth grade, fifth grade, sixth grade, that still come and they’re excited to tell me about their birthday, or are excited to tell me that their mom’s having a new baby, or inviting me to their birthday parties. The relationship doesn’t stop in June and it doesn’t just start in August. It’s literally a continuation. That’s definitely the coolest part about my job.

Tubefilter: Are there any last things you want people to know about you?

Shelby Lattimore: I get a lot of questions about like, “Oh, do you think the kids, it’s too much for them?” What I always tell a lot of parents and educators is the bar you set, that’s where the kids will rise to. You would be surprised about the things that kids can understand and what they can achieve if you take the time and you’re patient. I think a lot of people, they try to take what I’m doing and they try to do it all in August or all of it in one week.

We’re still changing stuff. We just got a new banker last month. It took half of the year for us to get to that point where they have watched me do it every month, and I’m now putting the responsibility on one of the students. Now it’s a self-sufficient. They’re all by themselves. They do everything. Again, set the expectation high. I always say set the expectation high and move slow, see what they’re ready for, and maybe add something else.


Shelby Lattimore is repped by Viral Nation.

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