With my Bachelor of Commerce background and a 2.5 year gig in a Fortune 500, I have a strong inclination for the business world as I slowly work towards becoming a teacher, and I am eyeing progressive education faculties for their business teacher education programs.
My mind is full of excitement and ambition as I think about what I would teach my future students. I want to instill passion through curriculum contents and case studies: the students will be introduced the creative world of marketing, the abstruse world of finance, and the dull but vital concepts of accounting (sorry to any passionate accountants out there!). Like any other subjects, however, things can get lost in a standard curriculum. There is the other side to business that I want my students to understand, and I hope, by the end of the year, they will have learned something that they can carry with them outside the classroom.
First and foremost, I want my students to understand the value of perseverance: even if the task on hand was challenging or boring, we remain focused, accept failure, and work really, really hard.
No one understands grit like Will Smith. He said, “The only thing that is distinctly different about me is I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be outworked, period. […] The majority of people who aren’t getting the places they want, or aren’t achieving the things that they want, is strictly based on hustle. It’s strictly based on being outworked, on missing crucial opportunities. If you stay ready, you ain’t gotta get ready.” I want my students to aspire to be like that.
[S]tudents … learn to view failure not as a reflection of their worth, but merely as taking various approaches to find an answer.
Grit is difficult to teach. It is a set of attitude and personal perspectives that must be honed through time. The key to being gritty is the willingness to try over and over again. As a teacher, I can ask the class to solve a complex business problem. Through the activity, the students will learn to view failure not as a reflection of their worth, but merely as taking various approaches to find an answer. At the end, we applaud each other for our efforts and creativity (eg. Recognizing efforts over results: “Laura spent 27 minutes to find 4 approaches that did not work. She is trying again and getting closer to the answer.”).
We teach our youth the meaning and consequences of failure by testing and grading them throughout their school life. We scare them into achieving good grades and finding the “correct” answer. Naturally, they are afraid to be incorrect. But in the world after graduation, to have an incorrect answer is not a failure. Everyone is hired to try to find the right answer, if it exists. However, if we do not persevere, if we do not work hard, if we are not gritty, it is a sure path to failure in life.
I’m certain it will be hard for my class to understand, since the only life they know is bubble-wrapped in a school setting. But I want my students to start imagining a world that is not graded by report cards, instead, it has real obstacles and sometimes, full of haters. How will they overcome these obstacles? Are they going to try and try again? In the end, how do they want to prove their haters wrong?
How to work with people
No matter the industry or profession, we all need to work with people. Most of them will be great people, but there is no doubt we will come across someone who is just plain rude. Professionalism is not a fancy word telling us to dress appropriately or speak in a certain manner. It is a very true reality in which we have to cultivate the skills to work with someone different from us, even somebody we don’t like. How to maintain a working relationship in such a situation and reach a common goal demands tact and patience.
The most effective way to learn people skills is through group work. Forming teams of 3 or 4, I will handpick groups to create a disconnected dynamic. An extrovert can be grouped with an introvert, or a visionary with a detailed thinker. Throughout the project, we will have weekly touch points as a class on topics such as management styles or group psychology to deepen our understanding of teamwork.
Each student can begin a personality test to understand the management style they prefer, the way they like to be recognized, and how they like to receive feedback. Then, the class will be separated into groups according to their personality category. We will learn as a class how to effectively work with each personality type, how to give one another feedback, and how to recognize our peers the way they feel most appreciated.
Teamwork comes from a deeper understanding of our peers. Every week, we find out a little more about the person sitting next to us. The students will slowly understand why Jesse likes to work alone, why April appreciated the direct feedback while David struggled to accept, etc. When understanding deepens, the students will be more opened in finding ways that work for everyone in the team. In my wishful thinking, I hope my students will carry this learning outside of the classroom and see people with more empathy.
There’s no right answer, there’s only a better answer
As mentioned earlier, our youth has been taught to accept the one and only right answer. The students I worked with in the past six months so readily accept my answer as the correct one, and never debate to prove that they, too, can be right. We are turning our students into a machine that accepts anything we give them, and mindlessly spits out the information without processing or understanding it.
[S]tudents are encouraged to push for their personal best instead of finding the one “best” answer. I believe we need more of that in our classrooms today.
It is undoubtedly daunting when they are put in a place to think, to have an opinion, or to challenge status quo in institutions of higher education or workplace. I learned quickly in my first corporate job that there is almost never a right or wrong answer, because no one knows the perfect solution to anything. The only thing that really exists is a better answer. A more innovative solution. An improvement to the present. It is never a finite answer. Actually, settling on a finite answer can be deadly. It means you are satisfied and idle.
In my classroom, I hope to keep assessments to the minimal, because it does not reflect the business world. Instead, I wish to cultivate innovation and creativity from my students through class discussions and activities. As a class activity, I can show a short case study describing how a company operates. Then I will ask the class to come up with an idea to improve their operations further: the new idea can be anything from increasing operational efficiency to innovating product line. Using the tools they learned throughout the year, the students will focus on the task, present their ideas at the end of class, and everyone votes for their favorite choice. In this activity, students are encouraged to push for their personal best instead of finding the one “best” answer. I believe we need more of that in our classrooms today.