I have been a teacher in New York City for eleven years. I have been an entrepreneur for about twenty-five years. It started when I was nine years old. After school, or during breaks, I would gather all of my old toys that I didn’t play with and set them up on the stoop of my Brooklyn brownstone. With my handwritten “For Sale” sign in tow, and the old coffee can my father gave me to store cash, I would sit outside and sell my wares. I slowly became savvier and would trade my Pogs (remember those?) to acquire new ones to sell for higher prices.
My grandfather and father would trade-off sitting outside with me, giving me quiet guidance to ensure I wasn’t making any foolhardy trades (and for safety). They taught me how to count money in my head, without a calculator, how to write up receipts, how to balance what I earned versus what I lost through trades, how to pick up from bad days, and advertise with signs around the neighborhood. They taught me how to be an entrepreneur.
These were skills I never learned while I was in school, but I should have.
Since the launch of the Obama Administration’s “College and Career Readiness” initiative, schools have begun to wake-up from their Vietnam War-induced academic-only structure. Regular day high schools are offering skill-based programs such as nursing, plumbing, carpentry, and computer information systems. While this movement is absolutely in the right direction, because we need a diversified skill-set to have a complete functioning society, it is not enough.
According to the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council, as of 2014, “Firms with less than 20 workers made up 89.4 percent of businesses.” With over 64% of new jobs created through small business, the unique skills required to be a small business owner is not only empowering to the American student, it is beneficial for the very core growth of the American job force.
So, why are we not serving students by teaching small business development skills?
The problem begins with budgetary constraints which constrain the access to certified business educators. The way programs are allocated, only a “business” teacher is permitted to teach business, and when a school is already struggling with a tight budget, they will most likely cut the non-core/mandatory subject areas (math, English language arts, history, science, physical education). This bureaucratic system is minimizing the ability to bring small business development and entrepreneurship into the classroom. The key is to integrate all areas of the core curriculum with entrepreneurship.
There is no reason why a student cannot learn how to create a Linked In profile, write a business letter, or blog about a business in English; students who are taking physical education cannot learn how to market their skills as a for-hire private trainer. Taxes and business math can be integrated into the math curriculum as well as small business laws and regulations in history. How biology and art can be combined in a floral business, or chemistry in the creation of health and beauty products.
While not every teacher may be an entrepreneur, schools can work with their local Small Business Development Centers and Chambers of Commerce to schedule influential classroom visits and think-tanks to encourage the marriage of academics with small business innovation. Small business owners are often ready and willing to share their knowledge with students because they have the foresight to understand these students may be their future employees and partners.
Interestingly, according to Fast Company, more teachers are launching their own start-up companies than ever before. Innovative and quick-thinking paired with a natural ability to speak publicly, and more so, care, teachers make organic small business owners. From an administrative perspective, harnessing these skill sets would prove to be refreshing and rewarding for educators, as well as students who are eager to apply what they learn in school to daily life.
To bring entrepreneurship and small business development into schools does not require a huge shift in the budget, but it does require time and energy. Acquiring the proper skill-set to teach students asks the administration to put in some footwork to engage teachers and reset curriculum. The rewards outweigh the work.