Falia Justima teaches entrepreneurship education at Immokalee High School in Florida's Collier County Public Schools.
Since March 2020, K-12 educators like me have weathered a variety of upheavals — from remote instruction and hybrid classrooms to tackling students’ unmet needs, both academic and social-emotional.
It’s no wonder teachers are struggling to find joy these days, which is impacting teacher turnover. As bad as that is for teachers, it’s even worse for students: Researchers have found teacher turnover negatively impacts student performance, which disproportionately impacts students at low-performing schools.
This is no small matter. Getting kids excited about learning starts with the idea of joy, and joy starts with teachers.
While I can relate to widespread feelings of dissatisfaction among my peers, I don’t share them. I attribute much of that to teaching entrepreneurship education, which lets my students develop a wide set of skills that enable them to solve real-world problems.
Don’t get me wrong: Teacher satisfaction is a complex problem that can only be repaired with a multifaceted approach. But entrepreneurship education and programs like it — experiential, purpose-driven and grounded in student agency and problem-solving — may be one piece of the puzzle.
Here are three reasons why I’ve come to believe this, and why I find joy in teaching my students:
1. I get to watch students become agents of their learning while finding their purpose
My students in Uncharted Learning’s INCubatoredu course identify a problem and then invent a product or a service that solves it. For students in my class in Immokalee High School, which is in a part of Collier County, Florida, with a high percentage of migrant workers and English Language Learners, this often means finding a problem in the local community to solve. For instance, one recent group of high school students in my class started a business called Harvesting Housing to create permanent housing for migrant workers.
I’ve found students in this class not only demonstrate higher levels of engagement, they become empowered to take ownership of their own learning. Throughout the year, many teams grow to answer their own questions, anticipate next steps and work ahead of schedule — the agency I dreamed of seeing from my students when I first decided to become a teacher.
My satisfaction comes from watching students develop a sense of purpose while solving problems they themselves have identified. As their teacher, it’s amazing to see them achieve so much as they develop an understanding of the impact they can have in the world.
2. I’m teaching students a full range of skills that lead to success in the workplace and life
Now more than ever, K-12 educators are focusing on the nonacademic skills companies need: teamwork, resilience and more. A recent survey of employers found that nearly 87% want to hire workers who are strong collaborators, something that was second only to problem solving on their list of desired skills. That’s because research shows teamwork can lead to higher productivity and increased performance, particularly when members of those teams have diverse backgrounds or skill sets.
INCubatoredu is 100% team-based, which gets students used to highly collaborative work environments. Part of the fun for me comes from watching team members build camaraderie and make individual contributions to a united effort.
Another prized skill in the workplace is bouncing forward from failures — and even learning from them. According to researchers, the higher an employee’s ability to adapt, the higher their performance levels will be. School has taught students to believe failure is bad, but entrepreneurship education shows these instances are simply opportunities to get better and understand what’s required to succeed. When I see a team take risks and refuse to give up in the face of failure, that’s when I know I’ve taught them a lesson that will last a lifetime.
And these aren’t the only skills students develop: Indeed, what makes these types of programs wonderful is that they offer so much room for students to develop and grow in a number of areas we know are critical for success later in life, such as creativity. In the process, they gain tremendous confidence in themselves and their ability to do what they want to do — and do it successfully.
3. The joy of becoming a learner again
In a traditional classroom, a teacher could develop lesson plans that may not change much from year to year. While our entrepreneurship program has a curriculum that guides the class structure, what actually happens in class could vary from day to day based on the business ventures our young entrepreneurs start. I get to learn about a wide range of topics as I support their businesses.
One day, I may discover how to create an effective website for a new business. The next, I may learn about the housing market. Expanding my own learning by exploring new ideas and topics keeps the profession fresh and exciting.
At a time when teaching has never been more stressful or more demanding, it’s incumbent on district leaders to find ways to make the job more exciting and more joyful.
Teachers thrive on two things: kids who look forward to coming to school, and kids who want to direct their own learning. We’ve known for quite a while now that experiential learning better prepares students for future challenges — academic or work-based. But these courses can also provide breaths of fresh air to teachers who need it.